Electrifying Behind-the-Scenes Facts About Grease

By Rosunnara R.Last Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:32:09 PM ET
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We've got chills — they're multiplying! Grease has become one of Hollywood’s most iconic films of all time since its release in 1978. You can watch the movie over and over again until you feel like you know it inside and out and still love every minute of it.

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However, there are some unbelievable details about the film that you probably don’t know. Don’t believe it? Take a look at these electrifying behind-the-scenes facts about Grease.

Grease Left Superman in the Dust

In 1978, the movie Grease quickly soared to the top of the box office. The hit musical broke records and went on to become an international sensation. Audiences couldn't stop talking about the movie, the catchy songs and its cheerful story.

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At the box office, Grease crushed Animal House, Jaws 2 and Halloween. But there was one movie that Grease beat that surprised many people — Superman. That year, the superhero movie earned $134 million, while Grease far surpassed that with $160 million.

A Super Gross Race

One of the most exciting scenes in the film is the "Thunder Road Race" between Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Leo Balmudo (Dennis Cleveland Stewart). As Zuko took the wheel of the Greased Lightnin’ car, the T-birds and his friends cheered him on.

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The scene actually made many actors sick, but the driving wasn't the problem; it was the racing location. The old dam contained contaminated water that drenched the cast. As a result, the actors became ill, and the film crew paused production.

The James Dean Look-a-Like

Danny's trademark is the Rydell High T-Bird jacket on top of a white T-shirt and black pants. However, did you notice his attire at the beginning of the movie? It was a little different from his usual black outfit.

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Grease starts with the lead characters, Danny and Sandy, enjoying their hot summer romance at the beach. However, there's no T-bird jacket in sight. Danny is wearing a windbreaker over a white T-shirt, which pays tribute to the late actor James Dean.

American Girl to Australian Girl

Before casting calls and auditions, producers imagined Sandy as an American girl with the last name Dumbrowski. However, Australian actor Olivia Newton-John stole the casting director's heart. In response, Sandy became an Australian transfer student to match the actor’s background.

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Sandy's last name was also replaced. The surname switched from Dumbrowski to Olsson to match Newton-John's origins. However, the last name wasn't set in stone for future adaptations of the film. In Grease Live!, the leading lady was called Sandy Young.

Imagine a Different Danny Zuko

For many fans, it's hard to imagine anyone else other than John Travolta playing Danny Zuko, but Grease was actually a popular Broadway production before it was even adapted into a film. In the musical, Travolta didn’t play the leading man.

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Broadway's Danny Zuko was portrayed by Jeff Conaway for two and a half years. When Travolta joined the show, he played a minor role. In the film, Travolta landed the leading role while Conaway played Danny's best friend, Kenickie Murdoch.

The T-Birds Almost Didn’t Happen

The big-screen adaptation took a long time brainstorming the name of Danny Zuko and his group of boys. For many Grease fans, it's hard to picture anything else besides T-birds covering their iconic leather jackets. However, in the original musical, the crew had a different name.

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Before everyone knew the greaser boys as the "T-Birds," they were actually called the "Burger Palace Boys" in the show. The filmmakers almost gave up and went with the Broadway name, but T-Birds made the cut.

Critics Were Big Haters

People of all ages from all over the world fell in love with Grease. However, there was a group of folks who didn't feel the same way. In fact, some critics initially trashed and dismissed the film in the '70s.

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Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times didn't have anything good to say about Grease. He called it "cluttered, uninvolving and unattractive." The Today Show described it as "visual junk food," while The New Yorker said the film was a "Klutzburger" — whatever that is.

The Famous Songs That Weren’t in the Original

Everything that you saw in the movie didn't come from the original musical. Some elements were added to make the film an international phenomenon (and it worked). For instance, several songs that we can't stop singing were created just for the film.

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Can you guess which pieces were added? The songs "Grease," "Sandy" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" were the newcomers. One of the most beloved songs of the film, "You’re the One That I Want," was also an addition.

Gum on Gum on Gum

Chewing gum isn't out of the ordinary. You may have noticed that the Pink Ladies often had bubble gum in their mouths. However, it's reported that almost every scene had someone chomping on the chewy delight. Sounds like a lot of gum, right?

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Allegedly, a whopping 100,000 pieces of bubble gum were chewed during the movie's shoot. Can you imagine how much each actor must have requested? At Grease's Los Angeles re-release party, actors Didi Conn (Frenchy) and Dinah Manoff (Marty Maraschino) were seen keeping the tradition alive and chewing on gum.

One Cast Member Hated the Finale Song

Which song often comes to mind when you think about Grease? Many fans would say the finale song — "You’re the One That I Want." It's not only one of the most beloved songs of the film, but it's also a top seller.

