The Cast of 'Grease,' Then and Now

8:00 AM 6/15/2018

by Lou Vanhecke

The movie musical was released 40 years ago, on June 16, 1978.

Those leather jackets, those school rivalries, "those summer nights" — they were decades ago.

Grease, released on June 16, 1978, is now celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. Its mark on U.S. culture however, feels just as fresh today as it did the day it was released.

Depicting the love story of Danny and Sandy though 1950s — complete with doo-wop’s and hand jives — Grease became an immediate box office success and fan favorite. Making more than $394 million worldwide, it remains the fourth highest-grossing live-action musical of all time.

To mark Grease's 40th anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter is looking back at the stars who made beauty school dropouts and summer flings iconic and who sang the songs that have been iconic to generations of high school students.

  • John Travolta as Danny Zuko

    Courtesy of Photofest; Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

    Coming off the critical success of his performance in Saturday Night Fever and his breakout role in the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta had established himself as a bona-fide performer by the time Grease was released. Having already been nominated for an Academy Award and with a top 10 single on the Billboard chart, Travolta was already a star when he signed on to Grease. After a slight slump in his career in the 1980s, Travolta received his second Academy Award nomination for his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction and continued on a wave of critical success due to his roles in films such as Get Shorty and The General’s Daughter. Travolta eventually made his way back to the world of movie-musicals in 2007 with his role of Mrs. Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. His most recent work includes his Emmy-nominated portrayal of Robert Shapiro in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and the title character in Gotti, which was pushed from last fall to an as-yet-determined premiere date.

  • Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson

    Courtesy of Photofest; Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

    Already well-known due to her budding music career, Newton-John was met with critical and commercial success for her portrayal of Sandy. Three hits from her performance in the film reached the top five on the Billboard chart, making her the second woman to have more than two songs on Billboard’s top five list at the same time. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role and performed the Academy Award-nominated song “Hopelessly Devoted to You” at the 1979 Oscars. After the success of the movie, Newton-John launched a new image of herself as a musician and released her most successful studio album in 1981. After taking time away from the industry to raise her child, Newton-John released another album in 1992, but was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after the album was released. Since her diagnosis, she has worked as an advocate for cancer and founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Australia.

  • Jeff Conaway as Kenickie

    Courtesy of Photofest; Tiffany Rose/Getty Images

    Jeff Conaway had "Greased Lightning" on his mind well before Grease the film was released. An understudy and eventual portrayer of Danny Zuko in the Broadway version of the musical, Conaway joined the film cast as Kenickie, Danny’s best friend. After the success of Grease, he went on to star in television series including Happy Days and Taxi. Conaway left Taxi after the third season finished filming due to health concerns. Having struggled with a substance-abuse problem for years, Conaway appeared in two seasons of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. Conaway died in 2011 from from multiple causes, including pneumonia.

  • Stockard Channing as Rizzo

    Courtesy of Photofest; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

    Known for her feisty performance as the leader of The Pink Ladies, Channing continued portraying strong female characters well after her days in Grease. Playing a car thief in the 1976 film Sweet Revenge, a stuntwoman in the 1979 film Silent Victory and the First Lady in the television series The West Wing, Channing maintained her career far into the 2000s. The West Wing brought Channing critical success, resulting in an Emmy win for best supporting actress in a drama series. Since the ending of the series in 2006, Channing has redirected her career to the theater. She has performed in off-Broadway and Broadway productions including Other Desert Cities, resulting in a Tony nomination for best performance.

  • Barry Pearl as Doody

    Left, Photofest; Right, Slavan Vlasic/Getty Images

    As one who wore the famous T-Bird leather jacket, Doody, as portrayed by Barry Pearl, left moviegoers laughing along with his comedic personality. After the movie musical, Pearl dabbled in television performances in series such as Benson, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Murder She Wrote and Beverly Hills, 90210. Finding his way to theater, Pearl starred in the Broadway musical Baby It’s You! before returning to act in the Lionsgate film The Newest Pledge. Like his Grease co-star Didi Conn, Pearl made a cameo appearance as Mr. Weaver in Fox’s Grease: Live in 2016.

