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Glitz, Glamour, Fraud: The Rise and Fall of Studio 54

In the documentary Studio 54, Director Matt Tyrnauer explored the enormous success and ultimate fall of the nightclub through the eyes of owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell.

What once was an opera house and then a CBS studio was renovated to create Studio 54. The theater was rid of its seats, and the stage was leveled to become a dance floor. In six weeks, Rubell and Schrager transformed the space, utilizing the theater lights and props left over from its television days.

The club’s success was evident from the very beginning. Everyone who was anyone, from Mick Jagger to Elizabeth Taylor, flocked to the disco haven (though not everyone got in). Photographs of the star-studded patrons appeared on the covers of the newspapers. It became the room everyone wanted to be in, and you didn’t have to be somebody to get in.

“The selection process had absolutely nothing to do with wealth, race, creed, color. There was a feel or a vibe that they’re here to party,” said Schrager. “They’re going to do something to make the evening great.”

All sorts of characters danced side by side in 54, especially those in the LGBTQ community. While getting in was exclusive, Studio 54 embodied inclusivity within its walls in a way the streets didn’t at the time. Everything about it was alluring: the clothes—or lack thereof— the music and the extravagant atmosphere.

“You come here to escape,” said Michael Jackson, in a clip of him and Rubell at the club.

Yet, the reign ended. Greed is a common monster in those who rise so quickly. With Rubell and Schrager, success occurred overnight. The two were charged with tax evasion and ended up doing jail time. Eventually, 54 was sold, closing only 33 months after its open.

The spirit of the nightclub still lives on not only because of the legends who visited or the crowds of people who never did. Studio 54 was the community and the hope that many people needed. It was the mecca of disco, fashion, partying and love.

Written by Ryan Williams