Saturday, February 11, 2012

John Travolta

 Opening Remarks

 John Travolta has had a long career. More than 40 years now. There have been many ups and downs. Many highs and lows. The highs came fast with Welcome Back Kotter, Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Urban Cowboy. Followed by 3 or 4 bombs which seemingly ended his leading man status in Hollywood. He came back on the scene with Look Who's Talking and then back to leading man status with Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. Along the way,  he has made some very good films and some very bad films. He has been in some very profitable films and some total bombs financially.
Travolta is a good actor.  Not a great actor. He has films where he really captures the character, then others where he seemingly mails it in. He makes great choices, like Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction,  then others where he chooses poorly conceived films while he rejects roles like American Gigalo and Officer and A Gentleman. 
Through it all, he perseveres and endures.
At times it seems he just doesn't put the effort in to the work he takes, but then he rebounds. Very much like the characters in his films, he underachieves then surprises you by overachieving.
 Either way, he just keeps on going and is loved by most.


John Joseph Travolta was born February 18, 1954 in Englewood, New Jersey. He was the youngest of six children.

 His father was a semi-professional American football player turned tire salesman and partner in a tire company. His mother was an actress and singer who became a high school drama and English teacher. His siblings, Joey, Ellen, Ann, Margaret, and Sam Travolta, have all acted.

His sister Ellen acted with him in many projects.

 His father was a second-generation Italian American and his mother was Irish American; He grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood and has said that his household was predominantly Irish in culture.

After attending high school  Travolta moved  to New York City and landed a role in the touring company of the musical Grease and on Broadway in Over Here!,  He then moved to Los Angeles to further his career in show business.

Although he did many smaller roles on network tv before he got significant roles in tv and movies, much of his early work was in tv commercials.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is a 1976 made-for-TV movie inspired by the lives of David Vetter and Ted DeVita, who lacked effective immune systems. It stars Travolta, Glynnis O'Connor, Diana Hyland, Robert Reed, and P.J. Soles. It was  directed by Randal Kleiser, who would work with Travolta again in Grease shortly after.
In this movie, Travolta would meet Diana Hyland and begin a relationship with her. She would play a very significant role in his life and he took one important role because of her.

His first significant movie role was as Billy Nolan, a bully who was goaded into playing a prank on Sissy Spacek's character in the horror film, Carrie (1976). 

 He then landed his star-making role as Vinnie Barbarino in the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter in 1975. , in which his sister, Ellen, also occasionally appeared (as Arnold Horshack's mother).


Around this time, Travolta had a hit single entitled "Let Her In", peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Because of his popularity on Welcome Back  Kotter, Travolta was signed to a 3 picture deal worth 1 Million Dollars. The first film, cemented his status as a big star.

In 1977, he performed as  Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.

Saturday Night Fever was a story about an immature young man whose weekends are spent visiting a local Brooklyn disco. In addition to Travolta,  Karen Lynn Gorney starred as his dance partner and eventual friend

 Donna Pescow as Tony's former dance partner and would-be girlfriend. 

While in the disco, Tony is the king. His care-free youth and weekend dancing help him to temporarily forget the reality of his life: a dead end job

 clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents

A huge commercial success, the film significantly helped to popularize disco music around the world and made Travolta, already well known from his role on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter, a household name. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best selling soundtracks of all time.

The story is based upon a 1976 New York magazine article by British writer Nik Cohn, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night". In the late 1990s, Cohn acknowledged that the article had been fabricated.

The film was among the most commercially successful picture of the decade and, along with Grease, which was packaged as a double feature with this movie,  catapulted Travolta to international stardom.





The soundtrack to the movie actually promoted the movie before it came out, and helped sell  the movie.

Saturday Night Fever earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. At age 24, Travolta became one of the youngest performers ever nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

During the filming of the movie, Travolta's girlfriend, actress Diana Hyland was diagnosed with breast cancer and would die shortly after filming of Saturday Night Fever began. She was the one that encouraged him to seek out and take the role. Many say that her death made his portrayal of Tony Manero more sensitive, and in contrast to how the character was written.

