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Grease Is The Word

Actresses and co-stars Stockard Channing, left, and Olivia Newton-John ready themselves for their roles in the movie version of "Grease," in Los Angeles, Aug. 30, 1977. Ms. Channing and Ms. Newton-John star with John Travolta in the film. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

The 1978 musical/romantic comedy movie “Grease” opens like a scene out of a Sandra Dee teen film. A 1958 teenage couple are on the beach talking about if they’ll ever see one another again after the summer end. Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) tells her boyfriend, Danny Zuko (John Travolta), that she has to return home to Australia at the beginning of the school year.

The part about Newton-John’s film character Sandy being Australian was created for the film and not in the original Broadway play. The 1970s country-pop singer feared she wouldn’t pass for as an all- American teenage girl with her Aussie accent. Newton-John had done little acting before appearing in this film. However, she did appear in the 1970 unreleased film “Toomorrow.”

Other film singer/actresses were considered for the part of Sandy Olsson. Ann-Margaret, Marie Osmond, and Susan Dey of the 1970-1974 TV sitcom “The Partridge Family,” were also considered for the role. Can you imagine someone else in this role? I can’t.

Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on “Happy Days” and a gang member in the theatrical film “The Lords of Flatbush,” was considered for the main role. His lack of singing experience cancelled him out.

Her co-star, Travolta, had just finished appearing in the movie blockbuster “Saturday Night Fever” and played former Sweathog Vinnie Barbarino of the successful TV sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He also played T-Bird gang member Doody in the touring stage version of “Grease.”

In 1976, Travolta made the top-hit pop single, “Let Her In.” I remember seeing this song performed on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” as a kid after Saturday morning cartoons wrapped up on the ABC network.

And of course, the director, Randal Kleiser, of “Grease” first met Travolta when he directed the young star in the 1976 TV movie, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” If you get a chance to watch this film, I highly recommend it.

From the Broadway cast, Jeff Conaway came aboard as T-Bird gang member buddy Kenickie in the film version. However, Conaway played Danny Zuko on stage. Television fans may remember him in the 1978-1981 TV sitcom role of Bobby Wheeler on “Taxi.” Sadly, the film actor struggled with drug addiction for decades and is now deceased.

Stockard Channing is the cynical leader of the Pink Ladies clique Betty Rizzo. At Frenchy’s sleepover, Rizzo puts on a blond wig after Sandy leaves for the bathroom with Frenchy (Didi Conn) and makes fun of the new girl by singing, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Many movie viewers remember the controversial scene, where Rizzo and Kenickie were inside the car making out. Suddenly, Kenickie says, “The condom broke.” Later on, Rizzo worries when she’s late with her period. As she walks down the school hallway one afternoon with kids whispering about her, she sings, “There are worse things I could do.”

How about the scene where Danny and the T-Birds are working on Kenickie’s car for the drag race? They sing, “Greased Lightnin,’” Travolta’s dancing reminds me of Elvis Presley in the film, “Jailhouse Rock.”

Of course, you can’t forget the memorable scene where Frankie Avalon appears to Frenchy as her guardian when she fails beauty school. He advises her to return to Rydell High by singing, “Beauty School dropout.”

Eve Arden stands out as Principal McGee. Her previous role as wise-cracking school teacher Constance Brooks, on the Desilu sitcom, “Our Miss Brooks” makes her a perfect fit for the role. Dody Goodman joins her side as the comical school secretary Blanche Hotel. And, television personality Sid Caesar plays Coach Vince Calhoun.

Other television celebrities Joan Blondel, Edd Byrne, Alice Ghostly, Lorenzo Lamas, Dinah Mannof, Sha-Na-Na, and Ellen Travolta were among the “Grease” cast. It’s always fun to find a familiar television face in the film.

I apologize for not writing about every musical number in the movie. I wanted to share a few favorite scenes from “Grease” and give you a feel for it. However, if you have a favorite musical number scene I didn’t cover, you can share it with the Napa Valley Register readers and me in the opinion area.

Maybe you might want to share your memories about the soundtrack. I’d enjoy reading your comments on this film.

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Carl G. White lives in Napa.