Study Guide

Grease Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Randal Kleiser

    If Randal Kleiser were a student at Rydell High, he wouldn't be a popular kid like Danny, and he wouldn't be a nerd like Eugene either. He'd be most like the kid in the green shirt at the end of the movie: solid, talented, but not everyone recognizes him or knows who he is.

    Despite directing one of the most beloved movie musicals, Kleiser doesn't have a memorable resume. Before directing Grease, Randal Kleiser put John Travolta in a plastic bubble in the 1976 TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. The success of that film gave Kleiser the clout to turn Travolta into the boy with the plastic hair—Danny Zuko—in Grease.

    Kleiser went from one movie about a group of sexed-up teens to another, directing The Blue Lagoon in 1980, a film that showed audiences what came between Brooke Shields and her Calvins. From there, he worked on steadily average films, like Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), White Fang (1991), and Red Riding Hood (2006) with Amanda Seyfried.

    Since then, Kleiser hasn't done any big-screen directing. We hope no one huffed and puffed and blew his house down.

  • Screenwriter

    Alan Carr and Bronte Woodard, based on the playbook by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey

    Producer Alan Carr needed to adapt a hit Broadway musical for Hollywood—a big task made harder by the fact that Hollywood wanted it to be PG, when the musical was a teensy bit racier. To help him clean it up, Carr recruited someone named Bronte Woodard. Despite seemingly being named after a couple of pretty famous women writers (Charlotte and Emily), Bronte Woodward was a dude.

    The two men buffed up the play to a Hollywood shine by removing references to saran wrap being used as a condom (good call, guys). They also removed a few musical numbers and rearranged a few others. (Source)

    The silver screen adaptation was a hit, so Carr and Woodard worked together again for a film starring the Village People: Can't Stop the Music. That one wasn't a hit, to put it mildly.

    Carr and Woodard won the not-so-coveted Golden Raspberry award for Worst Screenplay in 1980 for Can't Stop the Music. Critics hated it…and the film's box-office failure basically stopped Woodard's career.

  • Production Studio

    A Robert Stigwood/Allan Carr Production, Distributed by Paramount

    Robert Stigwood and Alan Carr were like a real-life Sandy and Rizzo. Stigwood, who died in 2016 at the age of eighty-two, was known as a super music manager and movie producer. Carr, who died in 1999 at the age of sixty-two, was known for sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

    Guess which one was the Sandy?

    Stigwood managed top bands like Eric Clapton's Cream and the Bee Gees in the 1960s. As a film producer, he relied heavily on the brothers Gibb to provide soundtracks for his hit movies Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Despite the success of these two hit musicals—both starring John Travolta—they would be the height of Stigwood's career. His last producing credit was the 1994 musical Evita, starring Madonna. (Source)

    We think Stigwood would have sung "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," though: he appears to have had a long, fulfilling life.

    While Stigwood discovered the substance, Carr appears to have supplied the flash and the style. Carr promoted Grease and Tommy, and was known as the "king of product placement" for tricks like propping a case of Pepsi behind Olivia Newton-John when she sings "Hopelessly Devoted to You." (How did that song not become the official anthem for Pepsi?) (Source)

    But Carr's penchant for style over substance eventually ruined his career. His film Can't Stop the Music (1980) starring The Village People, is known as the film that killed disco. R.I.P. you big glittering ball. (Source)

    And Carr produced the 1989 Oscars, featuring Rob Lowe and Snow White in what may be the most embarrassing duet ever sung.

    In between all that, Carr was more famous for producing parties than producing movies. His borderline out-of-control shindigs were attended by the Hollywood elite…which definitely makes him the Rizzo of the duo.

  • Production Design

    From the Stage to the Streets

    Grease the movie is no longer a Broadway show. They're not confined to the stage. So the filmmakers wanted to make the production pop. We imagine the conversation went something like this:

    Executive 1: A musical? What's that?

    Executive 2: Girls singing about boys? Boys singing about girls?

    Executive 1: That doesn't sound very masculine. We need more explosions!

    Executive 2: How about a car chase?

