Christmas is the (new) word for Danny and Sandy

Christmas is the (new) word for Danny and Sandy

John Travolta reveals how a desire to honour his late son sparked a new album with Olivia Newton-John.

John Travolta has revealed he teamed up with Olivia Newton-John to record a festive album in a bid to ease some of the devastation he feels about the loss of his son Jett at Christmas.

Travolta and Newton-John have recorded together for the first time in 30 years for their album This Christmas which includes a new track by John Farrar, the writer behind their Grease smash hit You're the One That I Want.

Reunited: Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

Reunited: Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

But aside from celebrating their iconic roles in Grease, their decision to work together was motivated by Travolta's desire to honour his son, who died in January 2009, aged only 16.

Travolta said Christmas is never an easy time of year for his family. "Doing something for him makes it easier, because you're doing something, you're proactive, you're raising money for the foundation that represents him,” Travolta said.

He said guest artists including Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett and James Taylor were happy to be involved, knowing proceeds of the album are going to the Jett Travolta Foundation and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne.


“It felt effortless,” Travolta said. “And everybody hopped on board effortlessly, we called Barbra and Tony and James and they all knew my son, so they just wanted to do this from their heart.

Travolta said he was inspired by Paul Newman in relation to raising money under Jett's name.

“Paul Newman did it through food, the Scott Newman foundation was to raise money for his son's foundation. People find different ways . . . I'm most comfortable doing it this way because I love to sing and I don't get a chance to do it a lot,” Travolta said.

“To join Olivia again, where we've succeeded at this level, to do that is a beautiful opportunity. I can't believe it.”

Both musicians, who spoke to Fairfax Media over the phone in a joint interview, are clearly thrilled to be working together again for the right reasons – and to acknowledge the influence Grease has had on popular culture.

“It came together in this really pure way, it has pure intentions. We still have little kids coming up to us who are discovering the movies; it's like three generations who love the movie, who are going to be thrilled to see Danny and Sandy, as they think of us, together again,” said Newton-John.

“For us, it's a wonderful way of giving back to causes that we care about and we're also giving the fans back something that they might like to see us do. Hopefully they'll like it as much as we hope they will.”

Olivia and I have always wanted to work together again ... but unless it's right and organic, it feels like you're forcing something.

Grease fans have waited three decades for Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson to team up again, so there is plenty of anticipation about how the new music will be received.

Travolta said they were both “excited” ahead of the global release on Wednesday of the video for the new Farrar single I Think You Might Like It.

“That's the one we chose firstly to do the video to and it comes out tomorrow morning worldwide,” Travolta said. “As Olivia said, the Grease fans are waiting for us to be together. This is a tip of a hat to Christmas, but it is a tip of the hat to Grease as well as a Christmas song. You're going to see a lot of Grease overtones in it and I think it's just enough, it's fun.”

Both stars said they have remained firm friends since making the movie, but were never keen to cash in on its success, just for the sake of it.

“We don't like to rush things,” Newton-John said, with a huge laugh. “Thirty years, well, maybe."

Travolta says needlessly plugging themselves as Danny and Sandy was never their style.

“Olivia and I are not aggressive people in that way, meaning we don't push ourselves on people. Grease was so big, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. The biggest musical in history plus the biggest pop duet in history. If you do anything trying to take advantage of that too much, people don't respond to it. But if you wait a long time, like we have, and it's really organic . . . Christmas is as timeless as Grease is . . . it feels more acceptable to present ourselves in that way.”

“Olivia and I have always wanted to work together again and you know, but unless it's right and organic, it feels like you're forcing something and I didn't want anyone to feel that way,” Travolta said.

The idea for a Christmas album, which includes guest appearances from a number of artists, came from Travolta, as the pair were texting each other.

You're the One That I Want was named best duet of all time and I wrote John a text going 'hey, guess what' and 'Merry Christmas'. So he texted me back 'that's awesome, that's great for us',” Newton-John said.

“And he was talking to his family about listening to Christmas music . . . so he texted me back saying how about we do a Christmas song and I said yes, not thinking anything would come of it. Then we ran into each other about three weeks later – at a Qantas event of course – and John said how about we do a whole Christmas album and I thought that was a wonderful idea, I wish I'd thought of it. Then I said how about we do it for our charities and that was the clincher.”

Travolta said he hoped the Christmas music would be enjoyed by fans for years.

“As Olivia said, it's that gift that keeps on giving. I still listen to Johnny Mathis and that was [recorded in] 1960,” Travolta said.

It's clear beyond the Christmas album sales, Travolta and Newton-John wanted to something to mark the Grease legacy given the bond they will always share because of the film.

“Oprah Winfrey said to me 'of all the movies you've done, John, what's the one you'd put in a time capsule?' And I said Grease and she said 'Grease? Really!” And I said it's the biggest musical in history and it's given people such joy and it's number one movie, my most successful movie, too. So why wouldn't I want to share that with whatever future generations, down the centuries? That's the one I can guarantee [will have] the most positive effect on others,” Travolta said.

Newton-John said she was still amazed by the success of the film. “And who knew when we made this, that it would still be giving so much pleasure to people.”

She admitted she still has the famous skintight black trousers from the film's final scene. “They're in my closet . . . and the jacket,” she said.

“You still have yours?” Travolta exclaimed, during the joint interview. “You are so smart,” he added to Newton-John.

“I think mine went to donations earlier,” Travolta said. “I get to own wardrobe but I tend to just give it away.”

The pair said they are happy to watch the film again themselves, with Newton-John saying she is now far enough removed from the project to watch it without analysing her performance.

“It came on [television] on the tour bus recently,” she said. “I sat there with my band and we were watching it and I really got to watch it without critiquing myself, because it's so long ago now, I've let go of that. And I thought 'this is a fun film'. Every second was full, there's never a dull moment in that movie, it just keeps moving, it's got such energy. I can see why people like it, I stood back from a little bit.”

Travolta said Newton-John texted him afterwards, in what was a funny moment between the pair so many years on.

“She texted me saying 'boy, you were cute!' She fell in love with me again, I liked that part of it,” he added, with a laugh.

Travolta and Newton John's album This Christmas is out now through Universal Music.

Christine Sams

Christine Sams is an entertainment writer

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