One of the mythical memories I treasure most in my life is seeing a B&W Warhol photo of Jerry Hall decandently sprawled out on a banquette at Studio 54. I saw this at a Warhol exhibit in San Francisco nearly three years ago and haven’t been able to find a copy of it since. Had I not had a witness to this photo–the same person who took a pic of me reenacting said pic on a SF bus–I wouldn’t still believe the pic actually existed. It’s that mythical. Only you and I will know for sure that it exists, Kyle.
I’ve been on a kick lately of Googling (now an official verb) Studio 54 photos. There’s some doozies–again, downright mythical photos–such as one of Michael Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minelli, Halston, and their dates sitting on a sofa together. Gatherings like this don’t happen everyday; 54 was a magical place where even the most famous celebrities went to get away from it all. In a nutshell, I think that was the main attraction: Exclusivity, but once one got in the door, it was all fair game. The dance floor was a hodge podge of beautiful people from around the world just having the times of their lives.
Of course, there was also rampant drug use, sex, money laundering, and tax evasion going on in Studio 54. The club became so epic that its damp, dark basement became a makeshift VIP room. Says Paolo Miranda–AKA Paul-Michael–head busboy for most of 54’s original, three-year run under owners Steve Rubell & Ian Shrager:
“I wouldn’t really call it a VIP lounge; it was the basement. There were wire chain link fences all around with all the supplies for special decorations behind them. There was an Elton John pinball machine down there and a few white, plastic lawn chairs. But I was down there all the time. The two-year anniversary party took place down there, full of lots of celebrities.”
As with every _______ (place, person, thing) which is uber-popular, 54 (or just “the Studio,” as the in-crowd called in) was in many ways its own worst enemy. All the above vices, especially the drugs and tax evasion, brought down the velvet ropes in a short 33 months. In the end, the ultimate place to escape from it all couldn’t escape reality.
54 co-owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager both went to jail after the tax/drug scandal. Here’s an unlikely photo op of the two with their lawyer, Roy Cohn:
Though long gone as a disco haven of the rich, famous, and beautiful ordinary people off the street, the building that was Studio 54 lives on as a Broadway playhouse. A special, retro Studio 54 party was held there just last month to celebrate the launch of Sirius Radio’s Studio 54 disco channel, so the legend lives on. (There’s also a 54 club at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas which does its darndest to capitalize on the infamy of the original. Ironically, it’s now been open longer than the original!)
Back in its hey-day, the club was even merchandised to the masses who could only hope to ever get in the door:
And if you happened to be hip enough to get in the door, there were many known-by-one-name-only celebs inside:
There’s many, many places I’d like to time travel back to and roam around in, and Studio 54 is easily in the top three on the list I keep in my head for safe keeping. I’m sure, were I actually allowed to go back to a 1979 Saturday nite in 54, that I’d be as disappointed as I was at my junior prom. In other words, it wouldn’t live up to the hype–there’s no way it possibly could. It honestly looks a bit dark and dirty from the pics, and most everyone truly does look coked out, drunk, or both. But 54 long ago entered the land of the mythical places that are remembered only for their good qualities, like bringing people together from all walks of life to enjoy each other’s company. (I say this fully realizing I just wrote about the exclusiver-than-exclusive VIP basement and the VIP banquettes. Oh well.)
I’m still waiting for my 54 invite, Ian Schrager. Maybe in the next life?