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Ride a white horse … Bianca Jagger in Studio 54 in 1977. It’s one of the most legendary images from possibly the most famous nightclub of them all, which summed up the excesses of the time. Photograph: Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Getty Images

Sex Coke and Disco

Studio 54 was the Best Party of Your Life

In its brief 33-month lifespan, Studio 54 amassed a collection of secrets and stories that are now the stuff of legend. It was a place of great exclusivity, but also a place where one went to be photographed. For all its inaccessibility, Studio 54 produced some of the most iconic images of nightlife in the late 1970s.

Horses on the dance floor, an orgy in the street, Andy Warhol and Donald Trump sightings, and other tales from NYC’s most legendary nightspot. It was the 70s, era of the Disco Craze. On top of that, Saturday Night Fever had temperatures rising. These were the dancing days. With dancing came places large enough for a spacious dance floor and lots of patrons. Thus, the beginning of the most legendary nightclub of the disco-era.

Some say Studio 54 changed the world. It was a place for escapism. No restrictions – sex, drugs and music…LOTS of extraordinarily loud music and dancing, dancing, dancing. Persons of any walk of life passed through its doors. The wait was long, the lines endless, the experience – priceless.

A paradox of Studio 54 was that it was both the most exclusive party in town, stopping all but the chosen few at its impenetrable velvet rope, and the most accessible, bombarding the public with images of the glitterati and the high life inside. The club was a fantasy about which it was not necessary to fantasise since torrents of ink and celebrity photographs did the work for you. It was not just a place to see and be seen. In the miasma of sex and fame and money and pleasure that swirled around New York in the late 1970s, it was the place to be.

Forty years ago Studio 54 opened in New York City, catering to the Big Apple’s most decadent and dance-hungry crowds. Soon celebrities of all shapes and sizes arrived nightly to dance the night away to the latest disco hits while the rest of society waited out front hoping to gain entrance into the club on 54th Street in Manhattan.

Not just anybody was allowed admittance to the most glamorous nightclub of all time. Most never made it past the velvet rope and snooty doormen.

Co-owner Steve Rubell personally made sure that only the prettiest people came inside, picking members of the general public from the crowd out front when he felt like it. Only the hottest stars and the most beautiful of the beautiful people were permitted entrance. Wannabes would line up along 54th Street hoping to convince doorman Marc Benecke (often aided by Rubell himself) that they made the grade. A lucky few were permitted entrance. As for the rest, Rubell would cut them off at the knees, often with grotesque insults.

Rubell and Schrager sunk about $400,000 to renovate the old CBS lot – a risky move. If the club wasn’t successful, they were in big trouble. But the word got out among the “in crowd”. When the doors opened on April 26, 1977, the celebs turned out in droves. It was THE place to be – and the press took note.

Grace Jones, 1978. Model and singer Grace Jones was a staple at Studio 54 in the 70s and visited the club not only to party but to perform. The glamour of Studio 54 is what singer Gloria Gaynor and supermodel Beverly Johnson remember most fondly. Gaynor performed her hit “I Will Survive” at the iconic club, while Johnson hung out there with drag queens, owner Steve Rubell, and the inimitable multihyphenate Grace Jones. They saw—and wore—the Studio 54 fashion firsthand.

I’ll just lie down here for a few minutes… Photo: Tod Papageorge

Most never got in, but if you caught the eye of Steve or of (doorman) Benecke suddenly a path opened up. Beyond the velvet rope was what was called the Corridor of Joy. It had ornate chandeliers and everybody there was screaming with joy that they got in. You could hear the pulsating music as you walked through and then you turned left and there was this dance floor. Everybody on that floor had the energy of being a radiant star.”

Benecke can still recall how desperate people were to enter the club. “At one point you could buy maps which claimed to show how to get in through tunnels up from the subway system. It was crazy.”

“Naturally people tried good old-fashioned bribery but that didn’t work. Then I’d say to them they should go and buy the exact same jacket I was wearing – forgive me but I was only a teen at the time. And they’d go to Bloomingdale’s and buy it and still they wouldn’t get in.”

“But if you were just dressing up in costume to get through the door, it showed you probably weren’t the right person. We were looking for people with high energy,” he says. Looking great did not guarantee entry. “What we really wanted was the mix.”

“On a good night Studio 54 was the best party of your life,” says Anthony Haden-Guest, who reported on the club as a journalist throughout its short existence.

He says Studio 54 was the right club in the right city at the right time.

“Everything was happening at the same moment: there was the woman’s movement, the gay movement, ethnic movements of all kinds. The whole place was combustible with energy.”