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In fact, it's one of the bestselling singles in history. However, one person from production despised the song — director Randal Kleiser. He thought the song was terrible and didn't fit in the film. But look at the song now! It has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

Susan Buckner Was Just Like Her Character

The film brought many of the actors close and made them feel like a family. The cast related very well to their characters too. This was also the case for Susan Buckner, who portrayed head cheerleader, Patty Simcox.

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You may remember Patty as the character behind a giant pair of glasses. She was popular, but she was still treated like an outcast. Betty Rizzo called her the "bad seed" of Rydell High, and the rest of the teens laughed at her. In real life, the cast also made fun of Buckner and ignored her.

Broke Records for Years

Despite the grumbling from some critics, it’s easy to see that Grease was a roaring success that crushed its competition (even a famous superhero movie). The film reigned as the highest-grossing live-action musical until Les Misérables took the top spot in 2012.

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According to Forbes, Grease was also the U.S. victor for a long time, but Disney's Beauty and the Beast eclipsed it in 2017. However, when the company adjusted the rankings based on inflated domestic ticket prices, it showed that Grease was still No. 1.

The Real Milkshake Scene

Remember that strawberry milkshake scene? Rizzo, Frenchy and Kenickie are sitting in the diner, and Rizzo and Kenickie get into an intense argument. In the end, she yells, "Finish this," and throws the milkshake at his face, leaving Kenickie covered in pink slush.

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However, what led to this dispute? According to reports, an extra scene explained why the two got into a heated argument, but the producers thought the scene was too dark and heavy. As a result, they cut it from the film.

Danny Zuko Wasn’t Supposed to be in One Song

Another memorable sequence from the film is the "Greased Lightnin’" number. Kenickie and the boys are upgrading the famous car and then break out into a song about hitting on women. "Greased Lightnin’" originally belonged to Kenickie.

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However, Travolta insisted that he should have the number. The director hesitated before giving the song to Travolta because the song wasn't relevant to his character, but he handed it over to him eventually. This caused some conflict during the shoot.

The King of Rock and Roll Was Offered a Role

Hold the phone! The King of Rock and Roll almost starred in Grease? It's true. The role of Teen Angel was originally offered to the one and only Elvis Presley, but he rejected the part. It all worked out anyway.

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In the end, Frankie Avalon wonderfully played the Teen Angel. However, Elvis did make an appearance in some way (although not physically). When Sandy and the Pink Ladies have their sleepover, Rizzo is seen next to a photo of the King.

Jeff Conaway’s Big Fat On-Set Crush

Kenickie and Rizzo were end game in the film. Despite having a rough relationship, the two stayed together. Offscreen, Jeff Conaway admitted he had a fling with another actor from the film, but he had a soft spot for Grease's leading lady, Olivia Newton-John.

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When the two were in the same room, Conaway didn't know what to do or say. He didn't get the opportunity to ask her out on a date. However, he later tied the knot with her sister, Rona Newton-John.

The Overwhelming School Dance Scene

One of the most electrifying scenes of the entire film is Rydell High's school dance. Audiences loved the upbeat moment, but for the cast and crew, the experience was miserable to shoot. It took a week to film the iconic dance scene.

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The temperature reached more than 100 degrees in the gym, which had no windows. Some of the cast got sick from overheating and dehydration. It was reported that actor Michael Tucci fainted and had to be taken to the emergency room.

One Famous Band Was Expected to Perform

The "Greased Lightnin'" scene resulted in some tension on set. However, Danny, Kenickie and the gang weren't even supposed to perform that song. The director, Randal Kleiser, initially wanted a professional band to take over the number instead of the boys.

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Kleiser hoped that The Beach Boys would bring down the house — technically the garage — but they weren't available during production. The result? "Greased Lightnin'" became a very successful single, earning a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978.

Olivia Newton-John's Pants Were Excessively Tight

When Sandy transformed into a bad girl, she wore that iconic black outfit. The black Lycra pants actually belonged to Olivia Newton-John. The 25-year-old pants were just sitting in her closet. However, the zipper broke when she put them on.

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According to IMDb, the film crew had to sew Newton-John into the tight pants each morning. The experience was even more excruciating because the final scene was filmed in 106-degree weather. After shooting, Newton-John was freed from the pants by ripping them.

Blurred Out Coca-Cola Signs

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Grease had Coca-Cola products and signs in multiple scenes, but film producers didn't make a product-placement deal with the company. In fact, they actually made an agreement with Coca-Cola's main competitor, Pepsi. The crew had to find a way to remove all references of Coca-Cola.

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At the time, the best the crew could do was use an optical printer to blur out the logos. Reshooting the scenes with Pepsi products would have taken too much time and money. Apparently, the blurring worked, because Pepsi never complained.

Travolta Had to Convince Newton-John to Take the Part

Grease is one of the most successful musical films of all time. However, it took a lot of work to get there. In fact, Olivia Newton-John didn't want to be a part of the movie initially. She thought the film wasn't going to be good.

