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Documentary Review: Grease is still the word 40 years later

GR4072_Grease-Lighting_Grease_1978_503_PF.jpgI feel like you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who has never seen the 1978 musical movie “Grease”. I know I’m certainly a mega fan. I’ll never forget watching the movie for the first time on one of my yearly childhood trips to Long Island with my grandma. We would stay with my extended family and take a day trip into New York City to see a Broadway show. One afternoon, the weather was particularly nasty so we were hanging out inside and I stumbled upon a VHS of “Grease”. I was immediately hooked, only to later find out it was an “adaption of a Broadway show?! I needed more!

Grease was released in cinemas on 6/4/1978, just a few short months after “Saturday Night Fever”, the movie that rocketed John Travolta to stardom. In that first weekend, the movie raked in $9 million, which was crazy for the time since it only cost $6 million to make, remained #1 at the box office for 14 weeks and the world has never been the same since. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film and along with a special DVD re-release, the cable network Reelz is premiering a new documentary, “Grease: Behind Closed Doors”.

“Grease” began as a rough, gritty, rock-n-roll musical in Chicago’s Kingston Mines. Word began to spread in Manhattan and the show was quickly transferred to Broadway (after a little sanitizing). Over the top producer, Allan Carr purchased the rights to make the film for a measly $200,000 with the stipulation from Paramount Studios that the movie would be a PG high school story.  To make the story a little more accessible, the locale was moved from the struggling Midwest to the sunny California landscape and Sandy’s character was re-written as having moved to the USA from Australia to cover Olivia Newton John’s accent.

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With the principal’s set, the search began for the rest of the supporting cast. It posed a bit of a challenge, because John and Olivia were much older than a typical high schooler, so the Pink Ladies and T-Birds had to match them. Veterans of the stage production like Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Michael Tucci (Sonny), Jamie Donnelly (Jan), and Barry Pearl (Doody) were snatched up along with Grease newcomer’s Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Dinah Manoff (Marty) and Kelly Ward (Putzie, a new role for the film). I was surprised to learn that all of the adult roles are played by 1950’s stars, such as Eve Arden, Sid Caesar and Frankie Avalon. Another interesting casting tidbit: the role of the jock, Tom, was originally to be played by President Gerald Ford’s son Stephen, but he dropped out fearing he’d be ridiculed and Lorenzo Lamas took over.

Despite mixed reviews, the film was an immediate smash success and has gone on to be a worldwide phenomenon, spawning a film sequel, two Broadway revivals and 4 chart topping songs (all of which were new for the film). An equally successful theatrical re-release in 1998 celebrated the film’s 20th anniversary and I will never forget going to see it at my local movie theatre wearing a leather jacket with my grandma in her poodle skirt!

This documentary is chock full of interesting tidbits from casting drama, odd filming activities, anxities, hook ups, friendships and instances that should typically create rifts. As somebody who has been a die hard Grease fan for years, I was riveted. “A hickey from Kenickie” takes a whole new meaning after viewing.

I think Grease still is and will always be a favorite due to it’s impeccable transportation back into a slice of nostalgia. People root for the characters because they remind us of people we actually knew in high school. The top dog, the leader of the pack, the goody two shoes, the bad girl. These characters will always live on in our memories on the the silver screen. Be sure to check out the premiere of “Grease: Behind Closed Doors” on Reelz on 6/16 at 9PM or treat yourself to the 40th anniversary Blu-Ray!

 

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