Dinah Manoff, a Tony Award-winning veteran of stage, screen and TV, was 19 when she was cast in "Grease" as Marty Maraschino, one of the movie's trio of wisecracking Pink Ladies. Now, 32 years later, she's remembering the experience anew as the singalong version of "Grease" comes back to theaters, beginning July 8.

Share story

Remember “Grease,” that goofy 1978 high-school movie musical with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John? Bainbridge Island resident Dinah Manoff does, because she was there — in a pink jacket.

Manoff, a Tony Award-winning veteran of stage (“I Ought to Be In Pictures” on Broadway), screen (“Ordinary People”) and television (“Soap,” “State of Grace”), was 19 when she was cast in “Grease” as Marty Maraschino, one of the movie’s wisecracking Pink Ladies. Now, 32 years later, she’s remembering the experience anew as the singalong version of “Grease” comes back to theaters, beginning Thursday.

The role, Manoff recalls, came to her as a surprise. Though no stranger to show business (her mother is actress Lee Grant, her father screenwriter Arnold Manoff), she was just getting started in her career — and, she says, couldn’t really sing or dance. “I don’t know why they cast me!” she said, describing the long audition process in an interview last month. “I was sure they wouldn’t.”

Unlike many of the featured roles in “Grease,” Marty does little singing or dancing, so Manoff’s comedic skills helped land her the role. But watch closely during the film’s dance numbers, and you’ll notice Marty’s not exactly front and center. “They were hiding me. I couldn’t really keep up!” Manoff said with a laugh. “I remember [choreographer] Pat Birch just laughing and shaking her head. She’d say, just stand there behind Jamie [Donnelly, who played fellow Pink Lady Jan]. Jamie could dance her butt off!” (Donnelly, she notes, is a friend to this day.)

Manoff, one of the youngest members of the cast (“If any of us had looked any more innocent, it wouldn’t have worked,” she said of the movie’s campy and occasionally risqué content), fondly recalled spending several days shooting the “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” number with Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Donnelly and Newton-John. “It was a blast,” she said of the number, set during a slumber party. “We just stayed silly for a couple of days.”

And she remembered the long, long hours of the movie’s big production numbers: “Summer Nights,” “We Go Together,” and the dance-at-the-gym centerpiece — which, she said, took a couple of weeks. “It’s a testament to Randal [Kleiser] the director and to Pat Birch and really to John and Olivia that everything looked so effortless, because it was grueling.”

Manoff had worked with Travolta before, doing a guest spot on “Welcome Back, Kotter” in 1976. But she said that watching the actor, who was 24 and had just finished “Saturday Night Fever,” was one of the biggest thrills of the “Grease” experience.

“He was magical,” she said. “He had a power at that moment in time that was so incandescent and irresistible, sexy and charismatic … When you were around him, you felt it, like a vibration coming off him.” She remembers, midway through the shoot, that Travolta took a group of them to see a “Saturday Night Fever” screening. “We all sat in that movie theater with our mouths hanging open, going, ‘Oh my God, we’re witnessing a real moment here. We’re in the presence of something very big.’ “

Manoff’s now far from Hollywood and Rydell High, having moved to Bainbridge five years ago with her husband and three sons. “We felt like we had reached the end of our L.A. potential,” she said. “We love it here. We’re never going back.” She now teaches acting at Bainbridge Performing Arts and enjoys a calmer life. “I sure don’t miss going out on auditions!”

And though she has few souvenirs from “Grease” (“Didi saved every single memento — she has her Pink Ladies jacket! I have nothing!”), she treasures the memories and loves the new singalong version. “It should have always been a singalong,” she said. “I think it works best in this way, where the audience gets to be in the movie. It’s like ‘Rocky Horror’ — you want to sing when you’re watching this thing anyway!”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com