The door code played upon the fundamental human quirk of desperately wanting what one can’t have. Those who were turned away often returned night after night, changing their outfits, hairstyles, and company. Some tried to grease palms with thousands of dollars. Actress Jaid Barrymore, the mother of Drew, bore witness to the ceaseless parade of lurid attire. “People were waiting in lines with the most fantastic costumes on, each one trying to outdo the other one so that they could be pointed to and get in.” One Halloween, two women, perhaps recalling the famous Bianca Jagger photos, took out a $500 loan to rent a horse, which they rode nude to the velvet ropes as twin Lady Godivas. The horse was granted entry. The women were not.

Ballet star Rudolph Nureyev, centre in brown leather pants, chats with unidentified friends at New York’s Studio 54, March 1979. (AP Photo)

Entertainer Liza Minnelli, centre, is shown with fashion designer Halston, right, and Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell, March 1979, at New York’s Studio 54. (AP Photo)

Dame Rollerena, a drag queen who skates the streets of New York, is shown at New York’s Studio 54, March 1979. (AP Photo)

The dance floor is crowded with dancers gyrating to a disco beat at New York’s Studio 54, Nov. 6, 1979. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Singer Tom Jones admired a necklace worn by Rina Messinger of Israel, Miss Universe 1976, while she beams back at him as they meet at Studio 54, on Sunday, March 19, 1978. (AP Photo)

Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager already had a club in Queens called Enchanted Garden. But 1977 was the year of Saturday Night Fever and disco reigned supreme. The young men were certain that what worked in an outer borough of New York could work in central Manhattan too. Celebrities by the dozen flocked to Studio 54 and long lines of would-be clubbers queued outside hoping to be admitted. There was always a ton of people outside waiting to get in – people from all walks of life.

Anthony Haden-Guest, (journalist) says owner Steve Rubell had a sense for who ought to be on the dance floor on a specific night. “Every time was different. It was like a salad bowl – they might let in some straight-looking kids from Harvard, but then they’d also want a bunch of drag queens or whatever. Often it was surprisingly relaxed.”

He said it would be impossible to run the club’s VIP room today when a photo taken on a phone can be spread around the world in an instant. But the VIPs were photographed and often. The list is long and included Calvin Klein, Truman Capote, Liza Minnelli, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol. Other regulars are perhaps more surprising: Benecke recalls the classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz turning up regularly with his wife Wanda. “He always wore ear-plugs. He hated the music but he loved watching the people.”

Myra Scheer, an early fan recalls Andy Warhol saying the club was a dictatorship at the door but a democracy inside. “There was no A-List or B-List or C-List. We came after the pill arrived and before Aids had a name. Women were thriving in terms of their sexuality and it was also a great time to be gay. There was no stigma inside Studio 54.”

The club soon had a reputation as a place where physical intimacy needn’t be limited to the dance floor. Benecke insists the sexual free-for-all has been exaggerated.

“They had a place called the Rubber Room upstairs. You would go up there and sure there might be couples having sex – but only one or two.”

Haden-Guest was a regular visitor to what some assumed was a non-stop Bacchanalia of sex and drugs. But he thinks the amount of drugs taken has been overstated. “I had a wonderful time in disco culture but drugs played an extremely minor part. I think most people were just there to dance and have a good time.”

Looking back, it’s strange to see so many famous people hanging out together in a setting that isn’t an award ceremony. On New Year’s Eve, event planner Robert Isabell deposited four tonnes of glitter into the club, leaving a four-inch layer on the floor which was never really removed in its entirety, an acute representation of what Studio 54 stood for. It was dazzling and over-the-top, much like the permanent glitter that Cher and the like are probably still trying to get out of their clothes, Studio 54’s unrivalled luminescence left an indelible mark on New York’s identity and global nightclub culture.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams dances with his wife, Valerie Velardi, at Studio 54 in New York City on April 12, 1979. Williams was appearing in the ABC television comedy series “Mork and Mindy.” (AP Photo)

Margaret Trudeau, estranged wife of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, dances at New York’s Studio 54 discotheque at night on Monday, Jan. 17, 1978. (AP Photo/ Richard Drew)

Margaret Trudeau, Ryan O’Neil and Steve Rubell (obviously wasted and loving the look of O’Neil)

Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Steve Rubell. On a “cold” night at Studio 54. Photo: Gene Spatz/POBA.org

For 33 months, Studio 54 was the American bacchanal, an unprecedented mix of glamorous sophistication and primal hedonism. The brainchild of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the club opened in a onetime CBS soundstage on April 26th, 1977, and immediately became the epicentre of nightlife in New York City – and the world.

The sex, drugs and disco on offer at Studio 54 served as the perfect release for a generation raised under the pressures of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Though the club was ultimately destroyed by vice and greed, its short reign defined the flashy exuberance of the late Seventies, before the scourge of AIDS ended the party forever. In the four decades since Studio 54 first opened its doors, tales of what went on behind the velvet rope have become modern myths. What’s more, they’re almost all true.

