A Glimpse Into the Glory Days of Studio 54 Through Photos
1. The Auspicious Beginning
Studio 54 wasn’t always a bustling hub of music, fun, and celebrities. In fact, since its opening in 1927, the venue had several different identities. It first began as Gallo Opera House, but that lasted only a couple years.
In 1942, CBS took over the building and made it the home of its radio and television studios. Here, many popular shows were born. If you’ve ever enjoyed an episode of “Captain Kangaroo“ or the game show “Beat the Clock“, you can be thankful for this little building — then named Studio 52 — on 54th Street. It wasn’t until 1977 that two men named Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager got hold of it and transformed it into the exclusive nightclub known as Studio 54.
2. So Who Got In?
Of course, not just anyone got to rub shoulders and dance the night away. The club owners, pictured here, maintained strict standards — and more often than not, Steve Rubell himself stood at the doors, serving as the merciless gatekeeper.
Just what standards did Rubell use to determine if someone was fit to enter the club? Truthfully, they were pretty arbitrary and lacked any tangible criteria. Simply, if he thought you belonged, you belonged. If you boasted the right look, you were in. If you were somebody of note, you were in. If not? Then you’d just have to pursue your night of fun at one of the many other establishments New York City had to offer. The people who did get the Rubell star of approval were those whose names continue to be muttered in reverence — top singers, actors, and celebrities.
3. The Face of the Music Industry
You might immediately recognize Cher in this picture, but who is that other man? As it turns out, this man reigned the music industry with stoic might.
In 1970, David Geffen established Asylum Records and oversaw the budding music careers of such artists as Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and the Eagles. A decade later, he tightened his grip on his empire by founding Geffen Records, under which such musicians as Elton John, Whitesnake and Cher created chart-topping tunes. David Geffen stood at the doors the night Studio 54 opened — and he frequented the club several times over the years.
Most of us celebrate birthdays by going out for drinks with friends. We might even splurge and do something fun like see a movie or go bowling. But birthdays at Studio 54 were in their own league of extravagance.
Rubell knew that you needed more to keep your patrons coming back than an air of prestige. As a result, he and Schrager went to great lengths to make sure their guests felt welcome. This picture features Bianca Jagger celebrating her 30th birthday on the back of a beautiful horse, courtesy of Studio 54. It’s certainly hard to turn up your nose at that level of attention.
5. A Night On the Town for One of America’s Top Comedians
Robin Williams has moved us to tears in “Dead Poets Society” and had us cracking up in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” It turns out the guy was just as fun-loving in his spare time as well.
In this picture, Robin Williams enjoys a night at Studio 54 with his wife Valerie Velardi. Looks like it’s about to be quite the dance!
6. Still Dancing the Night Away
It turns out that you didn’t have to be starry-eyed Hollywood actor or a golden-voiced genius to get into the club and have a good time.
Pictured here is author Truman Capote having the time of his life dancing with a fellow guest. Truman Capote is the author of the chilling nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.
Pictured earlier was Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger’s first wife, Bianca, but Mick was nowhere to be seen in that picture.
Here he is pictured with Jerry Hall, a tall, blonde supermodel, at the club. He and Bianca went separate ways in 1978.
When you’re at a nightclub as elite as Studio 54, it only makes sense that you’d want to capture the moment with fellow stars. And where is a better place to do that than in front of a giant picture of your own smiling face?
Here, Blondie front woman Debbie Harry strikes a pose in front of a poster of herself with fellow partiers Paloma Picasso, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and Jerry Hall.
9. No End to This Party
In 1980, the decade-long party came to screeching halt when Rubell and Schrager were arrested for tax evasion. But that sad news didn’t put an end to the celebration already in progress.
Pictured is singer Diana Ross singing her heart out at the last and perhaps biggest jubilee the nightclub would see in a while. She even dedicated her song to the two men who made the whole thing possible.
10. A Night for Greased Lightning
The infectiously feel-good musical film “Grease” came out in 1978. While audiences looked foward to tapping their toes and humming along in theaters, Olivia Newton-John celebrated at Studio 54.
Pictured is Olivia Newton-John with the film’s producer himself, Allan Carr (right). Even after singing and dancing for the big screen, Newton still had it in her to hit the floor in celebration.
