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Hollywood focuses on Studio 54

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It’s a wonder anyone remembers what Studio 54 was really like. The star-jammed ’70s nightclub with the reputation for cocaine highs and wham-bam goodbyes exists now only in a haze. But come next year, two decades and many 12-step programs after its opening, Studio 54 will live again. No fewer than five movies — inspired by the nights when Andy Warhol, Halston, Bianca Jagger, and Liza Minnelli hung out — are hustling their way toward the big screen.

”It was the best-running show on Broadway. Sexual mores were broken down. People had fun,” says former Studio 54 assistant doorman and Dynasty hunk Al Corley, who has directed a feature-length independent documentary planned for next spring. ”I’ll probably beat everybody to the punch.”

Next in the dance line is New Line, which has initiated talks to bring out a dramatic history of the club. Produced by Davis Entertainment, Sandollar Productions, and Lord/Weaver Productions, it boasts the cooperation of club cofounder Ian Schrager. It would follow the rise and fall of Schrager, current owner of such hotels as Miami’s Delano and Manhattan’s Royalton, and his charismatic partner Steve Rubell, who died in 1989 of liver problems likely caused by AIDS. The pair ran the club from 1977 to 1980 before being trotted off to jail for tax evasion. ”I would only do the one with Ian because he has the rights to the name,” says New Line president of production Michael DeLuca. ”All these other ones are, like, Studio 54 inspired.”

But, officially sanctioned or not, New Line doesn’t yet have a script. In the meantime, I Shot Andy Warhol producer Christine Vachon is shopping around a completed screenplay by Mark Christopher, as well as developing a biopic of fashion designer and club fixture Halston for Fox Searchlight (the studio is negotiating to acquire the rights to Steven Gaines’ gossipy 1991 biography). And Barcelona director Whit Stillman is nearly finished with the script for his next film, The Last Days of Disco, which will be set inside a fictional, Studio 54-like club.

Can all these films take the disco ball and run with it? Count on several. From John Travolta’s comeback to Seventh Avenue‘s resurrection of the polyester pantsuit, interest in the ’70s is at a peak. ”Older people are nostalgic and the young kids wish they had lived then,” says Warhol biographer Bob Colacello. ”It was this window where being wild seemed okay.” Still, these club movies must contend with a questionable pedigree. ”It’s a very difficult project. Welcome back to The Cotton Club,” says author Anthony Haden-Guest, whose account of Studio 54, to be published next spring by William Morrow, is attracting interest from Hollywood.

What won’t be possible is to actually shoot on the original club site. The space on Manhattan’s West 54th Street — which has since transformed itself into the Red Zone nightclub, the new Ritz, and, most recently, a strip club — has changed hands again and will reopen this Thanksgiving as Cyberdome, a virtual-reality family entertainment center. The new WKTU, a New York radio station specializing in dance and disco (another sign of the era’s revival), is promoting a last-dance party at the site on May 23 featuring Gloria Gaynor, RuPaul, and Crystal Waters. ”It’s the last party before the wrecking ball comes in,” says an event spokesman (actually, the building is being gutted, not torn down). But the party, a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, should serve to heighten the nostalgia Hollywood wants to tap. These days, a little decadence goes a long way.

(Additional reporting by Casey Davidson)

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