Grease is a 1978 American musical film  based on Warren Casey's and Jim Jacobs's 1971 musical of the same name about two lovers in a 1950s high school. The film stars John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and Jeff Conaway. It was successful both critically and at the box office; its soundtrack album ended 1978 as the second-best selling album of the year in the United States, behind the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, another film starring Travolta.

 In 1980, Travolta inspired a nationwide country music craze that followed on the heels of his hit film, Urban Cowboy, in which he starred with Debra Winger.

Urban Cowboy is a 1980  film about the love-hate relationship between Bud Davis (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger). The movie captured the late 1970s/early 1980s popularity of Country Music.

The film's screenplay was adapted by Aaron Latham and James Bridges from an article in a men's magazine on Western nightlife written by Latham. The movie was directed by Bridges. Some film critics referred to the movie as a country music version of Saturday Night Fever.

After Urban Cowboy, Travolta starred in a series of financial and critical failures that sidelined his acting career.

His next project Blow Out, was a critical success but a box office flop.

Blow Out is a 1981 thriller film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The film stars Travolta as Jack Terry, a movie sound effects technician from who, captures audio evidence of an assassination involving a presidential hopeful while recording sounds for a low-budget slasher film, Nancy Allen stars as Sally Bedina, the young woman Jack rescues during the crime. The supporting cast includes John Lithgow and Dennis Franz.

After Blow Out, Travolta made Staying Alive ( a sequel to SNF),  Two of a Kind, a romantic comedy and Perfect. All three were flops. 

Staying Alive is the 1983 film sequel to Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta as dancer Tony Manero, . It was directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone.
The title comes from the Bee Gees song, Stayin' Alive, which was used as the theme song to Saturday Night Fever and is also played during the final scene of Staying Alive. This is the only film to date which Sylvester Stallone has written that he does not star in (although he does have an uncredited cameo).
The film was a success at the box office, earning almost $65 million in the US. While the figure is significantly less than the $94 million earned from its 1977 predecessor Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive ranks among the top ten most successful films of 1983.
Despite its economic success, critics blasted the movie, saying it lacked the heart and interesting characters of Saturday Night Fever. In 2006, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Staying Alive the "Worst Sequel Ever."

 Two of a Kind is a 1983 American romantic comedy film  starring Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.  The film has Travolta as an inventor and Newton-John as a bank teller. It is up to both criminally-minded individuals to save Earth from God's destruction.
 The film was nominated for five Razzie Awards: Worst Actor (Travolta), Worst Actress (Newton-John), Worst Director (Herzfeld), Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture.

Perfect is a 1985 American film drama, directed by James Bridges and starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis.
The film was based on a series of articles that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in the late 1970s, chronicling the popularity of Los Angeles health clubs amongst single people.
The film was neither a commercial nor a critical success. It was nominated for three Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Actor (John Travolta), Worst Supporting Actress (Marilu Henner) and Worst Screenplay.

His career and star status were now clearly on the downslide, and he didn't get much work for 5 or 6 years. But why did this happen? In my opinion, Travolta was a victim of an odd set of circumstances and clearly bad advice and career choices. But the quality of his work did not suffer, which would show later on when he came back to prominence. His lack of good career choices would also surface again later.

It is my opinion that he set the bar too high with the quality of his early work and audiences would not accept mediocre work from him.

During that time he was offered, but turned down, lead roles in what would become box office hits, including American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, both of which went to Richard Gere.
After Perfect (1985) and until Look Who's Talking (1989) Travolta basically stayed away from acting, having been characterized as a "has been" by many and at least now considered not a leading man. He went and became a pilot, something he had always loved.

In 1989, Travolta starred in Look Who's Talking, which grossed $297,000,000, making it his most successful film since Grease.

Travolta continued to the two sequels Look Who's Talking Too (1990)

and Look Who's Talking Now (1993).

 He now had 3 successful hits under his belt and was back on track. But he certainly was not an A-list actor at this point. The great roles of the past (Tony Manero, Danny Zucko, etc) were not coming his way.
 And then Travolta got the break that would revitalize his career.

