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How Andy Warhol and a porn star were almost cast in 'Grease'

Taking the classic stage musical Grease to the silver screen in 1978 was one of cinema’s most guaranteed successes, creating a timeless classic that would put actor John Travolta among the cream of Hollywood’s crop. Set in 1950s California, the musical is a bright, fun-loving journey about two teens, greaser Danny Zuko, and Australian Sandy Olsson who fall in love after a holiday romance.

Despite Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and the rest of the cast of the classic musical being well over high-school age, the film became a runaway success. However, this inspired casting was almost very different. 

The film’s casting was a somewhat straightforward process, with John Travolta quickly being brought in for the lead role due to his relationship with producer Robert Stigwood who had previously worked with Travolta on Saturday Night Fever. Travolta, who had also appeared as Doody in the production of the stage version of the film, made several recommendations to Stigwood, including the assignment of director Randal Kleiser as well as the Grammy-winning country singer Olivia Newton-John as co-lead Sandy.

Fearing another career setback, the actress requested a screen test with John Travolta to ensure that the two had chemistry and eventually accepted the role, changing both her acting and singing career forever. However, the casting of the supporting actors proved to be the most interesting, with adult porn star Harry Reems, notorious star of Deep Throat, originally set to play sports coach Calhoun. His appointment came after Grease’s producer Allan Carr, and Reems bizarrely had a screening of Casablanca at Hugh Hefner’s mansion.

Once Paramount caught wind of the idea however, they were concerned his reputation as a porn star would hinder box office returns, and as Reems recalls, “bounced me out of the cast”. Continuing, Reems stated that, “They thought they might lose some play dates in the South”, though Carr, feeling bad for his empty promise, wrote the porn star a check for $5,000.

This wasn’t the only case of a bizarre casting opportunity, with Carr also keen to employ legendary artist Andy Warhol to play the school’s art teacher. Unfortunately, however, this inspired piece of casting never came to fruition due to one unnamed studio executive saying he would not have “that man” in the movie, a statement Carr interpreted as the executive having a personal issue with the artist. 

It’s a shame really, as whilst John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John will go down in cinema history as casting icons, the film could’ve been a true cult landmark had it included porn star Harry Reems and Andy Warhol. 

Sounds like the eccentric wild dreams of Jodorowsky…

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