     
  • Didi Conn as Frenchy

    Left, Photofest; Right, Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

    Fun-loving Frenchy went from her singing days in Grease and Grease 2 to living as an activist. After her performance in the 1970 and '80s films, Didi Conn starred in ABC's soap-opera comedy Benson and children’s television show Shining Time Station. After her son was diagnosed with autism, Conn began to advocate for the cause and was named the spokesperson of Autism Speaks in 2008. She has also worked with the Foundation for Educating Children With Autism, performing in benefit concerts. In 2016, Conn made a cameo appearance in Fox’s Grease: Live, starring Julianne Hough and Vanessa Hudgens, thus making her the only actress to appear in all three Grease productions.

  • Michael Tucci as Sonny LaTierri

    Right, Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

    One of the five members of the T-Birds, Michael Tucci’s portrayal of Sonny was followed by a career both in front of the camera and onstage. After starring in television series including The Paper Chase and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Tucci spent more than three years touring as Roxy Hart’s husband, Amos, in the musical Chicago. He returned to television, portraying character Norman Briggs in the show Diagnosis: Murder. Tucci’s most recent work has been the role of Melissa McCarthy’s father in the comedy film The Heat.

  • Dinah Manoff as Marty Maraschino

    Left, Photofest; Right, Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

    Making her film debut in Grease as Marty, Dinah Manoff was projected into a career in both television and theater. Starring in soap-opera comedy Soap in 1978, Manoff moved to Broadway and won a Tony award for her performance in I Ought to Be in Pictures. Embarking on some of her most well-known work in the late 1980s, Manoff starred in the Golden Girls spinoff Empty Nest for seven years. After appearing in films such as The Amati Girls in 2001, television cameos and a tribute documentary to Oscar Wilde, Manoff stepped away from the industry. She returned in 2009 with her performance in Bart Got a Room, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

     
  • Kelly Ward as Putzie

    Left, Photofest; Right, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    Kelly Ward portrayed Putzie in the 1978 musical. After Grease, Ward went on to make appearances in television shows such as M*A*S*H and Magnum, P.I. before turning his attention to behind-the-camera work. Ward works as a voice director for Disney Television Animation and has been behind titles such as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Jake and the Never Land Pirates. In addition, Ward is a musical theater professor at the University of Southern California.

  • Jamie Donnelly as Jan

    Left, Photofest; Right, Tara Ziemba/Getty Images

    One of the ladies sporting pink, Jamie Donnelly brought experience to her portrayal of Jan. Donnelly originally played the role in Grease on Broadway and was brought in to star in the film. In addition to her work in Grease, Donnelly is known for her role in the United States premiere of The Rocky Horror Show, playing Magenta and The Usherette. After Grease, Donnelly went on to make appearances in projects including Family Affair, Monk and Ray Donovan.

  • Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun

    Left, Photofest; Right, Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Sketch-comic and actor Sid Caesar starred as Coach Calhoun, the man infamously pie'd in the face at the end of Grease who also coached Danny to letter-sweater glory. Responsible for shows including Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour, Caesar was known as the “comedian of comedians” and was nominated for 11 Emmy awards over the course of his career. After appearing in both Grease and Grease 2, Calhoun made occasional appearances such as hosting Saturday Night Live. Caesar died in 2014 at age 91. He is hailed as one of the greats, with Billy Crystal writing in 2005, “What kind of comedy would I be doing if I hadn't seen Sid Caesar?”

