The untold truth of Grease

Grease is the word, and it still is the word. After being released to the world decades ago on the stage and on the big screen, just the first few notes of the film's catchy music can still get stuck in just about anybody's head. However, even though the movie shattered box office records and created some of the biggest stars in Hollywood — including the iconic duo John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John — few people know that hardly anybody in the film business wanted to make it, and then, to make matters even worse, Grease was initially met with harsh reviews when it first hit theaters. "We were a high-school movie, and there was sort of this 'Look at them making all that money.' It was kind of resented," actress Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo in the film, told Vanity Fair.

Keep reading for more secrets behind the making of the movie. This is the untold truth of Grease.

Grease was nearly an entirely animated film

Surprisingly, it took years for anyone in the film industry to take a chance with Grease. After initially being a successful Broadway musical, many Hollywood producers were skeptical about bringing the story to the big screen, as movie musicals were considered something that belonged in the past.

Even so, the creators of Grease were hit with some pretty interesting ideas when trying to sell their play. The first idea they were pitched? "They wanted to do it as a full-length animated feature," writer Jim Jacobs told Behind the Music. Fortunately, one movie producer snatched it up and created the blockbuster we know and love today.

However, as fans of the film know, there is still a nod to the animated production idea at the beginning of the movie, which starts out as an animated feature introducing each of the actors who were propelled to stardom when Grease was released. It's safe to say that Grease wouldn't have drawn in the same fans if teen heartthrob John Travolta was an animated character for a full hour and a half.

"You're the One That I Want" was a hit before Grease was even released

One of the most iconic songs from Grease was a smash before the movie even hit theaters.

"You're the One That I Want," the catchy tune that Danny and Sandy sing at the end of the film, became more or less a teaser when it was released as a single months before movie-goers could see Grease. And honestly, it was a pretty great marketing move. "They will listen to the song and go to the box office to see John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John sing," music executive Maureen Crowe explained to Behind the Music, and fans did!

Just weeks after "You're the One That I Want" was released, it became no. 1 on pop charts across the country. The movie's director, Randal Kleiser, was initially surprised by this. "I turned on the radio, and on every station, there were songs from the movie playing," he said. It seems America wanted to see a movie musical after all!

The Grease cast was not made up of teenagers

When 29-year-old Olivia Newton-John was cast as 17-year-old Sandy, she wasn't sure she should take the part. "I was worried I was too old," she told Sunday Night's True Stories. However, though Grease centers around high schoolers, none of the main actors were even close to acting their age. John Travolta was 24 years old, and Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, was 26 at the time. Though most had been out of high school for almost a decade, director Randal Kleiser had only one rule when hiring his cast. "High school kids could not have crow's-feet," he told Vanity Fair.

Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo, was the oldest actor at the age of 33, and the crew took extra precautions to make her character look more her age. "Allan [the movie's producer] showed up on the set with a brown pencil and started dotting freckles on my nose so I would look younger," she divulged.

Even so, Newton-John said that because so many of the cast members had crushes on each other, it made the set feel youthful. "It was like high school," she told The Morning Call.

John Travolta first had a minor role in Grease on Broadway

John Travolta had a very thorough grasp of Grease before being cast in the film. He was first a part of the Broadway musical's national tour. He told Behind the Music, "I had seen it off Broadway ... and it was like my favorite show, and I desperately wanted to be in it."

However, he had quite a run before making it. "John Travolta auditioned for Grease the first time when he was 16 or something, and he didn't make it," Jim Jacobs, the musical's creator, admitted. Luckily, he was cast in the show a year later, but he had a very different role when it came to performing the story on stage. Instead of Danny, like he plays in the film, Travolta played a more minor character on Broadway as one of the T-Birds named Doody.

Surprisingly, it was Jeff Conaway who played Danny on stage for two years before taking part a the movie (via Broadway.com).

Grease star Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into those leather pants

The tight leather pants Sandy debuts during that one classic Grease scene were not necessarily a pair that actress Olivia Newton-John would say "you're the one that I want" to.

"I don't know if the zipper was gone or it wasn't there. I don't know what the story was, but anyway, they had to stitch me in," she divulged to Behind the Music. "So I couldn't drink a lot, and I couldn't eat a lot, and it was very, very hot." Luckily, even though she had to wear the tight pants in 106 degree weather, she didn't have to wear them for too long, as the entire dance number took seven hours to film (via Vanity Fair). Could have been worse, right?

