Jim Jacobs is an American composer, lyricist, librettist, and actor. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 7, 1942. During his teenage years, Jacobs pretended he was playing guitar with a broomstick, and he was able to persuade his parents to pay for guitar lessons. Eventually, though, Jacobs decided that lessons weren’t for him, and he bought a guitar book and taught himself. In high school, he played guitar and sang with a rock band. His influences include Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
In 1963, Jacobs joined the Hull House Playwrights Center, a local theatre group, where he met composer and lyricist Warren Casey, the man with whom he would ultimately collaborate on Grease. Before and during writing Grease, Jacobs acted in over 50 productions in the Chicago area, wrote advertising copy for the Chicago Tribune, and was a restaurant critic. In September 1971, he made his Broadway debut (and sole Broadway appearance) playing Louis in the revival of Charles Gordone’s No Place to Be Somebody.
Grease, which was largely based on Jacobs’s experiences in high school in the late 1950s, premiered at Chicago’s Kingston Mines Theater in 1971. It featured much more profanity and overt sexual references than the show as we know it does today. When New York theatre producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox saw the production, they told Jacobs and Casey that they would mount an off-Broadway production if the show was made more universal and less Chicago-based and if the characters became likeable. Jacobs and Casey agreed, and Grease, since then, has forever lived a life of its own, spawning two movies, several Broadway engagements, and a live television production.