'Halston' Digs Through the Glam, the Legend, and the Debauchery of Studio 54

By Lauren Kranc

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In Netflix’s Halston, the new biopic series from Ryan Murphy, fashion mogul Halston and his clan of celebrities and friends are whisked past the wannabe clubgoers waiting in line, and into the legendary New York club Studio 54 each night. Inside those highly exclusive, shimmering walls, anything goes—sex, drugs, booze, and even taking photos atop live horses.

As is conveyed in the series, the velvet-roped door was so difficult to enter, it became dangerous. The fourth episode shows one desperate patron enter through a side door and attempt to crawl through an internal vent to land inside the club’s main room. However, she gets stuck, and we later learn that she was found dead in the vent. It’s a shocking detail—one that accurately depicts how exclusive Studio 54 really was, and how far the average New York City clubgoer might go for a chance at getting inside. It also is a true story.

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In Studio 54, a 2018 documentary that featured the club’s surviving co-founder Ian Schrager, he revealed that someone really was found dead after getting stuck in an air vent and suffocating after trying to enter the club illegally—but unlike in the show, it was a man dressed in black-tie attire. According to Schrager, this level of desperation was commonplace; the club frequently had people climbing over fences and allegedly even pulling guns on doormen. The doc explains that the guest list was split into four categories: “No Goods” were people who should never be let in, then those who had to pay to get in, followed by those who got in for free, and finally “No Fuck Ups,” who were VIPs who were let in swiftly and easily. The Rolling Stones, for example, were split into two of the categories—Mick Jagger and Keith Richards got in for free, but the other band members had to pay to enter. Club regular Andy Warhol once said that Studio 54 “was a dictatorship on the door but a democracy on the dance floor.” Halston's depiction of Studio 54 co-founder Steve Rubell swiftly denying patrons at the door on the basis of their shirt or their hat not being to his liking is, according to footage from the documentary, accurate. Celebrities such as Diana Ross, Bianca Jagger, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, Liz Taylor, and many, many more were regulars at the fashionable club.

Fashion royalty Halston was a regular, of course, along with his best friend and muse Liza Minnelli. Halston shows Minnelli partying consistently, indulging in drugs, and even overdosing inside Studio 54 one night before deciding to go to rehab. While there’s no record of an overdose inside Studio 54 like the series shows, Minnelli did check into the Betty Ford Clinic in California for the first time in 1984 for treatment. The living legend, portrayed remarkably by Krysta Rodriguez in Halston, speaks only kindly of her late fashion mentor to this day. “I did what he said. He really took care of me," Minnelli told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011 of Halston.

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But the party couldn’t last forever. In 1978, Steve Rubell boasted to New York magazine that in terms of finances, “only the mafia does better than us,” and not long after the IRS came knocking. Rubell and Schrager pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1979 and served 20 months in jail. Rubell and Schrager’s mystical Studio 54 shut down in January of 1980, less than three years after it had opened. Liza Minelli sang at the final party, the night before the co-owners went to prison.

Exclusive as it might have been, Studio 54 was a place where all were welcome and celebrated—no matter gender, sexuality, or race. Alongside the excess and unruliness, the club represented freedom, self-expression, and the sexual revolution of the ‘70s. It also came to signify the tragic end of that era, as the AIDS crisis struck in 1980 just as the nightclub was sold.

In Halston, the legend of Studio 54—the celebrity, the glamour, and the tragedy—lives on.

Originally Published: https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/halston-digs-glam-legend-debauchery-130000175.html