Once New York City’s Studio 54 opened its doors back in 1977 it quickly became one of the most talked-about and exclusive night clubs around. And although it was only open for 33 months and has since been adapted into a theater, Studio 54 has remained an iconic part of the big city’s history. Throughout the 70s and early 80s, it was the hottest spot for people to let loose and be themselves.
Many celebrities became regulars of the scene and could be spotted amongst the sea of dancers and party-goers. And the debauchery that went on behind the club doors was no secret either. Guests were happy to flaunt their risque outfits and scandalous habits and they weren’t shying from the cameras. The moments captured in these photos take us all the way back to the dance floor and show us just how Studio 54 earned its legendary status.
Not Just for Celebrities
Although Studio 54 was known for welcoming some of Hollywood’s biggest and baddest in the business, that doesn’t mean the club was only for celebrities. On the contrary, the nightclub welcomed people from all walks of life, as long as they had their own share of eccentricity to put on the table.
Studio 54 was extremely exclusive which meant to get in, you had to stand out. People wore all types of outlandish outfits in order to catch the bouncer’s eye and be granted entry amongst the hundreds waiting in line. This was the perfect place for people from all over the city to be themselves and fully express their real styles.
The Club Inspired a Hit Song
Fashion icon, Grace Jones in 1979 strutting through the club in a bright and colorful ensemble fit for a star. In a 2018 interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jones retold a fascinating antic from way back in 1977 on Studio 54’s opening night.
She spoke about how hard it was to even enter the club and that despite the winter cold outside, people were still lining up to get in. Musician Nile Rodgers unfortunately was one of the many who did not manage to get in. He was so upset about it that apparently he went home and he wrote a song that went “ahhh f-off.” The lyric was later changed to “ahh freak out” and the song titled, Le Freak became one of his number one songs.
Where Michael Came to Escape
In an interview that took place in co-owner Steve Rubell’s office, a young Michael Jackson had nothing but nice things to say about the club. When asked why he frequented Studio 54 Michael replied “I like the atmosphere. I’ve been to a lot of discothèques and I don’t like them.” He talked about the excitement of the balcony and the props that often cascaded down to the dance floor.
With Rubell himself chiming in, Jackosn then went on to explain how Studio 54 is where people come when they want to escape.”When you dance here it’s just free. You can dance with whoever you want to. You just go wild…You walk around and you see all kinds of things. like Darth Vader was here the other night. It was incredible… You pay $2 and you’re on another planet. You’re not in reality anymore.”
A Mix of People All In One Place
A Studio 54 guest is captured having the time of her life on the dance floor. Although getting into the club was a challenge, especially as a non-celebrity, that doesn’t mean that the parties weren’t open to people coming from all corners of the city.
As singer Grace Jones put it, “There were the beautiful people, the poseurs, the fantasists…It was about the mix of people, all in one place.” Rubell says that he opened the club as a way to give people a place where they can leave all their worries at the door. “Whatever hassle they have all day, they can forget about them and they can come here and just be yourself and just dance,” He described.
At Studio 54, Everybody Was a Star
British icon David Bowie walks into the club alongside Dutch dancer and singer, Romy Haag in 1977. Bowie was one of the regulars to frequent Studio 54. As put by renowned photographer Dutin Pittman, who was often seen documenting the scene, “At Studio 54 everybody was a star. The unallowed were allowed. People left their inhibitions at the door and could just be who they were.”
This is definitely a notion that the free-spirited David Bowie could get behind. Haag, seen here dressed in a satin pink ensemble, would eventually come to own her own cabaret called Chez Romy Haag in Berlin. This was another popular venue that would bring celebs such as Tina Turner, Grace Jones, and Mick Jagger. All of which were also big fans of Studio 54.
Liza The Red Menace
Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol sit side by side in what appears to be an impromptu concert. Either that or this is one karaoke night that we are sad that we missed. As you can see, Studio 54 brought stars across all genres together and some pretty inseparable bonds were formed. These three were regulars of the club and were often captured partying amongst fellow stars.
Ever since she made the move to the Big Apple in 1961, at the age of 15, New York City was been a huge part of Liza Minelli’s identity. Some of her career-defining performances were on New York stages both on Broadway and otherwise. Seeing how she began her career as a nightclub singer, it’s no wonder she didn’t turn down the chance to pick up the microphone at Studio 54.
