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).
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.
"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.
In the stage play, the song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" had a reference to Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976, year before film was shot. So the lyric for movie (shot in summer 1977) was changed to an Elvis Presley reference, who ironically was also dead by the time of the film's release in 1978.
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.
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.
The original stage play had more sexual references than the censors wanted to allow. Among these was the use of plastic wrap as protection. To overcome the censors, there weren't any blatant references but Danny rubs plastic wrap over his crotch during "Greased Lightning".
"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.
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, foreign-exchange student 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."
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.
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 radio.
The original Broadway production of "Grease" opened at the Eden Theater on February 14, 1972 and ran for 3388 performances breaking the previous record set by "Fiddler on the Roof". This production was also nominated for a 1972 Tony Award for Best Musical. The original Broadway production is the thirteenth longest running show ever.
Susan Dey and Deborah Raffin were the first choices for the role of Sandy (Dey declined the role after her manager advised against it). Marie Osmond later claimed on Larry King Live (1985) that she had been also been offered the role but declined "on moral grounds" though she later admitted this to be untrue.
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 production had a product placement plan with Coca-Cola, but it fell through. The Coke products were taken out or blurred. There is a huge hanging picture/advertisement in the diner that was blurred out. Photos on the inside flaps of the soundtrack album have Pepsi products.
Randal Kleiser 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.
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.
According to director Randal Kleiser, some of the special effects and lighting around Didi Conn and Frankie Avalon in "The Beauty School Dropout" scene were the first use of computer graphics in a movie.
Harry Reems was originally signed to play Coach Calhoun. Producers got cold feet (for fear of his adult movie notoriety) weeks before filming and replaced him with Sid Caesar. Prosecuted by the federal government in 1976 on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines, Reems was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal one year later.
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.
Originated in Chicago at the Kingston Mines Theatre, of which authors Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey were acting ensemble members. It opened on the 5 February 1971, and cast members Marilu Henner, who played Marty, and James Canning, who played Doody, went on to play those roles on Broadway. Others in the cast were Sue Williams (Rizzo), Bruce Hickey (Kenickie), Bill Cervetti (Miller), Sheila Ray Ceaser (Jan), Hedda Lubin (Frenchy), Polly Pen (Patti), Leslie Goto (Sandi), Doug Stevnson (Danny), Gerald Bolnick (Sonny), and Gary Houston (Roger). Guy Barile directed and Ronna Kaye choreographed the production, and Wrick Paul (aka Rick Paul) was set designer. The rock-and-roll band that accompanied the show, led by Michael Williams, was called Sex Nellie, and Love.