It was the 70s, era of the Disco Craze. On top of that, Saturday Night Fever had temperatures rising. These were the dancing days. With dancing came places large enough for a spacious dance floor and lots of patrons. Studio 54 was originally built as the Gallo Opera House in 1927 and transformed into the New Yorker Theatre in 1930. CBS purchased the space in 1942 and made it the home of renowned television shows like “The Johnny Carson Show.” CBS sold the space in the late 1970s, and the new owners transformed the space into the most legendary nightclub of the disco-era, Studio 54.

Studio 54 was a former CBS studio known as Studio 52. The previous name seems odd for the location, 254 W. 54th St., but the network numbered its studios in the order they came into existence.

The club closed in 1986 and became a venue for rock concerts until it eventually closed completely in the late 1980s. The space remained vacant until 1998 when Roundabout moved its landmark production of Cabaret into the neglected theatre-turned-studio-turned-nightclub. Today, Studio 54 is a permanent home for Roundabout Theatre Company.

Halston, Bianca Jagger and Mick Jagger, 1977. What really happened inside the world’s most famous nightclub? Studio 54, a bumping New York City club with a celebrity guest list that rivals the Oscars, opened in 1977 and raked in a whopping $7 million that first year. As co-owner Steve Rubell would put it, “only the Mafia made more money.” Behind-the-scenes photos show wild parties and intimate celebrity moments from all the A-listers who flocked there.

Frank Zappa Showing off a rear view. Photo: Gene Spatz/POBA.org

Early on the scene, Drew Barrymore at Studio 54.

The spot at 254 West 54th Street was a vacant CBS Television Studio when Rubell and co-owner Ian Schrager purchased it. Celebs and normal people alike dressed to impress at Studio 54. For women going topless was standard and men needed to have perfectly chiselled physiques, unless they were club regular Truman Capote. The club became the place to celebrate album releases, movie premieres, and every other major milestone. Halloween was predictably insane.

There is really no telling how much cocaine and other substances were used at Studio 54. The club became synonymous with coke use and even had a sassy moon and coke spoon decoration hanging prominently inside. This was when the powdery drug was still seen as a party-friendly status symbol and not a dangerous and unpredictable narcotic.

The Scene at Studio 54 Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein

Donald and Ivana Trump attended the opening – while a Quaalude-fuelled orgy occurred outside in the street.

Among the first to appear outside the doors of Studio 54 on opening night was Donald Trump, accompanied by his new wife, Ivana. The couple had been enjoying dinner a short time earlier with socialite Nikki Haskell and her date at the iconic Upper East Side eatery Elaine’s. “I said, ‘C’mon! There’s this new club opening tonight. Why don’t we go?'” Haskell remembered in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book The Last Party. “So we got to Studio 54 and there was nobody there. We were like the first. We knocked on the door. Donald hadn’t built Trump tower. Nobody knew him in those days.” Their knocks went unanswered. “About fifteen minutes later we were just getting ready to leave, and they opened one of the doors. They didn’t even know we were waiting out there.”

The atmosphere was hardly better inside, as the couples wandered through the empty disco. “They were still adjusting the lights and fixing the music,” says Haskell. Workers had been laying down black flooring less than an hour before, and when the bulbs behind the bar suddenly stopped working, gofers were frantically dispatched to the nearest bodega to purchase armloads of votive candles. DJ Richie Kaczor dropped the needle on the first record of the night, “Devil’s Gun” by C.J. and Company, but the party was initially dead. “About a half an hour later there were 50 or 60 people in there. We kept saying, ‘Gee, I wonder where everybody is?'”

The flow of revellers grew from a trickle to a torrent after 11 o’clock, and soon thousands swarmed the building. Traffic on 54th Street was brought to a standstill as both celebrities and humble ravers struggled to approach. Frank Sinatra was stranded in his limousine, unable to get near. Cher, Margaux Hemingway and a young Brooke Shields made it inside, but Warren Beatty, Kate Jackson and Henry Winkler did not.

With nowhere else to go, the party spilt onto the street. One club-goer waited outside with a group of friends, including a doctor packing a jumbo bottle of Quaaludes. “The doctor started handing them out,” he told Haden-Guest. “About 30 people standing around us took them, and then everybody started having this mad sexual orgy. All the men had their penis’ out … the women were showing their tits … everybody was feeling everybody else … the crowd was moving in waves … all of a sudden you would find yourself next to someone you didn’t know.”

