90. Grease

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Movie: Grease

Release Date: June 16, 1978

Director: Randal Kleiser

Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell, Edd Byrnes, Sid Caesar, Alice Ghostly, Dody Goodman, Sha Na Na.

Tag Lines: “GREASE is the word.”

Relevance: My mother’s sister lived in New York City and my mom and dad used to visit her every so often. Sometimes we (my sister and I) would go with them. There are pictures of me with my family standing in front of the Statue of Liberty, but I was very young and really don’t remember being there. Other times, my parents would go sans kids and do more “adult” touristy things. (My sister and I were left in the care of my maternal Grandparents.) One of those adult things included seeing Broadway shows. One such Broadway show in the early 1970’s was “Grease.”

Born in 1945, my mom was a fan of early rock and roll and loved, loved, loved to dance. So “Grease” was totally in her wheelhouse. After seeing the show on Broadway, the vinyl soundtrack was played copious times at our house. She used to dance along to it while doing chores all of the time. She would hold on to the side of the wall, using it as a dance partner, and get down to those be-pop tunes. When 1978 rolled around and ‘Grease’ the movie was being released, even at the age of seven, I could feel the excitement in our house.

The soundtrack to the movie was released a few months before the film and of course my mom, and many other members of my family, owned it on vinyl. As a kid, I remember hearing those songs and coming up with my own storyline about what the movie was going to be about. At that young age, the lyrics such as “the chicks will cream” went way over my head, I just dug the fun, energetic melodies that were being ingrained in my head. The other thing I remember most about that vinyl record was that pencil on the cover. I can’t tell you how many times I reached for it thinking it was a real pencil.

‘Grease,’ the movie, was released in June of 1978 to positive reviews from critics. Audiences loved it even more. It became an immediate box office hit and became the highest grossing musical of all time, until it was dethroned in the 1990’s. It was also the second highest grossing film of 1978. It was a summer blockbuster and it, along with its soundtrack, was on the minds of most people in the world. ‘Grease” really was “the word.”

During all of that hype, at the age of seven, my family and I went to the Ritz theater in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania to see the film. Honestly, I remember that as well as where we sat (on the left side of the house with my dad at the aisle, them my mom, then my sister, then me), but I don’t really remember the movie. That didn’t matter though, because little did I know that I would see this movie over and over again for decades to come.

As I grew older, the soundtrack and all of those songs, were played over and over on vinyl and eight track. When the movie played on television, my family was front and center every time. As time crept into the 1980’s and cable television and home media become more common, ‘Grease’ was still the word in our house. We rented, then owned the film on VHS and watched it over and over again on HBO. The more we watched it, the more I fell in love with the actors, story and songs. By the time I was a teenager, ‘Grease’ was probably the first movie I knew word for word, from beginning to end.

In 1989, I was a senior in high school and had the lead role in my first musical, ‘West Side Story,’ which will be talked about in greater detail on this blog later this year. After that show, I was officially bitten by the theater bug and was anxious and eager for another production. I was contacted by a friend of mine, who was a year older than me and then in college, to audition for a local college production of ‘Grease.’ I think I answered yes before she even finished the sentence. I was cast as Sonny LaTierri and was thrilled to finally sing and dance to those songs that I knew so well.

In the Spring of 1990, with slicked back “greased up” hair and a black T-Birds jacket, I made my ‘Grease’ debut and loved performing every single second I was on that stage. I can’t tell you how much I adored playing that role and being a part of a show that was with me since basically my birth. To this day, I still own that jacket and smile every time I run across it with my other theater memorabilia. For me, ‘Grease’ will always be the word.

Today’s Thoughts: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.”

What more can I say about ‘Grease?’ It is fun, energetic, silly and as entertaining as any other movie on my list of most influential movies of all time. Watching it today gives me just as much joy as it did when I saw it in the theater with my family in 1978. Unlike me, it never gets old.

I still watch those dances with eyes wide open. I still sing along to every song. I still quote the movie daily. ‘Grease’ is more than just a movie to me, it is a pop culture catalyst for so much more. My love for its stars, my love for its sequel (yes, don’t judge me, I love it even more than the original and it will be on this blog in the next few weeks), my love for that era of fashion and music has always resonated with me. It always will.

For the two of you out there that haven’t seen ‘Grease,’ I am sure you are still familiar with its presence in the world. How could you not? Over forty two years of hand jives, stranded at the drive-in and summer nights, it will always be both nostalgic and relevant at the same time. Despite its 1950’s setting, ‘Grease’ is timeless. Thank goodness for that.

“Friggin’ A”

Awards: Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” John Farrar (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. John Travolta (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Olivia Newton-John (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Original Song – Motion Picture, “Grease,” Barry Gibb (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Original Song – Motion Picture, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” John Farrar (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, DVD Availability.

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