On this day in 1977 Studio 54 opened its doors to (some of) the public for the first time and for the next three years was the place to be seen in New York City, although it was probably for the best if you were not seen by the police if you were snarfing cocaine and having a bit of sex in the balconies.
The building where the nightclub was located is at 254 West 54th Street, which is partly where it got its name. But prior to becoming a big old discotheque, the building had been a theatre – Puccini’s La Boheme played there in 1977 – and then one of CBS’s radio and then TV studios. Under CBS it was called Studio 52 – because it was CBS’s 52nd studio – so when Rubell and Schrager and their other partners bought the building, they decided to use the “studio” and add 54 for its location.
Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager had previously owned a disco out in Queens called the Enchanted Garden, which is nicely ironic when one thinks of how snooty they were about the bridge and tunnel crowd at Studio 54. The bridge and tunnel crowd were and are the New Yorkers from the outer boroughs who travel into Manhattan. Manhattanites can be awfully snobby, but frankly Manhattan is so lush, that one can pretty much understand why. Anyway! The Queens disco had been quite successful and a PR woman by the name of Carmen D’Alessio had even had a couple of parties out there. She liked Steve and Ian’s style so she suggested that they buy the building and open the best club in the world ever. They agreed and that, laydeez and gennelmens, is how the club got to be. How it got to be the success it was, is mostly down to Carmen D’Alessio who was a shit-hot PR woman and event planner. She got Bianca Jagger to ride a white horse into the club on her 30th birthday and she arranged the opening night guest list, and oh my, what a list it was. Mick and Bianca Jagger, Janice Dickenson (when she was a smokin’ hot model and not the overly-plasticised mentalist she is today), Mikhail Baryshnikov, Debbie Harry, Liza Minnelli, Martha Graham, Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, Salvador Dali and newlyweds Donald and Ivana Trump among many, many others. Rumour has it that Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Henry Winkler and Frank Sinatra were turned away at the door because the doorman thought they weren’t hot enough for the club. Chances are that’s some sort of urban rumour started by Carmen D’A who knew that the public would eat up the idea of a club so exclusive that some of the biggest stars in the world weren’t good enough to get in. The door charge to get in was $8 and the club held 700 patrons so that amounted to $5,600 a night in cover charges, plus all the booze and shit. Rubell boasted that they made $7 million in their first year.
The club started big and continued big. It also lived most of its short life surrounded by scandals great and small. Within a month of
opening it had been closed down due to its lack of a proper liquor license. They re-opened immediately selling juice and soda pop until their license came through. After Rubell’s boast of how much money they’d made in a year the club was raided and he and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million. There was a second raid in 1979 and the pair got arch-bastard and evil fuck Roy Cohn to defend them. On January 18, 1980 they were sentenced to three and a half years for tax evasion and later that year the club was sold. Rubell and Schrager went on to open more clubs and go into hotels as well. Schrager is still doing just that and is a very successful multi-millionaire. Rubell contracted AIDS and died in 1989.
The club only had three years of being at the apex of decadence, but its fame has lived on. In many ways it’s hard to know why. It wasn’t musically innovative; it played disco which was the thing at the time, but it didn’t introduce any new music or new acts. It wasn’t anything special, but the buzz around it was so wild that it was the place everyone wanted to get into and very few did. It was, I guess, the Woodstock of Disco, but with better clothes and coke rather than dope. These days the club is a theatre and most of its patrons are either dead or really boring. Or both. Thus is the merry-go-round of life. We all get a chance to sparkle for a few brief moments and whether we do or we don’t, there’s always a cardigan and slippers waiting in the wings.
Today was the birthday of Douglas Sirk.
His name may mean nothing to you, but if it does, you know that he was the director of such lush and beautifully shot films as All that Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, among others. If these mean nothing to you, you may have seen Todd
Haynes’ Far From Heaven, which is a total homage to Sirk. Or maybe you’ve fallen in love with Pedro Almodovar, who cites Sirk as one of his influences and my, can you see it.
Sirk’s films were commercially very popular in the 1950s, but the critics had no time for him, mostly because the films were very woman-centred and about heightened feelings and passion and that sort of thing. But there was far more to them than those short-sighted twats could see at the time. In the 70s a reappraisal of Sirk began and finally – and thankfully before his death – his talent was finally appreciated by critics as well as the public.
I’m not going to add much more. Sirk was a magical film-maker and the best way to get your head around that is to watch some of his films and let the lushness wash over you like a Technicolor ocean of baroque passion. Do it. You’ll love it.