In 1978, fans met Frenchy in Grease, a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical. Moviegoers all over the world soon learned "grease is the word." Starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Grease became the highest-grossing movie musical of that century and remains one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time.
Along with its two main stars, Grease was also replete with supporting characters. Frenchy, of course, stands out among the rest as the "beauty school dropout," linchpin of the Pink Ladies, and cousin of Newton-John’s Australian exchange student Sandy.
The role of Frenchy became a signature one for actress Didi Conn, who remained closely associated with Grease for the next 40 years. While her film career never again hit the same heights as it had in Grease, Conn has maintained a consistent presence on the small and large screens in the years since — including reprising Frenchy for an ill-fated Grease sequel. An actress on stage and screen, series creator, executive producer, and spokesperson for an important organization, she’s kept busy in the decades since Grease ruled the box office. Read on to discover what Frenchy actress Didi Conn has been up to since her Grease days.
This film helped Didi Conn become Frenchy in Grease
While you may know her best as Frenchy from Grease, the iconic actress was born Edith Bernstein in 1951 in Brooklyn, New York. Didi Conn, as she became known, began booking gigs as an actress in the mid-1970s, with her IMDb page listing such credits as guest spots on hit TV series of the day including The Rookies and Happy Days. In 1977, she was cast as one of the leads in Handle With Care, a failed TV pilot. Conn then caught her big break when she landed the starring role in You Light Up My Life, a 1977 feature film with a title song by singer Debby Boone.
The song became a phenomenon, hitting number one on the Billboard singles chart and staying there for a record-setting ten weeks. Remaining on the chart for an astounding 25 weeks, You Light Up My Life became the biggest hit single of the 1970s.
The film, on the other hand, was hardly a blockbuster and reviews were so-so. Conn’s performance, however, was winning, and put her on Hollywood’s radar at the precise moment when producers looked to cast a big-budget movie musical based on a nostalgia-tinged Broadway hit, Grease. Conn may not have realized it, but an important chapter of her life was about to begin.
Didi Conn wasn’t a teenager when she played Frenchy in Grease
Grease was set in Rydell High in the late 1950s, focusing on teenagers Danny, played by John Travolta, and Sandy, played by Olivia Newton-John, as well as their pals. The cast, however, were far from teenagers. As Metro highlighted, Travolta was 23 years old at the time while Newton-John was 28. At 33, Stockard Channing, aka Rizzo, was the oldest "teenager" cast in the film.
When Didi Conn landed the role of Frenchy in Grease, she was 27. "What was so much fun was that most of us were older than the characters we were playing so we just stayed in character all day long," she explained in an interview with the Daily Mail.
Staying in character as teenagers, Conn told The Telegraph, was "surreal but also very comforting." She continued, saying, "It was important for regressing to those teenage years, but also for that spontaneous energy. It really encouraged us." In fact, Conn recalled when a bottle of wine emerged at one point while filming the slumber party scene. "I ran to the door to stop my mother coming in," she detailed to the publication. "They said to me ‘Didi, what are you doing? You’re on a soundstage at Paramount. Your mother’s in Brooklyn!’ I was so into it."
Didi Conn reprised her role as Frenchy in Grease 2
Given the massive success of Grease, which earned nearly $400 million worldwide, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood served up a sequel. Grease 2 landed in theaters four years after the original — and with a resounding thud. The film grossed a mere $15.1 million and is best remembered for being one of Michelle Pfeiffer‘s early films — and little else.
While some of the actors who played teachers returned for the sequel, the sole cast member of the original’s "teen" cast to appear Grease 2 was Didi Conn, who appears in some brief scenes with star Maxwell Caulfield, who played a British exchange student who comes to Rydell High. However, as Conn revealed to The Telegraph, she was originally intended to have a larger role.
"I had my own number in Grease 2 but it got cut," she said. "In keeping with Frenchy’s character, I was teaching Maxwell how to be cool. There’s a scene with us before you see him ride off on his motorcycle, but you don’t see me do the song."
Didi Conn celebrated Grease’s 40th anniversary in true Frenchy style
The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Grease, and in honor of the occasion British TV network NOW TV recreated Frenchy’s bedroom — and brought Didi Conn into the recreated film set.
"Forty years, can you believe it?" Conn jokingly declared from Frenchy’s bedroom in an interview with Red Carpet News TV. "It took Moses that long to get out of the desert to the promised land!"
Looking back at the film’s success four decades later, Conn offered her theory about why Grease was such a huge hit and why it continues to be rediscovered by new generations of fans. "The love that we all felt for each other was real and perhaps it’s contagious," she said. "You know, when people watch it they feel that it was love, and that we cared about each other, and the theme that we’ll always be together — we’re all still friends."
