It’s hard to believe that Grease, that joyful, ‘50s-style teen musical firmly implanted in our youth, is 41 years old. Perhaps more befuddling, though, is that Andy Warhol almost snagged a role in the feel-good classic.
The 1978 film based off the Broadway musical of the same name was fraught with casting-related drama from the get-go, from Happy Days’ Henry Winkler turning down the role of Danny Zuko (too similar, he said, to the slick-haired Fonzie) to Carrie Fisher almost playing the part of sweet Sandy Olsson (production of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope was going on at the same time) to Elvis Presley declining to play the fictitious guardian angel who softly serenades a lost Frenchy (eerily, Presley died the same day the scene was filmed). Suffice to say, it took some time before director Randal Kleiser secured the perfect cast to play Rydell’s finest. And had a certain studio executive from Paramount not vetoed producer Allan Carr’s decision to cast Warhol as the school's art teacher, Grease as we know it would have been, well, a little different.
According to Carr, said executive had a curious personal vendetta against the Pop Art icon, simply saying, “I will not have that man in my movie.” While Grease is not entirely kid-friendly (racier bits include sexual innuendos and themes of teen pregnancy, drinking, and smoking), one has to question whether Warhol’s association with New York City’s counterculture scene clashed with Paramount’s reputation as a “financially and artistically conservative” company. Radicals, porn stars, socialites, free-thinkers, drag queens, musicians, and non-conformists made up the bulk of Warhol’s legendary entourage of “superstars” who frequented his Silver Factory and participated in drug-fueled orgies and overtly provocative films. To outsiders, this particular kind of hedonism was seen as a blatant rejection of conservative American values—a middle finger, if you will, to the wholesome ideals of the hegemony.
It probably didn’t help that Warhol’s famed portrait of Nixon, “Vote McGovern 84,” 1972, cast the former republican President in a demonic light. But it’s worth wondering what the notoriously shy and even more notoriously blasé Warhol would have been like as Rydell’s resident art teacher. Would he have blended in with the wildly goofy yet good-natured Secretary Blanche? The tough-talking Coach Calhoun? What about the perpetually flustered Principal McGee? Would he have been able to handle all the classroom mischief brought on by the rowdy T-Birds? Would Warhol, an outsider himself, have taken a liking to outcasts like Eugene? The world will never know. One thing is for sure, though: He would have absolutely lived for Sandy's jaw-dropping transformation from innocent and doe-eyed to fierce, sexy, and leather-clad. A newfound spirit of rebellion that he most certainly would have championed.