11. Still Dancing On
Even if her marriage to Mick Jagger wasn’t meant to be and endured a slow painful death, Bianca still had her share of fun at Studio 54.
In this picture, she lets her hair down with a fellow patron. Surely Mick was jealous of this chemistry.
12. Arriving in Style
The standards for entry might have been sky-high, but stars like Diana Ross surely could flounce in as though she were entering a dimly lit and undistinguished bar.
In this picture, Ross accompanies actor Richard Gere into Studio 54. Gere frequented the club regularly. This time, he flaunted a glamorous star at his side.
13. Never Too Young?
Surely, a rowdy nightclub is no place for a child. Not for the young Drew Barrymore, though.
In this picture, the actress was just seven years old. Oblivious to the drinking and amorous exchanges happening around her, little Drew danced with patrons that towered several feet above her.
14. Dancing Teen
Drew Barrymore was not the only patron under 18 to enjoy the vibrant Studio 54 culture.
Here, a teenage Brook dances with some serious rhythm and a winning smile. The actress had been attending the nightclub since she’d been 11.
15. Mother and Daughter
Eartha Kitt has been hailed for her powerful voice and arresting stage presence.
She also made a wonderful guest at Studio 54 in 1978. At her side (left) is her beautiful daughter, Kitt McDonald.
Suave with a voice that transfixed listeners, Frank Sinatra managed to make an appearance or two at Studio 54.
Of course, Sinatra was not always a shoe-in. In fact, he had been turned away at the door on one occasion. In this picture, he stands triumphant but serious. The picture was taken in 1978.
17. The Literary Scene at Night
Ever get that dreaded rejection letter from a prestigious literary journal? It could be worse: you could meet the editor face to face at a popular night club.
Pictured is George Plimpton, a former editor of the lauded Paris Review, a “literary Studio 54” of sorts. He seems friendly enough, at least. This particular photo was taken at the Soho Arts Awards After Party.
18. Somewhere Quiet
If you happened to hook up with someone wonderful during a night out at Studio 54, you didn’t have to take them all the way home to your small studio apartment just yet.
The club offered plenty of places to retreat for some alone time. These “secret rooms” were often gaudily decorated, perhaps to give an air of quiet romance when the world around you was in a boisterous storm of drunken dancing bodies.
19. It’s Raining Riches!
What’s a party without some surprises? Even little things like a spontaneous shower of confetti or a sudden parade of balloons can liven a party’s atmosphere.
Of course, the folks down at Studio 54 did not settle for such child’s play. When parties were particularly large and attracted an especially important group of people, Rubell and co. would meticulously set up a net across the ceiling and fill it will all sorts of luxurious goodies.
20. A Good Time
Who knows who will be your drinking buddy when you let loose at a club? Such was the case even at the elite Studio 54, where just about everyone maintained an air of untouchable importance.
Here, we see three affable men hit it off and enjoy a good laugh and some alcohol. From left to right, pictured is Keith Richards, James Brown, and John Belushi.
21. Always a Reason to Celebrate
In 1978, Studio 54 held one of its infamously extravagant celebrations for the release of the movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
Here, comedian and actor George Burns is reveling in the fun with his date.
22. Disco and Dance!
It’s not a dance party without the King of Pop himself there to liven up the mood.
Throw in an acclaimed actor and comedian, and you have a recipe for the perfect night. Pictured are Woody Allen and Michael Jackson enjoying an evening of disco fever at Studio 54.
23. Life of the Party
While there was no official dress code for the club, the unwritten rule was not only to dress to impress but to dress to turn heads.
That certainly was the case with Alice Cooper’s (right) choice of outfit in this picture. Then again, perhaps he’s not looking to draw any more attention to himself than usual, because the style is pretty consistent with what the singer usually wore on stage. He savors the moment and poses with glamorous actress Jean Stapleton. In all honesty, she does not seem totally fazed by Cooper’s getup.
24. Acting Casual
Even the eccentric Alice Cooper can put aside his antics and have a good time with his significant other.
In this picture, the singer chills at the club with his wife, in much more “conventional” clothing. This picture was taken at the “Sgt. Pepper” release party.
25. Meet the Manager
As much as Rubell enjoyed being the gatekeeper for his exclusive club, he could never resist letting down his guard to mingle with his guests.
