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Studio 54's Former Owner Takes You Behind the Velvet Rope

Mark Fleishman

In Mark Fleishman's upcoming memoir,  Inside Studio 54,the nightclub's former owner gives a behind-the-scenes tour of the infamous New York party palace. Check out a few exclusive passages below.

Before Opening Studio 54

In addition to opening Studio 54, the Virgin Isle Hotel staged other promotions as well. At one event, we invited disco icon Grace Jones to join us for Carnival. Tall and strikingly beautiful, Grace was not only a superstar, but was also from nearby Jamaica, and everyone was excited to have her on the island. At Carnival, there is always a big parade with floats created by churches, merchants, and other local entities moving down the main street of town. We entered a float, calling it "Disco at the Carnival." We set up a great moving sound system on the hotel's truck and played all the disco hits that were popular at the time. The theme songs for our float were Sister Sledge's hit song "We Are Family" and the music of Grace Jones, including "Private Life" and "A Rolling Stone." We had a generator on the truck to power the sound system, and we built a large wooden platform on the cab for Grace to dance on. The Virgin Isle Hotel float was decorated with green fabric and glitter.

My friend Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska brought Senator Bennett Johnston from Louisiana, and a number of other high-profile friends joined us as our guests for that year's Carnival. Everyone, including the staff, was dressed in white with green ribbons and powdered with green glitter to match Grace's green satin outfit. Whether we were on the truck, or in the street dancing around it, we snorted uncut coke (except for the Senators) and drank 151-proof rum straight from the bottle, while tall, sinewy Grace Jones gyrated as our "star" on top of the cab. It was almost one hundred degrees that day, but nobody complained. As we slowly made our way down the crowded main street, people were singing and chanting, "Grace...Grace..." dancing alongside and looking up to catch a glimpse of Grace Jones.

Each float took one lap around the field and then one pass in front of the judges' stand. By the time our float got to the judges, Grace Jones had gone completely crazy. She tore apart the entire wooden structure of our float with her bare hands, one plank at a time. Then she started hurling the pieces of wood like javelins in the direction of the judges. Thankfully, none of the judges were hit. Before long, our float was in total shambles, but clearly we made an impression on the judges: we won one of the top prizes.

Alec Baldwin

The legendary Rubber Room was the dark balcony and bar area, seventy-five or so feet above the dance floor at the very top of Studio 54. It was decorated with high-tech industrial black rubber trim and flooring that could be easily washed down. Without fail, every night after all the lunacy, the busboys would find discarded rubbers, poppers, and panties all over the floor--a testimony to the night's fun and games. Alec Baldwin, who had worked there as a busboy back in the day when he was a struggling young actor, said he finally had to quit Studio 54 because seeing the sexual interplay night after night left him perpetually horny. No problem, there were hundreds of young hot boys waiting to replace him.

Pre-opening party and Robert De Niro

Carmen D'Alessio had persuaded me to host a private VIP party a few hours prior to the Studio 54 opening night party at my newly built penthouse apartment at the Executive Hotel. I heard that my penthouse was so crowded that, according to Carmen, at one point Robert De Niro and his friend locked themselves in my candlelit master bathroom to chill next to the large Jacuzzi filled with ice and champagne. I say "I heard" because I was at Studio, so taken up with the last-minute chaos at hand prior to the actual opening night party that I never made it back home to greet my guests. My father and brother were there, and by the end of the evening, after observing all that took place, they were both convinced that I was completely out of my mind to want to get involved with such craziness.

The theme for the opening was "incandescence." More than five thousand invitations had gone out in the form of a small light bulb in a box imprinted with "You are invited to the relighting of Studio 54." On September 15, 1981 New Yorkers were so psyched for the opening of their beloved Studio 54 that more than ten thousand people showed up, plus reporters from just about every major news outlet. Inside, the crowd was masterfully controlled by Chuck Garelick and his security force. At one point in the crush of the evening, Chuck was blindsided and pushed up against a wall to the beat of "Devil's Gun," but Chuck, in a split second, instinctively determined the action was inadvertent. Allowing ego to rule could have turned the party into an all-out brawl. He was the consummate man in the skills of security, keeping it all safe and fun for everyone. Outside was a different story--it felt like a riot.

The fire department had to close down the entire block on Fifty-Fourth Street, which prevented me from leaving to host the party at my penthouse. Many celebrities snuck in the back door--some couldn't get in at all, including Mary Tyler Moore.

Excerpted from Inside Studio 54, courtesy of Rare Bird Books. Inside Studio 54 is available September 19, but you can preorder here.

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Mark Fleishman