Following the demise of the old Hollywood studio system, paired with a general shift in audience tastes, it became nearly impossible for a decent musical to be produced. In 1965, The Sound of Music was a phenomenal hit the likes of which theater owners had rarely witnessed before. In its wake were a raft of overproduced, vastly under-performing, disasters that had the effect of sending money from the studio coffers into a black hole. 1973 saw Cabaret, which enjoyed significant success and 1978 brought Grease, which was quite a box office hit as well. It looked like the screen musical might be situated for a comeback. However, a trifecta of 1980 musical bombs (Can't Stop the Music, The Apple and Xanadu) seemed to ensure that music at the movies would indeed stop. Still, banking on the good name of Grease, plans went forward for a sequel, something (a musical sequel) that hadn't been done much at all since the 1930s through the early '50s. Grease's soundtrack album had been a ripsnorting success and fans still adored the movie in the smattering of years since it's release.
With hopes running high, “Son of Grease” was conceived in 1981. The original had taken place in 1959 and was able to capitalize on the current fondness for that era's nostalgia (Happy Days, with its leather-clad, duck-tailed hero The Fonz, was a big hit on television during the 70s.) Stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were met with to discuss reprising their parts, but soon it was determined to go with a mostly all-new cast. Set two years later in 1961, this time the story of a good girl and a bad boy who fall for one another would be flip-flopped. It would feature a good boy who longs for a bad girl. Unfortunately, this isn't all that was flip-flopped. The reliable story structure of the original (an adaptation of a popular Broadway show) was pitifully inverted for this imitation follow-up. The original songs that had proven so wildly popular (even today!) were replaced by numbers that held only a fraction of the appeal of their predecessors. Instead of popular performers in the lead roles, the producers went with virtual unknowns. It was a recipe for disaster and the recipe worked! There may have been a graduation ceremony at the end, but the movie definitely flunked...
The makers of the film were so certain that they had a hit brewing that they laid out plans to make THREE more films in all, with each one set in a slightly further time period, ending up with a network television series. This project was renamed Grease 2 in order to denote the (intended) eventual progression. To direct, they chose Patricia Birch, the choreographer from the first movie as well as the Broadway play, making her big screen directorial debut. To provide a modicum of continuity, they rehired Eve Arden as the school principal, Dody Goodman as her assistant, Sid Caesar as the gym teacher and Eddie Deezen as class nerd Eugene. They also utilized villain Dennis Stewart (shown below right) and teacher Dick Patterson, but as different characters than they had initially portrayed. Then, they brought back Didi Conn, a costar from Grease, as Frenchy to re-register at the school following her unsuccessful stint at beauty school. No matter that Deezen should surely have graduated by now or that Conn would likely not be able to return to school after a more than two-year absence to take one class (chemistry)! Plans for original T-bird member Jeff Conaway to make a cameo appearance fell through.
Andy Gibb was sought to play the leading male, a foreign exchange student meant to be the cousin of Olivia Newton-John. His screen test was deemed unacceptable. After considering Shaun Cassidy, Greg Evigan and Rick Springfield, stage actor, but screen newcomer, Maxwell Caulfield was cast. Continuing the precedent of using a professional singer for the lead female, Pat Benatar was first choice, but that didn't happen in the end. Kim Carnes opted not to accept it. Debbie Harry then turned the part down, citing her fear of portraying a teenager (something that didn't seem to bother the other twenty and thirty-somethings sprinkled in the casts of both the first film and its sequel!) After looking at Lisa Hartman, Kristy McNichol and Andrea McArdle, Birch settled on Michelle Pfeiffer, a fledgling actress with a fair amount of TV credits and a couple of small film roles under her belt. She had worked on the TV show Delta House, about a 1962 fraternity, and The Hollywood Knights, a movie set in 1965, so working in this era wasn't a completely foreign concept. The remaining cast consisted of Adrian Zmed (who'd performed on Broadway in the original show) as leader of the T-Birds, with Christopher McDonald, Peter Frechette and Leif Green in tow and a gaggle of Pink Ladies including Lorna Luft, Maureen Teefy and Alison Price, with Pamela Segall tagging along as Luft's little sister. Real-life twins Liz and Jean Sagal were on the fringe as goody-goodies and two new teachers, Tab Hunter and Connie Stevens, were brought on board. Unbelievably, Cher had been signed to Luft's role first, but exited the production because of the low salary and because the script was in flux. Jennifer Beals had been given Teefy's part, but jumped ship (wisely!) to take the lead in Flashdance. Stevens' part had first been given to Annette Funicello, but she allegedly departed due to scheduling issues (Really? In 1981? What? Were there a boatload of Skippy peanut butter commercials being filmed?!) More likely she smelled disaster brewing.