He was cast as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's hit Pulp Fiction (1994), for which he would end up  receiving an Academy Award nomination. 

The movie shifted him back onto the A-list, and he was inundated with offers. But it almost never happened. The role was offered to Mike Madsen, who had been in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, but he turned that role down to do another film. In many ways, this saved Travoltas career.

 Following Pulp Fiction many great roles were offered to him again, including a movie-buff loan shark in Get Shorty (1995)
 Get Shorty is a 1995 crime-comedy film based on Elmore Leonard's novel of the same name. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring  Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito, the plot remained true to the book except for a few minor details.

Travolta plays Chili Palmer, whose character and name are a tribute to Elmore Leonard's good friend Ernest 'Chili' Palmer from Brooklyn, New York, who had a cameo at the beginning of Get Shorty.

 Travolta won Golden Globe Award and American Comedy Award for his acting performance in the film 

His next film after those two very successful roles is the long forgotten White Mans Burden (1995).

White Man's Burden is a  film about racism in an alternative America where black and white Americans have reversed cultural roles.
The film revolves around Louis Pinnock, a white factory worker (Travolta), who kidnaps Thaddeus Thomas, a black factory owner (Harry Belafonte) who fired him over a perceived slight.

Travolta followed White Mans Burden (which was a box office flop) with Michael (1996).

Michael is a  fantasy film directed by Nora Ephron and released in 1996. The film stars Travolta as the Archangel Michael, who is sent to Earth to do various tasks, including mending some wounded hearts. The cast includes Andie MacDowell, William Hurt, Bob Hoskins, Joey Lauren Adams and Robert Pastorelli as people who cross Michael's path.

Contrary to popular depictions of angels, Michael is portrayed as a boozing, smoking, oversexed slob—yet capable of imparting unexpected wisdom.

The movie was a hit at the box office. Released on Christmas Day, Michael finished number one at the box office that weekend, grossing $17,435,711  The total domestic gross was $95,318,203, ranking Michael #16 for the year 1996.

 That was followed by the box office success of Phenomenon (1996). It  took in approximately $152,000,000 overall.

Phenomenon is a  romantic fantasy-drama starring  Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall.
In the film, an amiable, small-town everyman is inexplicably transformed into a genius with telekinetic powers.

George Malley (Travolta) is an amiable auto mechanic whose 'everyman' life is transformed by a strange flash of light he observes on the evening of his 37th birthday.
He predicts an earthquake over the course of the following days, and starts to experience an extraordinary form of genius-level intelligence, easily absorbing vast amounts of information, formulating new, revolutionary ideas, and even exhibiting telekinetic abilities.

 Broken Arrow is a 1996 American action film directed by John Woo, written by Graham Yost, and starring  Travolta and Christian Slater. It deals with the theft of an American nuclear weapon.

 Broken Arrow was #1 at the North American box office its opening weekend grossing $15.6 million and made a total worldwide gross of $150,270,147.

 During his review of the film on Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, Gene Siskel changed his vote for the first and only time, giving the film a "thumbs down" after hearing Ebert's criticisms.
 The film received mixed reviews from critics.

He followed Broken Arrow with Mad City (1997), which was critically mixed and a financial flop, barely pulling in $10 million.

Mad City is a thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, Mia Kirshner, Alan Alda and  Blythe Danner,
Sam Baily (Travolta) gets laid off from his job as a museum security guard. In desperation for not being able to provide for his wife and kids, he comes armed with weapons and explosives and takes his boss Mrs. Banks and a number of children (at the museum on a school field trip) as hostages.

After a string of both financial and critical successes,  Travolta stuck again with Face Off.

Face/Off was  directed by John Woo, starring  Travolta and Nicolas Cage. The two both play an FBI agent and a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume the physical appearance of one another.
The film exemplifies gun fu and heroic bloodshed action sequences, and has Travolta and Cage each playing two personalities. It was the first Hollywood film in which Woo was given complete creative control and was acclaimed by both audiences and critics. Eventually grossing $245 million worldwide, Face/Off was a financial success.

