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JOHN TRAVOLTA WAS ABOUT TO GO INTO HIS DANCE

The brash kid who became a TV star as a Sweathog named Vinnie Barbarino was on the verge of becoming an Oscar-nominted superstar when I interviewed him for The New York Times in 1976. I believe he saw the whole thing coming. And he's still here. --GUY FLATLEY

"I love being treated as a sex symbol, but I can’t take it too seriously," said the grinning, bushy-haired, adolescent-looking actor. Although he recently made an impressive movie debut as the villainous high school senior who gets a lethal comeuppance from the cruelly ostracized Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," he is better known as Vinnie Barbarino, the most endearingly disruptive member of the Sweathogs, a pack of spunky Brooklyn high school lads on television’s "Welcome Back, Kotter."

His real name is John Travolta, he turned 23 this morning, and he is about to begin his first starring role in films, that of a frantic Brooklyn youth who seems in danger of disco-dancing himself to oblivion in "Saturday Night Fever," a Robert Stigwood production directed by John Badham and choreographed by Jacques D’Amboise.

"The kid is the best disco dancer in the area, but he’s got family problems, friend problems, and future problems," said Mr. Travolta. "He wants something more out of life than his surroundings offer him. He knows he has the potential to go ahead, but he doesn’t know how. He has a fear that his life is crumbling."

Mr. Travolta, whose mother teaches acting in New Jersey, has never been the victim of fear. From the beginning, he knew what he wanted and precisely how to get it. "I quit school when I was 16 and moved into Manhattan when I was 17. My parents didn’t want me to do it, but I convinced them that I had a big career ahead of me."

He wasn’t wrong, although it is not quite true that he is a millionaire, as was recently reported. "The three-picture deal I made with Stigwood exceeds a million dollars and includes percentages, so I could be a millionaire within the next couple of years. In the meantime, I love the publicity that makes me out to be one now. It’s fun to see your future spread out in front of you."

Mr. Travolta’s future projects for Stigwood include "Grease," based on the long-running Broadway hymn to the foolishness of the 50’s teen culture. "After that, I want to play an adult, with adult problems, not some kid going through an identity crisis," he said. "I want to graduate, to be a mature person – someone, say, in his mid-20’s."