    Executive 1: Great idea! It could be like Ben Hur, but instead of sweaty shirtless gladiators battling it out, we have fit young men in tight black shirts.

    Executive 2: Amazing, sir! That's very masculine.

    And so the car chase in Grease was born. It added some action and pizazz to the musical and maybe helped attract a larger audience? We're not sure. The Grease Live! TV musical would later attempt to blend stage and screen by adding in songs cut from the play and still attempting the blistering car chase. (Source)

    The starting line of the race is under the 6th Street Bridge in downtown L.A., and the rest of the movie was filmed on location around Southern California, too. (Source)

    Everything came together thanks to the magic touch of editor John F. Burnett who also worked on Grease 2 (1982) and Can't Stop the Music (1980). (Source)

    Okay, both those films bombed hard, so maybe Burnett's touch isn't as magic as we're giving him credit for. Regardless of his failures, Grease is a success thanks to him and everyone involved.

  • Music

    Summer What-in'?!

    Grease wouldn't be the same without its soundtrack. The music gets the audience up and moving, but the lyrics are where characters reveal their thoughts and feelings, for better or worse.

    One of the best examples of characters revealing themselves through song is "Summer Nights," written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote most of the songs for the original state production. In this song, Danny and Sandy are singing about the same event, yet each one appears to be telling a radically different story. Here's a sample:

    SANDY: He ran by me, got my suit damp.

    DANNY: I saved her life, she nearly drowned.

    SANDY: He showed off, splashing around. 

    As the song progresses, the men get more traditionally masculine in their boasting about sexual exploits, and the women act more traditionally feminine, singing instead about love, not sex. Danny sings this line,

    DANNY: She got friendly down in the sand. […] Well, she was good. You know what I mean.

    But Frenchy asks Sandy this question,

    FRENCHY: Was it love at first sight?

    And finally Kenickie sings the line that has plagued Grease fans for decades:

    KENICKIE: Did she put up a fight?

    Kenickie's line (perhaps unintentionally) points out the consequences of what happens when these hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine narratives collide: the men steamroll over the women and take what they want, without asking for consent.

    Stay in School, Kids

    Not all the songs are as date-rapey as "Summer Nights." Some are pure energy dance songs, like "Born to Hand Jive" performed by Sha Na Na. Others, like "Greased Lightnin'" are classic Broadway "I want" songs. What do the T-Birds want? Girls. What do the Pink Ladies want? Boys. Or at least to make fun of Sandy for not being boy crazy, as Rizzo does in the song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee."

    And what does Frenchy want? We haven't a clue. "Beauty School Drop-Out" is one of the weirdest songs in the movie. Sung by Frankie Avalon, hero of the films Grease is an homage to, the song tells us that Frenchy missed her midterms and flunked at shampoo, so she might as well drop-out of beauty school and return to high school.

    This song, on the surface, is a song that urges Frenchy, and girls like her, to give up on their dreams and conform. Is the "Beauty" only skin deep, or is there more to it than that?

  • Fandoms

    People don't really like grease. They use paper napkins to blot it off pizza, get angry if it stains their t-shirt, and scrub to get the scent of deep-fat fryers out of their hair after a shift flipping burgers.

    But Grease—capitalized and italicized—is beloved by people of all ages and all generations.

    Teens love it: Glee devoted an entire episode to it (the somewhat unappetizingly named Glease.) Old fogies love it: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reunited to sing, "You're the One That I Want" in 2012. (Source)

    And everyone in between loves it: pretty much everyone watched Fox's Grease Live! in 2016. (SourceStarring Julianne Hough as Sandy and Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy, the TV adaptation was an insane hit.

    Grease still lives on stage, too. A version of the musical seems to always be in production somewhere in the U.S. or U.K. And one of the writers of Grease the musical, Jim Jacobs, even revived his original vision: Grease set in a Chicago and much rougher and raunchier than the Broadway version and the movie it inspired. (Source)

    Basically: as long as there are high school seniors hoping for a graduation that includes a private amusement park (good graduation, or best graduation?), Grease will be the one that we want.