Non fiction: Travolta Fever!


A brief look at the early career of John Travolta and how my seven year Love affair began.

Word count: 1519

By Rachel Jeffery

Before we delve into Travolta’s early career I would like to offer a little context as to why this is my chosen subject. I was thirteen when I discovered Travolta in the 2007 reboot of Hairspray where he played Tracy Turnblads mother Edna and I was simply transfixed, here was an actor who played a woman with deep sensitivity and realism (As the film deals with body image and racism) whilst being comical at the same time. It was like an itch, I simply needed to know everything about this actor. You may ask why and I’ll be honest it was at the time where my relationship with my biological father was at its lowest ebb and my step father was more like a big brother. Of course, I loved Grease and Saturday Night Fever in which he is most known for, but what about his early career and rise to fame? Surely that should be celebrated too? After all it is the early life experiences that shape an actor and where he can use them for his emotional advantage in whatever role.

Well, that’s where this is where my article comes in. I know it is an unusual practice in articles analysing an actors early life and career but I cannot help but add my own personal opinions in the parenthesis below. I also cannot help but add an open note to my beloved hero in case he may read this. (Sue me, I don’t care if it’s not non fiction writing etiquette I just have to much love and passion to pour out onto the page.)

John Joseph was born on February 18th 1954 to Salvatore Travolta, an ex footballer and tyre salesman and his mother Helen, an actress and drama teacher. He is the youngest of his six siblings and despite being type cast as an Italian American he is actually Irish. Before he found he found Scientology during filming his small part in Devils Rain, 1975, was raised as a Catholic. Living over an airfield in New Jersey it’s no wonder his passion for aviation was ignited. In fact, in an interview Travolta said ‘I was nine when I first flew, it was a birthday gift. What I didn’t know was that the plane had a bathroom and so I wet myself.’ (Don’t worry, even I’ve held my pee on a six hour flight to New York I’m sure the majority of readers can relate.) He would later become a qualified pilot and representative for Quantas airlines. (My own father was a flight attendant so I can see the lure of travel.)

Travolta also was very dramatic as a child; ‘As the youngest I got away with a lot. If I thought something was unfair, I’d run away for a half hour to the end of the block. I would tiptoe back in and my dad would be singing ‘where has Johnny gone?’ and he’d open his arms to me and say ‘Johnny!’ It was a regular thing so my parents weren’t fazed’. (As the youngest, I too can relate to this and also because of my Disability I got away with what only can be describe as blue murder)

In his teenager years, he dropped out of high school to pursue acting in his mother’s professional productions. (The experience of being what he described as an ‘average’ student at school would later provide inspiration for his Welcome Back Kotter character in what can only be described nowadays as the ‘special education’ unit for likely drop outs and the dimmest bulbs in the light bulb section at B and Q) Later on to earn his equity card, he starred in many commercials for various things like trousers, deodorant and even motorbikes! Later on he starred infomercials for the US He then landed his first professional stage show as Roger in Grease but as he was underage at 17 he had to tour chaperoned by his sisters. He also starred in the stage musical ‘Over here!’

Was the young actor destined to play one of the most iconic roles in cinematic history as Danny Zuko in the smash hit Grease in 1978 and steal our hearts? He then moved to Los Angeles and had small television roles such as fall victim in Emergency (The only connection I have with this is that I’m a regular visitor to my own accident and emergency department.)

But before that he found his big break in the 1975 Gabe Caplin sitcom Welcome Back Kotter as Vinnie Barbarino, the loveable, slick but dim witted teen crush. (Travolta’s comedy was something I tried to emulate in my own plays/writing later on. In fact I was so obsessed with Grease I began writing fan fiction which later developed into its own romantic novella with characters of my own imagination) His fame sky rocketed over night – he even had a doll modelled after his character Vinnie and was on various other Welcome back Kotter merchandise. (Which I bid £200 on but was grossly outbid.) But sadly, all good things must come to end. Due to Travolta being in demand he left the show and procured roles in films such as Devils Rain as Danny after that he was cast as Billy the bully in an adaption of Stephen Kings Carrie, 1976. (Bad guy John Travolta is my favourite, as well as endearing John in films like Look Who’s Talking, 1987)

