Some celebrity deaths seem to sting more than others. The world was certainly left reeling this past Monday as news of the untimely passing of Olivia Newton-John at the tender age of 73 made its way across the internet. Star of the stage, screen and music video, the beloved British-born, Australian-bred singer/actress/activist shot to fame thanks to her role as sunny Rydell High School student Sandy Olsson in the 1978 film adaptation of the musical “Grease.” Sheer perfection in her portrayal, the talented Hollywood multihyphenate was actually hesitant to accept the part when it was initially offered, which seems inconceivable in hindsight. As director Randal Kleiser recounted to the Los Angeles Times in 1998, “Newton-John was our first choice to play Sandy, but she was nervous about acting, feeling comfortable with us and whether she could pull it off at all. She requested a screen test; afterward, she would decide if she would do the movie.”
The screen test – and her chemistry with co-star John Travolta, who played her love interest, T-Bird Danny Zuko – proved magical, she accepted the role and the rest, as they say, is history. Per The Numbers, “Grease” became the highest-grossing movie of the year following its June 16 release, raking in an incredible $153 million by the end of 1978. It went on to gross nearly $390 million in total worldwide box office sales, spawning one of the most popular soundtracks of all time and turning Newton-John into a household name in the process.
Set in an unspecified American suburb, the flick (which is currently streaming on Paramount+) was shot in and around Los Angeles throughout the summer of 1977. Forty-five years later, the locations used remain some of the most beloved amongst film aficionados. Incredibly, though a handful have been lost to the wrecking ball, many still look much as they did when Kleiser originally captured them with his camera four and a half decades ago! One, in particular, the Craftsman-esque house where Frenchy (Didi Conn) hosts a slumber party for her fellow Pink Ladies – Rizzo (Stockard Channing), Marty (Dinah Manoff) and Jan (Jamie Donnelly) – and Rydell newcomer Sandy, remains absolutely frozen in time from its big-screen appearance.
In real life, the two-story property can be found at 4522 Kingswell Ave. in Los Feliz, just a little over a mile away from John Marshall High School, the spot used in the movie’s famed finale sequence, and about three miles from the Paramount Pictures lot, which served as the production’s home base. (Please remember this is a private dwelling. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.)
As eagle-eyed fans have likely noticed during their second, third, fourth and 100th “Grease” viewings, Frenchy’s house has a bit of an anomaly – there are two front doors standing adjacent to each other on its east side. In reality, according to building permits, the 1911 structure was initially built as a single-family residence but was transformed into a duplex in 1918, hence the double entrances. Today it is configured as a quadruplex with four rental units numbered 4522, 4522 ½, 4524 and 4526 Kingswell.
Because the place last sold in 1995, MLS imagery is nil and detailed measurement information is scant, but per most real estate websites, the property comprises a total of five bedrooms and four baths in 2,582 square feet. When the place last changed hands nearly 30 years ago, it was acquired for $160,000 and Zillow estimates its present worth at just shy of $1.5 million.
The residence was chosen for its “Grease” role thanks to its Anywhere, U.S.A. appeal and large second-level window. As Kleiser explained to Los Angeles magazine in 2018, “It just looked like a small-town house. We needed a place for Rizzo to crawl down out of the window.”
Indeed, it is there that Rizzo bails on Frenchy’s slumber party and famously “shimmies down the drainpipe” in order to “get her kicks while she’s still young enough to get ‘em!”
Only the front exterior of the residence appeared in the production.
Frenchy’s bedroom, where Riz regaled the girls with a rousing rendition of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” was a set constructed inside of a soundstage on the Paramount Pictures lot. The backyard, where Sandy famously sang “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” was a studio build, as well. Kleiser recounted to the L.A. Times, “As part of her contract, Olivia had a solo and approval of the song. As we went into production, there was no song and no idea where we would put it. It was not even on the production schedule. John Farrar, who had written for her in the past, came up with ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ about halfway through production. I had never heard a demo before, and it was hard for me to imagine the finished product listening to the author singing the song with a guitar. Olivia was convinced it would work. Time was running out and we had to figure out where to put the song and how to integrate it into the story. We came up with the idea of Sandy wandering around the backyard singing about Danny after the slumber party. A set was quickly built. It was one of the last things shot, almost in one take.” The construct certainly proved successful! The ballad went on to become a hit and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song in 1979.
In real life, Frenchy’s residence is situated on a small 0.16-acre lot and, if aerial views are to be believed, the backyard consists of little other than a cement driveway. There is no rear porch, lawn or foliage in sight, nor is there a kiddie pool to wash away your sorrows. But while the sets were dismantled ages back following the film’s wrap, the house still stands, a timeless reminder of the iconic movie captured there one magical summer 45 years ago.