People Tried to Sneak In Via the Subway
There’s no question about it. Everyone wanted the chance to party at Studio 54. So much so that people even started selling maps that claimed how you could sneak in through tunnels connected to the subway station. Because truth be told, there was no secret formula to how you could get through those doors. Every night the doorman was looking for something new.
Reporter Anthony Haden-Guest said it all depended on what Steve Rubell was looking for on that 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.” He reported.
Grace Jones The Disco Queen
Legendary Jamaican performer Grace Jones is never one to shy away from the dance floor, especially not at Studio 54. Here she is busting a move in 1978 wearing a unique and ever so stylish blue ensemble that we are pretty sure only the likes of Ms. Jones could pull off.
Born in Jamaica, Jones moved to New York when she was only 13 and began pursuing her modeling career as soon as she entered her adult years. After gaining recognition she later turned to music and acting. Grace Jones became a star of the disco scene and always turned up to Studio 54 wearing outrageous garments, makeup, and headpieces.
There Was No Age Requirement
Actress Brooke Shields is another celeb that became a part of the regular Studio 54 crowd. In fact, Shields basically grew up at the infamous nightclub. She was a very young child actress when Studio 54’s doors first opened. She had just begun her career in her early teenage years and by the age of 16, she was a well-known star.
You would assume with what went down at Studio 54, children of that age would be turned away at the door. But it seems rules did not really apply. Young stars such as Shields and Drew Barrymore were known for showing up and partying with the adults. Here is Shields in the mid-’80s sharing a laugh among a sea party-goers with Wham! frontman George Michael.
Halloween Was a Huge Deal
as you might imagine, Studio 54 took Halloween very seriously. Although people permitted into the club on any given night were encouraged to show up dressed up in costume, Halloween was when Studio 54 attendees took their looks to whole other levels.
One Halloween, two women even turned up to the entrance on horseback and were completely nude, “dressed up” as two Lady Godivas. They were most probably trying to copy cat Bianca Jagger’s infamous birthday photo. Sadly the two horseback riders were not allowed in, however, their horse did make it passed the velvet ropes.
Always a Mix of Familiar Faces
The late Robin Williams sits for a drink with his then-wife, Valerie Velardi, and artist Andy Warhol circa 1979. At the time, Williams was known for his role as Mork on the ABC sitcom Mork & Mindy, which was a spin-off inspired by Williams’s guest appearance in the series Happy Days.
This was the role that skyrocketed the comedian into superstardom and what brought him to the Studio 54 scene, sitting among some of entertainment’s best in the business. Williams and Velardi made several appearances at the famed night-club, however the couple divorced not long after in 1988.
Cher Loved to Lock Lips on the Dance Floor
Cher, the Goddess of Pop was often seen dancing and having the time of her life at Studio 54. She was known for getting a little frisky with her fellow stars and was often seen locking lips on the dancefloor. Her glamorous style and one of a kind outfits also became expected of the star.
Originally from California, Cher moved to New York in 1982, at the age of 36. She was a single mother with two children at the time but this did not stop her from embracing her wild side with open arms. She was also taking a hiatus from her musical career and focusing on achieving her breakthrough in film.
Bianca Jagger the Trendsetter
Bianca Jagger pictured holding a white dove alongside Liza Minelli at a party thrown by fashion designer Halston in 1977. The Nicaraguan actress and former wife to Mick Jagger was known for being the fashion trendsetter of the Studio 54 scene. She never failed to turn up in a show-stopping ensemble that would make everyone stop and turn.
Here she is wearing a dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. And while the husband and wife fashion designers are now world-famous, back in the late 70s they were still fresh and unknown. Today they are most recognized for designing Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
It Was Like Being in the Wizard of Oz
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis is seen hitting the town with her mother, fellow actress Janet Leigh. The two were photographed sauntering into Studio 54 wearing matching striped outfits. They both looked fit to take in some sun at the beach with their big hats, sunglasses, and what appears to be one-piece swimsuits.
When it came to Studio 54, it was more than just a night out, co-owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager turned every night into a complete production with the best music, the best DJs and a unique experience. As photographer Dustin Pittman put it, “When you walked through Studio 54 it was almost like being in the Wizard of Oz that was the magic of it. It was magical! “
Every Party Had a Unique Theme
Long time friends, Olivia Newton-John and Elton John visit Studio 54 in July 1978 for an event celebrating the release of Newton-John’s new film, Grease. The film, as we now know, would soon become one of her career highlights. She was 30 years old at the time.