Meanwhile, the future president was up to less scandalous shenanigans inside. “No one remembered him being there the first night. He was a non-entity. He was never on the dance floor,” Studio 54 busboy Richie Notar recalled in a 2017 BBC radio documentary. Nonetheless, Trump became something of a regular at the venue. “I’d go there a lot with dates and with friends, and with lots of people,” he told The Washington Post in 2016. According to Haskell, the non-drinking, non-dancing mogul had business reasons for making the scene. “He understood it was an opportunity to be grabbed. He was not there for the drug-fuelled disco deliria. He was there to be seen with the famous people, to network, to cut the deal; whilst everyone else cut the coke.”

Mick Jagger dancing at Studio 54 – What a Jagger Swagger on the dance floor!

Andy Warhol and Phyllis Diller. Artist and comedian being lifted. Photo: Gene Spatz/POBA.org

One gatecrasher died trying to sneak in through an air vent. While some front-door rejects got vengeful, truly tenacious club goers tried to find alternate access points to crash the party. “We would have this situation where people would climb down from the building next door in full mountain-climbing gear with ropes tied around their shoulders,” Studio 54 associate Baird Jones explained to Haden-Guest. “They were trying to get into the courtyard. … They would tangle in the barbed wire and fall to the cement pavement which was 10 feet below. I remember where this guy had really screwed himself up and they got a stretcher.” Although he had broken his neck and left wrist, he took pleasure in the fact that he had actually made it inside. “You could see him, trying to scope out the inside of the club. Trying to see it. Desperately!”

One man was less lucky. “This guy got stuck in the vent trying to get in,” Jones confirmed. “It smelled like a cat had died.” His body was discovered in black-tie attire.

Bianca Jagger in Studio 54 riding a horse. As you do …

There are certain stories we’ve been told that we just need to be true. We take comfort in their solid truthiness and accept them as fact. One such tale: In 1977, Bianca Jagger rode a majestic white horse into her 30th birthday at Studio 54 and it was glamorous. We know this to be true because there is a photo of Jagger, looking fierce, astride said horse, inside said club.

The stunt was one of the most effective in the history of publicity, as photos of Jagger on horseback instantly appeared in papers across the globe. “It just snowballed from there,” doorman Marc Benecke recalled in a 1998 E! documentary. “Studio opened on a Tuesday. The next couple of nights weren’t as busy. But that picture started the ball rolling. It was that soon.”

Nicky Siano, an early resident DJ of the legendary New York club, recalls its most infamous photograph.

Within the first ten days of Studio 54 opening, it was Bianca Jagger’s birthday party. And she said, “Please play at my birthday party.” Before the club was open, they had a birthday party for her that was literally 20 people in Studio 54. This was a place for 3000 people. She was sitting there with Halston. Mick Jagger was there. Keith Richards, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and a few other less famous people, too. And all of them in that kind of class.

And she had asked me to play, “Sympathy for the Devil,” which I did. And then, all of a sudden I turn around and the scrim goes up and there are these big letters on the back wall that read “BIANCA” and they start flashing white lights. And she rides in on this white horse out of nowhere. Out of nowhere, these hundred photographers come out like … I don’t know where they came from! They just appeared all of a sudden and they’re snapping pictures of her.

Well, the next day, New York Daily News did a centrefold pictorial on what happened last night in Manhattan and the Bee Gees got a photo—an inch by an inch—and the whole rest of the centrefold was Bianca riding in on that white horse.

I thought it was pretty perverse, actually to be honest. We were still in a terrible, terrible budget crisis in New York and people were not very well paid back then and it just struck me as overselling something, but that was the turning point. From that point on, every night we were open, there were at least 2,000 people in that place with more on the weekends.

However, somewhere along the way, the story was twisted to include the detail that Jagger rode into the nightclub on the horse, which would certainly be a memorable feat.

In 2015, Bianca Jagger sought to set the record straight on one of the clubbing’s most enduring legends: the night of 2 May 1977, when she was said to have ridden into the New York nightclub Studio 54 astride a white horse. There was a white horse, she accepts in a letter to the Financial Times – she could hardly deny it, given how widely the photograph of the event has circulated – but, crucially,

she didn’t ride in on the white horse. It was already at the party, and she rode it once she got inside, led around by a tall naked dude covered in gold glitter.

In her letter, she says she and her then husband Mick Jagger walked into the club. But Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell had seen a picture of her riding a white horse previously and decided, as a birthday surprise, to arrange for the presence of a white horse.

“It was a beautiful white horse that reminded me of mine,” she writes, “and I made the foolish decision to get on it for a few minutes … No doubt you will agree with me that it is one thing to, on the spur of the moment, to get on a horse in a nightclub, but it is quite another to ride in on one. As an environmentalist and an animal rights defender, I find the insinuation that I would ride a horse into a nightclub offensive … I hope that you can understand the difference between ‘coming in’ on a horse and getting on one.”