The daring rock 'n' roll look was a complete change from the good girl persona viewers were introduced to at the beginning of Grease, and it was a big change for Newton-John as well — it was one of the most stunning movie makeovers, after all! When she first walked onto set in the outfit, she said her castmates were stunned. "When I came out of the make-up trailer with the big hair and the tight clothes, nobody recognized me," she admitted to The Morning Call.

Jeff Conaway married Olivia Newton-John's sister after filming Grease

The biggest love story to come out of Grease actually didn't happen to be Danny and Sandy's iconic romance, but instead involved another actor — and it happened off-screen.

Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, reportedly crushed hard on Olivia Newton-John while shooting the classic film. However, during a random Grease cast party, Conaway met the woman he would eventually marry. "I looked across the living room and saw this terrific-looking lady talking to Olivia," he told People of that night. Turns out, it was Newton-John's older sister, Rona, who happened to be visiting from England.

"I liked him straightaway," she admitted. She was surprised that Conaway wasn't the same bad boy he made himself out to be on-screen that Olivia had described. "She'd tease and say, 'That's the stud.' She made him sound pretty dangerous. I almost fainted at the party when he turned out to be this polite, clean-cut boy."

Conaway and Newton-John later married two years after Grease hit theaters. Unfortunately, the couple ended up divorcing after five years of marriage (via The Morning Call).

John Travolta almost wasn't cast in Grease

John Travolta wasn't chosen to play Danny in Grease on Broadway, and he actually wasn't the first choice to play Danny in the film either. The actor who the studio really wanted was Henry Winkler, the leather jacket-wearing actor who played Fonzie, a.k.a. "The Fonz," on the television show Happy Days. "Now, I can dance Grease, but I can't sing Grease," Winkler told the Rachael Ray Show. "So I thought, 'You know what? I just played The Fonz for ten years, I'm going to say no.'" Because of the similarities between The Fonz and Danny Zuko, Winkler ultimately decided to pass on the role for fear of being typecast (via Vanity Fair).  

Though the movie Grease ultimately raked in millions of dollars worldwide and propelled Travolta to stardom, Winkler still has no regrets about turning down the role. "One of the great decisions of my life," he told Rachael Ray. "Because John Travolta, who really deserved it, he said yes." And we are glad that he did!

Grease's director was college roommates with this entertainment icon

With all of the continued success that Grease has had, it's surprising to hear that it was the first feature film that Randal Kleiser had ever directed, and he was only 30 years old at the time.

Before graduating from film school at the University of Southern California, Kleiser was college roommates with another famous force — entertainment icon and director George Lucas of the powerful Stars Wars franchise. As a freshman, Kleiser even played a character in Lucas' very first student film called Freiheit (via Xecutives).

When Lucas began working on Star Wars, Kleiser asked if he could take a look at some of the scenes from the movie as he was beginning to put one together himself — Grease. After seeing the Star Wars star Carrie Fisher in action, Kleiser thought she would be the perfect choice for the character Sandy. However, as he was unable to test her singing ability, he ultimately looked at other actresses to cast for the role, as noted by Vanity FairGrease would have never been the same without Olivia Newton-John!

Olivia Newton-John didn't want to be Grease's Sandy at first

Olivia Newton-John had only done one film before Grease, so, when she was first offered the role of Sandy, she declined. "I was very anxious about making another film, because my music career was going well," she told Vanity Fair. "And I did not want to mess it up by doing another movie that wasn't good."

John Travolta, however, knew she was meant for the role. "I wanted this girl bad in Grease," he told The Merv Griffin Show, so he went straight to her home in Australia to convince her to accept it. But Newton-John wanted to see how she would do on camera before officially accepting the part. "Olivia said, 'Well, I'll do it, but I'll have to see myself in a screen test first,'" Travolta explained. Fortunately, the two had chemistry on camera, so she signed on to the film.

The only thing Newton-John couldn't get down was an American accent. "I was very nervous about making the film, because I was an Australian," she divulged to The Telegraph, but the crew had to have her. "They said, 'That's OK, you can do an Australian accent,'" so they rewrote her character's backstory.

