11 May Randal Kleiser ’74
Randal Kleiser is an internationally known film director whose first feature film, Grease (1978), remains the top-grossing movie musical of all time. His other directing credits include The Blue Lagoon (1980), Summer Lovers (1982), Flight of the Navigator (1985), White Fang (1991), Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992) and the semi-autobiographical AIDS drama It’s My Party (1996).
As a 10-year-old, Kleiser was blown away watching the Red Sea part in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and from then on longed to be involved with movie magic. As a USC cinema student, he enrolled in an acting course taught by one of the Biblical epic’s stars, Nina Foch (Bithiah), who became his friend and mentor. Foch taught him how to connect with an audience, no matter which side of the camera he was on.
In 1973, Kleiser’s USC master’s thesis film, Peege, caught the eye of Universal Studios executives, who signed him as a television director. A personal story about a family’s visit to an elderly relative in a nursing home, Peege was later added to the National Film Registry in 2007.
Over the next few years, Kleiser made several acclaimed made-for-television films, including The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976) and The Gathering (1977), which won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Special-Drama or Comedy. He then re-teamed with The Boy in the Plastic Bubble star John Travolta for the big screen version of the hit Broadway musical, Grease. Co-starring Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing, Grease scored with audiences and critics alike and remains a fan favorite, 40 years after its release.
Today, Kleiser has taken his career into the realm of virtual reality with such works as Defrost, a sci-fi series featuring five-minute episodes. He remains devoted to USC, and has frequently served as a guest juror at the USC Lambda LGBTQ+ Alumni Association’s annual Don Thompson LGBT Film Festival.