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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK


Boy met girl, studio made lots of money

Twenty years ago this summer Britain was going crazy over a Grease - a musical, based on a soppy love story set in 1950s America.

This summer, the film, digitally remastered, will be re-released. And so on July 3, Britain will find out what cynical youngsters in the 1990s make of it.

When it came out in 1978 Britain was in the grip of punk rock and most parents saw it as a harmless, nostalgic antidote to the Sex Pistols.

Accompanied by a catchy soundtrack Grease captured the imagination of millions of teenagers and became a huge box office hit, taking $340m worldwide. Several songs from the film - You're The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted to You, Summer Nights and Greased Lightnin', became chart hits.

The film's stars are John Travolta, who shot to prominence in 1977 in the disco movie Saturday Night Fever, and an Australian singer called Olivia Newton-John.

The plot is simple, some would say banal. Travolta plays Danny Zuko, a leather-clad wild teenager (he was 24 at the time but his character was only 17) who becomes smitten with Sandy Olsson (Newton-John), a beautiful but "square" student at Rydell High School.

Travolta is ridiculed by his "buddies" over the relationship but, of course, love conquers all.

Grease was the last hurrah for the musical, which critics had proclaimed dead 20 years before.

With dollar signs flashing in front of their eyes, Hollywood executives decided to make a sequel in 1982.

But they failed to persuade Travolta or Newton-John to come on board. Grease 2 went ahead regardless and, despite the presence of a young Michelle Pfeiffer, promptly "bombed" at the box office, bringing in a paltry $6.5m in the US compared to $96m for the original.

So, 20 years on, what happened to the stars of Grease?

[ image: John Travolta as Danny Zuko]
John Travolta as Danny Zuko
John Travolta hit the highpoint of his "first" career with Grease but he soon drifted into obscurity. For years, Travolta was seen only occasionally in films such as Blowout, Staying Alive and Look Who's Talking.

His girlfriend, Diana Hyland, died of cancer in 1980, followed shortly afterwards by his mother. Grief-stricken, he turned down the lead in the critically acclaimed American Gigolo. The part went to Richard Gere.

In 1991 he married actress Kelly Preston. His career was revived in 1995 when Quentin Tarantino chose him to play Vincent Vega, a laid-back, cocaine-snorting professional hitman in Pulp Fiction. It was inspired casting and Tarantino positively shone alongside Samuel L Jackson.

The film enabled him to pick and choose his scripts and increased his fee enormously overnight. He was reportedly paid 13m for his performance in Primary Colours, which also comes out this summer.

[ image: Olivia Newton-John is 50 now]
Olivia Newton-John is 50 now
Olivia Newton-John had her film debut in Grease but after appearing in two big budget flops, Xanadu and Two Of A Kind, she gave acting the elbow.

In 1985 she married an American dancer, Matt Lattanzi, and bought a palatial ranch in Malibu, California. She built up a chain of shops called Koala Blue, had several hit songs - including Physical.

But in 1991 everything went pear-shaped. Koala Blue went bankrupt and Newton-John and Lattanzi were about to split up when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The couple moved to Australia while she fought off the disease. They eventually divorced in 1997.

Newton-John, who turns 50 this year, spends much of her time promoting environmental causes and has recorded a new album.

[ image: Stockard Channing as Rizzo]
Stockard Channing as Rizzo
Stockard Channing was 32 when she played 17-year-old Rizzo, the ruthless leader of the Pink Ladies. After Grease she gradually built up a solid body of work as an actress, including roles in Heartburn, The First Wives Club and Six Degrees of Separation, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

[ image: Jeff Conaway (left) as Kenickie]
Jeff Conaway (left) as Kenickie
Jeff Conaway played Travolta's best pal, Kenickie, in Grease and later married Olivia Newton-John's sister Rona after meeting her at the cast party.

He landed the role of rakish cabbie, Bobby Wheeler, in the hit TV series Taxi but later developed a serious cocaine habit in the mid-1980s that wrecked his marriage and career.

Conaway, now divorced, finally kicked the habit in 1991 and three years later, married again. He now works on the sci-fi TV series Babylon 5.

[ image: Frenchy (Didi Conn) and the Teen Angel (Frankie Avalon)]
Frenchy (Didi Conn) and the Teen Angel (Frankie Avalon)
Didi Conn played the squeaky beauty school drop-out Frenchy, who is serenaded by the "Teen Angel" Frankie Avalon in a dream sequence. After Grease, Conn was persuaded to appear in the disastrous Grease 2. She then switched to the small screen.

After appearing in Moonlighting, alongside Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, and another sit-com, Benson, she became a children's television presenter.

Now 46 and married to composer David Shire, Conn recently published her movie memoir, Frenchy's Grease Scrapbook.

Kelly Ward played Putzie, one of the slower-witted members of Travolta's T-Birds gang. She gave up acting to work on the other side of the camera and is now a successful writer for US cartoons.

Eve Arden was already a Hollywood veteran - having first appeared in the movies in the 1930s - when she was offered the role of Principal McGee in Grease.

She went on to appear in Grease 2 and published her autobiography, The Three Phases of Eve, in 1985. Arden passed away in 1990.

Frankie Avalon was unlike most of the cast of Grease. The 1950s singer was already an icon when he made a cameo appearance, parodying himself as the Teen Angel.

Avalon, who has been married for 35 years, was a regular on the Las Vegas cabaret circuit for many years and appeared as himself (again) in Casino with Robert de Niro and Sharon Stone in 1995.

Today the 57-year-old makes his living from Frankie Avalon Products, a company that sells self-tanning lotion on the Internet.

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The ultimate John Travolta page (unofficial)

Olivia Newton-John Fan Club

The unofficial Stockard Channing fan page

The Jeff Conaway fan page (unofficial)

Frankie Avalon biography page (unofficial)

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