Many of Grease's songs didn't come from the stage musical

Though Grease began as a Broadway musical, many of the film version's music was completely original. Because of the stigma at the time that movie musicals were a thing of the past, the movie's producers wanted to completely reinvent the story for the big screen. "Grease was the perfect storm when the right casting met an established Broadway hit. The new music that we added helped a lot, too," director Randal Kleiser told Xecutives. "Many of the new songs became hits on the radio the summer the movie came out." It was true, but not everybody was so happy about this, including Jim Jacobs, the creator of the original musical.

"Jim was not given a position of any kind of supervisory position over the music on the film," musical director Louis St. Louis divulged to Behind the Music. The creators were reportedly banned from the set of the Grease movie altogether.  

"I was not at all a part of the making of the motion picture," Jacobs said, adding, "Which really hurt. This was our baby."

This Grease song was nominated for an Oscar

What is Olivia Newton-John's favorite tune from Grease? "Probably 'Hopelessly Devoted [to You],' because it was my song," she told Sunday Night's True Stories, and there's good reason that it should be! It was the only song from the film to be nominated for an Oscar.

When Newton-John signed on to Grease, her contract required that she have an original song, so the songwriter behind some of her greatest hits was tasked with writing it. "They needed a romantic ballad for the movie that they were writing in for her," John Farrar told Behind the Music. It was such a last-minute thought that the scene wasn't even filmed until after shooting for the movie had completely wrapped, as noted by Lifetime.

When the song received an Academy Award nomination, Farrar admitted he was shocked. "I didn't think 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' would be as successful as it was," he told Behind the Music. The success of the song made Newton-John the second woman ever in history to have two songs in the Billboard Top 5 at the same time. Her other song was the iconic "You're the One that I Want."

Grease's "Beauty School Dropout" scene almost got cut

The King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, was rumored to have been wanted as the angel in the infamous "Beauty School Dropout" scene of Grease, but the role eventually went to pop singer Frankie Avalon. Because of him, the scene almost didn't even happen.

In the movie, Avalon gracefully sings the dreamy ballad, but, when the director told him he would be descending down a three-story staircase, he panicked. It turned out that he was afraid of heights. "After the second take, I said to Randal [the director], 'You got to cut. I can't do this,'" he admitted to Vanity Fair. The director knew he had to have this angelic scene, so he improvised. The crew placed mattresses on either side of the staircase, which helped Avalon to face his fear of falling.

And maybe this pop icon should have seen it coming all along. Oddly enough, Avalon divulged to People that the only reason he took the role was because his cousin had a recurring dream about this exact scene years before he started working on the film.

Grease is the highest-grossing movie musical of the 20th century

It's really no surprise that Grease went on to become the highest-grossing movie musical of the entire 20th century. With a budget of $6 million, the film went on to make over $400 million across box offices worldwide and sold more than 13 million copies of its soundtrack in its first year alone, according to Vanity Fair. "People in the movie business, since that time, have been trying to replicate that equation ever since," film critic Sam Rubin told Behind the Music regarding the movie's success.

Even the Broadway show has continued to thrive. There have been more than 123,000 various productions performed of Grease across the world since its first showcase on stage (via Vanity Fair).

Still today, people everywhere can be heard singing the songs and quoting the classic film, despite the film being one of many movie classics with misogynistic moments that make you cringe. There's just something about it. "I think it's just got this amazing energy, and the music is wonderful, and people have this nostalgic thing about the '50s," Olivia Newton-John told 60 Minutes Australia. Plus, when you go back and watch the movie, you'll realize there are things in Grease you'll only notice as an adult — all the more reason to rewatch it!

The stars behind Grease's Sandy and Danny later released a Christmas song together

Fans everywhere often ask Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta if the chemistry they had in Grease made its way off-screen as well. "We never dated," Newton-John told The Morning Call, adding, "But to this day, we still keep in touch." And we're glad they do!

Over 30 years after Grease became a worldwide phenomenon when it was released in movie theaters, the actors who played Sandy and Danny reunited once again. In 2012, the iconic duo released a Christmas song called "I Think You Might Like It," which happened to be written by the same songwriter of "You're the One That I Want," their hit duet in Grease. "We made a video with a 1950s Thunderbird, and wore similar outfits to Grease as a homage to a wonderful time in our lives," Newton-John told The Telegraph.

So what does Newton-John think became of Danny and Sandy? "To be honest, I don't like answering that question," she told The Morning Call. "I don't like to take them too far beyond the end of the movie. I like to think they're still back there at Rydell High, having the time of their lives."