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Paper Trail: That
'70s glow

Paper Trail: That
'70s glow


An excerpt from Gay L.A., a remarkable and addictive queer history of the metropolis by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, traces the rise and racism of West Hollywood's iconic superdisco Studio One.

Some Los Angeles businesses did not use sex to sell gay products--instead, sex itself was the product. Gay baths, bars, and that distinctly '70s enterprise, discotheques, boomed and became money machines in Los Angeles. The biggest such business was West Hollywood's Studio One, conceived in 1972 when Scott Forbes, a Beverly Hills optometrist, asked Lee Glaze how he was able to draw an instant gay crowd when he revived Ciro's nightclub on the Sunset Strip. The ever-generous Glaze offered the use of his vast gay mailing list. Two years later, Forbes opened Studio One (a name evocative of its Hollywood location) in a cavernous factory building that he outfitted with strobes and speakers in a hall of mirrors that became a temple of amplified sound and masculine vanity.

One thousand or more gay men gathered nightly at Studio One to "dance, dance, dance...." Music industry promoters vied to have their records played there; it was featured on national television; and it was dubbed by many newspapers and magazines as one of the most exciting discos in the country.

The cachet of Studio One was enhanced by its Back Lot Theater (another name chosen to evoke movie-studio proximity), which featured entertainers ranging from Joan Rivers to Wayland Flowers and his outrageous, foul-mouthed puppet, Madame. Scott Forbes's disco became a legend; and its owner, the former optometrist who was now called the "disco king" by the press, became an overnight millionaire. His phenomenal prominence in promoting gay pleasure even rendered him a political power in the gay community. Forbes served on the boards of gay L.A.'s most important or prestigious organizations and agencies, such as the Gay Community Services Center and the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles.

To the media, Forbes often spoke of his business in tones of political pride: "Studio One was designed, planned, and conceived for gay people, gay male people," he announced to the Los Angeles Times. "Any straight people here are guests of the gay community." Forbes insisted that his discotheque filled a vital community need: It celebrated sexual freedom for gay men. As he told the Times reporter, while many came to dance, just as many came primarily "for sexual purposes." His admission elicited shocked letters to the editor: "What is this society coming to?" one reader lamented. "Don't people want any more out of another human being than their body for sexual pleasures?" Apparently they did not: 1,600 invited guests packed the house for the disco's sixth anniversary. The crowd rarely thinned over the years.

The beauties of gay Hollywood could have the time of their lives at Studio One. But what to them was all the rage, outraged others. Gay activists complained bitterly of Studio-One-types who would rather dance than go to political meetings, disparaging them as "disco bunnies--blond, built, and brainless." Activists were also outraged at clubs that practiced hateful exclusionary policies, and Studio One was a prime target of their anger. Forbes's statement to the Los Angeles Times that his disco was simply " male people" was duplicitous by its omission of who counted in his definition of "gay male people." Studio One turned away almost everyone not meeting its Hollywood Golden Boy standard: Non-whites were especially excluded, "to keep the club from getting too dark," Mark Haile, a journalist for BLK, an African American gay magazine, says bitterly. All but the most remarkably attractive Blacks, Latinos, and Asian "gay male people" were generally asked for three pieces of picture identification--an effective ploy for weeding out the "undesirables...." Activist Dave Johnson, son of actor Russell Johnson of Gilligan's Island fame, reported in the Los Angeles Free Press that he had staked the place out and seen thirty-five instances in less than an hour in which people of color, and white females too, were refused admission....

When the Los Angeles Times confronted Forbes in 1976 on allegations of both racism and sexism at Studio One, he dug himself in deeper by claiming that he needed to keep out "the bad element." Irate picketers, organized by the Gay Community Mobilization Committee, demonstrated in front of Studio One until they were granted a meeting with Forbes, who promised reform.... [But] the offensive door policy, as well as the protests, continued for years.

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