Here, the club owner exchanges some words with Michael Jackson and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Tyler seems to be preoccupied with something else at the moment, however.
26. A Piece of Cake
Even the Studio 54 birthday parties were not above the simple pleasure of delicious cake.
This particular birthday was none other than actress Elizabeth Taylor’s, who was certainly dressed in her most glamorous birthday outfit. Fashion king Halston helps her indulge on her special day.
27. The Artsy Partnership
At one point, pop artist Andy Warhol and singer Lou Reed made the perfect team.
During Studio 54’s heyday, Lou Reed performed with the band The Velvet Underground, which Warhol happened to oversee. Andy Warhol accompanied Reed to the club, perhaps just to keep an eye on things. Of course, he had a great time himself.
28. The Artist’s Shot
As it turned out, Andy Warhol had an eye for more than Campbell’s soup cans.
In this picture, Warhol captures Canadian actress Margaret Trudeau in a single snapshot. Meanwhile, Trudeau strikes her best poses and flashes her sweetest smile.
29. Rocketing to the Top
Here, Elton John rocks a boyish style with a casual tee and baseball cap. Little would you know that the music legend was celebrating a monumental event in his career.
In 1978, RCA Records granted Elton John a record label. Of course, such great news was worth celebrating at Studio 54. Elton John is pictured with Alana Hamilton and her husband George Hamilton, as well as singer Ron Stewart.
30. Getting His Dance Pants Ready
Although he was never much of a dancer, Elton John knew he could not just sit idle at his own celebration.
In this picture, Elton John adjusts his pants so he can hit the dance floor without any embarrassing mishaps.
31. Feeling the Love
If you think you have just witnessed a romance blossom right before your eyes in this next photo, well, you would be right.
Pictured here are savvy businessman Barry Diller and the beautiful fashionista Diane von Furstenberg. The two would ultimately marry.
32. I Spy a Son of a President
Actors, singers, authors–this club has it all. All it’s missing is a president’s child.
Enter Jack Ford (left), enjoying some drinks with the great Alice Cooper himself.This picture was taken in the year 1978.
33. Girls Night
Here, Elizabeth Taylor (center) makes small talk with Liza Minnelli and Betty Ford.
Surely the first things you notice are their stunning dresses. Those were crafted by Studio 54’s resident fashion expert, Halston.
34. Party and Premiere
Even those unfamiliar with the Studio 54 party scene would drop in from time to time just to socialize and see what it was all about.
Such was the case for director Franco Zeffirelli in 1979, whose film “The Champ” was set to premiere. New York is a giant city with plenty to see, and he couldn’t miss the iconic nightclub. He certainly appears to be having a good time, judging by the look on his face.
35. The Piano Man and his Woman
These lovely guests claim the title for the club’s cutest couple.
In it, pianist Vladimir Horowitz dances the night away with his dear wife Wanda. The picture was taken in 1978 on Mr. Horowitz’s birthday: October 2.
In 1977, the Motown sensation group The Temptations signed a deal with Atlantic Records.
In usual Studio 54 fashion, there was a grand celebration for the passionate singers. Here, singer Bette Midler greets them, joyous and starry-eyed.
37. Happy Dance
You may not need drugs to have fun, but a known psychedelics expert might prove useful.
In this picture, LSD research pioneer Dr. Timothy Leary shows off his dance moves at the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” premiere after party in 1978.
Studio 54 hosted a president’s son. Now it was time for a daughter to arrive on the scene.
Here, Caroline Kennedy showed up with her date Tom Carney. Not sure what that look on Carney’s face means, but Caroline’s mind seems to be on something else entirely. Cake, perhaps?
39. The Donald Hits the Club
When Studio 54 first opened, plenty of people clamored to get through those doors.
Of course, the competition was fierce. Among the grand opening attendees was Donald Trump. Years later, he recounted the events that occurred at the nightclub and said they were one of a kind and memorable, very unlikely to “ever happen again.”
40. A Friendly Fight
Franco Rossellini oversaw the production of the controversial 1979 historical film “Caligula”. Little did he know that he would be part of a great cake battle at Studio 54.
In this picture, Rubell and Rossellini throw globs of cake at one another, as they grin like children and bask in their icing-covered clothing. The crowd looks on, both fully engaged and thoroughly confused.