Guardian Music scoured the website of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals searching to see if it takes a different policy line on the issue of riding horses into nightclubs to simply sitting astride them in nightclubs. Peta appears to be silent on the issue.

Bianca said she wanted to put the horse story “out to pasture.”

What next? What else will older generations snatch away from us in an attempt to “set the record straight”? Will we find out Woodstock was actually a corporate music festival sponsored by Sweetgreen? From now on, let’s agree: Generations past are only allowed to bring up old stories if they plan on reassuring us about how glorious those moments were, so we may continue to sleep on a bed of lies, dreaming of that time Bianca Jagger rode a horse into Studio 54 and met Santa Claus at the bar for a shot.

On August 6, 1979, Halston hosted another birthday bash at Studio 54—this one for Andy Warhol. He gifted Warhol with a pair of roller skates, while Rubell simply gave him a garbage pail stuffed with cash. When Rubell was jailed for tax evasion, Warhol gave Rubell his own money-themed gift: a brass sculpture with dollar signs cut out.

13 Feb 1979, New York, New York, USA — Sally Libbman, 78, who is known as “Disco Sally,” and John Touzos, 26, do some fancy stepping during a party in her honour at Xenon, chic New York discotheque, February 9th. They met in the disco scene and reportedly have plans to wed sometime in April. This photo shows how Disco Sally, then 78, wooed her 26-year-old beau, John Touzos, with some serious grinding at Xenon. She brought dirty dancing to a whole new level. Look at her bring him to his knees. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Sally Lipman was a lawyer who loved to dance. After her husband passed away, she found a new lease of life in the discos of the 1970s and 1980s, where she became known as ‘Disco Sally’.

Disco Sally. “She was neither rich nor famous. She was a woman who loved to dance and have fun with her friends in the evening.”

Mingling amongst the likes of Warhol, Halston, and Jagger was a 77-year old widow named Sally Lippman. “Disco Sally” became a regular after one of her young friends told her that she should check out Studio 54 just once, to see it. She and her friend managed to get in, and Rubell was delighted to see her on the dance floor, telling her, “I like to see you here. Come anytime you like, and you’ll get in.”

By half past midnight, Disco Sally, then 77-years-old, was surveying the scene from one of the silver-covered, sausage-shaped banquettes, surrounded by five or six young male admirers. “I gotta come every night. It’s like a drug,” she said later as she leaned against the bar, almost smothered by John Touzos, 26, who Sally called a “working playboy” but who actually manages a boutique and works a couple of days a week as a maitre d’, and whom she says she may marry (at Studio 54) this fall. “She deserves it,” said Touzos about the merger with his intended. “She’s just a young woman wrapped up in an old body.”

Sally Lippman is a lawyer. “I haven’t practised for 40 years but have given out advice free, gratis, for nothing,” she said. Her husband, who died three years ago, had studied law and had worked for the Federation for Jewish Philanthropies and in public relations. Her husband never really liked to dance. They both liked “good music.”

Last September, she first came to Studio 54 “with a young 25-year-old boy” who told her, “You really must see it.” She recalled, “I stuffed my ears with cotton, and came.”

Born in 1900, Sally Lippman earned her “Disco Sally” moniker through the crazy dance moves she brought to Studio 54 during her widowhood. The grand-matriarch of nightlife, known for her wild dancing even at an advanced age, was the ultimate club kid.

She reinvented the cougar and brought Studio 54 to its knees. Before becoming a web meme or blog got you famous, “Disco Sally” and her rug-cutting became a notorious and beloved fixture in Manhattan nightlife.

As New York magazine reported in 1991, “A tiny, 77-year-old lawyer named Sally Lippman was mourning the death of her husband when she happened upon the disco scene and changed her life. Dressed in tight pants and high-top sneakers, she became Disco Sally, a star of Studio 54 and Xenon who’d draw an audience of adoring fans as she got down on the dance floor.”

Apparently, celebs like Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray queued up to be her dance partner.

As Scott Bitterman, a  former busboy and then assistant manager at Studio 54, recalls,

My favourite regular at the club was a bright, funny elderly woman who came several nights a week and danced much of the night. I attended several dinner parties at her apartment with friends–but the film  [54] reduced her to an insipid caricature as ‘Disco Dottie.’ In real life, ‘Disco Sally’ was Sally Lippman–a witty and brilliant attorney admitted to the New York State Bar in the 1920s. Sally represented the best of the club for me: she was neither rich nor famous. She was a woman who loved to dance and have fun with her friends in the evening.”

It easy trading mah-jongg pieces for evenings at Studio 54. She’s always had, gay friends. Her husband knew that. “There is something about gay people . . . they are all a little irresponsible,” she said, looking up from her tequila and orange juice. “I like that, I find straight people very dull.”