The movie (hitting theaters in June of 1982) kicks off with a real bang as Arden and Goodman head out front to raise the school flag only to be beset by hordes of dancing and singing teenagers. The rousing Four Tops song “Back to School” raised the bar rather high and featured plenty of energetic and colorful dancers (in clothes from an era that I happen to love: pencil skirts, argyle sweaters, et al. The blonde female shown to the left is my favorite dancer throughout.) Fans at the movie theater must have really thought that they were in for a treat when the film kicked off this well.
Unfortunately, it's not long before the story settles into a trite, often tacky, retread of the original (which was not Hemingway to begin with!) and unleashes songs which rarely, if ever, match the toe-tapping enthusiasm and energy of the opener. What's more, the actors have been given nothing but paper-thin traits to play, never actual characters. Luft wants to be Marilyn Monroe, Teefy has a Jackie Kennedy fixation (neither of these aspects lead anywhere) and Price has a big nose. The men are even less delineated, basically blending into one smoky, black leather unit of buffoons. In the majority of cases, mugging is the rule of the day over any attempt at acting. Just the gum-chewing alone by most of the cast is enough to drive some viewers out of their mind.
Numbers are set at a bowling alley, before and within a school talent competition and there's a duet in a bomb shelter (an appropriate locale considering the way this movie was going to be greeted by critics and audiences!) There is also a fantasy number handled as a sort of out of body experience. Caulfield writes essays for the underachieving T-Birds in exchange for money that he wants to put towards a motorcycle. He feels that riding a bike will garner the right attention from Pfeiffer, who works at a gas station and only dates T-birds.
The whole thing wraps up at a gaudy luau in which the primary boy and girl finally reveal their feelings, much the way Travolta and Newton-John did in the prior film, only at a carnival and minus an exhilarating song like “You're the One That I Want.” One saving grace of this set piece is the presence of some barechested, sarong-clad male students, many with hairy chests. (Note how the water seems rather cold to one of the barge-bearers! More on him later.) Initial plans to ape the first ending (of the leads riding off into the sky within a convertible) by having Caulfield and Pfeiffer soar into the sky on a motorcycle were abandoned (happily!)
As is quite obvious upon further inspection, the script was never completely finished prior to filming and was altered here and there along the way. Conn (who I must say is one of the most singly annoying performers I am aware of, even though I could appreciate her comic contributions to the first movie) was particularly adrift. Her character is almost completely apart from things and, in fact, was written out at one point only to be hastily re-added, resulting in a very disjointed and senseless character arc. Eventually, she just disappears! Likewise, young Segall was injured in an accident and couldn't complete her scenes, but fortunately most of her stuff was already in the can. As scenes were filmed, but later cut, a lack of consistent tone and vision began to permeate the production.
Though Grease had its share of misbehavior, buffoonery, sexual innuendo and lowbrow comedy, somehow, through the appeal of its stars and the security (and freshness!) of the material, it succeeded. In Grease 2, there's an unsavory aspect to a lot of the attitudes and behavior of the characters. Charm is a trait that is lacking. (Cohesion is also on holiday.) Several of the songs (when they aren't pale retreads of the previous ones) seem to have a preoccupation with sex that, rather than giving the production a more grown-up or risque aspect, merely make it all seem very cheap and tawdry. Songs like “Score Tonight” and “Prowlin'” come to mind. It's still rather fun, though, to see Hunter as a sex education teacher trying to relay the facets of “Reproduction” to a willing class. This scene is nearly always cut from television broadcasts thanks to its suggestiveness, leaving Hunter with a minuscule role.