41. Bringing in the Horses Once More
What was it with Studio 54 and horses? Who knows. But surely there is some appeal in being able to say that you stood face to face with a 1,000-pound animal inside a building that was not a barn.
On night after a particularly exhilarating concert, singer Dolly Parton headed to the club to throw an after-party. But instead of just throwing back a couple beers and making small talk, she decided to bring in not just a horse, but hay bales as well. She even befriended the horse.
42. Simon Says Party
In 1978, MiltonBradley came out with Simon, an interactive game that tested players’ memory via lights and sounds. Who better to test the product on than a bunch of elite partiers?
The launch party was complete with a model of the game sprawled across the dance floor.
43. Hope is the Thing with Feathers
You already read about Bianca Jagger’s ceremonious birthday horseback ride. This celebration was a bit more scaled-back than that.
In 1977, Studio 54 threw a party for Bianca. Here she can be seen dressed up and posing with a pair of beautiful doves. They may not be able to provide rides, but they are peaceful to look at. Hopefully they weren’t too spooked by the hubbub of the club.
44. Too Much Fun
The hardest partiers run out of steam after a while, even at the most exclusive of clubs.
Pictured here is a very exhausted Truman Capote. He sleeps through the chattering of Gloria Swanson (right) and Kate Harrington (left).
45. The Suspense
Not everyone gets the chance to watch themselves on the big screen. What’s more, not everyone is lucky enough to see themselves on the big screen and to be surrounded by many people whose livelihoods depend upon their screen presence.
In this picture, Ali MacGraw attends the premiere of her film “The Players.” Her then-husband Robert Husband keeps close.
46. Princess Leia
Before there was a Star Wars legacy, there was a very expressive Carrie Fisher who perhaps took the excitement of game one step at a time.
Here, Fisher stands next to David Geffen with a pensive look on her face. What she’s thinking about is anyone’s guess. Maybe she was wondering what’s in store for her next, career-wise. Maybe she wants to leave. Maybe she was contemplating what she should have for breakfast tomorrow. The possibilities are endless.
47. No Hope?
Here is another picture of Bianca Jagger holding two beautiful doves. While the birds may signify hope and peace, Bianca has lamented that Studio 54 was often anything but.
In fact,in one interview, she stated that she “wished it never existed.” Fair enough. She was weathering a rocky marriage with a rockstar at the time. Even the most wonderful moments would sour quickly.
48. The Uncertain Ending
Indeed, not everything was good time and laughter at Studio 54. Below the surface lurked a dormant conflict waiting to erupt from below unsuspecting clubbers’ feet.
That day came in 1980, when Rubell and Schrager were busted for tax invasion. Pictured is the place gutted of its music and swarming with police and confused tourists and patrons.
49. The Regret
“Hindsight is 20/20,” as the saying goes. Rubell boasted in an interview that “only the Mafia made more money” than his club.
He also went on to say that business probably would have continued as normal had things been kept more quiet. In any case, the final party was thrown as the nightclub duo headed to jail.
50. The Anticipated Reopening
Just a year later, Studio 54 opened its doors once more, now under the management of Mark Fleischman.
Eager patrons and curious onlookers alike stood outside the long-silent club, awaiting it to fill with music and light once more. Among those on the exclusive guest list were Brooke Shields, Cary Grant, and Andy Warhol.
51. The Usual Crazy
Of course, with the same level of prestige came the same level of extravagance.
This picture features the “cigarette girl” who sold goods to the excited patrons.
52. New Name, New Identity
In 1988, Studio 54 gave up its lofty name.
From then until 1994, the building was called The Ritz and primarily hosted concerts.
53. Adapting to Theater
Even The Ritz was short-lived. In 1994, the building underwent new management once more and became Roundabout Theatre.
The building received an entire makeover. Its reopening was, again, highly anticipated. Such major acts as Sister Sledge and Gloria Gaynor performed at the grand reopening. Alas, the venue once again faded into irrelevance.
54. What’s In a Name?
Today, the building more formally goes by the name Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54.
Pictured above is Studio 54 in its current state. True, no longer is it a prestigious nightclub where the cream of the crop congregate, but the building has been put to good use. In its basement sits a thriving restaurant called Feinstein’s/54 Below. What’s more, the venue has regained its luminous name, Studio 54. And its legacy continues to beam about it amid the blur and bustle of New York.
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