Young love blossoms at the beach in 'Grease' when Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) meet during the summer before their senior year. But when classes start at Rydell High and Sandy enrolls as an exchange student from Australia, Danny is taken by surprise and turns a cold shoulder to keep his tough-guy rep. As temps drop and tempers flare, the school becomes the setting for their affairs of the heart, where the slightest cue (a public snub! a jealous friend! car mechanics!) leads to song. a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/auntylaurie/2882309833/" target="_blank">
Young love blossoms at the beach in 'Grease' when Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) meet during the summer before their senior year. But when classes start at Rydell High and Sandy enrolls as an exchange student from Australia, Danny is taken by surprise and turns a cold shoulder to keep his tough-guy rep. As temps drop and tempers flare, the school becomes the setting for their affairs of the heart, where the slightest cue (a public snub! a jealous friend! car mechanics!) leads to song.
In real life, 'Grease's' school scenes were filmed at Venice High School, on the border of Los Angeles beach town Venice and nearby Mar Vista. (Fun fact: Britney Spears brought her own song and dance routine to the high school's halls for her '... Baby One More Time' video, while the school has also seen movies like 'Pretty in Pink' and 'Heathers' play out their stories of teen travails.) With the school's close proximity to Hollywood, some of its students -- including Beau Bridges, Myrna Loy and Crispin Glover -- have gone on to careers in the industry.
Location as Character: More modern fare like 'High School Musical' may be the new tween standard, but 'Grease' created the formula. The original Chicago stage production incorporated issues that were cutting edge for the time, including teen pregnancy, gang violence and allusions to class conflict, while the film adaptation touches on similar themes -- such as Rizzo's pregnancy scare -- but with less grit.
'Grease's' high school setting is best utilized in songs like 'Summer Nights,' in which Danny and Sandy recount their summer romance to their friends. While bad-boy Danny plays things up with his crew on the bleachers, good-girl Sandy gushes to the girls at the outdoor cafeteria. Danny sashays down the seating levels, Sandy stands up on the table, and Venice High enjoys a wide shot toward the beach in the couple's final notes of seasonal lament. Later, when Rizzo (Stockard Channing) believes she's pregnant, her woeful song 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do' is set around the high school exteriors. As her fellow students throw baseballs behind her, Rizzo's burden seems all the heavier in contrast to their carefree activities.
Historical Significance: 'Grease' first arrived in 1971 as a musical from producers Jim Jacobs and the late Warren Casey, who met while doing community theater in Chicago. Jacobs set the original version there, and based the story on his own experiences at the city's Taft High School. His early version is said to have been much grittier than later adaptations for both the stage and film. Nonetheless, the lighter edition went on to become highly successful. When the musical's run on Broadway ended in 1980, it made history as the theater district's longest-running show. It's now the thirtieth.
The film spin-off was released in 1978 and not only solidified the popularity of Travolta, who was enjoying newfound fame from 'Saturday Night Fever,' but also introduced Newton-John to a bigger audience, reviving her screen career after the sci-fi bomb 'Toomorrow' (1971). With hits like 'You're the One That I Want' topping the charts in both the U.S. and Britain, 'Grease' further established her popularity and was a springboard to Newton-John's next hit, 'A Little More Love,' in 1979.
Produced for just $6 million, 'Grease' earned it all back and then some on its opening weekend, with a box office take of nearly $9 million (the film has earned nearly $400 million since then). It went on to earn an Oscar nomination and was a contender in five categories at the 1979 Golden Globes. More than 30 years later, the film still holds its own among critics, ranking 16th on Moviefone's list of 25 best high school movies and becoming a mainstay of modern popular culture.
Fun Fact: Venice High School was heavily damaged by a 1933 earthquake, and was rebuilt in 1935 with an art-deco exterior and earthquake-resistant foundations. Students studied in tents during the construction, some of which was done through WPA projects. According to a school official, the older look of Venice High's exterior is appealing for period films like 'Grease' as well as for numerous other productions seeking a deco style and a lot of space on the cheap. While the school gets frequent requests for it to be used as a filming location, it only green lights two to three a year, on average.
"People think the schools should be cheaper, that they should use it for free," the official said. The school charges a nominal fee, which funds a few smaller initiatives and supplies for students that otherwise wouldn't be possible. As most of the filming these days is done outside of school hours, current Venice High students don't have much connection with the school's reputation as a famous movie location. Still, the school official says, Venice's long-ago transformation into Rydell High makes it "a conversation item."
Directions: From Hollywood and points East: Take the 10 West and Exit on Bundy heading south. Make a right on Venice Blvd., and take a U-turn at Walgrove. The school will be on your right, at 13000 Venice Blvd. From LAX, head north on CA-1/Sepulveda, and make a left at Lincoln Blvd. Turn right on Venice Blvd.; the school will be on your right.
Visitor Info: Given that Venice High School is still in use (approximately 2500 students are currently enrolled), it's not open to the public, although its facade is visible from the street. For those seeking a chance at seeing something being filmed, vacation weeks and weekends are the best bet.
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