In the stage play, the song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" had a reference to Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976. For the movie, the lyric was changed to reference Elvis Presley, who died the same day the scene was filmed.
The dance contest scene was filmed during the summer when the school was closed. The gym had no air conditioning and the doors had to be kept closed to control lighting, so the building became stifling hot. On more than one occasion, an extra had to be taken out due to heat-related illness.
Jeff Conaway stated in an episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (2008) that while filming the scene/song "Greased Lightning" he was dropped by his fellow cast members and injured his back leading to his addiction to prescription painkillers.
"Hopelessly Devoted to You" was written and recorded after the movie had wrapped. The producers felt they needed a strong ballad and had Olivia Newton-John come back to film her singing this song. This song ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination.
Elvis Presley turned down the role of The Guardian Angel in the 'Beauty School Drop-Out' scene. When 'Allen Carr (I)' first bought the film rights to Grease, he envisioned Elvis as Danny and Ann-Margret as Sandy.
"Greased Lightning" was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway's character, Kenickie, as it is in the stage version. John Travolta used his clout to have his character sing it. The director felt it was only right to ask Conaway if it was okay. At first he refused, but he eventually gave in.
In the scene where the cast are near the bridge after the car race, the water on the ground was stagnant and dangerous. Some cast members became ill from filming as the setting was a derelict place full of dirt and rubbish.
When Olivia Newton-John was cast as Sandy, her character's background had to be changed to accommodate Newton-John's own background. In the original Broadway musical Sandy was an all-American girl and her last name was Dumbrowski. In the movie version, she became Sandy Olsson, from Australia. Also, because of Newton-John's casting, John Farrar (Newton-John's frequent songwriter) had to write two new songs for the film while other songs from the Broadway musical were dropped.
Randal Kleiser shot a scene of Kenickie and Rizzo getting into a heated argument, which explained their attitude towards each other in the diner scene (where Rizzo threw the malt at Kenickie). The fight scene was cut because it didn't match the tone of the rest of the film; it was much grittier, described by one crew member as "looking like something Martin Scorsese might have directed."
According to Didi Conn in an interview on KGO-AM, there were plans for a sequel named "Summer School" (distinct from Grease 2 (1982)) but Paramount later nixed the idea. This idea grew out of Coach Calhoun's line "See you in summer school" to Putzie before he is hit with a pie in the carnival scene near the end.
The final musical scene, "You're the One That I Want" was filmed with the help of a traveling carnival. However, director Randal Kleiser decided the next day that additional scenes were needed for close-ups. Unfortunately the carnival had left town, so set decorators were called in to build replica backgrounds that matched the carnival ride's construction for the close-ups.
Olivia Newton-John requested to have a screen test before she accepted the role of Sandy. The director Randal Kleiser agreed and they shot the 'drive-in movie' scene with Danny and Sandy as a trial. Newton-John was pleased and went on with filming.
In the decades following the film's release, a conspiracy theory circulated that Sandy actually drowned and the rest of the film is a near-death hallucination. Furthermore, the theorists claim the famous 'fly-away' ending is Sandy's ascent to heaven.
It was released again in theaters in 1998 for a couple of reasons: to mark the 20th anniversary of the original and because the year before, a dance mix of songs from the soundtrack became a big hit on the radio.
This was the film on which Jeff Conaway became addicted to drugs. While he was shooting the "Greased Lightning" musical number, he was accidentally dropped, hurting his back. He started taking pain killers, eventually then abusing prescription drugs, starting Conaway on the downward spiral into drug addiction until he died in 2011 at age 60.
John Travolta started rehearsals just four days after completing filming for Saturday Night Fever (1977). Having two mega-hit movies in a row made it difficult to return to honor his contract for Welcome Back, Kotter (1975), but he fulfilled his contract, albeit with a reduced presence, and eventually left the show to pursue a movie career full-time.
Several musical numbers were not used in the film. They appear, however, as jukebox tunes, or band numbers at the high school dance. Among them "Freddy, My Love", "Those Magic Changes", and "It's Raining on Prom Night" all of which were performed by characters in the stage musical.