  • Eve Arden as Principal Greta McGee

    Left, Photofest; Right, Ron Galella/Getty Images

    Appearing in Grease as Principal McGee, Eve Arden brought with her a wealth of film and television experience and success. Beginning her career in the 1930s, Arden starred in the 1937 drama Stage Door and won an Academy Award for her role in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce. Playing the role of Miss Connie Brooks in the CBS show Our Miss Brooks from 1952-56, Arden became the first woman awarded the Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. After her roles as Principal McGee in both Grease and Grease 2, Arden retired from film and focused on television work, appearing in shows such as Masquerade and Falcon Crest. Arden died in 1990 at age 82.

  • Joan Blondell as Vi

    Right, Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

    Joan Blondell brought had numerous credits before she signed on to play the gang's waitress at the Frosty Palace. Beginning her career in the 1930s, Blondel starred in more than 100 productions both in film and television, her most notable being her performance in the 1951 film The Blue Veil, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. In the latter half of her career, Blondell received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the 1977 film Opening Night. After Opening Night, Blondell appeared in two more feature films, one of which was Grease. She died 1979 at age 73.

  • Alice Ghostley as Mrs. Murdock

    Right, Ron Galella/Getty Images

    Mrs. Murdock was not like the other women of Grease — she sported dungarees instead of a poodle skirt and helped the T-Birds fix up Greased Lightnin’. Mrs. Murdock was portrayed by Tony-winning actress Alice Ghostley, who brought decades-long acting experience with her to Grease. Starting her career in the 1950s, Ghostley appeared in projects including the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird and the television show Bewitched. After the movie-musical, Ghostley went on to star in series including The Julie Andrews Hours and Designing Women, for which she received an Emmy nomination. Ghostley died in 2007 at age 84.

  • Frankie Avalon as Teen Angel

    Left, Photofest; Right, Rob Kim/Getty Images

    He filled the role of the heartthrob who sings to a career-lost Frenchy in the diner, but Frankie Avalon was no newcomer to the entertainment industry. Having already starred in films including Guns of the Timberland and The Alamo, plus the classic "Beach Party" series of films with Annette Funicello, Avalon had secured his spot as an actor, singer and teen idol. Avalon’s performance of “Beauty School Dropout” was a hit and continued to be a song he would reprise in 1990s and 2000s performances. Avalon went on to star in the 1987 film Back to the Beach and has appeared in recent stage productions of Grease. Avalon and his wife, Kay, have eight children, two of whom have performed while on tour with their father.  

  • Eddie Deezen as Eugene Felsnic

    Right, David Livingston/Getty Images

    Eugene wasn't the only nerd Eddie Deezen would portray in his career: He also played nerdy characters in movies including I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Stephen Spielberg’s comedy 1941. Transitioning into voice-acting in the 1980s, Deezen has been the voice behind characters in Kim Possible, What’s New Scooby-Doo, Dexter’s Laboratory and The Polar Express.

     

  • Annette Charles as Charlene "Cha Cha" DiGregorio

    Left, Photofest; Right, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Along with her appearance in Grease as the flirtatious Cha Cha, Annette Charles was involved in several other projects in the 1970s and '80s. Charles had roles in series including The Incredible Hulk in 1980 and Magnum, P.I. in 1987. Leaving television, Charles went out to become a speech professor at California State University, Northridge. She died in 2011 at age 63.

  • Dennis Cleveland Stewart as Leo (aka “Craterface”)

    Photofest

    Dancer and actor Dennis Cleveland Stewart appeared in Grease as the leader of the T-Bird’s rival gang, the Scorpions, and in Grease 2 as the leader of the Cycle Lords. Stewart, simultaneously to Grease, had a dancing role in the 1978 musical comedy film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and continued to work within the entertainment industry in both television and film. Stewart died from complications of AIDS in 1994 at age 46.

  • Susan Buckner as Patty Simcox

    Right, David Livingston/Getty Images

    Grease’s preppy cheerleader Patty Simcox. After the 1978 musical hit, Buckner appeared on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Buckner has kept a relatively low profile, her last appearance being on an episode of 1 vs. 100 in 2007.  

     

     

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