After 30 years, GREASE is still the word!

posted by Eric Friedmann on June 13, 2008 at 8:00 am

UPDATED 6/16 with verranth1 post below:

The movie version of “Grease” was released exactly 30 years ago today, June 16, 1978. It was based on Jim Jacobs' and Warren Casey’s original 1972 Broadway musical. It is widely considered the most popular movie musical of all time. For myself, I saw it six (6) times in the theater upon its release. Generally, I don’t like musicals, but I still love “Grease”.

Some film facts that may interest you:

  • It was the highest-grossing movie in the U.S. in 1978.
  • It was filmed at Venice High School in Venice, California.
  • Henry Winkler and Marie Osmond were originally considered for the roles of Danny and Sandy.
  • Danny’s blue windbreaker at the film’s open is an homage to “Rebel Without a Cause”
  • Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into her black spandex during the film’s final sequence.
  • Director Randal Kleiser has previously stated that he hated two of the film’s most popular songs, “Grease” and “You’re The One That I Want”.

Some theatrical 30th anniversary screenings of the film this weekend would certainly make sense. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any. So, pull out your DVD and celebrate 30 years of GREASE!

From member verranth1:

There was always something a bit odd about going to the movies in Central New Jersey . Maybe, that’s just because Central Jersey was odd itself. A location without the beach and sand of the shore nor the tumult and decay of a Newark nor the skyline views of a Fort Lee, it was an area that lacked a distinct hook or a gimmick to label it. Stuck dead in the middle of the state, we were close enough to New York City to get there in under an hour but far enough from most noise, dangers and pollution to live a bucolic existence.

I was raised in Green Brook, NJ – a town so small it was rarely on the maps of New Jersey made at the time. In terms of movie going we had the dreaded Dunellen Theater (a very old theatre that was originally used for vaudeville (and smelled like it hadn’t been cleaned since the Orpheum circuit) and B movies that was never an ideal spot. We had the Middlesex Mall Theatres which were charmless and airless black boxes run by United Artists (although I did see “American Graffiti” there. Why a 7 year old was allowed to see “American Graffiti” still amazes me).

Most of my movie going experiences took place at the Blue Star in Watchung, New Jersey. Blue Star was a General Cinemas owned theater and was typical in design and approach to most GC theaters. Two story glass windows, a small lounge area with plants, shadowboxed screens lit a mellow blue, good sound systems and clean bathrooms made the place an oasis to us.. I recently made a list of all the films I had seen at that cinema between the ages of 10 and 18 and the list is a prodigious one. From “Reds” to “Mommie Dearest” to “Pennies from Heaven” to the opening day of “Tootsie.” Some of those movie going experiences have been etched in my memory forever and here is one, in honor of it’s 30th anniversary.

Grease: By June 16, 1978, my parents had learned to dread the words “Grease” and “John Travolta”. I was not a kid swayed by a lot of Sci-Fi so the whole “Star Wars thing was over my head. I did love music and musicals and was waiting daily to get to Blue Star to see the most hyped movie of the year.

So, on June 17, 1978, my father, step-mother, little brother Joe and new best friend TJ, piled into seats in Cinema number 1 at the much loved Blue Star and waited.
The theatre was packed for a 2:00 pm matinee. It had been a long time since a musical had captured America’s interest, never mind, its hearts.

I remember distinctly sensing this was going to be huge the final 10 seconds of “Summer nights”, the moment Travolta hits that high note on the word “nights”– well – all hell broke loose in the auditorium – cheering and applauding. I remember my father saying “It’s a movie? Who are they applauding? No one can hear them!”.

Nothing I had experienced in my then 13 years of age had prepared me for that kind of visceral reaction from a crowd watching a movie. It is that very reaction and the hope of feeling it again which makes me go to the movies, some times, twice a week to this day. I developed almost an insane hero worship for Travolta that summer and a hopelessly devoted crush on Olivia Newton-John.

Here’s some more memories; as we left the theatre, another crowd was waiting to get in. They could sense from our reaction leaving what was waiting for them inside and the began to react to our reaction. I also vividly remember a man who must have been a cinema manager smiling – ear to ear – anticipating full houses for months. I also remember the rush to Korvettes to buy the soundtrack – and waiting on line to along with about 25 other kids who had been at that matinee.

Stockard Channing (who played “Rizzo”) once said that no matter what she may do – nor what she may achieve – the headline on her obituary in the New York Times will probably read, “Stockard Channing Dead: Played "Rizzo” in “Grease”. Miss. Channing is probably right. “Grease” lives on – in the memories of those lucky enough to see it in 1978 – in the kids who watch it for the first time today – its impact still lingers. 30 years later.

“Grease” ran at Blue Star Cinemas till late August 1978. It grossed $98 million dollars in the United States and tens of millions overseas making it the highest grossing film of 1978 – worldwide. In today’s money, box office wise, the equivalent of a “Spiderman” or a “Shrek”. (bear in mind – a 2:00 pm matinee cost $1.50 in 1978 and the evening shows were $4.50). The soundtrack went on to become, and remains today, one of the most financially successful recordings ever made.

Comments (21)

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on June 13, 2008 at 11:16 am

Tomorrow night, I’m gonna spend some rare quality time with myself at my beach house and watch GREASE and JAWS 2 to celebrate!

Ziggy on June 13, 2008 at 1:53 pm

This is where I probably get hissed off the site, but, and I say this without any animosity or venom, I’ve never seen any of the “Jaws” movies, and I really think “Grease” is lame. It’s just my opinion, so y'all be nice!