Mr. Hunter, who we in The Underworld do love, demonstrates a limited vocal ability in his song, which he attempts to cover with comedy. The voices of the rest of the cast also lean towards the unremarkable. Caulfield comes off as damn near tone deaf at times while Pfeiffer has that unmistakable tinny, overdubbed sound of the period that came from trying to make everyday singers into vocalists (if you aren't getting what I mean, try watching a few moments of any Kristy McNichol or Christopher Atkins song from The Pirate Movie!) I recall once, directly after Pfeiffer made The Fabulous Baker Boys, there was talk of her embarking on a singing and recording career, that is until she heard her voice when it was devoid of all the electronic aid that had been given it for the movie. Teefy screams and shouts virtually all of her notes. Luft proves that in her case (as the daughter of Judy Garland), the acorn didn't just fall far from the tree, but ran down the driveway, crossed the road, rolled in mud and then went careening down a storm drain. Zmed was really the only one who brought any significant vocal chops to the production.
With director Birch being chiefly a choreographer, it's expected for there to be plenty of dance present and there is. Some of it is even impressive. However, too much of it is inappropriate to the setting. It seems to me (as the Michael Kidd of Cincinnati – NOT!) that it leans towards the balletic every once in a while and also that there is an overabundance of ice-skating-style spinning. The Jets and Sharks in 1960's West Side Story might have pranced and floated around, but they had taskmaster Jerome Robbins bearing down on them for perfection in line, timing and extension. Too often in Grease 2, twenty years hence, the dancers just come off as fruits twirling and drifting by with a lack of purpose.
All this negativity aside, you may be surprised to know that I really enjoy the movie! I get a kick out of bad films, especially musicals, and also like The Apple, Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu very much. I even like much of 1978's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, another notorious flop! I can't decide if I just have no taste (the most likely answer) or am just drawn to wounded films who's only desire was to please, but who failed miserably. I am also a fan of unintentional humor and there is plenty of that to be found here, too.
I'm not alone though. Grease 2 has a serious and very devoted corp of fans. I was surprised a few years back to learn that it is particularly popular with musical theatre girls of a certain age. They know every song by heart and can't get enough of it. The songs in this movie (apart from the dazzling opening number) seem to me to have the following progression depending on the viewings: First they seem dull, unmemorable and even annoying. Then they seem subpar, but modestly catchy. Then they seem enjoyably campy. Finally, they are aural earwigs and the listener cannot stop hearing the “Ah, ah, ahs” from “Girl For All Seasons,” the “ooohs” from “Cool Rider” or “Where does the pollen go?” from “Reproduction,” etc...! Grease 2 should be listed in the Physician's Desk Reference as either a disease or a powerful drug. It can be addictive! The costumes, by the way, for "Girl for All Seasons" are eye-poppingly amusing.
The parent film's director Randall Kleiser was responsible for several cinematic guilty pleasures like The Blue Lagoon and Summer Lovers (and the truly dismal Big Top Pee Wee), but there is no denying that in Grease, he scored a major hit. Birch, for her trouble, was in over her head on an erratic production. It's a shame that this rare opportunity for a female in that position went so awry. She never again attempted to direct anything outside of music videos or TV projects. Fortunately, her choreography career was allowed to continue flourishing and does so to this day, with Boardwalk Empire a recent credit.
Caulfield says it took ten years to get over the failure of Grease 2. While it is true that he was roundly panned for his work in the film and he did have about a one-year rough patch, he did win roles again and even figured very heavily into the cast of the Dynasty spin-off The Colbys in 1985. It was after that show's demise in 1987 that he seemed to fall the farthest off the entertainment radar even though he has worked steadily ever since.
Already in 1982, he was married to actress Juliet Mills, who he'd met while acting in Broadway's The Elephant Man and who was eighteen years his senior. They are seen here at the film's premiere, with him sporting the mustache he'd grown for a TV-movie version of Journey's End. Many naysayers questioned the November-June match-up, but as of this writing Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield have been married for thirty-one years, making them a rare success in the world of show business nuptials. He is fifty-two, which makes Juliet Mills seventy.
