(Studio 54 pages are under development)
For 21 months, starting while I was still a student at New York University,
I worked a Busboy and then as Assistant Manager for Studio 54.
My legal name then was still "Scott Bitterman" - our family changed our last
name after the death of my step-grandfather, Frank Bitterman. I would love to
hear from Studio staff or "regulars" from the early years (1977-80).
I was introduced to Studio 54 by my college roommate, NYU film major and free-lance photographer Bob Brady. Bob brought me along as Photographer's Assistant on numerous photo shoots including a party celebrating Richard Kiley's thousandth performance as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha on Broadway. A month later, I accompanied Bob to shoot the Studio 54 Premier Party for the opening of the movie, The Turning Point.
Mesmerized by the energy of the celebrants in the club, I approached a
classmate and fellow dance major from the NYU School of the Arts that
was working his way through NYU as a busboy at Studio 54. Just after
Studio 54's first New Year's Eve Party in 1977, I left my pocket-money
job at Betty William's Studio (making opera and theatre costumes) and
went to work for Studio 54, a/k/a The Broadway Catering Corporation...
I worked at Studio 54 until after the raid that sent both
Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager to jail for income tax
evasion. Silent partner Jack Dushey avoided prison by
cooperating with authorities. After prison, Steve, Ian and
Michael Overington (former Manager at Studio 54)
developed what became the posh and enormously
successful hotel chain: Ian Schrager Hotels.
While employed at Studio, I lost my long-pursued ballet career to an inoperable foot malady - and though working at Studio was a both challenging and a lot of fun, it wasn't enough. It was not the
career I had pursued and there was no real meaning in working in a nightclub even one that was
so popular and successful... and fun. I left Studio 54 about nine months after the raid to help manage
Ruelle's, a Manhattan restaurant, briefly moved upstate to build a commercial nursery and then moved to Atlanta, and into senior services... where I discovered the meaning and purpose I needed in my life.
As for the movie "54" fuggetaboutit. Visually, the "look and feel" of the reconstructed club was perfect, but
the story bore no resemblance to reality and, sadly, failed the opportunity to tell some of the many great true stories from Studio 54. My favorite 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 reduced her to an insipid caricature as "Disco Dottie". In real life, "Disco Sally" was Sally Lipmann (sic) a witty and brilliant attorney admitted to the New York State Bar in the 1920's. 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...
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 discothθque: 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.
On a serious note: throughout the 1980's, almost everyone in the theatre and dance communities lost friends to AIDS. Some employees and regulars of Studio 54 were early victims of AIDS. Long after I left Studio 54 and no longer worked in or around the arts community, each month brought news of friends and acquaintances that had died or were dying; from South Carolina to New York, from Seattle to Kentucky and from Indianapolis to London. It was and remains a terrible period of loss throughout the world. AIDS claimed several famous club regulars, including attorney Roy Cohn and fashion designer Halston. My best friend at the club, Host Joe Renny, died of AIDS in 1992. Steve Rubell the tireless Peter Pan of New York nightlife, the genius who crafted the business model that made the club so tremendously successful and who was always at the center of the show died in 1989 of complications from AIDs.
Thank you, Steve. Studio 54 wasn't important in a greater sense, it was just a dance club. But it was a great show, and a good time was truly had by all. Per another former employee named Paolo (Paul-Michael), "I thought it was amazing. Other than having my son, it was probably the most fun I had in life." I wouldn't go quite that far but it was an awful lot of fun.
Stories and reminiscences about Studio 54 will follow in the months and years ahead. Check back in for more memories.
At right, club Host Joe Renny,
with Scott (in Sheriff's hat) -
dressed for Dolly Parton's
Studio 54 Birthday Party.
Syndicated Columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote of Scott:
"[At Studio 54] blond busboys in gold shorts
wipe off the tables then dance on them..."
[click here for the full text of Mr. Grizzard's column]
At that time, Scott was the only busboy at Studio
wearing gold shorts - he was having them made
at Havona in Greenwich Village.
Over nearly two years, Scott did everything
from bussing tables to running the front desk,
to counting cash (lots of cash), to managing
the third shift during Studio 54's first renovation,
to creating and running "Auditions" for new staff,
to initiating and designing special decor for the
basement VIP area - including special parties for
Bianca Jagger, Halston, Liza Minnelli & Baryshnikov.
Scott on the dance floor at Studio 54
(photo courtesy of Vanity Fair)
Club Co-owner, Steve Rubell
Stevie - nightly around 3 AM
Some Studio 54 Regulars...
Liza Minnelli & Betty Ford
Fashion Designer, Halston, threw a staff party to thank
employees of Studio 54 after the renovation. The invitation
to the party: an original Andy Warhol photo-print featuring
famous male model Victor Hugo in a dress and shades
"RSVP: Dress Drag"
Female employees came as busboys: shorts and sneakers,
and nothing else. Scott wore a gold Halston bodysuit and
heels (snagged by a coat check girl during the party....)
Marc, working "The Ropes"
Studio 54 Disco Steve Rubell Ian Schrager Michael Overington Manhattan New York Warhol Halston Nightclub Disco Sally Renny Mark Scott Nilsson Bitterman