She's So Lovely is a 1997  film that stars  Travolta and Sean Penn as the respective men who bid for the affection of Maureen Murphy Quinn (Robin Wright Penn). Harry Dean Stanton costars as a friend of Penn's character, and James Gandolfini plays the lusty neighbor.

A Civil Action is a 1998 American drama film starring  Travolta (as plaintiff's attorney Jan Schlichtmann) and Robert Duvall, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Harr. Both the book and the film are based on a true story of a court case about environmental pollution that took place in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s.

The real case and movie revolve around the issue of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent, and its contamination of a local aquifer. A lawsuit was filed as commercial operations appeared to have caused fatal cases of leukemia and cancer, as well as a wide variety of other health problems, among the citizens of the town.  

Primary Colors is a 1998  film directed by Mike Nichols and starring  Travolta based on the popular book of the same name Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Larry Hagman, and Adrian Lester.

Bates was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress The film also starred for her performance, and the film itself was nominated for an Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay.

The General's Daughter is a 1999  film starring  Travolta, James Woods and Timothy Hutton. The plot concerns the mysterious death of the daughter of a prominent general. The movie is based on the novel by the same name written in 1992 by Nelson DeMille, and was directed by Simon West. The film was a box office success grossing $102 million in its total domestic run.

Lucky Numbers is a 2000 comedy film directed by Nora Ephron. The screenplay by Adam Resnick was inspired by the 1980 Pennsylvania Lottery scandal.

 Travolta plays Russ Richards the weatherman for a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania television station.

 His friend Gig (Tim Roth), a shady strip club owner, suggests an insurance scam will free Russ of his financial problems, but when the scheme fails to pay off, Russ finds himself even deeper in debt and the target of a hitman named Dale (Michael Rapaport). 

Gig then proposes Russ rig the Pennsylvania Lottery with the help of his amoral girlfriend Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow), a ditzy model who pulls and announces the winning numbers on television, and her oddball cousin Walter (Michael Moore), who will pose as the owner of the lucky ticket.

 Battlefield Earth, (2000) is a science fiction film adopted from the novel by L. Ron Hubbard. It stars Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and Barry Pepper. The film depicts an Earth that has been under the rule of the alien Psychlos for 1,000 years and tells the story of the rebellion that develops when the Psychlos attempt to use the surviving humans as gold miners.

Battlefield Earth was released on May 12, 2000. The film was a major commercial failure and critical flop .Reviewers universally panned the film, criticizing virtually every aspect of the production including Travolta's acting, overuse of angled shots and slow-motion, incoherent narrative and redundant dialogue.

 Domestic Disturbance is a 2001 thriller starring Travolta and Vince Vaughn. It co-stars Teri Polo, Matt O'Leary and Steve Buscemi.

The film was received poorly by critics, 
Roger Ebert awarded it  one-and-a-half stars (out of a possible four), reciting an anecdote about how the Chicago film critics had been shown the wrong last reel. He saw the correct one the following Monday, and scathingly said of it in his review: "The earlier reel was lacking the final music. Music is the last thing wrong with that reel."
The film was not a financial success. It was able to gross only $54 million worldwide from its $75 million budget.

Swordfish is a 2001 crime-thriller film, directed by Dominic Sena and starring Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Vinnie Jones. The film centers around Stanley Jobson (Jackman) , a ex-con computer hacker who is targeted for recruitment into a bank robbery conspiracy because of his formidable hacking skills.

Basic is a 2003 American/German thriller film directed by John McTiernan and starring Travolta, Connie Nielsen and Samuel L. Jackson.

Reviews were mostly negative.  Roger Ebert gave it one star out of four and wrote that it was "not a film that could be understood", and that "If I were to see it again and again, I might be able to extract an underlying logic from it, but the problem is, when a movie's not worth seeing twice, it had better get the job done the first time through".