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 13, 2008 at 6:50 pm

I have seen GREASE more often than any other movie and I never get tired of it. It is not my favorite film but it is certainly the most tolerable for repeat viewings.

markp on June 13, 2008 at 7:16 pm

I remember running Grease that entire summer. We did not change a movie on that screen until the beginning of Nov. We were still selling out an 800 seat theatre up till Halloween that year. What a summer, what a movie.

WayBackWhen2008 on June 13, 2008 at 10:34 pm

I bought the DVD for my birthday and to my surprise I was told it is a “classic”. Geez has 30 years gone by? Not sure at what point movies become a “classic”. Anyone I love this movie. I have seen it many times. I love the story, dialogu, music dancing, acting. What I could not get into was Grease 2. Now that was lame.

AdoraKiaOra on June 14, 2008 at 4:13 am

When it opened in my home city of Swansea, me and 3 friends went on average about 3 or times a week for 5 or 6 weeks. One afternoon when we had managed to start a huge ‘singalong’ with most of the audience (we’d been trying for weeks to get one going!) when one of the usherettes came to the front of the screen and shouted at all the kids ‘'don’t you bloody kids have homes to go to??’‘ We all laughed at her and continued singing along to 'Greased Lighting’ louder!
I was in my early teens then. Little did i know that that usherette was to become my agent when I went into the theatre professionally a few years later! I did a 27 week tour of the UK in ‘Grease’ thanks to her in 1980!

moviebuff82 on June 14, 2008 at 1:31 pm

I first saw Grease while I was at middle school, and I liked it. The songs were catchy, and the actors were pretty good. My favorite star from the movie was Olivia Newton-John. At some of the dances I went to, they play “Greased Lighting”, as well as the mega-mix which came out a year before the re-release of the movie (the second, following one in 1989), which my cousin Chrissy attended. The only change was that the paramount logo was replaced with the current one (both with their own fanfares). It would be fun to see Grease on Blu-ray!!!

Marcel on June 14, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Too bad they didn’t run another re-release. I remember the twentieth anniversarry re-release in ‘98. The theater was packed and people sang along, danced and applauded. It was a great time. 1978 was one of the last great opportunities to see such a film on a big screen.Soon into 1979, the movie palaces begun to close, the theatres twinned and tripled and small screen multiplexes took over.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 14, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Palace closings and twinning started way before 1979. GREASE played in shoe-box multiplex theatres all over the US.

WayBackWhen2008 on June 14, 2008 at 8:38 pm

The director, Randal Kleiser also directed “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” with John Travolta.

Shigeaki on June 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm

The very first public performance I was told was in Honolulu at the long defunct Royal Theatre in Waikiki. It was kind of like the previews I used to attend when I was studying photography in Santa Barbara, California when the studios would show news movies and have patrons comment about them on cards after the showing.

I own a copy of the movie on DVD with 5.1 sound now but for many years, I had the complete film on Super 8 with mag mono sound. The image was panned and scanned and I use to show the film to a lot of my teen age friends when ever they came to my home.


KingBiscuits on June 16, 2008 at 12:30 am

Well, it was popular enough to inspire the mega-popular ripoff High School Musical and its two (at the moment) sequels.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 16, 2008 at 5:40 am

I guess if you combine the stage production with the movie GREASE has sold more tickets than any other musical in history including MARY POPPINS and SNOW WHITE.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 16, 2008 at 12:40 pm

The stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC was not a big hit.

WayBackWhen2008 on June 16, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I guess something to consider when determining “the popularity factor” would be one’s generation. Grease would most likely be more popular with a younger generation than The Sound of Music. By today’s standards though I would say that Gen Y and Gen I would sooner relate to Grease than The Sound of Music. So give it another 15-20 years and Grease will be more popular than the Sound of Music, if it is not already.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 16, 2008 at 6:38 pm

If you adjust the 1965 dollar for 1978 inflation twice as many Americans saw THE SOUND OF MUSIC movie than the GREASE movie. However, THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a failure in most foreign countries and grossed less than 30% of the domestic take with markets such as Germany and Austria taking out the musical numbers altogether to try to break even. GREASE did even better in foreign market than in the US and ended up with almost the same world wide viewers in total.

The first Broadway musical production of GREASE ran for seven years from 1972. Unlike THE SOUND OF MUSIC which was a financial failure even after three years, GREASE has been performed somewhere non-stop since.

On video and DVD, GREASE wins every time.

Coate on June 25, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Here’s a link to a reminiscence/tribute article I posted on the Fans of Showmanship website. Lots of trivia and factoids included.

MPol on July 15, 2008 at 5:29 pm

What a sweet story, Ian-AdoraKiaOra!! Thanks for sharing it with us.

MPol on September 18, 2008 at 5:38 pm

AlAlvarez: I can identify with your feelings about the film “Grease” and your never getting tired of it, because I’ve seen the film “West Side Story” more often than I’ve seen other movies, both in the movie theatres and on TV, and I never get tired of it.

WayBackWhen2008 on September 19, 2008 at 9:42 am

Most GenXer’s will always hold Grease near and dear to our heart. I think if Happy Days would have done a movie like this,it would have been just as popular, given the right characters, songs etc for the Baby Boomers.

MPol on October 13, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Without having seen the film Grease, and being a baby-boomer myself, I think that Grease probably was to most GenXer’s what West Side Story was to many, if not most babyboomers, if one gets the drift.

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