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The casting director and John Travolta were captivated by her voice, so Travolta convinced her to take the role. Newton-John was also worried about the "good girl gone bad" scene, but Travolta made all her concerns disappear.

Jeff Conaway Got Injured

The "Greased Lightnin’" number was full of great dancing and singing. However, behind-the-scenes, it was a different story. Jeff Conaway actually experienced some bad luck while filming it. During the exciting scene, Conaway was hopping and rocking on top of the car.

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However, one of the cast members accidentally made him fall off. It wasn't a purposeful act, but it was still an awful incident. The accident caused a serious back injury, requiring medication for treatment. Unfortunately, the medicine caused more problems for Conaway later on in his life.

The Last Minute Song That Became a Hit

After Grease finished filming and went into editing, producers thought something was missing — another song. They believed Sandy needed a heartfelt ballad, so "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was written at the last minute. Producers called Olivia Newton-John to come back and perform the song.

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Fortunately, Newton-John agreed to return to record it, and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" became a smash hit. It was so good that it was up for Best Original Song at the 1979 Oscars. Also, it's the only Grease song nominated for an Academy Award.

Age Problems with the Main Cast

One of the biggest problems production faced was that the main cast was too old for their roles. Grease was supposed to be a movie about teenagers in high school, but Travolta and the gang were already in their 20s and 30s.

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While filming, Newton-John was 29 and Travolta was 24. Plus, Conaway was 27, and Channing was 34! Jamie Donnelly (Jan), who was 30, faced some hair issues during the movie’s shoot. Her hair kept turning gray, so they had to keep dyeing it black.

Travolta’s Line Mishap Made It into the Film

Sometimes, lines are hard to remember. Other times, it's easy to get tongue-tied. Travolta had trouble getting his lines right for a moment on set. He repeatedly said, "heap lap trials" instead of "heat lap trials." The film crew corrected him multiple times.

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However, Travolta continued to mess it up. As a result, the crew decided to keep the mistake in the finished product. Travolta wasn't having a good day at the time. Before shooting that scene, he found out some bad news about his ex-fiance.

Dina Manoff (Marty) Couldn’t Dance

The iconic film is known for its insane dance moves and music. It seemed like everyone in the cast was a talented dancer. However, that's far from true, and Grease hid it well. Dina Manoff, who portrayed Pink Lady Marty Maraschino, said she didn't know how to bust a move.

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The film crew left her character out of dance scenes, including the big dancing competition at Rydell High's prom night. In that scene, Manoff wore a beautiful green dress while staying in the background. She can be seen sitting and speaking to Vince Fontaine.

Lucille Ball’s Daughter Was Selected for Rizzo

It seems impossible to imagine anyone else other than Stockard Channing playing Rizzo. Fans loved her performance. However, Channing wasn't the studio's first pick. Initially, they wanted Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball’s daughter, to portray the leader of the Pink Ladies.

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But the studio required Arnaz to do a screen test before she could take the role. Arnaz wasn't the person who had an issue with the request; it was her mother who didn't like it. Ball refused to let her take a screen test.

The Finale Song Was Filmed at a Real Traveling Circus

"You’re the One that I Want" was an exciting scene with all types of carnival rides and games in the background. However, the film crew didn't set up the scenery themselves. It was a real carnival that traveled into town that day.

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As a result, the film crew and cast had to make very few mistakes. Sounds like a big risk, right? In the end, the studio needed to record a couple of close-up shots again anyway, so they recreated some parts of the carnival.

Cha Cha’s Health

Do you remember Danny’s dance partner at the Rydell Prom? The character's name is Cha Cha, who was portrayed by talented actress Annette Charles. She also appeared in the "Thunder Road drag race" scene for a really quick moment.

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Unfortunately, there's a sad behind-the-scenes story involving Charles. Before filming the race, Charles endured health problems that required several hospital visits. The actress experienced a lot of pain after shooting the scene and returned to the hospital immediately.

Andy Warhol and an Adult Film Star Were Almost Cast

Producer Allen Carr thought Andy Warhol would make a great art teacher in the film. However, one studio executive told him, "We’ll give you everything you want, but I will not have that man in my movie." Carr interpreted it as a personal vendetta.

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Carr also wanted adult film star Harry Reems to take the part of Coach Calhoun, but executives quickly put the brakes on that idea. They believed casting Reems would damage the film. In the end, Sid Caesar played the coach.

Grease Was Almost an Animated Movie

The live-action musical that we all love and know almost didn't happen. Producers Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi were the original rights holders of the film. They planned to create an animated musical version of Grease. However, life had other plans.

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The partnership between Krantz and Bakshi crumbled. As a result, Robert Stigwood snatched up the film rights, and the animated edition of Grease didn't happen. But there is a short cartoon clip at the beginning of the film. Would you watch an animated version of this iconic masterpiece?