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Posts Tagged ‘John Travolta’

“Cancer got me over unimportant fears, like getting old.”
—Olivia Newton-John

When I heard that Olivia Newton-John died today, I thought of someone who had that rare decade of off-the-chart entertainment success, followed by three decades of dealing off and on with cancer which she publicly handled with much grace.

When I was 10 years old, I’m not sure I knew who Bob Dylan was—but I knew who Olivia Newton-John was. Or at least I knew the cute young lady whose first hit song was the Dylan written song, If Not for You.

By 1974, I was 13 and definitely knew who Newton-John was with the release of her album If you love me, let me know. That voice, those eyes, and that Australian accent captivated this teenager. And a few others as well. The title song became an international hit and her first song to hit #1 on the charts in the US and Canada.

In 1978, Newton-John co-starred in the hit movie Grease with John Travolta. It was not only a commercial and critical success, but is still one of the top box office grossing live-action musicals of all time.

Her 1981 song Physical (written by Terry Shaddick and Steve Kipner) was picked by Billboard as the top song of the ’80s. Over her five decade career it’s estimated that she sold over 100 million albums. And beyond her #1 hits, her four Grammys, and being a key part in an iconic Hollywood movie, the thing that really sets her apart from most entertainers throughout history is she became an active philanthropist. After being treated for breast cancer in 1992, I don’t think you could measure how much money and awareness she raised globally to fight cancer. Her legacy will continue in Australia at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre.

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Here’s a Vanity Fair clip of director Randel Kleiser walking through a scene from the timeless Grease featuring the song You’re the One That I Want sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

You’re the One That I Want is one of the top 20 selling singles of all time. 

Back in 1978 Travolta was over-the-top successful. He’d just come off an Oscar-nomination for Saturday Night Fever, was starring in the hit TV show Welcome Back Kotter, and had a hot song with Let Her In. Lesser remembered is a TV movie he did in 1976.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble  was also directed by Randel Kleiser from a script by Douglas Day Stewart (screenwriter of An Officer and a Gentleman). I remember being a teenager and seeing The Boy in the Plastic Bubble when it came out on TV. I never saw it again and haven’t thought about it in a decade—or two. Until recently,  when the coronavirus started to take over the news.

And speaking of the coronavirus— and the other half of singing You’re the One That I Want…

Olivia Newton-John may have been my first celebrity crush. I bought her If you love me , let me know album when I was 13. That was 1974, a couple of years before the Farrah Fawsett poster came out. (Maureen McCormick, Marcia on The Brady Bunch, was in the mix around that time.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Olivia Newton-John’s music.

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Olivia Newton-John’s battle with cancerhave been well documented over the years, and she recently relayed a stay at home message on her Instagram from some of the staff at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Australia.

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If you need a smile today to break through the global news, here’s a video of Olivia Newton-John singing Bob Dylan’s If Not For You when she was in her early 20s.  That smile. That voice. Those eyes.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m gonna to do something really outragous—I’m gonna tell the truth.”
Presidential candidate Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) in Primary Colors

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I try to not post on holidays but this Presidents’ Day I thought a nice way to break up the series of posts I’ve been doing on writer/director turned film professor Alexander Mackendrick is to show a photo that’s—in a round about way—related to this Holiday. (And you know, I’m all about unlikely things in unlikely places.)

On Saturday I had a meeting in the Ocala, Florida area and between touring a home owned by a former drug dealer and grabbing lunch at the Blue Wagyu (had the Yasufuku Jr. burger) I drove by John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s Florida house. Yeah, the one with the 707 jumbo jet in front of it. I first learn about the home in when it was featured years ago in Architectural Digest. 

Some of John Travolta’s most well-known films include Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, Get Shorty and Pulp Fiction—but it was in Primary Colors were he plays a Governor on the road to the Presidency. In real life Travolta is also an experienced pilot, but if he ever became President of the United States he’d be the first President who could not only fly Air Force One, but would be the first President where the White House might be considered a step down in living quarters.

Just took the above photo with by iPhone, but if you want to see better shots (and the Gulfstream parked in front) check out stunning photos Duston Saylor did for Architectural Digest.

Happy Presidents’ Day—

Scott W. Smith

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Ocala

I had a meeting in Ocala, Florida today and couldn’t help but take this picture of the Marion Theatre that’s been in the historic downtown area for more than 70 years. The movie theatre has had a few bumps in the road since it was built in 1941, including one 15 year stretch where it went dark, but it’s a working movie theater these days in all its neon glory.

