Her role as Sandy in Fat remains her most resonant film work and garnered her a string of hits, but it was also a film that had to overcome many obstacles in order to get made, including convincing Hollywood studio bosses that people would see it.
Evidence of its success is Fatthe ability to last for generations. The film’s prime-time airing last week on Nine the day Olivia died managed to draw in one of the biggest viewers of the night, while songs from the film topped the streaming charts.
It was larger than life, outrageously flamboyant, kaftan-wearing Hollywood producer Allan Carr who fought to get him off the ground Fat hit the big screen and convinced Paramount’s skeptical studio bosses that the all-dance, all-singing musical would find an audience at a time when the genre was considered a big risk in Hollywood. Despite the slow success of the 1975s, the film musical had long been written off as passé The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
But Carr would eventually be right. Fat Despite an unpredictable birth, it became the highest-grossing film musical of the 20th century.
Production was planned in just five weeks and the film was shot over two months on a modest budget of $6 million.
according to a vanity fair piece in 2016, Carr’s original vision for Fat differed significantly from the classic that is so popular today.
The original treatment, presented to the studio in December 1976, featured Danny Zuko as the busboy and gas station attendant (who recorded a song called pump jockey); Paul Lynde (then best known as Uncle Arthur on TV Enchanted) as Principal of Rydell High instead of Eve Arden as Principal McGee; Donny Osmond as Teen Angel; and the Beach Boys do the stunning garage production number, Greased Lightning.
Paramount wanted Henry Winkler to play Fonzie on the popular sitcom Happy Days, as Danny, but Winkler, afraid of being typecast, insisted.
Robert Stigwood, co-producer of Carr, had a three-movie deal with 22-year-old rising star John Travolta, with whom he was already a TV hit Welcome back Kotter playing school stallion Vinnie Barbarino. After Travolta fired Saturday Night Fever He signed up to play along Fat as Danny.
Casting Sandy would prove more difficult. Director Randal Kleiser saw clips from a new film entitled George Lucas, which was directing his old college pal War of stars, to see if his female lead, Carrie Fisher, might fit. It wasn’t her.
Kleiser and Carr considered other possibilities, including The partridge family Susan Dey, model and actress Deborah Raffin, and America’s Mormon lover Marie Osmond, who became the front runner until she protested Sandy’s transformation from good girl to bad girl and quit in protest.
In 2009, Osmond told Fox News, “The script came to me and [it] was a lot fancier than what Olivia had dreamed up.
“But I was at a point in my life where I wanted to have kids and I didn’t like the fact that the girl had to go bad in order to have the boy. I think the guy has to work hard to get the girl, I think so.”
After Osmond was out, Carr targeted Olivia, who was sitting across from him at a dinner party at Australian Helen Reddy’s home one night, not realizing she was auditioning. Carr gushed that she would be perfect for the role, but the singer wasn’t so sure, fearing she might be too old – 29 – to play a teenager and nervous after the previous musical bombshell in which she had performed.
Carr prevailed and rewrote the part to make Sandy Australian. Cinematographer Bill Butler used soft lenses to turn back the clock.
Fat was originally released in the United States on June 16, 1978 and was an instant box office success. At the time, it became the highest-grossing musical of all time, eclipsing the 13-year-old record the sound of music, with a worldwide gross of $341 million, or well over $1.5 billion in today’s money.
And despite their initial misgivings Fat guaranteed Olivia major league celebrity status for the rest of her life and beyond.
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