Now on Netflix: Studio 54
By Max Abrams
I had a lot of friends growing up.
I do not mean that as a boast. Quite the opposite. I am ashamed as I think back to all the days of my youth that I spent with jerks, doing things that I thought I should be doing rather than what I actually enjoy.
Contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg thinks, having one best friend is better than having many casual friends. More friends means more drama, more undependability, and simply more time with people who don’t truly care about you.
It turns out that the story of Studio 54 – the most famous dance club in the history of the world – is mostly about two best friends working together in harmony.
In the 1960s, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were fraternity brothers at Syracuse University.
On the face of it, they were very different. Ian was tall, handsome, brilliant, serious, and reserved. Steve was little, gay, and gregarious – the only thing he was good at was getting to know everyone at school who mattered.
But the young men shared an intense ambition to make it really big. In the late-70s, they bought an abandoned TV studio on W. 54th Street and built something amazing.
Ian Schrager was the design man. His innovation was to keep the studio atmosphere, which meant that there could be a show on stage while the dance floor was hopping.
Steve Rubell was the face of Studio 54. He invited the biggest celebrities to the opening and made sure that they were treated like kings and queens. He had a very organized celebrity pecking order. Mick Jagger was ushered in for free and given unlimited drugs on demand. Lesser members of the Rolling Stones could get in, but they’d have to pay.
Studio 54 was a sensation from day one. Every night there were mobs of people behind the velvet rope. Rubell made sure that the richest and prettiest were allowed through. He also, however, had an eye for the freakiest and most eccentric partygoers. The eclectic combination of A-list celebrities, beautiful trust-fund babies, and New York kooks was the magic mix that made the club unique.
Gay people weren’t just allowed to be out, they were encouraged to be as loud and proud as possible.
The cash piled in so fast that Ian and Steve began to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in a brazen skimming operation. “Studio 54” is structured like Martin Scorsese movie, with the superrich criminals being taken down at the height of their hubris.
Eventually, Ian and Steve were convicted of tax evasion. Incredibly, they never turned on each other. The two friends served their time in the same prison and emerged with a new money-making scheme: boutique hotels.
Friendship is harder to define than ever thanks to the internet and social media. But best friendship is still the same: it’s two people experiencing life together in a way that they would not have been able to by themselves. Studio 54 was a great dance club for three years. “Studio 54” is about a great friendship that lasted a lifetime.