For the event, owner of Studio 54, Steve Rubell decided to decorate the interior of the club to recreate the movie’s retro set.“You walked in and the hallway was nothing but lockers, high school lockers on both sides,” recalled Grease‘s producer, Allan Carr. There was no question about it, Rubell knew how to throw a party.
Famous Couples Loved to Show Their Faces
Barbra Streisand and her boyfriend, producer, and hairdresser Jon Peters enter Studio 54 circa 1977 looking as though they are ready to sit down for a relaxing date night. Considering where they decided to spend the evening, we doubt that was the case.
Streisand and Peters began dating in 1974 after he designed a short wig for her to wear in the comedy For Pete’s Sake. They broke up in 1983 but remained great friends. Streisand was born and raised in New York and her career began with her doing nightclub shows in the city. So it’s no wonder she decided to pay New York’s most talked-about night club a visit with her beau.
Bianca Jagger’s Birthday Party
In the early days of Studio 54, designer Roy Halston reached out to the club owners asking if he could throw a birthday party for Bianca Jagger. And as always, Studio 54 not only obliged, they went all out. The guest list included about 150 of her elite friends and the club was filled with white balloons to honor the actress. The highlight of the night occurred around midnight.
A white steed was brought out, led by a nude couple that were covered head to toe in glitter and paint. Jagger took a seat on the horse and it trotted across the dance floor. This was not only a night to remember for Jagger and her guests, the photos of her on top of the horse went viral before viral was even a thing. The photo made headlines around the world, and that was all the publicity Studio 54 needed to become the best night club in the city.
Democracy On The Dance Floor
Pictured here are actress Susan Anton, actor Sylvester Stallone and artist Andy Warhol in 1979. We are pretty sure that this group of people partying together probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else except for at Studio 54. And although this type of star power became a norm for the club, that did not mean that it was easy for even the biggest celebrities to get in.
Whether you got in or not all depended on the vibe that co-owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were trying to achieve that night and who would best fit it. But once you got in, chances are you were going to have the best night of your life. As Warhol famously put it, “The key to the success of Studio 54 is that it’s a dictatorship at the door and a democracy on the dance floor.”
People Bought Coats in Hopes pf Getting In
Steve Rubell and New York nightlife legend, Carmen d’Alessio pictured together in 1977 wearing matching Norma Kamali coats. Kamali is a fashion designer best known for her design coined the “sleeping bag” coat. As the name reads, the coats were made from silk parachutes, similar to a sleeping bag.
Apparently Studio 54 doorman Marc Benecke, as well as co-owner of the club Steve Rubbel, were big fans of these coats. Kamili even recalled saying, “The doorman and Steve wore my sleeping-bag coats. They were made from actual sleeping bags, lined in flannel with ducks and geese and wildlife patterns. People noticed the coat on Marc and would buy one in the hopes of getting in.”
Midwest Boy in New York
Old Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor celebrates her birthday with fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, known simply as Halston. Halson is known to have redefined women’s fashion in the 70s. He initially rose to fame after designing the pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy wore to President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
As a Midwest boy that grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston was enthralled by the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood elite, and naturally, after gaining fame, he embraced it head-on. He was often seen partying at Studio 54 side by side with close friends like Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol.
A Place to Be Yourself
Studio 54 was a place free of stigma. Once you managed to get through the doors, this was where you were free to unapologetically be yourself. Guests were encouraged to explore their own fashion choices, meet people outside their social circles, and freely express their sexuality.
This had a lot to do with the political rhetoric of the late 70s and the ongoing shift of what it meant to be a minority in America. As journalist Anthony Haden-Guest put it, “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.”
Brooke Shields Was Only 13
A young Brooke Shields walks arm in arm with Blondie frontwoman, Debbie Harry. The year was 1978 and Shields was only 13 at the time. However, that didn’t keep her from partying into the night at Studio 54, at hours way past a regular 13-year-old’s bedtime we might add.
