Writer/composer Jim Jacobs shares his favorite Chicago memories

The writer/composer revisits the Taft High memories that inspired him to write the original Grease.
Photograph: Dean Hendler/NBCU Photo B
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A Far Northwest Side native who fell in with the “greasers” at Taft High School in the late ’50s, Jacobs, 68, was also a teen musician. In 1963, three years after graduating, he met Warren Casey; the two eventually wrote one of the most successful musicals of all time: Grease, a show drawn from Jacobs’s Taft days. It premiered here in 1971; the Broadway version and megahit Hollywood adaptation are drastically cleaned up compared to the original production, which is being re-created, with Jacobs’s help, at American Theater Company.

How often have you been back to your old high school?
I’ve been back there a million times. They’ve done [Grease] at Taft, and they also had us visit when various national tours were in town. I had Frankie Avalon there; we did the world’s largest hand-jive contest. Back in ’73, Travolta was there when he was in the touring company. He was 17, 18 years old. He wasn’t even playing the lead; he was playing [Danny sidekick] Doody.

What was one of your greaser hangouts when you were at Taft?
Parse’s hot-dog stand on Higgins Road. It’s still there. The old guy, he’s still alive. Man, we used to give that guy hell. He denies it all nowadays: “They were a good bunch of kids.” But he’d come out with a bat and say, “You bastards, get off my roof!”

What’s your earliest memory of a Chicago sports event?
Going to Wrigley Field and seeing the Cubs play the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson was on the Dodgers; he had just broken the color barrier in baseball. Wrigley Field was filled with just as many black fans as white fans, and they were all screaming and cheering for the Dodgers. The Cubs got their ass handed to them, 13–4. I still remember the score!

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