West Hollywood said goodbye to an institution Saturday night with a celebration honoring the famed gay disco, Studio One, and the adjoining Backlot cabaret, on Robertson Boulevard. About 350 people turned out for the event that filled the dance floor with revelers boogying down to disco hits of the 1970s and 1980s, many reliving their days when they were regulars at that huge gay nightclub.
Before the disco music started, a special “Back to the Backlot” show assembled many performers who had done their musical and/or comedy acts at the cabaret in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Funnyman Bruce Vilanch and gay gossip columnist Billy Masters served as MCs at the show, which included singer Freda Payne (who had the hit “Band of Gold”), vocal duo Wayne and Brenda, comic Monica Piper, singer/actress Liz Torres, singers The Original Sin Sisters, and singer Ricky Comeaux (of Atwood and Comeaux), among others. After the party moved into Studio One area, Grammy-winning disco diva Thelma Houston appeared to perform her hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”
The show also included a tribute to the outrageous, double-entendre-loving puppet Madame, a regular at the club before going on to appear on the game show “Hollywood Squares” (in the center square), dance show “Solid Gold” and even her own syndicated show, “Madame’s Place.” Madame’s puppeteer Wayland Flowers died of AIDS in 1988, so Madame’s appearance was bittersweet.
Studio One was opened in what was known as The Factory in 1975 by Scott Forbes. It was the height of the disco era. Studio One, Forbes said, “was planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!” It closed in 1988. While celebrated by many gay men, it has been criticized for allegedly discriminating against black men and women. The building has housed numerous other venues, including the “Axis” club that helped make Sandy Sachs a lesbian icon, and has served as home to nights such as “Rasputin” and “Ultra Suede.”
The evening also featured a tribute to all the gay men who had found friendship, camaraderie and sometimes love on the Studio One dance floor, but later died of AIDS. City Councilmember John Duran, who is HIV-positive, led the tribute, asking people to raise a glass to the loved ones they lost to AIDS.
Duran is the person who instigated this farewell celebration. Duran, who said he spent much of his youth at Studio One, insisted that developer Jason Illoulian and his development company, Faring, host the goodbye party before they disassemble the building, now known as The Factory, for construction of the new Robertson Lane hotel-retail complex. Once a three-level subterranean parking garage is dug, Faring will reassemble the Factory building on the site, orienting it on a north-south axis along Robertson Boulevard, instead of its current east-west orientation between Robertson and La Peer Drive.
“We are honored by West Hollywood’s outpouring of support and look forward to bringing the same kind of award-winning projects to this city in the future,” said Faring’s director of community engagement, Jake Stevens.
Although there were long lines and an hour delay to get into the show, once inside, most reported the celebration was worth the wait. While waiting, many shared laughs and reminisced about their times at the club. As for the show starting late, several summed it up as “gay standard time.”
Producers Lloyd Coleman and Gary Steinberg, who produced many of the Backlot and Studio One shows back in the 1980s, put together this show, joined by young producer Chris Isaacson. The Backlot show was filmed for incorporation into a documentary about Studio One and the Backlot and their places in the area’s LGBTQ history.