December 21, 2012

Pop Culture Reunion: "Grease" Film Co-Stars Collaborate on Charity Album

The year was 1977, and a young actor named John Travolta (who was already working as an actor on a sitcom called "Welcome Back, Kotter", see my post about that at for details) had just landed a lead role in a film called "Saturday Night Fever", which had been one of the year's biggest blockbusters.  The following year, Mr. Travolta landed a role in another film that co-starred an upcoming Australian pop star named Olivia Newton-John in what was the first U.S. film version of the Broadway smash "Grease".  His "Saturday Night Fever" role earned the young actor an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (although that year's Oscar for Best Actor went to Richard Dreyfuss for his role in "The Goodbye Girl").  Unlike "Grease", "Saturday Night Fever" was treated as a film for adults with an MPAA-unfriendly rating of "R" (Restricted), but "Grease" had a more family-friendly rating of "PG" which made it suitable to a much wider audience.

John Travolta was the hot actor (a role which seemed to belong to a young Zac Efron earlier this year) of the time, although Mr. Travolta would later appear in a string of films that bombed at the box office before resurrecting his moribund acting career in 1994 with a starring role in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction".

But the world felt that Mr. Travolta and Ms. Newton-John had genuine on-screen chemistry, and few seemed to forget it.  While Mr. Travolta has had his share of recent issues, ranging from the tragic death of his son Jett, to multiple claims of gay sexual misconduct from male masseurs (although rumors about his sexuality have persisted since his days on "Welcome Back, Kotter"), it seems that the appetite for somehow resurrecting his role as Danny Zuko from "Grease" along with Olivia Newton-John resurrecting her role as Sandy Olsen in some way remains even after 34 years.  True, there was a poorly-received sequel to "Grease" called "Grease 2" that neither Mr. Travolta nor Ms. Newton-John appeared in, but the two have not really collaborated professionally in decades in spite of remaining close personal friends.

In 2012, the two (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John) finally responded to fan requests for some type of reunion with a holiday-themed CD in which both sing Christmas music.

In fact, the "Grease" duet "You're the One That I Want" was a big reason this particular project came about.  Last Christmas, Olivia Newton-John texted John Travolta to tell him that the song had become the best-selling duet in pop music history.  The idea for the album came from there.  Mr. Travolta said in a statement, "From the moment we decided to do this, magic happened. Everyone we contacted agreed to do it."

"It just fell into place," said Olivia Newton-John.  "With our busy schedules, I don't know how we got it done. John and I have always connected. That's never gone away. When we're together, we have a good laugh and feel bonded to one another. We've been through some amazing experiences together."

The album, which actually bears John Travolta's name, is called "This Christmas" and the proceeds benefit each of their respective charities, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Center and the Jett Travolta Foundation.

Speaking about their concept for the album, Travolta said, "I wanted people to be able to play it around the house or in the car during the holidays, and make us part of your celebration. Gathering around house listening to Christmas music has always been an important part of that time of the year to my family."

While it's not quite another "Very Special Christmas" album, it does feature voices of some old favorites singing familiar Christmas carols.  In addition to the "Grease" co-stars, the album also features a number of other friends in vocals, including Cliff Richard, Chick Corea, Barbra Streisand, Kenny G, Tony Bennett, and James Taylor.  While this album is mainly covers of songs that most people know the words to from memory, the collaboration is seen by many as long overdue, and taken at face-value, offers a nice addition to holiday collections that are overflowing with artists who already receive lots of airplay.

The great news is that the album is presently selling for just $5.99 (as of December 21, 2012) on (see

An NPR show called "The Takeaway" covered the album in an interview with Olivia Newton-John on December 14, 2012.  That program can be listened to below, or by visiting

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