Travolta then had a hit single at no. 10 with let her in and then later on his debut album. Travolta has credited these songs as to why he won the converted role as Danny Zuko which Henry Wrinkler ‘The Fons’ turned down. (Thank the lord because Travolta and Newton John of one of pop cultures most iconic duos and if the role had gone to someone else I firmly believe that the movie would not become as much as beloved classic) : ‘it’s because of those of records that the Grease producers knew I could sing’. (As I write, I am listening to both albums as we speak to help gain inspiration.) But before Grease he gained attention notice for his lead role as Todd, a boy born with no immune system in The boy in the plastic bubble where he had his first serious relationship with Diana Hyland who played his on screen mother in the film. She sadly past away of breast cancer, Travolta would use his grief as his driving force to succeed and use the experience in later films such as Face off in 1996 (my favourite of his 90’s resurgence) But, let’s get back to the matter at hand, The film where Travolta played his first serious lead role was awarded four Emmys and even starred Kelly Ward who Travolta would reunite with when they both filmed Grease. (Like I wrote earlier, Grease was destined to be in Travolta’s life one way or another.)

Then of course, came Grease and Saturday night fever where he was honoured to be the youngest academy award nominee that year at 24. He recalls his mother turning to him and saying ‘I hope you don’t win, because then you’ll have something to look forward too.’ This is a dedication to one of the worlds most iconic actors, who went from small television cameos, to the king of comedy and then triple threat to a dramatic actor. Who have we got to thank for Travolta’s rise to fame? His own tenacity in a fickle world of show business and its because of this and his experiences early on in life that he has become one of the worlds greatest actors.

Unlike actors of my own generation Travolta did not rely on nepotism to get his foot in the door and neither did he have the benefit of a social media following, it was all pure hustling and dedication to his craft and learning from others around him and his own life experiences that would propel (pardon the aviation humour) to the top.

So, to end I shall say thank you to John who in 2007 ambled into my life and turned it upside down. Since then I have written you many letters and collected all your films. I even gave my own mother the silent treatment in 2014 when she couldn’t take me to see you at Durery Lane theatre and got my auntie to pay a ridiculous price for the first season of WBK. I hope one day that we may meet in person and I can say thank to you in person for not only your films but the warm feeling I get when I see you on tv or Instagram. If anyone mentions you my back is immediately up and if they paint you in anything less than angelic light I instantly come to your defence.

Yes, it is true there is something called Travolta Fever and it gives me chills and with each interview or movie release they multiply.


Music Monday

  1. 3AM – Olivia Lane
  2. Love me and let me go – Ashley Tisdale
  3. Believe – Cher
  4. Back to you – Selena Gomez
  5. Anxiety – Julia Michaels
  6. The Doctor said – Chloe Adams
  7. Skyscraper – Demi Lovato
  8. Imagine – Ariana Grande
  9. I miss me – Kelsea Ballarinia
  10. No Scrubs – TLC
  11. here I am – Dolly Parton
  12. Love wins – Carrie Underwood

Music Monday playlist:

1) Mr Bright side by The Killers

2) She’s so lovely by Scouting for girls

3) Champion by Carrie Underwood

4) Fire starter by Demi Lovato

5) Confident by Demi Lovato

6) One more night by Maroon 5

7) 9-5 by Dolly Parton

8) It’s my party by Jessie J

9) 2002 by Anne Marie

10) The Greatest show by TGS

11) Sneakernight by Vanessa Hudgens

12) So what by Pink

13) Dancing Queen by ABBA

14) If I can’t have you by Demi Lovato

15) Far from over by Frank Stallone

16) Anything Elvis

17) Anything Cher

Music Monday: Playlist for the week

Here’s a collection of songs that will keep me going all week

  1. Who runs the world? by Beyoncé
  2. Salute by Little Mix
  3. The way you make me feel by Michael Jackson
  4. Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars
  5. Two doors down by Dolly Parton
  6. This is Me by keala Settle
  7. No scrubs by TLC
  8. Survivor by Destiny’s child
  9. Independent Woman by Destiny’s child
  10. Head above water by Avril Lavgine
  11. Priceless by Sheridan Smith
  12. Voices in my head by Ashley Tisdale
  13. I really don’t care by Demi Lovato
  14. Fall in line by Demi and Xtina
  15. Sorry not sorry by Demi Lovato
  16. I like it by Cardi B
  17. Taki Taki by Cardi B
  18. Most girls by Pink!
  19. Mr Know it all by Kelly Clarkson
  20. Walking on Sunshine. Cher cover

Carefree and Consequence: The playlist

As Carefree and Consequence is set in the fifties, one thing that inspired me most was the music of the era. It helped me immerse myself in the world of my characters, especially when writing difficult and emotional scenes, below is what I listened too:

  1. Blue Moon – Sha Nana
  2. Memories are made of this – Dean Martin
  3. Magic moments – Perry Como
  4. When I fall in love – Michael Buble
  5. Dream Baby Dream – Daisy Wood Davies
  6. In the still of the night – The Satins
  7. Be My Baby – The Ronettes
  8. Young love – Tab Hunte
  9. Jump, Jive and Wail – Louis Prima
  10. Baby Lover – Petula Clark

Do any of you listen to music when you write?