Caulfield and Pfeiffer didn't get along very well during the making of the movie. She found him to be very full of himself. Perhaps, considering the pleasing face and unbelievable body he sported back then, it is possible that he had something of an ego, especially with the build-up that both stars were being given prior to the movie's release. However, she also had a great body and quite a face of her own (still does!) and has rarely, if ever, been accused of having any amount of arrogance about it.
The photo of the couple on the poster and on countless promotional items, video covers, etc... is a composite. She, in her pink lady jacket and with slightly blonder hair and a grin, has been superimposed over the initial, dour and less effervescent, shot of herself.
Soon after Grease 2, in 1983, Pfeiffer was cast in Brian De Palma's Scarface, a more diametrically different film than could be imagined, and her career continued to climb. Perhaps her most prestigious stretch was from 1989 to 1993 when she was nominated three times for an Oscar, once as Best Supporting Actress and twice as Best Actress. For Dangerous Liaisons in '89, the Oscar went to Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist. In '90 for The Fabulous Baker Boys, Jessica Tandy won for Driving Miss Daisy. In '93 for Love Field, the statuette went to Emma Thompson for Howards End.
Time has been extraordinarily kind to Miss Pfeiffer. Whatever she may have had done has been expert. She sang again on film in the aforementioned Baker Boys and Hairspray (along with John Travolta.) She also provided the voice and vocals of her character in the animated The Prince of Egypt. Though in recent years, she has worked in fits and starts with brief breaks along the way, she is back at it pretty heavily at the moment with one film in release (New Year's Eve), one in the can (Welcome to People) and another in post-production (Dark Shadows.) She's fifty-three years old.
Zmed, who had amassed a fair amount of time on TV prior to this, went directly into the William Shatner cop show T. J. Hooker, playing Shat's partner in crime-fighting. After departing the show in 1985, he had an on-and-off career with TV guest spots and minor film roles. In 2009, he appeared on the VH1 reality show Confessions of a Teen Idol, older and more filled out now and trying to reignite his flagging career. Christopher Atkins, David Chokachi and Billy Hufsey were among the other members of the cast. He is now fifty-seven.
Luft (seen here at the premiere with her more famous half-sister Liza Minnelli) had done a stint on Broadway in Promises, Promises and even did Grease for a week in Dayton, Ohio before doing this movie. Few film offers were beating down her door, though she did make the curious choice to play a teen again in 1984's Where the Boys Are '84, a really trashy and repugnant rehash of the 1960 original. That film's box office failure put a second bookend on her movie career, though she did continue to work on stage and with some success on television. What's ironic is that she typically looks better now than she did thirty years ago (and almost always very happy!) TCM's Robert Osborne is shown embracing her below.
McDonald (at the far left) was another one who got snagged into appearing in Where the Boys Are '84. He went on, however, to a very solid career as a supporting actor throughout the late '80s and 1990s. Some of his films include Outrageous Fortune, Thelma & Louise, Grumpy Old Men, Quiz Show and The Perfect Storm. Frechette (on the far right of the picture on the left) proceeded to work on Broadway (earning two Tony nominations) and a considerable career on TV. He figured into a controversy in the early '90s when he was shown (presumably naked) in bed with another man on Thirtysomething, resulting in sponsor-withdrawal and outrage in some areas of the U.S. Gay in real life, he's been with the same partner since 1988. Green (shown in the shot above right with Segall) was only able to maintain an acting career for a few years, eventually moving into production as well as AIDS fundraising efforts.
Not yet having seen 1980's Fame when I first saw Grease 2, but having witnessed her in 1984's Supergirl, I just assumed that anything Teefy (on the right in the photo to the left) did was preordained to be bad. She went on to the unsuccessful Sunset in 1988 and then did more voice work than anything. Now fifty-eight, she is practically retired from the biz. Price (on the left in the same picture) landed just a couple of minor bits before departing the world of acting to successfully pursue a career in restaurants. Segall (shown to the right with Caulfield) eventually grew up, married and became Pamela Adlon. She's one of the few unknown cast members who went on to a highly successful and lengthy career. Though she was one of the initial girls on The Facts of Life who was dumped as part of a cast purge, she went on to act on many shows, including a great deal of children's programming. More recently, she took on a more adult role on Californication and has also won an Emmy for her voice-over work on King of the Hill.
