Back to the Fifties: Grease

Comparing Reality and Fiction

Pre-University Paper, 2008

24 Pages, Grade: 14 Punkte = 1 (sehr gut)


Table of Contents

0. Preface

1. Introduction

2. The music of Grease - Rock and Roll
2.1 Historical background & beginning
2.2 Role models for the music in Grease
2.3 Rock and Roll as a lifestyle - Clothes of the 50s

3. New problems - new values
3.1 Rebellious versus preppy
3.2 Teenage pregnancy
3.3 Dropouts and teenage unemployment

4. Conclusion

5. Sources

6. Appendix

0. Preface

Grease is a movie directed by Randal Kaiser, which was first published in 1978. It is based on a musical of the same name that was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and first staged on Broadway in 1972. The musical became one of the longest-running Broadway musicals in history since it was not only staged from 1972 to 1979 in its original version in New York but was also adapted in many revivals in the US and abroad, for example in the United Kingdom and East Asian countries.[1]

Plot summary

Sandy D. and Danny Zuko spend a summer at the beach together and fall in love. However, Sandy must go back to Australia and is afraid she will never see Danny again. As chance would have it, Sandy moves to America and meets Danny again at Rydell High School. Danny, who is a member of a gang, the T-Birds, does not want to show his real feelings for Sandy in front of his friends and, therefore, rejects her by acting "cool". The girls of the Pink Ladies gang console her, and one of the girls, Frenchy, invites her to a sleepover party at her house. Rizzo, the girl gang's leader, makes fun of Sandy because she is too pure and preppy.

Kenickie, Danny's best friend and another member of the T-Birds, has used the money, which he earned working during the summer, to buy a car. The boy's gang drives up in front of Frenchy's house but only Rizzo climbs down the drainage pipe to meet the boys. She and Kenickie end up making out in a parking lot, but Kenickie's condom is broken because he bought it back in 7th grade. They have sex anyway but are interrupted by an attack by the head of a rivaling gang, the Scorpions. He makes fun of Kenickie's car, which is not in a very good shape. Kenickie and his friends repair and enhance the car in the school's car shop since they plan to participate in a car race with it.

The National Bandstand dancing contest takes place at Rydell High and everyone is looking for a date. Danny and Sandy dance together and are close to winning the contest when they get separated. Cha-Cha, an ex-girlfriend of Danny and currently Kenickie's date, senses her chance, jumps in and wins the contest with Danny. Sandy is frustrated and leaves the school crying.

Nevertheless, Danny and Sandy have a date in a drive-in movie theater, but when Danny comes too close to Sandy, she runs away. Danny realizes that he needs to change his ways if he wants to be with Sandy. He decides to start track in school in order to earn a letterman jacket and Sandy's acknowledgement. The same night at the drive-in movie, Rizzo tells Marty that she believes she is pregnant. When Kenickie learns about this, he offers his help but gets rejected by Rizzo, who breaks up with him.

A few days later, at the car race the T-Birds participate in with Kenickie's car, which has been turned into a "Greased Lightin'" in the meantime, Sandy realizes that she needs to change if she wants to be with Danny. She asks Frenchy for help to transform her into a dream date for Danny.

At the end-of-year carnival, Danny, wearing his letterman jacket, wants to show Sandy that he has changed for her. However, Sandy has also changed herself for Danny from a pure girl to a rebellious Pink Ladies' member. Rizzo tells Kenickie that she is not pregnant and they get back together. In the end, all members of the two gangs are together and promise each other to stay that way.

1. Introduction

When first hearing the topic "Sounds of the USA" I immediately associated Grease with it, my favorite movie for a long time. I first fell in love with 50s music as a young teenager, because "it has a good beat and you can dance to it"[2], to use a famous quote from American Bandstand. Naturally, I loved Grease when I watched it for the first since it incorporates the music of the 50s into a romantic love story.

Grease, highly successful in the 70s as both a musical and a movie, is sometimes criticized as being too nostalgic and unauthentic by only showing an idealized version of the 50s. The audience of the 70s, which the movie appealed to, was too young to compare the 50s portrayed in the movie with reality, critics say.[3]

In this paper, I would like to discuss aspects of the movie and compare them with the reality of the 50s. It is important to see beyond the prevalent plot of the movie, the love story between Danny and Sandy, and to concentrate in more detail on supporting roles and the overall atmosphere. Of course, Grease would not be Grease without its music. The 50s do not only mark the birth of a new style of music, Rock and Roll, but also of a new culture, that of teenagers, a fact which is clearly reflected in Grease. Thus, I will first look at Rock and Roll, and its effects on the development of a youth culture, and then point out a few problems these changes brought with them.

2. The music of Grease - Rock and Roll

The music is the characterizing feature of both the musical and the movie Grease. Most songs do not differ widely from typical musical songs, however, many of the songs used in Grease resemble original 50s Rock and Roll music or are even original songs taken from that time period. The band Sha-Na-Na, a Rock and Roll cover group, contributed 7 songs to the soundtrack, with one being an original song ("Sandy") written by one of the band's members. In addition, the band appears in the movie as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers[4] who provide the music for the Bandstand dancing contest in the gym.

