‘Grease’ Director Said Elvis Presley Had a ‘Creepy’ Connection to the Film
Elvis Presley was one of the most famous stars during the 1950s and Grease is one of the most famous movies set during the 1950s. There’s a connection between Elvis and Grease which the film’s director found “creepy.” Here’s a look at how the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll nearly appeared in the film — and the finished film’s unusual connection to him.
Why Elvis Presley wasn’t in ‘Grease’
Grease is littered with references to 1950s popular culture. The film has greasers, a musical number about an old-school car, and hoop skirts. Nerdist reports the film’s creators offered the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll the role of the Teen Angel, the character who sings the comedic song “Beauty School Dropout” in the film.
However, he turned down the role, which went to 1950s teen idol Frankie Avalon instead. The Teen Angel sings doo-wop music. While he made some doo-wop songs, that wasn’t the King’s usual genre, so perhaps he would have been a little awkward in the role.
A scene from the film the director found ‘eerie’
That’s not Elvis’ only connection to the film. In addition, the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” mentions a number of 1950s icons. It’s sung by characters in the film to mock Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) for her perceived prudishness. Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Troy Donahue, and Elvis are all mentioned in the song. Specifically, the narrator of the song sings, “Elvis, Elvis, let me be. Keep that pelvis far from me” — a memorable line if there ever was one.
Oddly, the New York Post reports the scene was filmed on August 16, 1977 — the date of Elvis’ death. “It was very eerie,” said director Randall Kleiser. “It was all over the news, so everyone knew. We did this number, and everybody kind of looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, this is creepy.’”
For the record, Grease is based on a stage musical that premiered in 1971, so the lyric about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was not eerie when the musical first premiered. If Elvis sang “Beauty School Dropout” in the film before he died, the scene might have been less funny to audiences, who would have been reminded of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s early death.
How did ‘Grease’ perform commercially?
So was the “creepy” reference to Elvis too much for audiences given the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s recent death? According to Box Office Mojo, Grease earned over $159 million. It was the most successful film of 1978. It grossed more than other classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
On one hand, Grease had an unusual, and perhaps discomforting, connection to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. On the other hand, this did not stop it from becoming commercially successful.