Sally, who had just the week before been in Boston raising money for educational TV, said she jokingly told Liza Minelli, another 54 regular, that she and Touzos might be married and that is how she came to thinking about it seriously. She’s met Touzos’ sister from Houston to tell her about the wedding and Sally reported, “she said, of course ‘I don’t mind.'” Added Sally, “I can’t imagine why she feels that way.” (Apparently, Sally’s family doesn’t feel the same way. She said that her family heartily disapproved but “I’m having the time of my life.” Later she added, “What’s the matter with dying on the dance floor.”

Back to the bar. “I’ll celebrate my 78th birthday here in October, then my wedding, maybe.” Then Sally leant over to whisper to her interviewer. “He doesn’t believe in sex before marriage. Isn’t that nice.”

Touzos, known as Sally’s “Greek God,” met the energetic old woman on the club circuit. and the two married at Magique nightclub with stars like Lindsay Wagner, Peter Frampton, and David Brenner.

Disco Sally became so famous that an eponymous club opened on 56th Street, and in1979, as the Washington Post reported, she would be going to Hollywood to make a movie about her life called ”Disco Sally.” There were talks of selling the screen rights to her life story.

Sadly Sally died, though, in May of 1982 in Mount Sinai Hospital, and despite repeated requests, no one played disco at her funeral. She represents the vivaciousness of the club scene and was a pioneer in authentic fame and charisma–without put-ons, or posturing, or affections. She had style and the moves to back it all up.

Disco Sally Lippman . Was at Studio 54 every night~

Disco Sally (aka Sally Lippman 1900-1982) was known as the grand-matriarch of nightlife. Disco Sally met her lover, John Touzos (26 at the time), whom she eventually married.

Just Married… Disco Sally Wedding — Dally and Yiannis try to get the flower girl to through the paper hearts. June 17, 1980. (Photo by Vernon Shibla / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

While Studio 54 traded in nightly excess, the elaborately themed parties held on special occasions allowed Rubell, Schrager and their team to bring VIP guests’ most vivid fantasies to life. Costing tens of thousands of dollars, these one-night-only productions put the neighbouring Broadway shows to shame, only to vanish by the time the club opened the next day.

Even a brief sampling of these parties is enough to scramble the senses. Karl Lagerfeld held a candlelit 18th-century party with the staff in court dress and powdered wigs. Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday featured a performance by the Rockettes, which the star viewed while perched on a float of gardenias. She was later presented with a life-size portrait of herself made of cake. For Valentine’s Day, Studio 54 was transformed into a garden with flowerbeds, picket fencing and a group of harpists. Giancarlo Giammetti threw a circus-themed birthday party for his business partner, fashion designer Valentino. “Ian put it together in three days. We had a circus ring with sand, and mermaids on trapezes,” he toldVanity Fair. “Fellini gave us costumes from his film The Clowns. Valentino was the ringmaster, and Marina Schiano came as a palm reader with a parrot on her shoulder.”

One of the most memorable soirees was held in honour of Dolly Parton. When she visited the city for concert dates in May 1978, Rubell created a rural farm setting to help the country singer feel more at home. “Steve went all out for that,” Michael Musto remembered in the E! documentary. “They had haystacks and horses and donkeys and mules running through the club.” Renny Reynolds procured most of the animals from a farm he was renting in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “We had big wine barrels we filled with corn. I had a farm wagon we brought in and piled with hay. We had chickens in a pen,” he says in The Last Party.

Unfortunately, the guest of honour was less than amused. “Dolly came and was completely freaked out at the number of people there. She had not had a Studio 54 experience. She was really nervous about this whole deal and went up to the balcony and sat up there for a while. She was not a comfortable lady there.”

Dolly Parton at Studio 54 in 1978. Another infamous night at 54 was the evening Dolly Parton held an after-concert party there, complete with bales of hay and live farm animals. Ron Galella/Getty

Bianca Jagger photographed with doves inside Studio 54. Getty Images.

American Pop artist Andy Warhol speaks with singer and musician Lou Reed during an event in the Studio 54 nightclub, New York, New York, 1977. Photo: Rose Hartman/Getty Images

Protests against Studio 54. One night, protestors from an area church passed out flyers outside the club. A protestor handed one to me on the way into work one night. While illegalities undoubtedly occurred within Studio 54 – it was a small problem relative to the number of guests. The guests included everyone from tourists in tuxedos and ball gowns to judges and physicians, Mayors and Governors, Presidential staff and family members, royalty, and leadership of Fortune 500 companies – but the majority of people who came into Studio 54 every night, week in and week out – for years – were New Yorkers that loved to dance and have fun, and were no threat to anyone’s morals or ethics. One of our most regular dancers was a 30-something Manhattan hospital nurse that came almost every night. She just liked to dance and watch the spectacle . . .

