‘Taxi’ star Marilu Henner on turning down ‘Grease’ movie, befriending John Travolta: ‘A special kind of talent’

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When Marilu Henner was solid within the Chicago manufacturing of “Grease,” the actress had no concept she can be making historical past.

The musical first started as a group theater manufacturing in a transformed trolley barn. Not solely did it launch the careers of a number of stars, but it surely additionally led to the 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. In 2020, the film was added to the Nationwide Movie Registry.

Henner is now reflecting on her rise to stardom with a brand new present in New York Metropolis’s 54 Beneath on June 1 and June 6 titled “Tell Me More, Tell Me More: The ‘Grease’ 50th Reunion.” The 70-year-old shall be internet hosting alongside James Canning who, like her, appeared within the unique Chicago manufacturing. Collectively, they’ll be sharing the stage with a number of solid members and shock friends as they inform tales and sing songs.

Marilu Henner will be sharing songs and stories about the early years of

Marilu Henner shall be sharing songs and tales concerning the early years of “Grease” at New York Metropolis’s 54 Beneath.
(Jim Britt/Disney Common Leisure Content material by way of Getty Photos)

Henner spoke to Day by day Publish Digital about bringing “Grease” to life, befriending Travolta, 68, in addition to her favourite reminiscence from her beloved sitcom “Taxi.”

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Day by day Publish: What can audiences anticipate out of your exhibits in New York Metropolis?
Marilu Henner: It’s a visit down reminiscence lane. I used to be within the unique firm in Chicago after which did the primary nationwide firm. We’re going to have lots of the unique solid members from the present… And all people appears so rattling good *laughs*. I hold saying the ladies of “Grease” ought to do a program as a result of it’s just like the fountain of youth. I assume “Grease” is the fountain of youth.

You realize, I didn’t need to go to New York [back then] and audition for the Broadway firm as a result of I used to be about to begin school and I believed, “This thing’s not gonna be a hit. I’m not gonna give up time in college.” I do know, I do know. *laughs*. However… I did get to do the nationwide firm and work with Jeff Conaway from “Taxi.” James Canning and I are internet hosting the night. It’s a celebration.

Marilu Henner attending

Marilu Henner attending “Party for 2,000 Performance of Grease” on Dec. 8, 1979, on the Sheraton Lodge in New York Metropolis.
(Ron Galella/Ron Galella Assortment by way of Getty Photos)

Day by day Publish: Earlier than Broadway and even the movie, was there ever a second the place you thought, “There’s something really special about this musical?”
Henner: I did the present in Chicago and we have been just like the hardest gang that you possibly can probably think about. We teased our hair, we put razor blades in our hair. It was in a transformed trolley barn. We simply walked up the aisle and would virtually stomp on individuals’s fingers. We have been such a nasty little group of individuals and that’s so totally different from the way in which I used to be in highschool. I used to be such a goody little two footwear in a manner.

I by no means thought the present can be a success previous Chicago as a result of it had all these Chicago references. It was tremendous raunchy, lots of dangerous language, a lot worse than the Broadway firm. However I wasn’t shocked when it did turn into a success as a result of they made it extra palatable for a common viewers. And it simply appeared like all people was a kind of youngsters in highschool… It has actual common enchantment. Whether or not you have been the brand new child at school otherwise you have been a part of a clique, I feel it has one thing you possibly can relate to.

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Day by day Publish: It looks like “Grease” is a ceremony of passage for college kids now.
Henner: Positively… I’ve been very fortunate in my life to do “Grease” [so early on] and it’s being appreciated by a complete new viewers years later. It’s such a nostalgic look again… It’s fairly superb whenever you do one thing that crosses not solely eras however has such common themes.