The original Broadway production opened at the Eden Theater on February 14, 1972 and ran for 3,388 performances, setting a record. Adrienne Barbeau and Barry Bostwick were in the original Broadway cast. John Travolta appeared at some time as a replacement on Broadway in the role of "Doody". Marilu Henner, an alumna of the original Chicago production, appeared as a replacement in the role of "Marty". Patrick Swayze and Treat Williams were both replacements as Danny Zuko. Richard Gere is also listed as an understudy to many male roles, including Danny Zuko. Gere played Zuko in the London production in 1973.
Stockard Channing was not the first choice for the role of Rizzo; Lucie Arnaz was allegedly dropped from consideration when her mother, Lucille Ball, called Paramount and said, "I used to own that studio; my daughter's not doing a screen test!" (Ball actually owned the studio Desilu which was bought by Paramount). The part went to Channing when the casting director remembered seeing her with Lucie in the play, "Vanities" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (the third member of the cast was Sandy Duncan).
In 1978, the film grossed just under $160 million domestically, more than other renowned movies that year such as Superman (1978), Animal House (1978) or Halloween (1978). To date, it has grossed a domestic total of $188,755,690 and a worldwide total of $394,955,690. But it accomplished it all on a budget of just $6 million. It also became the highest-earning musical of all time. The second highest-grosser is Chicago (2002).
Randal Kleiser hated the opening song "Grease". He felt the lyrics were too dark and cynical and that it didn't fit the 1950s setting. He also felt the stream of consciousness lyrics Barry Gibb wrote for the opening theme were quite out of place and inappropriate for the light and fun movie he was making. But with Barry Gibb and his Bee Gee Brothers riding high with the Robert Stigwood organization from the Saturday Night Fever (1977) success and Kleiser being a young upstart director, he felt he had no clout to ask for any changes.
This was the highest grossing film of 1978, but garnered only 1 Oscar nomination, and that was for a song that wasn't even supposed to be in the movie, "Hopelessly Devoted To You." After filming ended, the producers decided Olivia Newton-John needed a ballad, so they wrote the song, shot a scene with her singing it, and kept it in the movie.
Jeff Conaway had a crush on Olivia Newton-John during the filming of Grease. He didn't have any kind of a relationship with her, although he did have a fling with Susan Buckner (Patty Simcox) during the production. And years later he did marry Rona, Olivia Newton-John's sister.
In a case of life imitating art, Didi Cohn (Frenchy) said that most of the cast became like a family. But she also said Susan Buckner (Patty Simcox) was a bit of an outcast, much like her character: "We all made fun of her and ignored her", she stated in a recent interview.
In 1997, Randal Kleiser called Sherry Lansing, then head of Paramount, and insisted that the film had to come back again for its 20th anniversary. Lansing informed Kleiser that George Lucas had called her a few days earlier and said that out of all of the movies in the Paramount vault, this was the one that should come back. Lucas explained that every nine-year-old he knew watched a VHS copy of Grease every day.
Olivia Newton-John insisted on a screen test for the role of Sandy. She was concerned that she didn't have the acting skills and that she would look too old to be a high school student. The screen test would allay those fears. She got the part that had originally been meant for Susan Dey, best known as Laurie Partridge in The Partridge Family (1970), but who turned it down on her manager's advice.
In the malt shop the angel tells Frenchy that if she gets her diploma she can join a steno pool. Being a stenographer, which involved listening to someone dictate letters and then typing them, was one of the few jobs offered to young and inexperienced girls in the 1950s. They would hire into a company and then, basically, wait until they were needed. There were often several girls in the steno resource pool.
The title song of Grease (1978) was written by Barry Gibb, and Peter Frampton played guitar. Director Randal Kleiser didn't like the song because he thought the lyrics were too dark and not fitting of the 1950s. Kleiser asked Gibb to make the lyrics more upbeat, to which Gibb told Kleiser he should shoot a serious scene to match the song. The song became a number one single in the United States.
