It’s got groove, it’s got feeling, and Paramount hopes, eternal appeal. After 20 years, a $360 million worldwide gross, and sales of more than 8 million soundtrack albums, Grease bops back into theaters March 27.
Allan Carr, Grease’s eccentric coproducer, began lobbying for this revival long before last year’s Star Wars rerelease sent execs scurrying to the old-movie vaults. Not to be immodest, but Carr says a 1996 ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY article about Broadway’s Grease mania provided him with the ammunition he needed to convince Paramount of the movie’s cross-generational appeal. ”I bought 20 copies, sent them to the executives, then marched into [Paramount president] Sherry Lansing’s office, and said, ‘We’re sitting on a gold mine.”’
At one point, the studio got so giddy about Grease it discussed doing a Pop-Up Video version of the film. Herewith, a few of our own nuggets culled from the memories of the cast of Rydell High’s senior class.
THEY DON’T GO TOGETHER LIKE RAMALAMADINGDONG From Bette Davis as Scarlett O’Hara to Ronald Reagan as Casablanca’s Rick, movie lore is littered with near-fatal movie castings – and so is the story of Grease.
When Carr first approached Paramount about turning the Broadway musical into a $6 million movie in 1976, studio execs went – BING! – Henry Winkler. Thanks to Happy Days, Winkler was Paramount’s biggest TV star at the time.
Luckily, Winkler decided this wasn’t the way it should be: The character of Danny Zuko, a sweethearted tough guy, was too similar to his TV gig. With Fonzie out of the picture, Carr of- fered the part to then Sweathog John Travolta, who had just wrapped Saturday Night Fever. The studio agreed, but not knowing what would happen nine months later when Travolta strutted down a Brooklyn street, it insisted that Carr find someone with proven star power to play Sandy.
The producer requested Partridge Family member Susan Dey, but according to Carr, she didn’t want to play another teen. While Carr searched on, director Randal Kleiser headed down to the Star Wars mixing stage to see his college roommate George Lucas and check out…Carrie Fisher. ”It was one of the battle scenes, and there were all these explosions and spaceships flying by, and suddenly Carrie was there with her hair and the buns and George said, ‘That’s her!”’ Kleiser remembers. ”But it was too fast, and there was no way to tell.”
Meanwhile, Carr had a chance encounter with pop star Olivia Newton-John while attending a party at Helen Reddy’s home. Completely smitten, he begged her to sign on. Totally dubious, Newton-John refused without first putting herself through a screen test. When she saw the results, Sandy Dumbrowski from Chicago became Sandy Olson from Australia, and the hottest screen couple of the ’70s were together at last.
Looking back, Carr has only one regret about the final cast: ”I wanted Andy Warhol to play the art teacher,” he says. ”And one of the studio executives said, ‘We’ll give you everything you want, but I will not have that man in my movie.’ It was some kind of personal vendetta.”