Ladder 49 is a 2004 film about the heroics of a Baltimore fireman Jack Morrison, who is trapped inside a warehouse fire and his recollection of the events that got him to that point. The movie is a celebration of the firefighting profession and the life that comes with it. Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix starred.

The Punisher is a 2004 American comic book action film, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, starring Thomas Jane as the antihero Frank Castle / The Punisher and John Travolta as the villain Howard Saint, a money launderer who orders the death of Castle's entire family. The story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories

The film was an attempt at rebooting the character after the failure of the 1989 film of the same name

Be Cool is a 2005  film  and the sequel to Leonard's 1990 novel Get Shorty (itself adapted into a hit 1995 film of the same name) about mobster Chili Palmer's entrance into the film industry.and starred  Travolta, reprising his role from the first film. The movie opened in March 2005 to generally mixed reviews.

When the idea is brought up to Steven Tyler, he vehemently rejects the possibility of being in a film and declares that he is not one of those singers who does bit-part cameos in films, despite the fact that that is exactly what he is doing in this film.

Lonely Hearts is a 2006 American film directed and written by Todd Robinson. It is based on the true story of the notorious "Lonely Hearts Killers" of the 1940s, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez. The story of Beck and Fernandez was also the subject of the 1970 film The Honeymoon Killers.

 Wild Hogs is a 2007 comedy film  starring Tim Allen,  Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy.

 Wild Hogs opened on March 2, 2007 to mostly negative reviews. Despite negative reviews, the film grossed $39.6 million on its opening weekend, ranking #1 in box office sales  The film performed well throughout its entire run and ultimately grossing $168.2 million domestically and $252.8 million worldwide, becoming Travolta's first film since The General's Daughter in 1999 to gross over $100 million domestically.

 Hairspray is a 2007 musical film based on the 2002 Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was based on John Waters's 1988 comedy film of the same name. Set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the film follows the "pleasantly plump" teenager Tracy Turnblad as she pursues stardom as a dancer on a local TV show and rallies against racial segregation.

Travolta plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mother and agent, an agoraphobe ashamed of her obesity. John Travolta's casting as Edna continues the tradition of having a man in drag portray the character

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 2009 American thriller film,  starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. It is a film adaptation of the novel by Morton Freedgood  and is a remake of the original 1974 film adaptation.

 Reviews were mixed at best.

Jim Ridley of the Village Voice noted that the new Pelham film was worse than the original: "Scott's redo comes up short in almost every regard against the '74 model ... If it's somehow unfair to compare the two, why was The Taking of Pelham 123 even remade?" "As expected, Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic, entirely unnecessary revamp attempts to update Pelham by cranking the volume and inflating the Noo Yawk attitude to a cartoonish level of macho posturing," wrote Sean Burns in Philadelphia Weekly.
Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars, and began his review with "There’s not much wrong with Tony Scott’s “The Taking of Pelham 123,” except that there’s not much really right about it."

Old Dogs is a 2009 American ensemble comedy film directed by Wild Hogs's Walt Becker and starring Robin Williams and Travolta with an ensemble supporting cast played by Kelly Preston, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Seth Green, Rita Wilson, Dax Shepard, and Bernie Mac

Travolta married actress Kelly Preston in 1991. The couple had a son, Jett (1992–2009). Their daughter, Ella Bleu, was born in 2000. On May 18, 2010, Travolta and Preston announced that she was pregnant with the couple's third child, later confirmed to be a boy. Their son, Benjamin, was born on November 23, 2010 in Florida.

Travolta is a certified private pilot and owns five aircraft,  His $4.9 million estate in the Jumbolair subdivision in Ocala, Florida, is situated on Greystone Airport with its own runway and taxiway right to his front door.

On November 24, 1992, Travolta was piloting his Gulfstream N728T at night on top of a solid undercast when he experienced a total electrical system failure while flying under instrument flight rules into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. During the emergency landing he almost had a mid-air collision with a USAir Boeing 727, attributed to a risky decision by an air traffic controller.

Travolta has been a practitioner of Scientology since 1975 when he was given the book Dianetics while filming the movie The Devil's Rain in Durango, Mexico. 

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