Scenes inside the Frosty Palace contain obvious blurring of various Coca-Cola signs. Prior to the film's release, Allan Carr had made a product-placement deal with Coca-Cola's main competitor Pepsi (for example, a Pepsi logo can be seen in the animated opening sequence). When Carr saw the footage of the scene with Coca-Cola products and signage, he ordered Randal Kleiser to either reshoot the scene with Pepsi products or remove the Coca-Cola logos from the scene. As reshoots were deemed too expensive and time-consuming, optical mattes were used to cover up or blur out the Coca-Cola references. The "blurring" covered up trademarked menu signage and a large wall poster, but a red cooler with the logo could not be sufficiently altered so was left unchanged. According to Kleiser, "We just had to hope that Pepsi wouldn't complain. They didn't."
John Travolta kept lip-syncing "heap lap trials" instead of "heat lap trials," and Randal Kleiser claims you could see this in the finished product. Kleiser believed Travolta was distracted after reading a magazine article that morning about his recently deceased girlfriend, Diana Hyland, who had passed away from cancer.
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the original musical's book, weren't invited on set during production of the movie. John Travolta had played Danny over 100 times on the road doing the musical, and gradually got more lines from Jacobs and Casey's version into the film, which was written by Allan Carr and Bronté Woodard. When Travolta didn't think a line of dialogue was working, he would quote a line from the original, and Kleiser would tend to agree and use that line instead.
For the "You're the one that I want" scene, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into those spandex pants. "They sewed me into those pants every morning for a week," Newton-John claimed. "Believe me, I had to be very careful about what I ate and drank. It was excruciating." It was 106 degrees on the set for the carnival finale.
In the school office scene at the beginning of the movie Mrs Murdock ( Alice Ghostly ) asks how many days to Christmas vacation, Sandy replies "86 days". This is a reference to Alice Ghostly's time on the TV show 'Get Smart' which has the character Maxwell Smart, Control agent "86"
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the original stage play, were originally supposed to serve as executive producers of the film but got kicked off the set by Allen Carr. Patricia Birch who was choreographer on the Broadway stage continued her role in the movie version and the film original song "Sandy" was co-written by Louis St. Louis who wrote some songs used in the film.
Allan Carr met Olivia Newton-John at a party thrown by fellow Australian singer Helen Reddy and was "completely smitten" and begged her to sign on for the part. John Travolta told The Morning Call that he rallied for Newton-John to get the part, too.
Allan Carr wanted porn star Harry Reems to play Coach Calhoun and offered him the part after a screening of Casablanca (1942) at Hugh M. Hefner's mansion. The studio wouldn't have it. "They bounced me out of the cast," Reems said. "They thought they might lose some play dates in the South." Carr felt so badly about it that he wrote Reems a personal check for $5000.
Marie Osmond told Larry King that she turned down the role of Sandy because she "didn't want my teenagers some day to say, you know, 'You have to go bad to get the boy.' It was just a personal choice as a some day mother."
Allan Carr wanted Andy Warhol to play the art teacher. One unnamed studio executive said he would not have "that man" in the movie, which Carr interpreted as the executive having a personal vendetta against the legendary artist.
Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi originally had the rights to the film adaptation to Grease, and had wanted to do it as an animated musical. When Krantz and Bakshi's partnership fell through, Robert Stigwood acquired the film rights.
Eddie Deezen (Eugene) would also appear in the other big rock and roll period piece of 1978, Robert Zemeckis' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". He became very popular during this period playing stock nerd characters in movies, his most famous role probably being Eddie Malvin in "Wargames"(1983).
Ralph Bakshi the famed adult animator in the 70s who did Fritz the Cat originally attempted to buy the rights to Grease to do a full length animated musical out of it, but those plans fell through. Bakshi wound up making Lord of the Rings instead, stealing the thunder from John Boorman, who was looking to adapt the Tolkein book. Boorman eventually wound up making Excalibur instead.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
During the Thunder Road race between Danny and "Crater Face", Annette Charles (Cha-Cha) was in terrible pain from an ectopic pregnancy. This is why she is frequently seen in the film leaning against cars.