'Grease,' inspired by Radnor High School, returns to theaters for 40th anniversary

It’s been 40 years since the Pink Ladies and T-Birds first taught us all to Hand Jive, and this weekend, fans will be able to brush up on their moves with a limited theatrical re-release of beloved musical romantic comedy Grease.

But none of it would have ever been possible without Radnor High School.

For the uninitiated, Grease, released June 16, 1978, follows high school seniors Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) as they fall in love in the 1950s. Based on an earlier musical of the same name, the film includes famous tracks like “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “You’re The One That I Want,” and the above-referenced “Born to Hand Jive.”

While the film takes places in the fictional Rydell High School, some of the film’s elements were inspired by Radnor High School thanks to director Randal Kleiser. A 1964 alum of the school, Kleiser told former Inquirer movie critic Steven Rea in 1998 that “a lot of the stuff we put in Grease is sort of based on Radnor.”

“I ran the low hurdle, and I put that in where Danny Zuko is running the hurdle and tripped. That happened to me — I was in a race and tripped,” Kleiser said. “And the school colors, I think, are the same as Rydell’s. The suburbia feel that you get from Radnor High School is sort of in Grease. The original musical was an urban musical, set in the city.”

The film’s drive in scene, in which a depressed Danny slinks off to a swingset to sing “Sandy,” also came from Kleiser’s time coming up in Pennsylvania.

“That was based on the Main Line Drive-In [in Devon], where there were these little swings below the screen where kids would go and play before the sun went down,” he said. “That’s where I got the idea of Travolta sitting on the swings and singing.”

While Radnor High may have inspired some elements of Grease, the film was actually shot on the opposite side of the country at Venice High School and Huntington Park High School in California.

The film will be back in select theaters on April 8, 11, and 14. Locally, fans will be able to catch it at local theaters including the Riverview Plaza 17, Cinemark University City 6, and Studio Movie Grill Upper Darby, among other theaters. A 40th anniversary Grease DVD/Blu-ray release is scheduled for April 24.