‘Grease’: John Travolta’s Major Flub Was Never Caught by Fans and Remains in the Film

The motion picture Grease experienced a resurgence in popularity since the death of one of its stars, Olivia Newton-John, on Aug. 8, 2022. Alongside John Travolta, the duo created one of the film world’s most enduring romantic couplings: Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko. Grease continues to be the word for generations of filmgoers. However, a major flub by Travolta remains in the film to this day.

The 'Grease' cast included John Travolta and Jeff Conaway.
John Travolta and the ‘Grease’ cast | Paramount/Getty Images

‘Grease’ was a stage play turned into a major motion picture

Grease was first performed in 1971 in the original Kingston Mines nightclub in Chicago, IL. The original stage production, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was not as clean-cut as the film.

Producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox made a deal to produce the musical Off-Broadway in New York City. Grease first opened at the Eden Theatre, later moving to Broadway’s Broadhurst and Royale Theaters after over 3,000 performances in January of 1980.

Travolta would be part of the actors who played a role in the initial run of Grease as a part of its touring company. However, he didn’t play the lead role. Travolta was hired as Kenickie, Danny’s sidekick.

In a twist, Jeff Conaway played Kenickie in the film and Danny on Broadway.

John Travolta’s major flub remains in the film

John Travolta and the 'Grease' cast filming the 'Greased Lightnin' segment of the film.
John Travolta in ‘Grease’ | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Travolta’s first solo song, “Greased Lightnin,” left film fans breathless as the actor sang, danced, and sauntered around a 1948 Ford De Luxe convertible Kenickie bought with the money he saved while working at Bargain City.

However, heartache permeated Travolta’s on-screen bravado during the filming of the titular scene.

Actor Diana Hyland, the love of Travolta’s life, died of cancer just before Grease went into production. The morning the cast gathered to film “Greased Lightnin,” Travolta read a story published about Hyland in a magazine that didn’t sit well with him.

“People Magazine came out with a story about [Diana] that John didn’t like,” said Randal Kleiser, the film’s director, to the New York Post. “He was distracted by it. It was hard for him to concentrate.”

“There’s a lyric where he sings, ‘heat lap trials,’ ” Kleiser revealed. “But on set, he kept lip-syncing ‘heap’ lap trials. I was beside the camera, yelling, ‘Heat! Heat!’ It didn’t work. If you look at the film, you can see his lips going ‘heap’ instead of ‘heat.’”

Travolta shared fond memories of his ‘Grease’ experience

Travolta recently shared his thoughts regarding the passing of his Grease co-star Newton-John via Instagram after her death. The actor has spoken of his love for his co-stars and the film in many interviews, including one published in Vanity Fair, where he discussed the iconic spotlight number “Greased Lightnin.”

“Greased Lightnin,” a showstopper in the musical, was reworked in the movie as a vehicle for Travolta. In the play, it’s Kenickie who sings the ode to his hot rod.

“I have to be completely honest with you,” Travolta says. “I wanted the number. And because I had clout, I could get the number.”

The film’s choreographer Patricia Birch was reportedly “livid” about the switch. “It’s Kenickie’s goddamned number!” she said to Vanity Fair. “I was upset with it because I thought Jeff needed a number. John was very good doing it, but it should have been Kenickie—it was Kenickie’s car!”

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