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John Travolta And Olivia Newton-John's Age Difference In Grease Might Surprise You

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When "Grease" came out in June 1978, it became a bonafide success with a take of almost $160 million, according to Box Office Mojo. And that happened despite how it received truly scathing reviews. The Washington Post's review lamented, "I've never seen an uglier large-scale musical. I mean ugly in spirit as well as visually unattractive and melodically impoverished," while The San Francisco Chronicle noted, "The screenplay is a prepubescent shambles, the direction is by acne out of disposable douches, the dubbing and looping of the songs is painfully obvious, the characterizations are generally repulsive and the whole thing is utterly without style." Ouch. 

These critics attacked everything about the film, from the music and the acting to the story and its lack of fun. Among the sticking points for these negative Nancys was the age of the actors. The BBC's Barry Norman called the cast "the oldest bunch of teenagers in the world — many of them so venerable that they must have been trying to pass their O levels for about 15 years." And yes, even at the time, the advanced age of many of the actors was at issue. Director Randal Kleiser famously administered the "crow's-feet test" to his actors during auditions to determine if they looked young enough to play high-schoolers (via Vanity Fair), ultimately casting Stockard Channing as the oldest of the main players at 33. 

Today, "Grease" is still the word and the film remains a cult favorite. If you're not a super-fan, though, you may not know a surprising fact about the age difference between the movie's lead stars, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

Olivia Newton-John was five years older than John Travolta

None of the main stars in "Grease" were teens, but John Travolta was closer to adolescence than some of his cohorts. Though he was already a screen veteran who had major roles in "Carrie" and "Saturday Night Fever," the actor was just 23 when he filmed the movie. He was born on February 18, 1954, according to his IMDb page, while Olivia Newton-John was 28 years old, having been born on September 26, 1948.

Despite Travolta's youth, he was the more experienced on-screen performer. Newton-John has commented in interviews about how grateful she was for his help. She told Us Weekly, "John is a lovely, sweet man. And he made all my acting experiences really easy. He was very thoughtful and encouraged me if he thought I wasn't doing a good enough job." She recalled that he even messed up a take once deliberately so producers would give her an opportunity to redo the scene. Newton-John also said that he would direct her at times. For example, when she was supposed to be mad at her, he'd act differently with her off-screen, getting her "on edge, which was perfect for the scene because I needed to be that way," she said.

And in case you were wondering, the two have said that the timing was never right for them to date (per The Sunday Post), but at least one of the kisses between them was apparently real, as actress Didi Conn dished to the Daily Mail. So while there may have been an age difference between the two, their close relationship did not suffer. As Newton-John told HollywoodLife, they remain friends to this day.

Olivia Newton-John wasn't sure she could pull off being a high school student at age 28

Olivia Newton-John said in her autobiography, "Don't Stop Believin'," that she was a bit worried about taking on the role of good girl Sandy due to a number of factors, including her age. Her musical career was doing well, but her movie career, on the other hand, wasn't so robust.

Then, she met "Grease" producer Allan Carr at a dinner party. He suggested she might be right for the role, after Marie Osmond (per Fox News), Linda Ronstadt, and others turned it down. In her book, she recalled telling him, "I'm not interested in making another movie. And I'm twenty-eight and too old for Sandy. And I can't do an American accent." However, after some badgering, she eventually agreed to meet John Travolta, and that was that. "Every guy in the world wants Olivia Newton-John as their girlfriend, and I know that because I wanted that," he told Entertainment Tonight. "And every girl wants to be like her. And I said, if you don't see this, you guys are nuts. Because there was only one person in the world that was Sandy, and that was Olivia Newton-John." 

Newton-John described the screen test she insisted upon: "When we walked inside the room together, it was magic, and everyone saw it." So, she signed on for a raunchy, musical American high school experience.