Before Grease exploded into a worldwide phenomenon grossing nearly $400 million worldwide, it played in a former trolley barn in Chicago. Advertising copywriter Jim Jacobs and high school art teacher Warren Casey wrote the script, music, and lyrics to the production as a way to commemorate the great doo-wop songs on the 1950s. In 1972, Grease played off-Broadway in New York City, landing on the radar of producer Allan Carr, who nabbed the movie rights and brought it to Paramount.
The film received a $6 million budget and shot over the course of two months at Venice High School and other Los Angeles locations. In its latest issue (and ahead of Grease’s transformation to a live staged event airing Sunday on Fox), Vanity Fair explored what went into the making of the 1978 box office hit. Tell us more, tell us more:
Paramount wanted Henry Winkler for the role of Danny Zuko.
And Carr pictured the leading man as a busboy and gas station attendant who sang “Gas Pump Jockey.” “Greased Lightnin’ ” was originally imagined for the Beach Boys.
John Travolta eventually claimed “Greased Lightnin’ ” for himself, but not from the Beach Boys.
In the Broadway production, Kenickie heads the ode to hot rods, but Travolta wanted the hip gyrating for himself. “I have to be completely honest with you,” Travolta told Vanity Fair. “I wanted the number. And because I had clout, I could get the number.”
Carrie Fisher was considered to play Sandy.
Susan Dey, Deborah Raffin, and Marie Osmond were also in the running, but Osmond protested to Sandy’s transition from good girl to sexy biker chick.
Marie’s brother Donny was imagined as the Teen Angel. And so was Elvis.
Carr had Donny Osmond in mind for the appearance, and Elvis — who died during the summer the film was shot — was also rumored for the part, which eventually went to Frankie Avalon.
Sandy wasn’t always Australian.
After Olivia Newton-John expressed concern with being able to do an American accent, Carr rewrote the role.
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Lorenzo Lamas dyed his hair blond to play Tom Chisum.
After replacing President Gerald Ford’s son Steven for the part, Lamas scheduled a hair appointment. “They told me they had to dye my hair a lighter color, because I was 6’2” and bulky and they did not want me to look like a T-Bird,” Lamas told the monthly. “So they sent me to Rodeo Drive to dye my hair blond. I would have dyed it purple to be in that movie.”
Coach Calhoun was almost played by a porn star.
Harry Reems got his name in Hollywood after appearing in Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat, but Paramount eventually replaced him with Sid Caesar.
Rizzo’s “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” almost didn’t make the movie.
“Allan was very wishy-washy on the song,” Stockard Channing, the actress behind the movie’s toughest Pink Lady, said. “He thought it was a downer.” Ten of the play’s 20 original songs were axed entirely or reduce to background music.
Travolta brought Scientology to the set.
When director Randal Kleiser fell ill after getting a foot infection, Travolta visited his trailer to offer a “touch assist.” “I was lying there with this fever and he’s poking me and poking me and poking me and I’m like, ‘Yes, I feel it.’ ‘Thank you.’ Then he left,” Kleiser remembered to Vanity Fair. “The next day I was better, and of course he claimed it was because of the touch assist.”
There were plans for a sequel called Summer School.
The film would have focused on the wedding of Rizzo and Kenickie, Vanity Fair reports, but it was never made. Grease 2 arrived in its place in 1982.
Head here for more from Vanity Fair’s deep dive into the making of Grease.