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John embrace in a promotional still for the film

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John embrace in a promotional nonetheless for the movie “Grease,” directed by Randal Kleiser, 1978.
(Paramount Photos/Fotos Worldwide/Getty Photos)

Day by day Publish: How did you are feeling concerning the movie?
Henner: I used to be truly provided the movie, however I couldn’t get cease dates for [another] movie that I used to be doing on the time. Nevertheless it’s nice. I imply, it’s so totally different. The movie and the play are two fully totally different animals. The play is such an ensemble piece and the film is totally totally different. It’s positively a star car for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Lots of the songs have been reduce, so there was a really totally different really feel to the movie.

However pay attention, it’s so nice that the movie turned this big success. I used to be hanging out with John on the time and went to the openings in each England and France. You can see how individuals simply responded to the movie. It crossed continents… Folks nonetheless acknowledge these songs, and it’s lots of enjoyable to speak about them and relive these reminiscences. However reminiscence’s simple for me. I don’t thoughts reliving reminiscences ever.

Day by day Publish: You labored with John Travolta at one level. What stood out to you?
Henner: I did the primary nationwide firm of “Grease” with him after which instantly, he and I each obtained solid in my first Broadway present, “Over Here,” with The Andrews Sisters. We additionally did two motion pictures, “Perfect” and “Chains of Gold.” And we frolicked for a few years as nicely.

John Travolta and Marilu Henner dated and appeared in two movies together.

John Travolta and Marilu Henner dated and appeared in two motion pictures collectively.
(James Andanson/Sygma by way of Getty Photos)

The primary day I met him, we related instantly. We each have three sisters and two brothers. He’s from a household of six, I’m from a household of six. He’s from three ladies and three boys, I’m from 4 ladies and two boys. So we had three sisters and two brothers. His mom taught drama, my mom taught dance. His father offered tires, my father offered automobiles. So we felt like we had that huge household connection.

And he knew that I had carried out the unique Chicago firm. He needed to know the whole lot I might probably inform him. He’s an actual analysis individual. And I really like that and respect that a lot in anyone. And , he’s simply very proficient – loopy proficient. You can inform, even at 18 years previous, that he was going to be a star. He was only a particular type of expertise and a very good individual. He had that huge household factor… He’s a tremendous human being.

Day by day Publish: Was there a music or scene from “Grease” that you just hoped would have been proven within the Broadway manufacturing and even the movie, however it will definitely obtained reduce?
Henner: Definitely. “Freddy My Love,” which was my music and the primary music ever written for “Grease” that was within the Chicago firm. It made it to the Broadway firm, after which it was reduce from the film. However the Chicago firm had very totally different songs. The opening music was “Foster Beach.” In 54 Beneath, we’re going to inform the story about how “Foster Beach,” which was a really native Chicago seashore, turned “Summer Nights.” It was the identical sentiment, but it surely turned “Summer Nights.”

As a student at the University of Chicago in 1971, Marilu Henner was cast as Mary in a community theater production of

As a scholar on the College of Chicago in 1971, Marilu Henner was solid as Mary in a group theater manufacturing of “Grease.”
(Cindy Ord/Getty Photos for SiriusXM)

Within the Chicago firm, the music on the finish the place Olivia’s character is all dolled up, it was known as “Kiss It.” Then it turned “All Choked Up.” Then it turned “You’re the One That I Want.” So I obtained to see all of the totally different progressions. There was a tattoo music. Miss Lynch had a music known as “In My Day.” The writers simply stored writing and writing… After which they stored slicing and slicing. So it’s good that they reduce as many [songs] as they did.

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Day by day Publish: Followers acknowledge you from “Taxi.” What’s one reminiscence that stands proud to you now when you concentrate on your time on the present?
Henner: Let me simply let you know that we simply did our thirteenth Zoom. We proceed to have these Zoom [meetings]. We celebrated Jim Brooks’ birthday for the third time on Zoom. We simply love one another a lot. After we get on these Zooms, they’re two hours lengthy, and it’s by no means sufficient time. They’re all coming to see my present at 54 Beneath. So I hope individuals come as a result of they’ll see a few of my solid mates.

