Grease is the word, and it means a great deal to me. Released in 1978, the movie made it to the still-relatively-young Home Box Office (HBO) in 1979, and at that time, HBO was available in the Milwaukee market on its own, as much of the market had yet to gain a cable television option. I know this because I was in my formative years at this time, and my family – for a short time that included this period – had HBO. The fledgling network was very different then: it was only broadcasting in the evening, and its library was small. Grease was on all the time, and I watched it a lot. Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s still one of my all-time favorites. But why shouldn’t it be?
It was the number one movie of 1978, and it was set in the late 1950s – a time in US history often romanticized on film, in part because of the birth of rock & roll in 1955. Plus, it’s filled with now classic songs like Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted to You, You’re the One That I Want, and the title track, Grease. Each of those songs charted on Billboard magazine’s Top 40, with each of latter two hitting number one in the U.S., but Summer Nights is the only one of the four that was also part of the original Grease musical.
The musical – which debuted in Chicago in 1971 – hit Broadway in 1972 with an original cast that included Barry Bostwick as Danny Zuko and Adrienne Barbeau as Betty Rizzo. Notable replacements for Danny include Patrick Swayze, Richard Gere, and Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie in the movie. John Travolta was also a replacement during that original Broadway run, but he played Doody. That original Broadway run lasted eight years, which – believe it or not – was good enough to be the longest-running musical ever at the time it closed. Since then, fifteen newer musicals have had longer runs. With the passage of time, records fall, but perspective is also gained. Consider the relationship between the year the musical debuted – 1971 – and the year of the Rydell High graduating class – 1959. If a similar musical were to debut in 2019 romanticizing that creator’s high school years, it’d be reminiscing about 2007! Crazy, isn’t it?