John Travolta had previously worked with producer Robert Stigwood on Saturday Night Fever, had a nascent singing career at the time (including the top-10 hit "Let Her In" in 1976), and had previously appeared as Doody in a touring production of the stage version of Grease. He made a number of casting recommendations that Stigwood ultimately accepted, including suggesting Randal Kleiser (who had never directed a theatrical feature before this but had directed Travolta in the 1976 telefilm The Boy in the Plastic Bubble) as director, and Olivia Newton-John, then known almost exclusively as a multiple Grammy winning pop and country singer, as Sandy. Newton-John had done little acting before this film, with only one film credit (the unreleased 1970 film Toomorrow, which predated her singing breakthrough) to her name up to that time. Before accepting the role, Newton-John requested a screen test for Grease to avoid another career setback. The screen test was done with the drive-in movie scene. Newton-John, who is native to England and lived most of her life in Australia, was unable to perform with a convincing American accent, and thus her character was rewritten to be Australian. Before Newton-John was hired, Allan Carr was considering numerous names such as Ann-Margret, Susan Dey and Marie Osmond for the lead role; Newton-John agreed to a reduced asking price in exchange for star billing. In a case of life imitating art, Newton-John's own musical career would undergo a transformation similar to that of the Sandy Olsson character; her next album after Grease, the provocatively titled Totally Hot, featured a much more sexual and pop-oriented approach, with Newton-John appearing on the album cover in similar all-leather attire and teased hair.
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