"It Was Night and Suddenly I Felt Like Dancing": Brooklyn Museum Revisits the Legacy of Studio 54
Even though the Brooklyn Museum has temporarily closed for the the forseseeable future, their newest blockbuster exhibition, Studio 54: Night Magic, was to open today. As with many museum exhibitions, an incredible amount of time and energy was put into this show, and we wanted to share some photos and stories that we captured at the opening party this past week. Photographer Laura June Kirsch covered the event, and was able to talk to some of the mainstays of the legendary Studio 54 scene, getting some of their stories about why those pivotal years, 1977-79, came to define an era.
Meryl Meisler, photographer
Laura June Kirsch: I am a huge fan of your work and own a copy of A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick. In the book, a lot of your work was photographed during your time teaching in Bushwick. How was it juggling between teaching during the day and going out at night?
Meryl Meisler: When I first came to NY I was a freelancer. I would go out at night and come back at 4 or 5 in the morning, it didn’t matter. It was flexible. I didn’t start teaching until 1979, it was after Studio 54. Going out slowed down a lot. When I became a teacher you have to be in front of kids at 8AM, being in charge, you didn’t go out the night before. It was limited to weekends then, it was hard.
Did you take a lot of disco naps?
No, I just really had to cut back! It was a hard adjustment. I needed a steady paycheck and healthcare.
What is the craziest thing that you witnessed at Studio 54?
I don’t even think it was crazy, it was just the usual. That’s where people were dancing, taking drugs side by side next to celebrities where it didn’t even matter. It seemed normal to me. Isn’t that silly (laughs), it felt natural and normal to me.
What was your drug of choice during the Studio 54 Days?
Marijuana was my drug of choice. Fortunately, I did not like cocaine. It was prevalent everywhere and it was given to me but I never really liked it so I feel lucky. I know exactly what a locker room and poppers smells like but I remember them. I didn’t like drinking I feel like I am lucky with that. I have rediscovered drinking though since Trump became elected, now I am a drinker. The thing that horrified me once was an owner of Infinity invited me to his office and he snorted something. After I was told it was HORSE, I said “what is that?" It was heroin, it was horrifying—I didn’t do that. I feel very fortunate I did not like any of the drugs that were out and about. So here I am! And my nose works, I can breathe I am healthy.
What’s your favorite photo of yours from Studio 54?
Actually there is one that’s not in here, it’s in my book that you have, A Tale Of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick. It’s someone looking at another person and they have an expression that is like a Weegee photograph. Actually, I think my outside picture of my friend Judi Jupiter being rejected outside of Studio 54 is one of my favorite ones. That night we didn’t get into the club because our regular doorman Mark wasn’t there. So we said “Ok, let’s check out GG Barnum instead. The bathrooms were pretty cool at Studio 54. The music was really good, the sound system was really good. I went to dance!
What’s your favorite live performance that happened?
I know I photographed Grace Jones there and I know I have pictures somewhere in a box I can’t find. How gorgeous does she look now? She’s doing something right.
I thought Andy Warhol was very sweet, he was very shy. He was out there, out all the time. He was there. I guess a lot of the things I like in retrospect, I went out with my friend Judi Jupiter all the time and she was more showy than I was and I would make her outfits. They were pretty damn good outfits! I was glad Matthew Yokobosky included one of the outfits I made as a fashion statement. I am very proud of that.
Dustin Pittman, photographer
LJK: Craziest thing you saw at Studio 54?
Dustin Pittman: There were many nights and moments. I remember walking into the studio for the Liz Taylor party and walking through the door, the smell of disco sweat, sex and energy was overcome by the gardenias fragrance from live gardenia flowers that Renny decorated the whole studio floor with for Liz Taylor, it was her favorite flower.
What’s your favorite photo that you took at the space?
That’s a hard one. There were so many beautiful moments. I am so lucky that I am still photographing and still alive and honoring the living and my friends who have passed on. This exhibit is so wonderful because Matthew is so full of passion and love for the era. What compounds that is that this is the perfect time for this exhibit to happen because we need community and we need people to plug out once and awhile from social media. It’s really important. I think this is a wonderful show, I shed tears of joy and tears of sadness because a lot of my people I was with all these years are gone.
Who was the wildest celebrity you saw at Studio 54?
Everybody was a celebrity at Studio 54, that was the grand thing about it. When you walked in that door there was no holds barred everyone was a celebrity. Everyone. No doubt about it. Everyone was a star! Sly and the Family Stone, everybody is a star.
What was the drug of choice at Studio 54?
Oh I don’t know, that depends (laughs).
Miestorm (with friend Marsha Stern), bartender and photographer
LJK: Craziest thing you saw at Studio 54?
Miestorm: You know we all dosed so much, I know I did. Whenever Steve (Rubell, owner) would come by I would be like “Hi Steve, what’s up,” he was like Uncle Stevie to me, that’s what I thought of him. For instance Michael would fire me constantly (Editor's note: Miestorm worked as a busboy and bartender), but I didn’t really work, I wasn’t a very good employee, so I got canned a lot. I would say to Steve, “Hey Steve, Michael fired me” and he’d say, “You can’t be fired, I NEED you here!” Then he’d give me a vile of coke, a couple of quaaludes, a couple of hundred bucks. It was just like that, all the time. So he became Uncle Stevie. I assumed he did that to all the kids. Being a club kid at the time was the best time to be a club kid because you went everywhere you got into every club for free. It was just like that.
What was your drug of choice?
Miestorm: (Laughs) I loved quaaludes. I loved cocaine. You do a quaalude you do a couple lines of coke and you were in a nice place.
Marsha Stern: A long time ago, far far away, it was a different world back then. Let’s just say they don’t make a rorer 714 anymore, it had to be the best drug ever created. The best ever created and they stopped that one in the 80’s. That’s all I will comment on. Let’s put it this way you’d have sex with a broomstick, it was such a good drug.
Who was your favorite celebrity sighting at Studio 54?
Miestorm: When photographing, I shied away from people having sex and celebrities because I figured... I was a kid, I was 18 ,if I saw somebody doing it in the corner I would say, “No, I am not going to take their picture.” So I took pictures of my friends, people I knew. You know, things going on in the club. But I would probably have to say Donna Summer.
MS: I would say my most memorable celebrity encounter was with Halston. I would play my tambourine by the dance floor a lot and one evening, Halston wanted to play my tambourine. He wasn’t giving back and I was getting annoyed. My dear friend Roy was DJing, and I went into the booth and I said, “Who is that man stealing my tambourine?” He said, “Don’t you know who that is?” I said, “no I want my tambourine back.” He said “that’s Halston” I said, “I don’t care who it is he has had it way too long I want it back” (laughs). Finally he did give it back but I had to chase him down. Who knows what he was on but he was very sweet. Enough was enough, I wanted to play my instrument. There were a lot of encounters and it was pretty much commonplace when you went there you were going to run into some celebrity who was either going to ignore you, be nice and kind, dance with you because we were having fun OR try to pick you up. It could of been any one of the above or any combination of the above.
Miestorm: Totally. My first line of coke was Halston. That’s what he did. He was standing by the bar with these two gorgeous models, supermodels, beautiful gowns and jewelry. He would go do coke on the bar. He looks at me and I am standing over there just looking at him because I didn’t know who he was, this was opening night, he lays out a couple of lines and they just walk away. So that was mine. He gave me the look and I knew those lines laid out were for me.
As the opening Studio 54: Night Magic has been delayed, we will update when the show opens at the Brooklyn Museum.
All photography Laura June Kirsch for Juxtapoz.