Hollywood Flashback: 40 Years Ago, Studio 54 Opened Its Doors to Liz Taylor, Brooke Shields
The New York nightclub, which drew the likes of Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Princess Grace, was given the big-screen treatment in Miramax's widely panned '54.' Decades later, director Mark Christopher is turning the venue's history into a television series.
On April 26, 1977, Studio 54 set the ball rolling on a three-year run as New York's best nonstop party. The club, located at 254 W. 54th St., achieved international fame as the place where the gay disco scene, New Jersey teenagers and bold-faced names merged: Salvador Dali, Liz Taylor, Monaco's Princess Grace and Jackie Kennedy Onassis among them. But while Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager got credit for founding the club, a fashion-industry publicist named Carmen D'Alessio was a major force in attracting stars. She was behind stunts like having Bianca Jagger, then married to Mick, ride a white horse inside the club for her 30th birthday party in 1977.
Hollywood's take on the place came in 1998 with Miramax's 54. THR called the film "entertaining but superficial." This was generous compared with other reviews. The main complaint was that after negative test screenings, Miramax removed 45 minutes of mostly gay-themed footage. So many changes were made, producer Dolly Hall began calling the film "55." It was said that doing a film about Studio 54 and minimizing the gay element was like making a documentary "about India and minimizing the part about Hinduism." The $13 million film grossed almost $17 million. (The film's double-CD soundtrack, meanwhile, was a major hit.)
54 got a second chance in 2015 when director Mark Christopher did a director's cut that restored the deleted footage and was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. "The response was overwhelming," says Christopher. "It was like victory in Berlin." He is now working on a 54 television series with Miramax. Studio 54 closed with one last party with Schrager and Rubell as hosts on Feb. 2, 1980 — two days before the pair went off to a year in prison for tax evasion. Schrager became a successful hotel developer and in January was pardoned by President Barack Obama. Rubell died from AIDS-related causes in 1989. Donald Trump attended his funeral.
This story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.