Studio 54, Brook Shields & Micheal Jackson.

Much of what has been written about Studio 54 has focused on gossipy headlines or unfortunate but infrequent events bound to occur in a New York nightclub from time to time, but the movie and many of the written stories have missed the overarching reality of day to day life in that discothèque. Studio 54 was a fantastic dance club where anyone* could dance and mingle with anyone (* almost anyone: anyone Steve or Mark would let in.) Celebrities and restaurant waiters, nurses and attorneys, politicians and college students, rich and poor, straight and gay, older and younger, debutants and folks who would never have gotten into any country club or posh restaurant – came to have fun, to dance together, and to remember.

Once you found yourself inside the hallowed grounds of Studio 54, the next place you wanted to go was the fabled basement; a cavernous, dingy, decidedly unglamorous space decorated with damaged banquets, pillars of rolled carpet and set pieces from past parties. It was down here that the privileged few were invited to indulge in their wildest desires. “Celebrities headed for the basement. Getting high low-down,”

Grace Jones wrote in her 2016 memoir. “Not even those who got inside the club could all make it into the basement. You’d stumble into half-hidden rooms filled with a few people who seemed to be sweating because of something they had just done or were about to do.” Security men brandishing walkie-talkies discreetly patrolled the area, removing any uninvited gawkers. The secluded corners furnished with mattresses quickly became a popular feature.

Less exclusive was the balcony area, upholstered in rubber because it was deemed easy to clean. Exactly what needed to be cleaned is best left to the imagination. “Up high in the seats above the stalls, you could disappear into the shadows and get up to whatever,” writes Jones. “Up above the balcony, there was the rubber room, with thick rubber walls that could be easily wiped down after all the powdery activity that went on. There was even something above the rubber room, beyond secretive, up where the gods of the club could engage in their chosen vice high up above the relentless dancers. It was a place of secrets and secretions, the in-crowd and inhalations, sucking and snorting.”

Halston, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Jack Haley Jr. Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage

Musician Edgar Winter sighted on April 21, 1977, at Studio 54 in New York City. Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage

Liza Minnelli and Sterling St. Jacques at Studio 54 circa 1977 in New York City. Photo: Images Press/Getty Images

Bianca Jagger at Studio 54.

Woody Allen and Michael Jackson sit together at Studio 54 April 1977 in New York City. Studio 54 was an icon of the disco era boasting famous celebrities and the best DJs until it’s closing.

Studio 54 is immensely interesting just in terms of a sociological perspective. It peaked just about a decade after the Summer of Love – how far the Baby Boomers had come since their anti-materialist, hippie days! Their trademark hedonism was still intact, but the values (or complete lack thereof) had shifted 180 degrees from Woodstock. “All You Need Is Love” had somehow changed to “All You Need Is Fame and Lots of Money.” The cast was the same – the same generation that had flooded  Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in 1969, now flooded this new discothèque steeped in elitism and shameless materialism. What happened?

When the hippie spiritualism and idealism flat-lined, the neon sign of the mighty Studio 54 shone bright, and all bowed in its decadent glow.

We’ll never know the amount of cocaine that went up nostrils at Studio 54 – suffice it to say, the tonnes of glitter dumped from the ceiling helped conceal the thin layer of wall-to-wall powder. While blue-collar Americans stood in line to never make it past the velvet rope, the popular people snorted and cavorted under big sparkly disco balls. The hippie dream was all but forgotten… and no one enjoyed stomping on its remains more than Steve Rubell….

While his partner, Ian Schrager, took more of a behind-the-scenes role, Rubell basked in the glory of his newfound celebrity status. He had grown up in the shadow of his more popular older brother, but now he was Mr Big, hobnobbing with the biggest names in fashion, entertainment, and art. Rubell was often spotted in gay NYC clubs, but still, for some reason, remained in the closet. Soon, this double lifestyle and intense drug use took its toll.

The first year Studio 54 opened it made $7 million in sales. Rubell bragged about how much they were making and someone from law got curious.

Supposedly, Rubell could be a real idiot to his employees.  Attribute it to his drug use and insane lifestyle if you wish, but whatever the case, it created some disgruntled employees…. one, in particular, would cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

A male waiter went to the IRS and told them about Rubell and Schrager’s shady bookkeeping practices.  Apparently, they had been keeping vast sums of cash in Hefty garbage bags and stowing them in the ceiling.  Turns out, Rubell and Schrager had only paid $8,000 in taxes since they opened, yet they were making more than $75,000 per night!  This was bad news for Rubell and Schrager.  Very bad news.