In 2007, John Travolta and Kelly Preston (whose main residence is not far from the theatre) helped raise funds to re-open it as a theater.

Scott W. Smith 

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Ellen Page can skate. Really skate. Roller derby-style to boot. That alone makes Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It worth seeing. But wait, there’s more….

Most people know Page for her Juno role, but the 22-year-old Oscar nominated actress from Nova Scotia already has a decade old career having been in over 25 films and TV programs. We know Page can act but it’s special to watch the actress continue to blossom. Special in that way you see Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun or Paul Newman in The Hustler where you see great talent being revealed.

Many actors have stumbled in trying to play convincing roles as an athlete so I appreciate it when it’s done well. It was not a safe choice for Page or Barrymore, but they pulled it off.

Now I remember the roller derby in its 1970s incarnation.  Not that I was really a fan, but back then the roller derby was hard to miss because in a pre-cable TV and Internet world you only had three main channels to chose from. So on weekends somewhere between bowling, fishing and wrestling you had the roller derby. The roller derby was popular enough in the 70s to have a few films made about it including Unholy Rollers (1972), the documentary Derby (1972) and Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber (1972)–and let’s throw in the futuristic Rollerball (1975) for good measure.

Today the revival in roller derby is relatively small in comparison which may account for the soft opening this weekend at the box office. (That and people can’t seem to get enough of zombies.) But Barrymore and screenwriter Shauna Cross have put together a fine and entertaining film that also has a layer of wisdom in it, so I think it will continue to gather a following for years to come.

There is one scene, one line in particular (and this gives nothing away) that I thought was brilliant. It’s when Page’s character simply says, “I don’t want to be that girl.” It’s a moment that I don’t remember ever seeing in a film before and would benefit every teenage girl who is feed a steady diet of pop culture in regard to relationships. (Also part of that relationship plotline involves a t-shirt from the 80s Christian heavy metal band Stryper. I got a kick out of that as back in my L.A. days as a 16mm director and cameraman I shot an interview with Stryper’s lead singer Michael Sweet. If I find some photos from that shoot I’ll post them.)

At its core, Whip It is a coming-of-age story. Or as Save the Cat screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder calls it a rite of passage (ROP);

The ROP yarn…has three telling indicator: (1) The Problem, (2) the ‘wrong way’ to fix it, and (3) the solution to the problem: acceptance.'”

There are trampings involved with any genre and it’s hard to be original when you are dealing with a story that centers around sports, but I think Barrymore and Cross bring some subtle nuances to the film. One being the role of the parents played by Marica Gay Harden and Daniel Stern. Stern of course brings clout not only with his Wonder Years background, but as being in one of the greatest coming-of-age films/sports films ever—Breaking Away. Great casting choice. And way to go in not making the parents total dorks. (Took a page from Juno there.)

From a screenwriting perspective I do think they missed a huge opportunity to show some three dimensionality by at least giving a nod to the fact that the tribe some girls may want to be in is being in beauty pageants. What if Page’s best friend in the film would have really been gung-ho for doing the pageant thing? That’s the kind of dynamic that made John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club stand out. We’re all different and we’re all in this together.

Recently actress Sela Ward, who was raised in Mississippi, said this in an interview with Parade magazine;  “Growing up in the South, it’s all about manners and propriety. Every weekend, I went to charm school at the Sears department store, where I learned such fabulous tidbits as how to blot your face with a damp cloth to remove some of the powder and give yourself a little glow.” Not every girl is going to grow up and be dignified, refined and as graceful as Sela Ward. But those traits haven’t hurt her career any and there is still a man or two who finds that more attractive than blood and tattoos.

Two other missed opportunities were on the sound track. The dry opening to the film would have benefitted from a jump start montage of the roller derby girls intercut with shots of Page’s character getting ready for a beauty pageant with the song Roller Derby Saved My Soul by Uncle Leon and the Alibis playing. And on the credits Devo’s Whit It would have been a fitting tribute and left audiences with a big smile.

Whip It may not be as insightful as the classic Texas movie  The Last Picture Show, but you could put it on the shelf with the old John Travolta/Debra Winger film Urban Cowboy. It’s a fun film with a few life lessons thrown in, and a wonderful start for Barrymore. And she can really skate, too.

Whip It (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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