Her nightlife habits were not the only thing that set her apart from her age group. This was only a year before Shields would become the youngest fashion model to grace the cover of Vogue. She also had a controversial start to her career, after starring as a 12-year-old prostitute in the film Pretty Baby.
Williams Spent Most of His Time at the DJ Booth
Robin Williams would often attend Studio 54 either joining fellow celebrities or accompanied by his wife at the time Valerie Velardi. Mark Fleischman who briefly reopened the club in the 80s, wrote about Williams in his memoir Inside Studio 54.
Fleischman wrote that Williams would spend most of his time in the club at the DJ booth “fascinated” by what he saw on the dance floor. He also wrote that Williams would often join him as late as 5 am to look for a party in some of the more seedy parts of New York.
Welcoming Royal Guests
When we said people from all walks of life would enter Studio 54, we were not kidding. Pictured here is former German princess, Diane von Fürstenberg. The Belgian fashion designer, known for designing the “wrap dress” rose to royal status after marrying Prince Egon von House of Fürstenberg.
Although they divorced in 1983, she kept his family name. Diane first paid the infamous club a visit in 1978 for the release party of her husband’s book The Power Look. After that, she was hooked. She visited Studio 54 on numerous occasions following.
Diana Ross Was Always a Good Time
Yet another legend who became a regular of the Studio 54 scene was singer Diana Ross. Ross was the lead singer of the Motown group The Supremes and after departing the group in the 70s went on to have a dynamite solo career.
In all the photos of Ross at the nightclub, there is one commonality. She always seems to be having the time of her life with an ear to ear smile and dancing like nobody’s watching. She remained a dedicated regular up until the club was eventually forced to close its doors.
The Club Was Closed Due to Tax Evasion
Despite Studio 54’s incredible popularity, it only remained open as a nightclub between 1977 to 1980 and again from 1981 to 1986. The owners of nightclub’s first era, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were forced to close after they were charged for tax evasion and for skimming nearly $3 million in unreported earnings.
Prior to this, the club had made $7 million it its first year alone. Rubell was quoted saying that only the Mafia made more money than his club. This, for obvious reasons, caught the attention of the IRS. When police raided the bar, they reportedly found cash and receipts hidden in the ceiling of Rubell’s office. Both owners were sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Birthday Celebration
To celebrate Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday, her good friend, fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick threw her a huge birthday celebration at Studio 54. And as you might have guessed, he went all out. In order to celebrate in style, Halston invited The Radio City Rockettes to attend the party.
He also wheeled out a cake in the shape of Taylor, aka “the queen of diamonds.” The first slice of cake was dramatically cut out of the cake’s chest and fed to Taylor by Halston. After that the pair reportedly danced into the night with fellow party goers.
Date Night With The Jaggers
Designer Halston sits next to Bianca and Mick Jagger at Studio 54. Many famous couples would head to the decadent nightclub together and party side by side. Prior to their split, Mick and Bianca Jagger would regulary turn up for a night out together. Which makes sense considering they first met at a party after a Rolling Stones concert in 1970.
By 1971 they were married and had a daughter named Jade. However just seven years later, in 1978, Bianca filed for divorce after learning about her husband’s affair with actress Jerry Hall. The split didn’t keep Mick from frequenting Studio 54. He would later return with his girlfriend Jerry Hall, who he married unofficially in 1990.
Rubell and Schrager Had One Last Party Before Going to Jail
After both Rubell and Schrager pleaded guilty to two counts of corporate and personal income tax evasion, they were sentenced to the maximum penalty of three and a half years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Just before they were due to serve their time, the co-owners decided to throw one last party which they themed “The End of Modern-Day Gomorrah.”
2,000 of Studio 54’s most faithful guests were in attendance and as you would imagine, the night was an emotional affair. Diana Ross stood on the DJ booth and serenaded the crowd and Liza Minelli sang her song “New York, New York.” Even Rubell performed his own rendition of the song “My Way.” After which he gave a heartfelt speech saying “I love you people! I don’t know what I’m going to do without Studio!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Pat Cleveland Was The Queen of The Scene
Through the late 70s supermodel Pat Cleveland, who was one of the first African-American models to achieve success both on the runway and in print, quickly became a fixture of Studio 54’s exclusive scene. She frequented the discothèque with other star-studded regulars such as Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, and Andy Warhol. When talking about her time spent at Studio 54 Cleveland said “It was about blending people together in the spirit of fun.”
