John Travolta

John Travolta in Wild Hogs

John Travolta in “Wild Hogs”

John Travolta banks on comebacks. The rise to superstardom with “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” in the late 70s proved fleeting – until Tarantino cast him as Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction” in 1994. By the late 90s, John Travolta was commanding twenty million dollars a movie, but some slipups at the turn of the decade (“Lucky Numbers” and “Swordfish” among them) raised questions for the future of the entertainer. But Travolta’s one to never say die, and with “Hairspray,” he emerged in the form of a heavyset woman named Edna Turnblad – and thanks to her, he’s right back on top again.

Travolta was born into an Irish-Catholic family in New Jersey in 1954. By the mid 70s, he converted to Scientology, had a hit single (“Let Her In”), a role on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and played a bully in “Carrie.” What followed was a meteoric rise, and with “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” Travolta utilized all of his singing, acting, and dancing talents, and earned an Oscar nod as disco dancing Tony Manero. With “Urban Cowboy” in 1980, it seemed like nothing was going to stop him.

But to avoid typecast as a disco dancer, John passed on some big box office roles and found himself at a loss. Thanks to the “Look Who’s Talking” trilogy, Travolta was earning a paycheck but not much else. He needed a break, a hit – what he got was a comeback. “Pulp Fiction” put John Travolta back on the A-list as well as his earned him his second Oscar nomination. He was one of the biggest stars of the 90s, dabbling in action roles like “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off” and in such dramas as “Phenomenon” and “A Civil Action.”

As the 90s gave way to the new millennium, it no longer mattered how a movie fared. “Domestic Disturbance” and “A Love Song for Bobby Long” came and went. John had other interests, such as flying his own personal Boeing 707 and defending Scientology in all parts of the world, and this flippant approach eventually opened the door to his role as a woman in “Hairspray.” Now, it seems once again John Travolta can do no wrong. It’s safe to say he has made his mark on pop culture and will certainly go down in history as one of the more interesting entertainers of his time – though his great masterpiece has yet to come, and we’re hoping it will be the sequel to “Battlefield Earth.”

John on the Screen

John Travolta’s winding career has many interesting bits of trivia and anecdotes surrounding it. Audience’s introduction to him was as Vinnie Barbarino in “Welcome Back, Kotter” in the mid 70s – the first of many Italian characters John would play, though he comes from an Irish family. He was Brian De Palma’s go-to guy in “Carrie” and “Blow Out,” but the success of John’s musicals ended their collaboration. While “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” put John on the map, it was a musical that nearly ended it – the 1983 “Saturday Night Fever” sequel “Staying Alive,” directed by fledgling auteur Sylvester Stallone. He’s James Ubriacco three times in the “Look Who’s Talking” series, Chili Palmer twice in the two Elmore Leonard adaptations “Get Shorty” and “Be Cool,” and the Clintonesque governor in “Primary Colors.” He’s worked with John Woo twice on “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off,” as a military man in “The Thin Red Line,” “The General’s Daughter,” and “Basic;” he’s an angel in “Michael,” a genius in “Phenomenon,” Howard Saint in “The Punisher,” a firefighter in “Ladder 49,” and a woman in “Hairspray.” He’s been nominated for two Oscars, five Golden Globes, and eleven Razzie awards, winning in 2000 for “Battlefield Earth.”

John Says

On his lifestyle:
“I get up at 5pm and do all my work at night because in the daytime I get recognized.”

On his legacy:
“I was just thinking of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and how young they were when they died. I would like to be a pop icon who survives. I would like to be a living icon.”

On his travels:
“Yesterday we left the house, kissed the kids goodbye, then we went into the back yard, got in a jet and flew to London. That was pretty cool.”

On the cosmos:
“I have to believe there’s some other life force out there. I don’t know in what form. But we can’t have all these galaxies and universes without something going on.”