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History Stands Tall – The Story of How Rydell High Came to Life

Written by Amy Norris December 28, 2000

The Summer / Fall of 1981

Well I can’t say I was actually present for this in person, but I was alive and I did hear all about it. Being 11 years old I couldn’t really drive over to the school, but I knew what was happening. I spoke to a former Excelsior student over the summer and she told me that they had buses lined up in front of the school while filming the exterior sequences in the front so as not to have outside interference. Another former student says she remembers driving by the school in late ‘81’ to look at all the cameras and props set up out front! I remember the first time I visited Excelsior. It was like I had been there before. I knew exactly where to go to find the landmarks. I saw things I never thought I would be able to see in real life. Like the legendary “Cool Rider” wall, that still stands to this day (I pray they never paint over it, people have come 1000’s of miles to view this wall), the steps to the auditorium where a nervous Stephanie anxiously awaited the arrival of the Lone Biker on, the “T-Birds” lockers, the broken locker that Michael gets shoved into, everything I always dreamed of down to the tallest flag poll I ever laid eyes on. It was magic.

Excelsior High School, Norwalk, Ca

June 1981, Excelsior High School closed its doors to new students for the first time since it opened in 1924 and would now say goodbye to an era. The school instead would play host to a “special” bunch of students. The cast of Paramount Pictures new movie musical, “Grease 2.” For months, the school had been closed, and then it happened, the school burst back to life in September of 1981. One hundred and twenty-five band members, and a cast of hundreds and an entire production team now filled the halls of Excelsior. The next 3 months would prove to be one of the most exciting times Excelsior would play host to in all its history.

Location manager Mike Meehan struck gold when scouting for Grease 2. With its 1944 seat auditorium that would not only be a perfect fit for the talent show auditions and sequences but would also be used to show dailies of the film while in production.

The extremely huge campus held 14 natural sets and also held enough room to build a sound stage for the other sets needed, a movie studio in itself. How perfect. As Rydell came to life here in Norwalk, Ca, the real-life Excelsior High School was host to 17 sets, production offices, art departments and a production designer’s studio. All in one magical place.

All of the school administration offices were turned into the film’s production offices. The classrooms were turned into Prop, wardrobe and storage rooms. Soon the halls would fill again but this time with a new crop of “kids.” The following list shows how the schools original offices were used in production:

Counseling Offices = Film Production offices
Student Affairs Office = Director Pat Birch’s office
The Faculty Lounge = Art Department and Designer’s studio
The Home Economics bldg. = Wardrobe and Make-up
Ceramics Dept. = Still photography and Paint shop
Assistant Principal’s Office = Allan Carr’s Office
Metal and Wood Shops = Set Construction & Auto mechanics for the Motorcycles

The Starring Cast

Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caulfield, Adrian Zmed, Eve Arden, Tab Hunter, Connie Stevens, Lorna Luft. These are names you don’t normally see all in one place, except when you’re talking about this magical film.

A lot of people over the years have tried to discredit this movie. Why I’ll never know.

I saw the magic that is Grease 2 the minute Michelle Pfeiffer strutted across the screen. How anyone can be that cool, I’ll never know! She is so amazingly perfect in her role as Stephanie Zinone. She made that movie come to life.

The actors themselves really made their 3 months of filming the movie just like being back in high school. Some crazy stuff went on. Many of the cast members took it to the enth degree with food fights, basketball games in the gym, riding bikes on the football field and even a little streaking went on!

Co-star Adrian Zmed has fond memories of his time at Excelsior/Rydell High. “We became High School kids again! We worked in this abandoned high school and it was easy to go back to those feelings when I was 18. We had food fights in the lunch room!” He admits to when the filming completed that he was kind of depressed because he “missed everyone.”

Off Campus Production

2 of the exterior locations that were used for Grease 2 were the Zero Temp Ice Skating Rink, now Norwalk Ice Arena. This location was used for the exterior shots of the movie’s Bowl-a-Rama. Cast member Leif Green remembers dangerous local gangs driving by to see who was invading their turf. “Now I really feel like a T-Bird”, Leif said.

The Bowl-a-Rama’s interior was none other than Hawthorne Bowl. This is where the “Score Tonight” musical number was filmed. The day location manager Mike Meehan found the location; the owner was going to close Hawthorne Bowl. See it was magic from the get go.

Excelsior Today

Nowadays, the school has reopened as Excelsior Adult Educational Center. I have worked closely with The Excelsior Alumni President, Teri Bearden over the last year to make sure all the fans know about the school and its history. The school is in the process of refurbishing its 1400 seat auditorium so their community will have a Theatre and Performing Arts Center. Donations can be made in a per seat basis for which the donator will receive a brass plate with their name on the back of the chair. The donation for one seat is $150 and checks can be mailed to:

The Education Foundation
C/O Amy Tsubokawa
20922 Callaway Ave
Lakewood Ca 90715

In June of 2000, the school hosted an “All Class Reunion” for all the graduating classes at Excelsior, 1925 – 1981. It was a major event and since I run the Grease 2 fan club online, I had people fly in from all over the country to attend this special day with us. I was made an honorary alumni as were my friends and we got to see all the famous landmarks from the movie that still stand today and you know what?….it’s still magic!

Story by: Amy Norris jedisista@earthlink.net
Web Link: http://greasetwo.tripod.com/article2000.htm
Grease 2 Fan Site: http://greasetwo.tripod.com

©2000 Amy Norris Publishing / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Close