Sadly, the passing of the great Sid Caesar last week (on February 11) brought back many memories of the movie Grease, filmed way back in the happy, innocent summer of 1977. Sid, who passed away at 91, was the oldest surviving cast member of Grease. Here's a few facts you may not have known about Grease (plus a few of my own memories).
* Grease was the highest-grossing movie of 1978. It remains the highest-grossing movie musical of all-time. Worldwide, Grease has taken in between $400 and $500 million at the box office.
[Ed. note: this is according to Box Office Mojo for top domestic live-action musicals. When adjusted for inflation, Grease is bested by The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, both movies with multiple releases. International ranking is another story.]
* The budget for Grease was an unbelievably small $6,000,000. Miniscule by today's sky-high budgets, and sparse, even back in 1977, for a major studio production. It is one of the most successful ratio of cost-to-eventual gross movies in the history of film.
* The oldest cast member in Grease was Joan Blondell, who played Vi, the lady who ran the malt shop. She was 70 at the time of filming.
* Many have commented on the "old looking teenagers" at Rydell High. Although we all supposedly played teenagers in the movie, only one actual cast member was a teenager during filming. Lorenzo Lamas (Tom) was just 19. Playing Eugene, I was barely 20. Dinah Manoff (Marty) was reputedly 20 too, but she later told me she "lied about her age.” John Travolta was 23 at the time of the shoot, Olivia Newton-John was 30.
* Deep Throat star Harry Reems was the original choice to play Coach Calhoun, but Sid Caesar later replaced him because of Paramount's fear that Harry's porn star reputation would ruin the film's chances for success.
* Jeff Conaway was dropped by the other cast members during the “Greased Lightning" number. Sadly, Jeff later said the injury he sustained from the fall was what led to his eventual addiction to painkillers.
* Grease was released as Brillatina in Spain and Latin America. It was released as Vaselina in Mexico and Venezuela.
* Henry “The Fonz" Winkler was originally offered the role of Danny. He turned it down for "fear of typecasting." Susan Dey of The Partridge Family was the first choice to play Sandy. Her manager advised her to say no and she did.
* Lucie Arnaz was the original choice to play Rizzo. But Lucie’s mother, Lucille Ball, supposedly got very upset that her daughter would have to take a screen test for the role. When Lucie adamantly refused the screen test, Paramount went with Stockard Channing instead.
* Playing “Eugene,” I had the fewest lines of any actor in Grease with a speaking role. I had exactly two lines. Before I throw the pie at Sid Caesar in the carnival scene, he asks me my name and I reply “It's Eugene" and I say “Thank you" when he says I have a good throwing arm. Oh, and a few ad libs in this scene:
* We filmed the big dance scene in a school auditorium (at Huntington Park High School) during a very hot summer. The school was closed up, there was no air conditioning, and all the doors and windows had to stay closed because of light and sound control. It was reputedly 116 degrees in there while we filmed the dance scene over and over. Several extras had to be taken out because of heat-related illness.
* Due to a zipper breaking, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into her skin-tight black stretch pants during the carnival scene.
* Jeff Conaway spent the entire film slightly stooping in order to appear slightly shorter than John Travolta.
* In the big carnival scene at the end of the film (my final day of filming), I was asked to ride in a spinning, whirly ride at the carnival. I got very motion sick and threw up in the middle of the carnival lot!
* Grease earned one Academy Award nomination. Olivia Newton-John's song “Hopelessly Devoted to You" was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1978 Oscars. It lost to Donna Summer's “Last Dance" from Thank God It's Friday.
* The last scene filmed for Grease was the scene where Stockard Channing and the Pink Ladies sing “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee" in Rizzo's bedroom. In the song, Stockard sings a verse about Elvis Presley and looks at his poster on her bedroom wall. By an eerie coincidence, Elvis actually died on this exact day (August 16, 1977).
* Paramount actually was planning a Grease franchise, including three more Grease films plus a TV series. But all plans and hopes came to an abrupt halt with the release of Grease 2 in 1982. Starring Maxwell Caulfield and a young (and gorgeous) Michelle Pfeiffer, and with six returning cast members from the original: me, Sid Caesar, Didi Conn (Frenchy), Dennis C. Stewart (Crater Face), Eve Arden (Miss McGee) and Dody Goodman (Blanche), Grease 2 had double the Grease budget at $13 million, but proved to be a massive flop at the box office, earning a meager $15 million. After the failure of Grease 2 all further Grease franchise ideas were scrapped.