But Rubell wasn’t going to go down without a fight.  He bargained with the IRS, saying he would reveal a big secret if they’d be lenient. What was the big secret, you ask?  Rubell claimed that President Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, had snorted cocaine in the Studio 54 basement.  The allegations couldn’t be substantiated, but they made life miserable for Jordan.  They brought scandal to the White House and had the FBI knocking on Jordan’s door.

Jordan had been getting dogged by the media well before the Rubell accusation. He was young and prone to rub shoulders with Hollywood celebrities like Warren Beatty.  He’d even been accused of ogling the breasts of Egyptian ambassador’s wife (saying “I have always wanted to see the pyramids”).  After an extensive investigation by the FBI, Jordan admitted to going to Studio 54 (“for about an hour”), but not doing coke. Eventually, the whole matter was dropped for lack of solid evidence- but the damage had been done.  Walter Cronkite has stated that, of all the stories he covered, he regrets reporting on this tawdry scandal the most.

Rubell and Schrager pled guilty and were sentenced to three years in prison.

Studio 54 was over.

Diana Ross, 1980. Diana Ross belting out a tune… One last hoorah! Before the co-owners were hauled off to jail for 13 months for tax evasion, they had one last party in 1980. Diana Ross sang, but it wasn’t the blues. Richard Gere, Andy Warhol, Lorna Luft, David Brenner and Reggie Jackson (complete with a fur coat and cowboy hat) brave the crush. And the more than 2,000 persons who showed up to say goodbye cheered their “heroes” in the wee hours at the going-away party for Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager at Studio 54.

On February 3, 1980, Diana Ross, Andy Warhol, Richard Gere and Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson helped see the Rubell and Schrager off with one final two-day party at the club.

Seldom, if ever, have two convicted felons been given such a send-off. An unsuspecting visitor might’ve thought the dynamic duo were going on a world cruise, instead of to prison. Rubell and Schrager began three ½-year federal stretches for skimming profits and evading taxes.

But at 2 am, nobody was thinking about prison bars. As the throng cheered, Rubell strolled in on the arms of good buddies Liza Minnelli, her husband, Mark Gero, and designer Halston. Then, Diana Ross climbed to the disco booth and sang to Steve and Ian. Rubell was so taken that he joined Diana in a duet.

“I will be happy if you all keep coming to Studio 54 while I am away,” he said. Cheers! “I’ll be happy to read in the papers that you are still supporting the club.” Ovation! “When you’re down, sometimes people desert you. But that hasn’t happened here.” Madness! Liza Minnelli singing “New York, New York” at the farewell party and the doors were closed.

The place really went to pieces when Rubell said drinks were on the house: “I’m opening the bar. I want you all to get drunk and have a good time.” That really happened at Studio 54, and It would the only bar Stevie would be opening for quite some time.

It reopened in the 1980s under new management, but it just wasn’t the same. After serving their sentences, Rubell and Schrager amazingly rebounded and became “respectable” hotel operators – making more money than ever.  Sadly, Rubell died of AIDS in 1989, but Schrager has kept the hotel business thriving to this day.

Rubell had taken an old opera house and made it the world’s centre for glamour and decadence. The club’s manic cocaine-fueled energy could never have been sustained for long – it was destined to go supernova from day one.  But while it lasted, it served as a perfect bookend to the 1970s – a decade that had gone from hippie idealism to a materialistic apocalypse.  When it was all over and the smoke cleared, disco was dead, Reagan was in office, AIDS was epidemic, and the country was a very, very different place.

Looking back, you wonder if the club’s heydey had already passed when it closed. “The tax problems certainly speeded up the demise. But as a society, it was changing into Punk and New Wave right after that. So Studio 54 would have had to change a lot to carry on at the same level of success.”

Bianca Jagger: ‘I did not ride the horse into Studio 54. I just got on it …

The Story Behind That Photo of Bianca Jagger on the Horse at Studio 54

Bianca Jagger Rides into Studio 54 for Her Birthday, 1977 – Forbes

Studio 54: 10 Wild Stories From Club’s Debauched Heyday – Rolling …

Jagger: I Didn’t Ride Studio 54 Horse – Vogue

STUDIO 54 HOLDS AN ALL-NIGHT CLOSING PARTY IN 1980

Fashion Notes – The Washington Post

Daily Style Phile: Disco Sally, The Grandmama Of NYC Nightlife

10 Crazy Things That Happened at Studio 54 | Mental Floss

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/studio-54-10-wild-stories-from-the-clubs-debauched-heyday-w478419

The Opening Night of Studio 54 Was Exactly The Hedonistic Riot You …

STUDIO 54 owner Steve Rubell: Pasha of Disco – MORBID CURIOSITY


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