We caught up with John Travolta in the middle of a whirlwind promotion tour for the opening of Saturday Night Fever, one of the year’s best films. Travolta was relaxed in his Plaza suite and, in contrast to his screen image, charmingly articulate as he discussed his role in Fever.
ROUTES: John, do you feel the racist aspect of Tony Manero is an accurate reflection of Italian-American opinion?
Travolta: I think the screen play realistically depicts the Italian-American community’s attitude toward minorities, but what I hope the audience will remember is that the character evolves to the point where he dispenses with that racism at the end of the film.
ROUTES: Are you referring to the scene where Tony hands the award and prize money over to the Puerto Rican couple?
Travolta: Exactly, that’s my favorite scene in the whole movie. It allowed the character to grow, within a few minutes, from a stereotype to a hero.
ROUTES: What is it that separates Tony from the rest?
Travolta : His integrity. I tried to show that even though surrounded by a depressing environment and peer-group pressure, Tony still keeps his integrity.
ROUTES: Your appeal to Blacks has been noted by many; Barberino is a street corner hero. Why?
Travolta: I don’t know. I know I’ve a certain feel for the Black audience, having been raised in Englewood, N.J. , an integrated neighborhood. I attended a high school that was 50 to 60 percent Black. It just seems I’ve always had a compassion for them, one of my closest friends is Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs on Kotter. When you get down to it I see people as people no matter what the color of their skin.
ROUTES: Is that where you learned to dance, Englewood?
Travolta: Right! All of those high school dances. I also put 300 hours in at the dance studio and ran two miles a day.
ROUTES: Well it shows, fantastic job. How did you get the part?
Travolta: I knew it was the part for me as soon as I read Nik Cohn‘s article in New York Magazine, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.
ROUTES: You pick your own parts?
Travolta: I’m in the position now to pick my parts and I choose everything I do. Tony completes the cycle for me that started with Barberino. Tony is Vinnie two years later and finally graduated from high school.
ROUTES: Will you be or should we say, will Barberino be returning to Kotter after your initial film success?
Travolta: I’m hoping ABC will allow a trade-off so this will be my last year, perhaps a few made-for-TV movies.
ROUTES: So you continue to see a future in television despite your assured success in films?
Travolta: Television is the medium that made me, no other medium allows you to reach up to 50 million people at one shot, I MEAN I’ll be doing other things but there will always be television.
ROUTES: How does the Kotter crew feel about your plans?
Travolta: They’re all for it, if I can make it they feel their chances for making it are improved!
ROUTES: What next for John Travolta?
Travolta: Grease will be released in early 78 and I’m very excited about that. I’ll then be costarring with Lily Tomlin in a drama about a Beverly Hills matron’s love for a younger man. I can’t wait to begin work on it!
ROUTES: Thank you for an enjoyable conversation.
Travolta: My pleasure.