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This Is Where Grease Was Actually Filmed

When the movie "Grease" was released in 1978 by Paramount Pictures, it became a huge hit — produced on a $6 million budget, it took in more than $396 million at the worldwide box office (via Box Office Mojo), making it the biggest film of the year (via Box Office Mojo). More than 40 years later, it remains a cultural touchstone and a must-watch for generations of musical lovers who enjoy the '50s-by-way-of-the-'70s vibe and the performances of stars like Olivia Newton-John as clean-cut Sandy Olsson and John Travolta as T-Birds leader Danny Zuko. Their teen romance took place in what New Yorker writer Alexis Okeowo called an "idyllic, slightly mythic world" that allowed us to go back to high school, which she described as "the nineteen-fifties of our imagination, always easier in our memories than it was in reality."

While the original theatrical production of "Grease" was set in Chicago — the events of the musical were based on one of its writers' time at William Taft High School there (via BroadwayWorld) — the movie used a slightly different provenance. In 1998, director Randal Kleiser told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had included events from his life at Radnor High School in Wayne, Pennsylvania. But naturally, the movie itself was filmed at locations in and around Los Angeles, where much of the entertainment industry is based.

The film's Los Angeles location gave it some glamour

While the movie never exactly specifies where the events of "Grease" play out, you can see occasional glimpses of Los Angeles in the film. Alan B. Curtiss, the movie's location manager, told Los Angeles Magazine, "It wasn't like we were trying to mask L.A. and make it look like another place. It gave Randal, it gave the production designer [Philip M. Jeffries] more freedom."

And the setting had an effect on fans of the show. Randal Kleiser said, "I'm always shocked that everywhere I go in the world, people have seen it from different ages—from little kids to grandmas to teenagers—and they seem to respond to it after all these years so I think it's [a film] that has sold L.A. to the world."

While some interior scenes were shot on Paramount sound stages, the film was part of the tradition of musical movies moving away from studio backlots to instead film at actual locations, Los Angeles Magazine notes. As such, the film features plenty of real places that you can visit even today.

Filming locations include Leo Carrillo Beach, the Pickwick Drive-In, and the Los Angeles River

The sites include a range of outdoor and indoor locations, such as Malibu's Leo Carrillo Beach, where the opening scenes are filmed. The beach's dramatic shoreline has been seen in other films, including "The Karate Kid," and is fittingly named after an actor (via California Department of Parks and Recreation).

Other locations include a Craftsman-style house at 4524 Kingswell Ave in Los Feliz, which stood in for Frenchie's house for a certain sleepover, and the parking lot of Bel Air Church on Mulholland Drive, which overlooks the San Fernando Valley. The drive-in scenes were filmed at the Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, which is also known for hosting the world premiere of "Blazing Saddles" in 1974 (via Cinema Treasures). It showed movies from 1949 to 1989, when it closed down and was demolished.

The "Rebel Without a Cause"-style scenes at Thunder Road were filmed over three days at a location that made it obvious where the entire movie was set. The cars started their race in the perpetually empty Los Angeles River near the Sixth Street Viaduct and ended it by the First Street Bridge. The viaduct (which was demolished in 2016, via Deadline), Randal Kleiser explained, was important to the movie's overall feel. "When I saw the dailies on the big Panavision screen, it really opened the movie up and made it look like a big movie rather than a tiny little cheap movie that we were making," he said.

Grease also used interiors and exteriors of three area high schools

One of the most important settings for "Grease," naturally, is Rydell High. The movie used three different schools to create one setting: Venice High School, Huntington Park High School, and John Marshall High School. Venice High served as the "face" of Rydell and is the building featured in establishing shots.

Alan B. Curtiss noted that the school's Art Deco facade and the park-like feel of its campus made it perfect for the role. "It really played well [for] the first day of school when the girls and everybody are arriving in the parking lot, and being able to do some nice walk-and-talks getting them towards the front of the building," he said. The "Summer Nights" and "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" scenes were filmed there. In 2018, Smithsonian Magazine reported that Venice High still celebrates the movie every September with a "Grease" party on the football field.

However, the high school didn't have some other features the producers wanted for the movie, and the principal wasn't as accommodating as the production would have liked. So school hallways, offices, and classrooms were shot at Huntington Park High — along with the "Greased Lightnin'" scene in the auto shop and the school dance inside the gymnasium (shot over five days during a heat wave). John Marshall's football field was used for the end carnival scene; Curtiss described it as more "photogenic" than the football fields at the other locations, which were also used for different scenes.