After small roles on Broadway, a couple of horror films and a couple of TV movies, John Travolta became a breakout star when he first appeared as "Vincent 'Vinnie' Barbarino" on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter in 1975. This led him to starring roles in three pop culture shaping films, almost back to back to back: 1977's Saturday Night Fever, 1978's Grease and 1980's Urban Cowboy. After the success of Fever, Travolta cut his Kotter contract short and began making films full-time, appearing as a "Special Guest Star" on Kotter to serve out his time. Producer Robert Stigwood had signed Travolta to a three picture deal, the first of which was Saturday Night Fever. The second picture was Moment By Moment, a May-December romance flop with Lily Tomlin, which is one of the few motion pictures of modern times (let's say since 1976) never to be issued on any home video format although it pops up occasionally on cable. The third picture was Grease which HERC covered a few weeks ago.
The first film John Travolta made after the end of his contract with Stigwood was Urban Cowboy. Described as a "country version of Saturday Night Fever", the script was originally written with Dennis Quaid in mind for the lead role of "Buford Uling Davis" aka "Bud" before Travolta was cast. Producers chose Michelle Pfieffer for the role of "Sissy" before Sissy Spacek signed on for the part. Spacek had appeared in the 1976 adaption of Stephen King's Carrie as the title character with Travolta in a smaller role. Reunited on the set of Urban Cowboy, the two
egos actors could not get along and Spacek was let go. Debra Winger was brought in to play "Sissy" but sent away by the producers for not being "attractive" enough for the role. To his credit, Director James Bridges stood by his choice and threatened to leave the project if she wasn't reinstated. The producers relented and Winger came back and put her tomboyish charms and physical attributes on the screen as a positive role model for young girls everywhere, showing them not every leading actress has to look like a Barbie doll. HERC cannot recommend this movie due to the domestic violence depicted but he enjoys the soundtrack.
For his role as "Bud", Travolta grew a beard and installed a mechanical bull
for companionship in his home before filming began. Patrick Swayze was brought in to teach him how to do the two-step and both Swazye's wife, Lisa, and mother, Patsy, choreographed the dance scenes in the movie. The beard only lasted a few days into shooting. While at lunch one day, Travolta was not asked for a single autograph. Fearing he was too unrecognizable, he shaved it off the very next day. When it came time to film his scenes on the mechanical bull, Travolta was so adept that his stunt double was not used. The film shot around Houston, Texas, a few miles from where HERC spent many of his summers, in the Summer of 1979. Released in June 1980, it was well received by critics and made nearly $47 million at the box office, restoring Travolta's reputation as a leading draw after the disastrous Moment By Moment.
Just as Saturday Night Fever had brought the rituals of disco to the world, so did Urban Cowboy bring country fashion and line-dancing to the masses. Both films used their double-disc soundtrack albums to spread their word. True country music fans, the real Wrangler-wearing cowboys
and oil refinery workers, might have protested that the songs were not authentic but that was beside the point - the music drew people to see the movie and then to visit the dance clubs and honky tonks like Gilley's, which burned down in 1990 shortly after Mickey Gilley and his co-owner had a falling out and closed it down. Today, the name lives on with a club in Dallas and one at the Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas.
Trying to top Robert Stigwood's double-disc soundtrack tri-fecta of Saturday Night Fever , Grease  and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band , the Urban Cowboy soundtrack was the first of three consecutive Irving Azoff supervised double-disc soundtrack productions - followed by Heavy Metal  and Fast Times At Ridgemont High  - and featured many artists he was managing at the time. Several of the album's artists appeared on-screen performing their respective songs. In a rare move, a second soundtrack album, Urban Cowboy II, was released nearly eight months after the first, containing even more songs from the soundtrack. While the original soundtrack has been issued on compact disc, the second album has not.
Martin Maenza breaks down the film's soundtrack album, song by song.
Below are a few of the interesting videos HERC found when researching today's post.