Deezen, who was the nerdy Eugene and continued to play that type, likewise went on to a prolific career on TV in comedy and children's shows. Now fifty-three, he has been married to the same woman since 1984. I'm sure it's rarely dull around the house with his voice going!
Arden (whose last film this was) and her sidekick Goodman remain amusing in their schtick. Arden is utilized quite a bit considering her billing as “Special Appearance By.” She lived until 1990 when she died of heart disease, having done several TV guest roles after this. Goodman lived to be ninety-three, passing away of natural causes in 2008 and working until close to the end! Stevens is perky and cute and she and Hunter make great additions to the cast when taking their early careers as teen idols into consideration. Stevens is seventy-three and Hunter is eighty. Caesar isn't given much at all to do, which is a shame in light of his long legacy of comedic work. Now eighty-nine, he is still with us today.
Conn (who had starred in 1977's You Light Up My Life, lip-synching the song that has plagued many listeners over the years!) had a less than pleasant time on Grease 2, working on scenes only to be dismissed and then having them reinstated later. By the time of this second film, she was part of the cast of TV's Benson, starring Robert Guillaume. Since its cancellation in 1984, she has continued to work in a variety of projects, often geared towards children (Shining Time Station, in particular.) With that distinctive voice, she will always have opportunities come her way. As the mother of a child with autism, she has focused on charities for that condition in recent years. She is sixty as of this writing.
The Sagal girls (whose older sister is Married... with Children's Katey Sagal) went on to star in their on short-lived sitcom Double Trouble (seen here with their TV father, Donnelly Rhodes.) This remains Jean's only film, though Liz proceeded to work on Flashdance in 1983 and another incredible bomb, Howard the Duck, in 1986. In recent years, they have moved more into the production and technical side of the business. They are fifty years old at present.
Very visible throughout the movie as a dancer and talent show entrant is Matt Lattanzi. He is also the chilly barge-carrier shown in the luau scene earlier in this post. By this time he had met (on the set of Xanadu) and would soon marry Olivia Newton-John and was about to try for a movie career of his own with 1983's My Tutor, but very little materialized after that. His screen acting career ended by 1993 and his marriage came to an end two years after that.
Also appearing in the film is lisping comedic actor Tom Villard, who enjoyed a fair amount of success during the '80s (and was an acquired taste indeed!) He sings an emphatic number for the talent show here and also gets a solo line in “Reproduction.” He continued to work (including the series We Got it Made and two guest spots on The Golden Girls) until his untimely death from AIDS in 1994 at age forty.
I can find NO RECORD of Susan Buckner reprising her role of Patty Simcox from the original film or of her appearing as an extra, a dancer or as another character, but I could almost swear that this is she situated in the back of the classroom! (Rob – are you out there?! Only you would know for certain.) If this isn't her, it's a close look-alike. The girl even adopts facial expressions similar to that of Buckner. She departed the TV and movie industry right about the time of Grease 2's filming...
Of course, one of my favorite cast members is this cute, blonde track and field athlete who is seen running during one of the school gym classes (on the far left.) As Caulfield is trying to act with the twins during one of his scenes, this blonde guy steals focus in one of the most effective ways ever. Decked out in some seriously abbreviated and flimsy shorts, he goes to jump hurdles and (apparently going “commando” under his togs – what jock strap?!) momentarily allows his balls to come completely out the bottom of the leg of his shorts!! The best part is that this (fleeting glimpse) was left in the final cut. Either no one noticed it or, more likely, no one could ever foresee the day when freeze-frame action on a remote control could allow a viewer to halt everything in mid ball-drop and enjoy the view! He obviously knew about it and tried in vain to correct, but it was too late. The harried production moved on to the next set up.
Grease 2 is one of those movies that either delights or disgusts people, depending on who you ask. It's rarely a case of someone not having an opinion one way or the other. When I recently went to purchase the DVD (for $3.00 at a discount store!), the overly made-up and frizzily-coiffed cashier took a look at the cover and lit up, exclaiming, “Oh, Grease!,”then swiftly turned sour and disappointed, adding, “Oh, this isn't the good one. Why aren't you buying the good one?” I said, “I already have the good one. Now I want the bad one.....” She just didn't get it.