My five favourite celebrities and why

In no particular order…

  • John Travolta – okay so, I fell in love with John Travolta when he played Edna Turnblad in my favourite musical, Hairspray. Since then I’m a die hard fan and I’ll tell you why I was thirteen and my relationship with my dad was in a bad place and my stepfather is like a big brother. So after watching Look Who’s talking he’s taken on my ‘ideal dad’ role. Plus he’s a pilot and that’s fucking awesome. I have the majority of his movies and tv show both on DVD and digital. Favourite movie? It has to be Face/Off, that movie is so underrated. Craziest things I’ve done? Bid £100 for one of the suits he wore in face/off and I’ve written to him and didn’t speak to my mum for a week after she couldn’t take me to Drury Lane Theater when he was doing a candid interview on his sixtieth birthday. Oh! I also have ‘borrowed’ my Auntie’s Grease DVD and asked her to order me Welcome Back Kotter Season one from Canada for Christmas. Cannot wait to see Gotti! John, if you’re reading this, thanks for being there when I need cheering up and being such a huge influence in my life!
  • Demi Lovato – I have officially have been a Lovatic since 2013. Demi helped me realised that I liked women and men. Her vocals are the best this generation has. She’s so refreshingly honest and candid about her journey. My fave album is definitely ‘Tell me you love me’ it’s off the charts. But, her song would have to be ‘Warrior’ just because of the message. Lovato is overalls sexy badass and it’s a privilege to have her music flowing through my earphones. FACT: confidence was my morning alarm all the way through my A levels… cannot wait for! D7 Sorry Not Sorry😉
  • Kelly Preston – Um have you seen the She will be loved music video?! Also, love that she’s so charitable and just a cutie… I especially love her movie Mischief and for those who haven’t watched it, WATCH IT and those that have to know what I’m talking about – it’s s very perky movie.
  • Zac Efron – My first crush. I’ve loved him since 2004 and have loved watching him blossom as a person and actor. My favourite movie? Me and The Orson Wells. Whilst my future husband is a comedy king I’d love him to do more dramatic pieces where his acting shines. I mean, have you seen Parkland, At any Price and Liberal Arts and CSC, Cannot wait for the Ted Bundy movie!! BTW I play rewrite the stars before bed and imagine that I’m Zendaya… ❤️ Love that he’s so adventurous, an animal lover, a sex god and that he too has been open about his struggles with fame.
  • Michael Bublé – I was thirteen when I discovered Bublé through an iTunes free gift. The Hollywood album is definitely my fave. I love when he swears in interviews it’s just so sexy as well as having a voice like melted caramel. So glad Noah has kicked cancer’s ass, he’s a superhero. I love that Michael puts his family first and has stayed so grounded. Is it nice that he’s making a new record?! Hell yes! But he’s very much a family man but family happiness comes first. Mike, if you’re reading this congrats on your baby girl! FACT: I enjoy my Bublé with a crisp white wine and silk PJs.

If any of you lovely people on this list are reading this, THANK YOU ☺️

Hope you enjoyed this post!



My positivity playlist

Need some positivity throughout your day? Well below is a list of all my upbeat bops!

  1. Anything by ABBA
  2. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the waves
  3. Confident – Demi Lovato
  4. Champion – Carrie Underwood
  5. Independent part one – Destiny’s Child.
  6. Spotlight – Jenifer Hudson
  7. Man I feel like a woman – Shania Twain
  8. Anything from The Greatest Showman
  9. Warrior – Demi Lovato
  10. A dream is a wish your heart makes – Cinderella
  11. The weight of the world – Rion Paige
  12. Good morning Baltimore – Nikki Blonsky
  13. Set my dreams to music – John Travolta
  14. Hungry eyes – Eric Carmen
  15. Catch me – Demi Lovato


What songs make you feel better?