Published 7:30 PM EDT Oct 1, 2018
The debauchery lasted 33 memorable months.
When Studio 54 opened its doors in Manhattan on April 26 1977, co-founders Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager's discotheque became the glitter-filled center of the party universe, with Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol stepping beyond the velvet rope as club regulars.
Director Matt Tyrnauer starts the party again, revisiting Schrager and memories of Rubell, who died in 1989, with the documentary "Studio 54" (in theaters Oct. 5 in New York, Oct. 12 in Los Angeles; rolling out to other cities through November).
Schrager 72, remembers some of the wildest nights with one caveat: "The craziest night ever was every night at Studio 54. It was mayhem every night."
Donald Trump got in on opening night, but Frank Sinatra didn't
The proprietors could feel the drumbeat of interest in their new club, situated on a onetime CBS Studio soundstage, long before opening night. But neither expected thousands of people, who bottled traffic on 54th Street in hopes of getting in. Donald Trump ("He was very quiet and never danced," Schrager says) and his then-wife Ivana, Brooke Shields and Cher were there.
"Frank Sinatra never made it. He was stuck in his limo. There were thousands of people and we were not prepared for it," Schrager says. "It was complete pandemonium."
The velvet rope was set out for the first time to control the crowds.
That time Bianca Jagger rode a horse across the dance floor
Supermodel Bianca Jagger (married to Mick at the time) threw her 32nd birthday party on a Monday, when the club was normally closed. There were so many celebrities in the room, from Jacqueline Bisset to Mikhail Baryshnikov, "it was just numbing," Schrager says.
But the capper was the birthday cake moment, heralded by a Lady Godiva-esque naked woman with long blond hair, who rode in on a white horse led by a nude man. ("Clothes" were body-painted on both.)
"It was completely spontaneous, but Bianca jumped on top of the horse," Schrager says. The image of Jagger crossing the dance floor on horseback was captured by photographers and became an enduring Studio 54 image.
A (real) black panther attended one party
The livestock didn't end there. In an effort to outrageously entertain, the club brought in hundreds of white doves, an elephant and (for a party thrown for Dolly Parton) horses, donkeys and chickens.
Schrager says he still shakes his head at the recollection of one 1977 party that featured a black panther, even if it did have a handler.
"When I look back now, I think, 'I should never bring a black panther,' " Schrager says.
'Grease' was the word in 1978
The disco went fully 1950s for a "Grease" celebration that summer, recreating the high school set with lockers and filling the dance floor with classic cars. Before the party, the fire marshal pointed out that having tanks full of gas indoors was a major fire hazard.
"So we had to take the cars out, drain the gas and put the cars back in," Schrager says. Stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John attended, along with Paramount CEO Barry Diller.
"The movie was a great success, but some people said the party was even better than the movie," Schrager says.
The crowd had a blast at the last-day-before-prison bash
The Studio 54 party came to a close in 1980 after Rubell and Schrager were sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison for tax evasion and skimming $2.5 million from the disco's revenue. But the night before their prison sentence began, they threw a giant bash to celebrate their final hours of freedom.
Richard Gere and Reggie Jackson (clad in a fur coat and cowboy hat) were in the crowd, and Diana Ross sang. Rubell partied with abandon.
"I didn’t really have fun at that party. I was going to jail the next day," Schrager says. "I went because I knew if I didn’t go, my absence would be noted. It would be conspicuous."
"But everyone else, they got the last dance," he adds.
The duo were compelled to sell the club while in prison.