Was actor Donna Mills the inspiration for ‘Grease’ character Sandy? She was not – Chicago Tribune

Memory can play tricks.

In a video posted Monday, actor Donna Mills claimed that she was the real-life inspiration for the “Grease” character Sandy Olsson. The 81-year-old star posted this video on her Instagram account. In it, she is dressed as Sandy – the Sandy we have come to know from stages and in a film (played by Olivia Newton John in 1978′s “Grease”; there was no Sandy in 1982′s “Grease 2 ″), wearing a pink sweater and then a leather jacket over a lacy top.

She says, “Did you know I went to school with Jim Jacobs? Jim Jacobs who wrote ‘Grease’? Jim Jacobs who used me as his model for Sandy. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out years later – I was the original Sandy. “

Her claim was repeated in publications such as the New York Post.

It is true that she and Jacobs are Chicago natives and both attended William Howard Taft High School together. It is true that Jacobs wrote “Grease” with his actor buddy Warren Casey. But it is not true that Jacobs modeled the character on Mills.

“Yes, Donna went to Taft. She was two years ahead of me and her last name was Miller, ”said Jacobs by phone from California. “She did go out with a cousin of mine. He was the older brother of a guy who was a model for another character but no, no way Donna was the model for Sandy. “

Casey and Jacobs were young local actors who based their first collaborative effort on Jacobs’ experiences at Taft on the Northwest Side here in the 1950s, and Casey’s at school in New York.

“Grease,” the Chicago play with music was mounted at the bygone Kingston Mines in 1971, where it played for eight months before “Grease” went to New York and opened off-Broadway. At the behest of producers Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox, Jacobs and Casey rewrote the play, adding songs and removing dialogue, taking out all Chicago references and most of the four-letter words. It was sanitized and gussied up.

In a few months it moved to the big time at the Royale Theater, and soon there were productions in cities across the US, in Paris and in Mexico City, where it was titled “Vaselina.” It would eventually become, in its time, the longest-running play in Broadway history.

The film version was released in 1978. It was a hit.

In 2011, the old Chicago version was resurrected as “The Original Grease” in a production by the now-departed American Theater Company.

Now there is a TV series in the works, “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.”

Warren Casey died in 1988. Mills’ acting career included a roles in the CBS soap opera “The Secret Storm” and the “Dallas” spinoff called “Knots Landing.” She will next appear in Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy “Nope,” set to open July 22.

But she did not appear in 1989 when she and Jacobs were inducted in Taft’s Hall of Fame. Jacobs was here for that and says, ““ I understand that she never got back to those who reached out to her. Not a word. Oh well. “

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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