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5 fun facts you never knew about John Travolta musical Grease

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Go greased lightnin'! Those of a certain vintage, prepare to feel old as the classic, hip-swinging musical Grease turns 40 this year. To celebrate, we're hosting a special anniversary re-release in Cineworld this April.

The movie is based on the 1971 musical of the same name, and stars John Travolta as Danny Zuko. A smooth-talking womaniser and member of the T-Birds gang (known as 'greasers'), Danny feels compelled to change his ways when his first love Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) arrives back at his high school from Australia.

In collaboration with distributor Park Circus we asked one of their Ambassadors, Elizabeth MacLeod, to come up with five fun facts you (probably) never knew about the movie...

1. The search for Danny and Sandy caused a sensation

The casting frenzy surrounding the film would have been something like the buzz that consumed Twilight or The Hunger Games. The role of Danny Zuko was initially offered to Henry Winkler (Happy Days), but he turned it down out of fear of being typecast. Eventually John Travolta was cast as Danny. He was on the rise due to his role on television series Welcome Back, Kotter, and had starred in the at-the-time unreleased disco dream Saturday Night Fever, was cast as Danny.

Travolta had also played the roles of Doody in Grease's national touring production in 1972 (at which point he was young enough, at 17, to require a chaperone in the shape of his sister Ellen Travolta – who happened to play the role of 'Waitress' in the 1978 film…)

The role of Sandy Olsson was originally offered to Susan Dey (The Partridge Family) and was turned down by Marie Osmond, but the English-Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John was producer Alan Carr's first choice right from the off.


2. Grease was a directorial debut

Amazingly, director Ran Kleiser had never made a feature film prior to Grease. Although that might have made some a little cautious, he did have previous experience with musical productions, including uncredited background acting work on films including Double Trouble (1967) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) while he was studying filmmaking at the University of Southern California. Kleiser had also previously directed Travolta in the 1976 TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.


3. Some of Grease's most iconic songs weren't from the original stage production

The titular opening song 'Grease,' as well as 'Sandy,' 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' and 'You're the One That I Want' were written specifically for the film. 'Grease,' written by Barry Gibb (co-founder of the Bee Gees) and performed by Frankie Valli, became a number one hit in the U.S.

Olivia Newton-John's music producer and songwriter John Farrar (who had also written her first U.S. number-one hit single 'I Honestly Love You') wrote 'You're The One That I Want' and 'Hopelessly Devoted to You', both also smash hits, peaking at #1 and #3 respectively. 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1979 Academy Awards.


4. Grease shattered box office records 

The movie opened to widespread critical acclaim and box-office success on 16th June 1978 and went on to gross nearly $160 million domestically (with its domestic lifetime gross being $188m). Grease was the second-highest grossing picture in film history at the time, second only to Star Wars (1977) according to the Los Angeles Times in 1979.

Adjusted for inflation, its domestic box office today would be $706m (= £503m) As of today, Grease has earned nearly $400 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing movie musical ever until the 2017 release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.


5. The movie redefined the concept of fandom

When the film premiered at Chicago's State-Lake Theatre in 1978, Olivia Newton-John bruised her ribs trying to pass through a crowd of nearly 3,000 onlookers. Newton-John's acting and singing career soared with the success of Grease and Travolta's twin supernova successes of Grease and Saturday Night Fever launched him straight to Hollywood's A-List.

Grease won every People's Choice Award for which it was nominated: Favorite Motion Picture Actress (Olivia Newton-John), Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress (Stockard Channing), Favorite Musical Motion Picture, and Favorite Overall Motion Picture.



Click here to book your tickets for Grease
, which is re-released in Cineworld on 19th April.

Elizabeth MacLeod is a Park Circus Ambassador living it up in London and constantly expanding her cinematic horizons. Attending a UK premiere is high up on her bucket list.