“They’d raise the curtain and combine everyone on one level at a certain hour – the wannabes and the elite of society.” She also said that one of the highlights of that era was when she sang “Happy Birthday” to Steve Rubell with Stevie Wonder. She recalled saying “Sting and the gang were all there and it was like ‘Oh My Gawd Music!” Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor – we’re all just hugging, dancing, swirling, and having fun.”
Cher Radiating on the Dance Floor
Cher, the Goddess of Pop seen dancing up a storm on the Studio 54 dance floor in 1977. This was the place where Hollywood royalty and non-famous attendees would party side by side, that is if you were fortunate enough to be allowed entry. The moment you were in, however, you were definitely in for a treat.
Reporter Anthony Haden-Guest recalls that very moment saying, “Beyond the velvet rope was what I used to call 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.”
Fawcett Flaunting Her Flawless Locks
Actress Farrah Fawcett dances with her father James William Fawcett on the Studio 54 dance floor back in the Winter of 1978. It was a snowy night and Fawcett, wearing a gorgeous shoulder drop playsuit, had to be carried into the club by bodyguards.
Doorman Mark Benecke recalls the moment she arrived saying, “I remember very vividly when Farrah Fawcett first came to the club. A white limo pulled up and she got out with this white-blond hair and wearing all white. I remember it was snowing. It was this total Hollywood cinematic vision come to life.”
They Turned the Club Into a Farm for Dolly
Studio 54 was known for pulling all the stops for every special occasion. One of the most memorable was in May, 1978 when Dolly Parton was visiting the city. Rubell and his team decided to create a rural farm setting to properly welcome the country star. “They had haystacks and horses and donkeys and mules running through the club,” recalled journalist Michael Musto who was in attendance.
The club was filled with wine barrels filled with corn, piles of hay, a farm wagon, a chicken pen, and more. However, Dolly did not react as positively as the hosts would have hoped. Party designer Renny Reynolds spoke about it saying, “Dolly came and was completely freaked out at the number of people there. She had not had a Studio 54 experience. She was real 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.”
A Grease Themed Soiree
In July 1978, Rubell and his team were tasked with hosting the release party for the film Grease. For the party, they transformed the club into the Grease set. They lined the hallway with high school lockers and brought in six big-finned classic convertibles. Party designer, Renny Reynolds, recalled saying “Nobody wanted to rent a car to Studio 54. So I found this little auto museum down somewhere in New Jersey.”
However, since the cars were not drained of gasoline, the fire marshal stepped in just minutes before they were set to open. Each vehicle had to be taken outside so that they could empty the tanks. Other than that, the party was a hit. “There was a 1950 Chevy convertible that got a bit trashed because people climbed in and burned the seats,” says Reynolds. “So we ended up having to pay for new seats. But the party was wild.”
Andy Warhol Was Studio 54’s Biggest Fan
Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Brooke Shields, and Steve Rubell pose for a photo while having drinks together at Studio 54. Artist Andy Warhol, who was the leading figure in the modern pop art movement, was a huge fan of the exclusive night club. And the feeling was mutual.
This could be due to the fact that he would often turn up with an entourage of gorgeous women. For Warhol’s 50th birthday celebration. Rubell gifted the artist with a rather peculiar present. He gave him a silver garbage can that was filled with around $1000 worth of $1 bills. Looks like his loyalty to the place really paid off, literally.
Keith Richards Found The Love of His Life at Studio 54
Now here’s an interesting trifecta that we never would have expected to see. Keith Richards, James Brown, and John Belushi appear to be having a crazy good time as they pose for a photo amidst the antics that surely went down that night. Rolling Stones member and rock n’ roll legend Keith Richards, actually had a life-changing moment while partying up at Studio 54.
It was at the infamous nightclub in 1979 that he met his wife supermodel Patti Hansen. Richards recalled the encounter saying “The moment I saw Patti, we looked at each other, and I said, ‘Hello, something’s happening to me.'” That line must have worked wonders because they got married a few years later and are still going strong today.
Where The Stars Loved to Celebrate Their Birthdays
Hollywood icon Shirley MacLaine and Congresswoman Bella Abzug take in the view at Abzug’s 57th birthday party. Abzug, nicknamed “Battling Bella” was a lawyer, social activist, and an influential member of the U.S House of Representatives. She is also remembered for her role as a strong leader of the Women’s Movement.
