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6 - Undercover Disco

The brief orientation was basically, “Everyone is here to have fun, be polite, be respectful, and don’t let any trouble happen.” I was given a blackjack and a pair of handcuffs. My post varied from the balcony, to the rear fire doors, to the front. Or other tasks as needed.

I’ll let my words, from a High Times article, provide an idea of experiences:

Not mentioned was that the woman with him was Jerri Hall. She flirted with me, but I suspect that was the way she related to most men. I had little hope of her dumping the bantam weight Brit and running off with me. Later she became Rupert Murdoch’s wife. I’m sure she remembers our wonderful time together.

Since I was happily married, I didn’t dally. Which was a good thing. I didn’t partake of any of the easily available sex. In the years that followed, when AIDS tore through the scene, killing owner Steve Rubell, regulars Halston and Roy Cohn, and hundreds of others, I was glad I was not a participant.

Roy Cohn also flirted with me. As clearly as I can recall the tall Jerri Hall looking me in the eye, I remember looking down on the throbbing vein in Roy Cohn’s forehead. He was wearing a yellow suit, standing way too close, and telling me, “I haven’t see you around here before.” He asked about my background. I was polite and non-committal, knowing that he was part of the inner circle. And a dangerous powerhouse with friends and clients like mob boss Carmine “Little Cigar” Galente and Donald Trump.

When I was assigned to guard the balcony early on, I broke up sex between men and men, and men and women. Then Rubell specifically told me, “Just let it happen.” I subsequently witnessed all sorts of variations on the theme, with multiple players and gymnastic contortions.

I got to be arm’s length from numerous celebs: Halston, Liza, Warhol, Rod Stewart. My own pseudo celebrity came one night when I was off duty and took my wife and a pretty friend of hers to Studio 54. I was stuck in the throng out front when one of the bouncers recognized me. Security parted the crowd like the Red Sea and I got to walk in with an attractive woman under each arm. I heard murmurs in the crowd of “Who’s that?”

Another Studio 54 anecdote: One night I was working the back door and it got ripped open. A crowd tried surging in. Feeling territorial and pumped on adrenalin, I shoved the horde back and slammed the door. I felt like quite the superhero. Later that night, Elton John came. His driver-bodyguard held a door open to pick up his client and I told him he couldn’t do that. The man was shaped like a refrigerator but more solid. Full of macho adrenalin, I grabbed the door and tried to pull it closed. He held it open casually with one hand. “Okay, you wait here,” I said, trying to maintain dignity while I went off and got Elton John for him. A very quick rise and fall.

I became friendly with Henry Post, author of The Ultimate Man, a fashion guide for men who wanted to be fashionable. I asked Henry for some tips on how I could look and dress better. He went from head to toe tearing me apart. It was a little like asking Mike Tyson to just tap my chin with a gentle jab. Henry, wildly active in the late-night disco scene, was tragically one of the earliest to die from AIDS.

Ultimately, I was what the Studio 54 insiders would call a BBQ. Brooklyn/Bronx/Queens. Back when Brooklyn wasn’t cool, and inhabitants were seen as leisure suit-wearing knuckle draggers. Owner Steve Rubell would joke that their polyester shirts would melt under the lights at Studio 54. Studio 54 opened the year that Saturday Night Fever was a hit, but Tony Manero would never be allowed into the one-time theater.


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