2.1 Historical background & beginning

Rock and Roll is a genre of music that developed in the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s. Its roots can be found in African American rhythm and blues with influences of white music such as country and folk. Especially early Rock and Roll songs were designated to appeal to teenagers and, thus, the lyrics dealt with topics that were important to the youth, mainly love and dancing.[5] The term Rock and Roll was first used in 1951 by a Cleveland, Ohio, radio disc jockey. However, many earlier rhythm and blues artists had already used this expression in their lyrics as early as the 1940s, when the expression "rocking and rolling" had been used as an African American slang term for dancing with a connotation of having sex.[6] Rock and Roll is usually played with "one or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), a string bass or [...] an electric bass, anda drum kit".[7] The accentuated back beat is particularly important in Rock and Roll music as it differentiates it from most other styles of music at the time.

Many of the earliest Rock and Roll songs were cover versions or re-writes of earlier rhythm and blues songs. In addition, many white artists covered black music which was often not played on radio stations because of racial discrimination.[8] The author of "American Culture in the 1950s", Martin Halliwell, claims:

"many hard-working black rhythm and blues musicians were disgruntled that their songs were being covered by white singers, usually with more commercial success[9]

The term "Rockabilly" was coined for this kind of "white Rock and Roll" which was played by white artists, such as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and influenced by both the black rhythm and blues songs and the white country music. Rock and Roll performed by black artists, however, emerged more clearly from the tradition of black rhythm and blues and much less from white music styles. When Rock and Roll became popular among the white audience the original songs by black artists were also played on white radio stations and black artists became famous, too.[10]

2.2 Role models for the music in Grease

The most distinctive songs for Grease are the ones played at the dancing contest in the gym by Johnny Casino & the Gamblers. The contest, which is called "National Bandstand" in the movie, was aired as "American Bandstand" from 1957 to 1989 on national TV. The show featured Philadelphia teenagers dancing to current music with one of the songs performed live as a lip-sync by a famous singer.[11] In contrast to the movie, the show was usually not a dancing contest, nonetheless, a few episodes did feature competitions. In addition, the show did not move around from high school to high school but stayed in Philadelphia, where it even had a group of teenagers, called the Regulars[12], dance each day on the show.

All songs in the movie are either cover versions of original songs from the 50s by Sha-Na- Na or songs written especially for Grease. Four of the songs that are played at the Bandstand contest in the gym scene had been hits in the 50s: The song "Blue Moon" is a cover of a popular song first written in 1934 and sung by many artist thereafter. In 1956, Elvis had covered the song "Hound Dog" which was again originally a blues sung by Big Mama Thornton. Furthermore, in 1958, Danny & the Juniors recorded "Rock'n'Roll is here to stay".

Another original song in the movie named "Tears on my Pillow" was first sung by Little Anthony & the Imperials in 1958. When juxtaposing this song with the song "Those Magic Changes", which was written particularly for the musical and which is not a 50s original, it becomes clear that Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the writers of Grease, very successfully adapted the original music styles of the 50s. Another example is "Born to Hand Jive", a song referencing a popular 50s dancing style, which, even though written by Jacobs and Warren, strongly resembles the 50s Rock and Roll song "Willie and the Hand Jive" by Johnny Otis.[13]


[1] Wikipedia: "Grease (musical)", URL: [accessed on: 12 Jan 2008]

[2] Jacobs, Patricia: "It Has A Good Beat And You Can Dance To It", 5 August 2003, URL: [accessed on: 6 Mar 2008]

[3] Cf. Ebert, Roger: "Grease" in: Chicago Sun-Times, 27 March 1998, URL:

http://rogereb ert.suntimes. com/apps/pbcs.dll/article ?AID =/19980327/REVIEWS/803270301/1023

[4] Cf. The Official Sha Na Na Website: "Biography", URL: [accessed on: 28 Feb 2008]

[5] Pendergast, Sara / Pendergast, Tom (Editors): "Rock 'n' Roll Style", in: Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages, Vol. 5: Modern World Part II: 1946-2003, Detroit: U*X*L 2004

[6] Wikipedia: "Rock and roll", URL: [accessed on: 4 Feb 2008]

[7] ibid.

[8] Cf. D'Anjou, Leo: "The riddles of rock and roll - The turn towards rhythm and blues" in: Soundscapes, Vol. 6, April 2003, URL: [accessed on: 28 Feb 2008]

[9] Halliwell, Martin: American Culture in the 1950s, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2007, p. 135­136

[10] Cf. Buxton, Rodney: "American Bandstand" in: DuMont, Bruce / Museum of Broadcast Communications Museum of Broadcast Communications (Editors): "Encyclopedia of Television", 1st edition, New York: Taylor & Francis 1997, URL: americanband/americanband.htm [accessed on: 1 Mar 2008]

[11] For a list of Regulars, see:

[12] Cf. Youtube: "Johnny Otis - Willie and the Hand Jive", URL: watch?v=TEeeGMpM_Nk [accessed on: 28 Feb 2008]

[13] Marcus, Daniel: Happy Days and Wonder Years: The Fifties and the Sixties in Contemporary Cultural Politics, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press 2004, p. 12

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Back to the Fifties: Grease
Comparing Reality and Fiction
Wilhelm-Raabe-Schule Hannover
14 Punkte = 1 (sehr gut)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
832 KB
Quote paper
Jennifer Schenke (Author), 2008, Back to the Fifties: Grease, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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