Other than her political career she also gained quite a reputation in pop culture. She appeared in several shows and movies, including Woody Allen’s Manhattan and an episode of Saturday Night Live. Clearly she managed to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s elite. MacLaine even mentions Abzug in her autobiographical book Out on a Limb.
Not In The White House Anymore
Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Roy Halston, and former First Lady Betty Ford all looking stunning in their glamorous ensembles at Studio 54 in 1979. All three of the sequined outfits worn by these iconic women were designed by Halston himself. After all that we learned about Studio 54, we never thought we would see the likes of a former First Lady in attendance.
In fact, Ford was living in the White House just two years prior to this photo. Betty Ford actually was a firm advocate for the feminist movement and was known to raise awareness of addiction. This came after she herself announced her long-running battle with substance abuse and alcoholism.
New Year’s Eve Winter Wonderland
Diana Ross and Steve Rubell attend the Studio 54 New Year’s Eve party in New York on December 31, 1978. This was one of the last parties at the nightclub before co-owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager got arrested for tax evasion. As you can imagine, New Year’s was another excuse for them to go big and pull all the stops.
Party designer Renny Reynolds turned the club into a winter wonderland for the occasion. “We created walls of ice for the entire main room. We backlit the ice with a black light that read as glowing blue. We had a couple of feet of artificial snow for depth. When I first walked in, the walls looked kind of frosted, but they became much more beautiful as the outer layers melted.”
Woody Allen Shows Up With an Agenda
Filmmaker Woody Allen sits next to the king of pop, Michael Jackson. He’s holding what appears to be a sign promoting Carter Burden for New York City Council President, who served from 1970 to 1977. Allen never ceases to surprise us. We never would have imagined him hitting up this scene.
Especially not wearing such a casual flannel and collared shirt. Schrager and Rubell must have been big fans of the writer, director, and actor since they were willing to overlook their regular glamour dress code. This must have been soon after the release of his award-winning film, Annie Hall, which has gone down in history as one of the greatest films in American cinema.
The Stewarts Were Party Animals
British musician Rod Stewart and his former wife actress Alana Hamilton strike a post with Cher during a night out at Studio 54. Rumour has it that when this couple would turn up, you knew the party that night was going to be wild.
After all, Stewart was one of the biggest rock stars of his time so we wouldn’t expect anything less but a crazy wild time from him and his actress belle. Back then all the biggest celebrities would come to Studio 54 to schmooze with one another. Photographer Ron Galella recalled his experience saying “The atmosphere was like a Hollywood set. The guests were the actors. They were performing.”
The Rise of Mainstream Disco
Stevie Wonder jams with Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as well as singers Stephanie Mills and Teddy Pendergrass. This group of music gods and goddesses are celebrating New York secretary, Mary Ann Cummings on her birthday at Studio 54.
Studio 54 came about at the perfect time, when, as writer Bob Colacello put it, “the baby boomers stopped protesting and started dancing.” It was when disco, which was born in African-American clubs and had migrated to gay clubs had finally taken over the mainstream scene. It was also a time when New York was at an economic low point. People were desperate for a place that could provide them the escapism that Studio 54 offered.
It Was Often a Family Affair
Actresses Blythe Danner and her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, dressed in printed frocks, attend a benefit for the Williamstown Theatre Festival at Studio 54 in 1985. Paltrow was only 13 at the time. She would make her acting debut just four years later with the 1989 film High, which was directed by her father.
Paltrow actually made her professional stage debut at the Williamstown Theater in 1990. Her mother also spent much of her career on the Williamstown stage. The benefit they are attending in the photo took place just a few years after Studio 54’s new owner, Mark Fleischman reopened the club and temporarily brought it back to its original glory.
Icons Kept Coming Back for More
Steve Rubell, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, and Cherie Currie of the Runaways photographed at Studio 54 in 1977. This was the same year that the club first opened. And It didn’t take long for Studio 54 to become the hottest spot in town.
Desiginer Norma Kamali credits co-owner Ian Schrager’s attention to detail as one of the keys to its success. “He understood right away that the experience was going to be everything and that everyone was going to come back for a different experience and he would make each one different every time. To him, the details were everything.”