Marilu Henner's

Marilu Henner’s “Taxi” co-star Jeff Conaway, who died in 2011, performed Kenickie within the movie “Grease.”
(Silver Display screen Assortment/Getty Photos)

I used to be simply saying final week that there’s this particular reminiscence of when Tony Danza obtained his blue Corvette. He pulled into the Paramount car parking zone in his brand-new automobile and blasted the radio. The music “Street Life” was enjoying. And the 2 of us have been dancing across the Paramount lot. It was simply this exhilarating feeling like we’re younger, we’re in Hollywood, we have now this unbelievable present. And each time we had a visitor star, whether or not it was Tom Selleck or Tom Hanks – and we had so many visitor stars on the present – we might open up our hearts and the welcome wagon. We have been simply so appreciative. And the events in fact – there have been so many nice events.

Day by day Publish: You have been one of many few ladies on the present. What was that like for you?
Henner: For the primary 4 years, I used to be the one lady. After which within the fifth season, Carol Kane got here on. I at all times say that I deliberate my outfit earlier than I went to sleep each night time as a result of I need to look actually good *laughs*. And generally it was humorous as a result of I’d say a line and go, “Is that an Elaine line?” It wanted a feminine viewpoint, so I feel they actually let me contribute to my character loads. I liked it. They gave me lots of sass and I gave it proper again to them, which is why I feel I obtained the job.

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And I really like these guys a lot. Tony Danza calls me the swizzle stick that stirs the drink. I used to be the one who stated, “OK guys, hone up. We’re paying for the party this week.” Or, “OK guys, give me your set list for the DJ.” Or, “OK guys, we’re buying everybody a Christmas present, pick a name from the grab bag and you’re responsible for that name.” I come from a giant household… so I kind of acted like that at “Taxi” as nicely. I used to be at all times the one amassing, telling individuals, reminding individuals what was occurring.

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Starring in

Starring in “Taxi” have been Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, Andy Kaufman, Jeff Conaway, Randall Carver, Tony Danza and Judd Hirsch.
(Jim Britt/Disney Common Leisure Content material by way of Getty Photos)

Day by day Publish: What’s your favourite reminiscence involving Andy Kaufman?
Henner: I liked the episode the place Andy fancied himself a music and dance man. He knew that I’d labored with The Andrews Sisters on Broadway. So there was an episode the place we go to a fancy dress get together. Tony, Andy and Judd [Hirsch] all act like The Andrews Sisters. I obtained to show them a routine as a result of I knew a few of their choreography… There are simply so many nice, humorous scenes [we did together]. I really like that the present is so revered and that everyone continues to be speaking about it and that we’re all nonetheless working.

Day by day Publish: You bumped into Jeff Conaway over time. What was that like?
Henner: We at all times stayed shut. When you may have one thing like “Taxi” you’re doing issues just like the TV Land Awards or getting collectively since you’re going to someone’s wedding ceremony or child bathe. All of us stayed in touch. We threw dinners for each other each occasionally. So I at all times noticed Jeff. I’ve each “Taxi” and “Grease” in frequent with Jeff. It was simple to remain in contact with him, particularly across the holidays. I really like his sisters. You realize, I can nonetheless hear his voice in my head. He was at all times such a sweetheart. I miss him.

Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner attend the Primetime Emmy Awards on Aug. 29, 1998, in Pasadena, California.

Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner attend the Primetime Emmy Awards on Aug. 29, 1998, in Pasadena, California.
(Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Assortment by way of Getty Photos)

Day by day Publish: When it comes to sitcoms, what would you prefer to see extra of?
Henner: Moreover “Taxi,” my different favourite sitcom is “Friends.” I really like “Friends.” There are such a lot of parallels. I might like to see one other nice ensemble piece, however I might additionally like to see a very nice household sitcom… You realize, not your typical household that has uncommon characters coming out and in. And there’s lots of love. There’s additionally controversy.

I’m engaged on one thing proper now that I feel will test off lots of packing containers for me. Now we have such uncommon households these days. I’m so glad that the world is now embracing variations. It’s not like this cookie-cutter kind of factor that the majority households are speculated to have. I hope there’s extra of that. 

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