Sun. Sep 25th, 2022

And she was movie star beautiful, with gorgeous big blue eyes and a lovely smile. She appeared in several forgettable films, like a in a made-for-television holiday movie called “A Christmas Romance,” kind of like “Misery” except instead of torturing the injured guy stuck in her home, they fall in love. She even showed up in a cameo with her daughter Chloe Lattanzi in “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.” In her last role, she appeared as herself in “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee,” with Paul Hogan playing himself as the onetime star of “Crocodile Dundee” that Newton-John tries to persuade to pretend to be John Travolta in front of an audience so they can re-enact one of the songs from “Grease.” (Spoiler alert: they are not fooled.)

But she had just two movies with an impact on the culture gigantic enough to overshadow her superstar-level success as a pop singer. Both were musicals and in both, in a way, she played two roles. One was among the most successful and still-beloved films of all time and the other was an enormous flop, though with a small cult following.

Newton-John was born in England but moved to Australia as a child and first performed there as teenager. She sold over 100 million records. She was nominated for 12 Grammys and won four.  She was 29 years old and had already recorded nine country and pop number one hits when she was cast as the high school student Sandy in the movie adaptation of “Grease,” a Broadway musical written in the early 70s as an affectionate tribute to the 50s. She was offered the part without an audition but she insisted on a screen test to prove to herself, if not director Randal Kleiser, that she could do it. She wanted to be sure she could not just act the part but look the part of a character more than decade younger than she was, or at least as young as her co-star. John Travolta, who played Danny, was 25. She agreed to do it, with a contract that guaranteed her a solo. There was nothing in the stage musical that was right. So, her own producer, John Ferrar, who had written some of her biggest hits and who knew how to make the best use of her talent, wrote “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” which became a number 3 hit on the US Billboard chart and was nominated for an Oscar. Ferrar also wrote the movie’s concluding duet with Travolta, “You’re the One that I Want.”

She was by no means a great actress, but like all great singers Newton-John had excellent timing and screen presence and she more than kept up with Travolta in the big dance numbers. She was ideally cast as the sweet, confused Sandy, singing about holding hands and drinking lemonade. And that is why her transformation at the end, with those iconic skin-tight leather pants, is such a shock. We might disapprove for many reasons of a girl changing her personality and pretending to be “fast” in order to get a boy, but somehow we know she is still sweet Sandy (and resiliently wholesome Olivia) at heart. The poppy love song as they dance through the Fun House and the car flying off into the clouds give the ending a reassuring wink.

By admin