Frenchy and Sandy from Grease reunited for a Vegas duet
The friendships forged from Grease have remained strong for the cast all these decades later, which Didi Conn demonstrated when she joined screen cousin Olivia Newton-John onstage in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 2015 to perform a beloved number from the movie.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the two Pink Ladies belted out the Grease hit "Summer Nights" during the Olivia Newton-John: Summer Nights show, which featured Newton-John performing hit singles such as "Physical" along with several songs from Grease, including "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You’re The One That I Want." While Newton-John wore a black leather jacket and matching pants — a nod to what her character Sandy wore at the end of the movie — Conn sported a Pink Ladies jacket. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the two were spotted hanging out together and catching up after the show, "just like real old high school buddies."
Didi Conn kept acting after playing Frenchy in Grease
The success from playing Frenchy in Grease propelled Didi Conn’s career for the next decade. According to IMDb, subsequent roles included the feature films Almost Summer as well as The Magic Show, a big-screen vehicle for magician Doug Henning that is perhaps best left unremembered. In the early ’80s, Conn joined TV sitcom Benson as the secretary of the title character, the former butler on the sitcom Soap who spun off to work for a widowed governor.
After Benson ended its run in 1986, Conn guest starred on such TV series as Hotel, Cagney & Lacey, Highway to Heaven, and L.A. Law. In the 2000s, her credits include playing a waitress in Salma Hayek’s 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic Frida and a recurring role as a nurse in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
In 1989, Conn was cast as Stacy Jones in children’s TV series Shining Time Station, alongside counterculture comedian George Carlin, who played Mr. Conductor — a role, oddly enough, that had previously been played by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. Conn briefly reprised the role of stationmaster Stacy in a big-screen version of Shining Time Station that debuted in 2000, which featured Alec Baldwin taking over the Mr. Conductor duties.
Frenchy from Grease to "Queen of Denial"
In 1992, Didi Conn and husband David Shire welcomed son Danny. It was shortly after her son’s second birthday, Grease‘s Frenchy actress wrote in a special feature for CNN, that Danny began having increasingly loud tantrums that were typically initiated by sounds. While Conn’s pediatrician wrote off Danny’s behavior as "the terrible twos," things escalated when the child began waking up screaming in the middle of the night, sometimes two or three times per night.
After several visits with a pediatric neurologist, Danny was diagnosed as high-functioning on the autism spectrum. For Conn, the diagnosis initially led her to become "the Queen of Denial." She continued, writing, "I wouldn’t believe there was something ‘wrong’ with my son."
The diagnosis, she continued, changed everything, which included putting the brakes on her acting career. "The shock of his diagnosis found me shrinking, hiding, disappearing, guilty and overprotective," she wrote. "I would not take any jobs. I would never leave him alone." Ultimately, she found therapy that was able to help. In a video for with Oprah.com, Conn revealed a new role that emerged from this experience: celebrity spokesperson for Autism Speaks.
Didi Conn performed on Broadway well after her Frenchy from Grease days
Throughout the 1990s and beyond, Didi Conn appeared onstage in New York, in both Broadway and off-Broadway productions. According to Playbill, Conn served as understudy to Mercedes Ruehl in the 1991 Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. In 2000, she starred in The Green Bird, an adaptation of a 17th-century Italian fable, directed by Julie Taymor, who brought Disney’s The Lion King to the stage.
In 2002, Conn’s distinctive voice was put to good use in Good Night, Gracie. Conn supplied voiceovers as the late Gracie Allen, half of the famed Burns and Allen comedy duo, in the play that dramatized comedian George Burns giving one final command performance for the Almighty after dying and finding himself in limbo.
In 2010, the Grease actress returned to the New York stage, joining the cast of the off-Broadway production of Love, Loss and What I Wore to fill in on three separate occasions, including a six-performance run in June 2011 when a member of the cast couldn’t perform due to previous commitments.
Frenchy met Frenchy, thanks to Grease Live!
Didi Conn came full circle in 2016 when the Fox television network mounted its live television version of Grease. A whole new cast was assembled for Grease Live!, with Les Misérables’ Aaron Tveit as Danny Zuko and Dancing with the Stars‘ Julianne Hough as Sandy. Rounding out the cast were Scream Queens‘ Keke Palmer as Marty Maraschino, High School Musical‘s Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo, and Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy, taking over the role that will forever be owned by Conn.
Any fans of the original movie who tuned in were no doubt thrilled when Conn made a surprise appearance as Vi, the waitress who lends Frenchy a sympathetic ear. As Entertainment Tonight reported, Conn did not arrive on the set empty-handed. Not only did Conn give Jepsen a locket, featuring a photo of the two Frenchys (inscribed with "We’ll always be together"), she also gave Jepsen the original Pink Ladies shirt Conn wore in the movie, along with a handwritten note complimenting Jepsen’s performance. Jepsen thanked Conn in a sweet Instagram post, revealing the gifts left her "crying those happy tears."
