Olivia Newton-John was that uncommon factor: a splendidly unselfconscious star | Olivia Newton-John

Surreal and spectacular … with Michael Beck in Xanadu.

Olivia Newton-John was an Australian recording star who achieved severe Hollywood fame together with her starring function within the 1978 musical Grease, taking part in reverse the white-hot main man of the second, John Travolta. Just some years earlier, she had come an ignominious fourth representing the UK within the Eurovision Music Contest (she was born in England), dropping out to Abba’s Waterloo. However Grease made her a severe A-lister.

On the ages of 29 and 24, Newton-John and Travolta have been taking part in high-school college students Sandy and Danny in a fondly imagined Nineteen Fifties – however nobody questioned the age disparity on the time, and Newton-John was in all probability Hollywood’s final instance of a mature juvenile lead. In Grease she is the candy, pure virgin in love with the leather-jacketed cool child – till the ultimate quantity, when she embraces her inside biker chick to maintain his coronary heart ensnared. Sandy famously needed to be rewritten from the stage model to clarify her Australian accent: these days, Aussie stars equivalent to Margot Robbie and the Hemsworth brothers do American accents indistinguishable from the actual factor.

Grease was as gorgeously harmless as Newton-John herself, and the beguiling niceness of everybody concerned (even Travolta’s Danny and Stockard Channing’s fierce Rizzo) made it a rocket-fuelled hit. Newton-John’s splendidly unselfconscious efficiency as squeaky-clean Sandy gave her a film star standing that she by no means fully misplaced, although by no means fully earned. It might be unfair to name Newton-John the cinematic equal of a one-hit surprise. However after Grease, she had a restricted variety of movie and TV drama credit and her motion pictures benefited enormously from the soundtrack album gross sales – that now vanished profit-centre of the business.

There are some gems and cult classics in her profession: audacious, unique flights of fancy, together with one which her hardcore followers consider as essentially the most underrated Christmas film of all time. Audiences – each LGBTQ and straight – have by no means stopped loving her.

The fantasy romance Xanadu (1980) – directed by Robert Greenwald, since recognized for political documentaries – was fairly extraordinary, an epic mashup of disco flash, golden age Hollywood glamour and a few unusual VR-style inner-space scenes (4 years earlier than Disney’s pc recreation mind-trip Tron). Newton-John had the excellence of starring in it reverse Gene Kelly in his last movie function, and she or he has an enthralling song-and-dance routine with him. She performs a fantastic and mysterious girl known as Kira who seems to be the immortal Greek muse Terpsichore, one of many 9 muses of Olympus. Kira was as soon as the muse to a former huge band chief (Kelly) and turns into the identical inspirational although elusive determine for a younger would-be artist performed by Michael Beck. Xanadu is fully bonkers, however enjoyable. The opening roller-disco dance scene, led by Kelly himself, is surreal and spectacular. The soundtrack album was a worldwide smash.

Surreal and spectacular … with Michael Beck in Xanadu.
Surreal and spectacular … rollerskating with Michael Beck in Xanadu. {Photograph}: Common/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

Newton-John’s follow-up film, Two of a Variety (1983), written and directed by TV veteran John Herzfeld and once more co-starring Travolta, didn’t revive the outdated Grease magic – sadly, it deserved a number of the sniffy critiques. Travolta performs an inventor who owes cash to the mob, so robs a financial institution in desperation. Newton-John, miscast as a cynical financial institution teller, fingers over the bag of money he calls for however sneakily switches the cash-bundles for deposit slips. She will get away with the cash that he’s blamed for stealing – so he comes after her. It’s not a nasty premise for a comedy thriller by any means, however the fantasy ingredient is leaden. 4 angels are monitoring the progress of those two reprobate people, and there’s a cringeworthy flip from Oliver Reed because the satan. Once more, the soundtrack album went by means of the roof.

After this, Newton-John’s roles are an attention-grabbing, eclectic combine: she had a supporting half within the groundbreaking Aids drama It’s My Occasion (1996), performed a hockey mother in Rating: A Hockey Musical (2010) and had a good-sport cameo in Sharknado 5: International Swarming (2017). She additionally made a forthright contribution to the 2010 docudrama 1 a Minute, about breast most cancers.

However Olivia Newton-John made what cult completists consider as Christmas-movie historical past together with her starring function within the outrageously sentimental however shrewdly judged 1990 TV film A Mother for Christmas. A lonely, sad lady, whose mom died when she was little, is moping round a division retailer one Christmastide and desires {that a} fairly model would come to life and be her mom. This, after all, is Newton-John, who goes house together with her – however, oh pricey, it could possibly solely be for Christmas. I can properly think about this movie getting a remake.

Newton-John’s greatest later work, which confirmed that she did have the appearing chops to go together with the music, was her hilarious flip as homosexual nation singer Bitsy Mae Harling in Del Shores’s black comedy Sordid Lives (2000) and the next TV sequence spinoff, belting out bittersweet numbers in a scuzzy bar. (“Who’s to say who’s a sinner and who’s a saint? / Who’s to say who you’ll be able to love and who you cain’t?”) Olivia Newton-John saved her declare on her viewers’s hearts to the tip.

This text was amended on 9 August 2022. Michael Beck was misnamed Richard Beck in an earlier model.