Many of the 400 people who attended the auction — their number triples when bidders following by telephone or the Internet — were still in a disco daze over disco days.
“We’re here for sentimental reasons,” said Jackie Friedman of Miami Beach, who spent countless nights on the Studio 54 dance floor with her husband, Stanley. “We’re here to reinvent the past.”
Studio 54 open in 1977 in a cavernous old CBS television studio from which Captain Kangaroo once instructed baby boomer kids on the importance of vegetables and toothbrushes. At Studio 54, the now-grown-up kids learned about Bee Gees, blow, and the joy of promiscuous sex in a pre-AIDS world.
“There was sex in the balconies and basement, and there was cocaine just about everywhere,” said DeFalco. “I was young and naïve when I went to work there, and then I was thrown into this scene of celebrities and drugs and sex. But I was 20 years old and willing to do anything.”
Everybody who was anybody went to Studio 54, and anybody who went there was instantly somebody. Merely getting through the door past the infamously discriminating Rubell — he once refused admission to the king of Cyrus “because he looked like somebody from Queens” — conferred celebrity status.
“Much more glamorous than actually being in the place was getting in,” said the cross-dressing Fort Lauderdale artist Electra, a veteran of Studio 54 first as a partier and later as a performer, doing celebrity imitations. She was working as an auction hostess Saturday, wearing a kianna jumpsuit, a white afro wig and her classic 1974 roller-disco skates.
“Seeing and being seen was so much a part of that era,” she recalled. “Once you were inside, a lot of it was just like any other club. But you were inside.”
It was clear that a lot of people wanted to get back inside Saturday as bidders mercilessly ran up prices on old Studio 54 programs, posters and even birthday-cake candles. None was more acquisitive than an on-line bidder known only as No. 975, who in the first hour and a half grabbed dozens of items at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
The buzz grew steadily. Was some disco icon like John Travolta or Rod Stewart trying to reassemble the artifacts of his youth? The truth turned out to be more prosaic: 975 was the number assigned to all Internet bids. “It’s not just one greedy person,” Baca said. The sigh that swept the room might have been relief, but it sounded more like disappointment.
The number of antiquarian disco ducks at the auction didn’t surprise Baca, who worked desperately to get the consignment of Studio 54 memorabilia from one of Rubell’s old boyfriends. (Rubell died in 1989.)
“This is where the disco ball dropped,” Baca said. “All those people who went to Studio 54, they didn’t move to San Diego. They came to Palm Beach.