Frenchy from Grease starred in a play written by Steve Martin
In 2013, Grease‘s Didi Conn was among the stars in a play called The Underpants, a retitled and rewritten revision of the 1911 German farce Die Hose. The writer of this play was none other than legendary comedian Steve Martin, who adapted the play in English and added modern touches. The plot of the comedy, according to the New Haven Register, involves a housewife who experiences unexpected and unwanted fame when her bloomers fall to her ankles as she waves to the king during a parade.
Conn plays the housewife’s neighbor, Gertrude, and admitted it was "heaven" to have the opportunity speak Martin’s words onstage. "As soon as you feel his rhythms and his energy and his really unique sense of humor, the play just comes alive," she told the publication. "He’s such an intellectual comic," added Conn of Martin. "What’s such a joy to do this play is that I can dive in and have fun."
You know her as Frenchy from Grease, but your kids may know her as Didi Lightful
Didi Conn is far from just Frenchy from Grease, she’s also the creator and executive producer of her very own animated children’s series, Didi Lightful, described on IMDb as a "Broadway-style musical adventure about the hilarious extremes a child will go to in order to get what she wants." For the project, Conn also provided the voice of the title character.
In a 2009 essay she wrote for CNN about her son Danny’s autism diagnosis, Conn described the show’s premise. Didi Lightful, she explained, "centers around a little girl of that name who loves pets of all kinds and lives in a house full of them," with Conn explaining that the child’s father is a veterinarian.
As Conn revealed, watching her son grow up had given her the idea for the series, pointing out that Danny was "the prime inspiration for [the Didi Lightful] character and adventures." In fact, she added, one of the character’s neighborhood friends has autism, like Conn’s own son. According to Conn, Didi Lightful boasted "the first autistic child in a fictional series of this kind."
Didi Conn went on tour decades after starring as Frenchy in Grease
Didi Conn returned to the stage in 2019 as one of the stars of the touring production of Middletown. The play, explains the production’s website, follows two couples as "they endure the rollercoaster of life together in this exhilarating and universal depiction of love, life and friendship."
The play also featured some familiar faces from 1970s and ’80s television, including Don Most (aka Ralph Malph on Happy Days), Cindy Williams (aka Shirley on Laverne & Shirley) and Adrian Zmed (aka Officer Vince Romano on T.J. Hooker). As coincidence would have it, Zmed also appeared in Grease 2. As an added coincidence, Conn actually guest-starred on Happy Days back in the 1970s; she played the girlfriend of Most’s character. "He gave my character mononucleosis," Conn told the Jewish Exponent.
"The four of us getting together was like old friends, which is perfect for this show," Conn said of the onstage dynamics in Middletown. "There was already a wonderful vibe with us that was very natural. It wasn’t something we needed to invent."
"Frenchy from Grease? In Bridlington?"
British pantomime theater — or Panto, as it’s come to be known — is a popular holiday tradition in the United Kingdom, featuring interactive stage performances of broad, slapstick-style versions of well-known fairy tales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. A Panto tradition that’s developed over the years is for a celebrity to make a special appearance in a key role, which is just what Didi Conn did when she played the Fairy Godmother in the 2019 Christmastime run of Cinderella at the Bridlington Spa in Hull, England, reported Hull Live.
"I believe that announcing an unexpected star name is name of the game in regional pantomime," Bridlington Spa manager Andrew Aldis told Hull Live. "I suspect people are reacting to this announcement with the words, ‘Frenchy from Grease? In Bridlington?’ and knowing that’s being said brings me real joy."
During a talk show appearance on Britain’s This Morning, Conn admitted that she wasn’t very familiar with Panto when she took on the role, although she did tell the hosts that her very first theater job was with a pantomime company. "We did two shows completely in mime," Conn said. "This is different!"
Frenchy from Grease dazzled on ice
In 2019, Didi Conn headed to the United Kingdom to appear on British television, where she was one of the celebrity guests on ITV’s Dancing on Ice. In a format similar to that of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, celebrities are partnered with professional figure skaters to rehearse and then perform figure skating routines set to music.
Conn was 67 at the time she participated in the show, reported Britain’s Sunday Post, and she revealed there was one big challenge to overcome before taking the gig: she didn’t know how to skate. However, she explained, producers "asked if I wanted to learn and I thought it’d be an interesting thing to do. And I’m getting paid to do it, so why not try?"
The Grease actress also revealed how her son Danny, who was then 26, inspired her to lace up her skates and hit the ice. "I have a son who is special needs and he is now living on a farm and working there and this has given me a time in my life to find out who is Didi-Didi, not Didi-mommy, you know?" she told the Manchester Evening News. "So this is a great way to just, not dive in, slide into this new part of my life."