Where Everyone and Anyone Could Unwind
Actress Lorna Luft, model Jerry Hall, artist Andy Warhol, musician Debbie Harry, novelist Truman Capote and fashion designer Paloma Picasso stand side by side at Studio 54 in 1979. Where today could you see so many powerful people across such a huge array of medians all winding down and enjoying life together? We just aren’t sure a place like this is possible these days.
Matt Tyrnauer, the maker of the 2018 film Studio 54 talks about how the club became so iconic, so fast. He said, “Studio 54 symbolizes a lost period of freedom that will never be attainable again…The period between the advent of the birth-control pill and the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. it symbolizes a certain innocence and freedom that had been attained but was brutally taken away.”
Where Everyone Is a Star
Liza Minnelli and Mikhail Baryshnikov on the Studio 54 dance floor in 1977. One of the great things about Studio 54 is that everyone was mixed. Whether you were a big name celebrity or not, the whole crowd was celebrating together. They did have certain sections roped off but most people would roam around. So people like Liza Minelli could dance with whoever she wants.
And they really pulled all the stops to make every night a glitter-infused night to remember. “That’s why people came back, the whole pack,” said photographer Dustin Pittman who was there to see it for himself. “Halston, Calvin, Karl Lagerfeld, Liza Minelli, Bianca, Peter Beard, Margaux Hemingway – they were all there again and again. They felt welcome, and they felt comfortable – that’s a moment we can never get back.”
A Time Before Social Media
Hollywood stars John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone photographed leaving Studio 54 circa 1983. Although this photo resembles one we might find today on the cover of TMZ, in reality, it was a different time back then and celebrities did not have to worry so much about the tabloids or how they appear online. This was one of the reasons the concept of Studio 54 and the escapism it strived to provide was so successful.
As photographer Dustin Pittman put it, “There’s been many, many attempts to recreate the 70s and Studio 54 and they’ve been great attempts. But first of all, you know, there was no social networking or iPhones so I mean all that stuff removed, it was a different time. It’s a whole different feel. It’s a different vibe, you’re able to get closer. I mean you could wrap your arms around people!”
Fischer at Studio 54 Through the Years
Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Reynolds attend an opening night party for Women of The Year in 1983. Star Wars had first released in 1977, the same year that Studio 54 first opened its doors. Fischer was just entering the world of superstardom and would on occasion be seen at Studio 54.
And no, she did not always bring her mom, who was a star in her own right ever since her breakthrough in the early 1950s. In her later years, in 2009, Fisher actually returned to Studio 54, which had already been transformed into a theater, to perform her one-woman play Wishful Drinking.
Jagger and Richards Were the Only Members That Were Comped
Mick Jagger and his second wife Jerry Hall, whom he began dating when still married to Bianca Jagger in 1977. This eventually led to the divorce of Mick and Bianca the following year. That did not keep the Rolling Stones frontman from turning up with Ms. Hall to Studio 54, a place where his ex-wife was considered royalty.
Mick always arrived to Studio 54 dressed in dapper linen suits. Jagger was one of Studio 54’s guests that was always let in, free of charge. In fact, when he would turn up with the rest of the members of The Rolling Stones, himself and Keith Richards were the only ones that were comped. The rest of the group still had to pay.
Just Getting in Meant You Were Interesting
Here we see the iconic drag queen ‘Divine,’ with German artist Karl Lagerfeld and fashion designer Zandra Rhodes at Studio 54 in the late 70s. One of the secrets to Studio 54 was that no matter who you were, once you were in, you could leave all your inhibitions behind you.
As world-famous party planner Bronson van Wyck puts it, “The founders of Studio 54, created a heady mix of glamour and grit, mixing celebrity and society with glittering drag queens and downtown artists, where just getting in the door meant you were interesting.”
Elton John’s Shortlived Disco Phase
Elton John was another regular at Studio 54. His eclectic style and notoriously loud outfits made him a perfect fit for the glamorous, anything goes scene that Studio 54 prided itself on. In October 1979 (pictured right) the club even had a party in Elton’s honor.
This was right after he released his disco album titled Victim of Love. We imagine that Studio 54 had a big part in inspiring the making of this album as the songs varied quite significantly than his regular style. It was also the first album that he recorded without any of his original band members. His disco phase did not last long however as the album did not receive much critical phrase.