Opinion: Studio One Forever (But Only Gay White Men Please)

Demonstrators outside Studio One in the 1970s, condemning racist admission policies

They are at it again in West Hollywood.  It is hard to believe after the recent race debacle there over white entitlement.  Does  WeHo never learn the lesson, a lesson most of the country seems to be comprehending now?

The LGBTQ community and the entire nation has just been through a historic and critically needed consciousness-raising regarding systemic white racism in the U.S. instigated by the Black Lives Matter Rebellion of 2020. An important, once in a lifetime generational shift is occurring demanding structural, political and behavioral changes—not business as usual.

In West Hollywood, a documentary film is moving toward completion titled “Studio One Forever” about a popular disco which was in WeHo during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The film, as shown in its preview, paints a false picture that tries to make us believe the popular disco was a part of Gay Liberation revolution in Los Angeles. It was not.

Instead it was just the opposite of Gay Liberation and the pioneering gay community building in which responsibility was being assumed by gay people for each other—everyone—for the first time.  Studio One was anti-Black gay men and anti-woman. It was a large, techno-glitzy  dancehall, where 1,000 could party at one time.  In the 1970’s, for politically aware gay men and women with a moral conscience it was also an embarrassment.

Here’s the problem, as I explained in my 2016 essay “Jim Crow Visits West Hollywood”:  At the door at Studio One, “White men did not have to show age/photo ID if the doorman knew them and one piece if he didn’t, a driver’s license sufficing.  African-American men had to show two pieces of age/photo ID — a driver’s license alone was insufficient.  When Black gay men quickly got hip to the racist jive going on, they would show up prepared with two pieces of age/photo ID.  On the spot, they then were suddenly required to show three pieces of required age/photo ID, an almost impossible task for any of us.  The ID scam was also used on women.” 

Women were also refused entrance arbitrarily on the basis of the clothing and shoes they were wearing.

Numerous protest demonstrations were held outside Studio One by Gay Liberationists, gay and lesbian community organizations, and Black and women’s rights advocates.  Hardly a weekend passed without at least some protesters being outside Studio One handing out informational leaflets about the disco’s discriminatory racist and sexist practices.

Historically, West Hollywood has had a de facto policy of white preference with under the radar discriminatory practices in housing and other services, which continues right into the present.  Today only 3% of its residents are Black.

The owner of Studio One was Scott Forbes, a white gay man, a USC-trained optometrist.  It would be a smidgen less damning if Forbes had been willfully ignorant of the discrimination against Blacks and women but it was worse than that—he was willfully aware.

He set the racist and sexist policies and kept them going in spite of the protests because he could get away with it in WeHo.  The power elite in West Hollywood in the 1970’s knew all about these discriminatory practices and did nothing to stop them, indeed, many were investors in the club or were personal friends with Forbes. 

Studio One

I forcefully confronted Forbes with Sheldon Andelson, a West Hollywood power broker, refereeing. Forbes’ feeble, excuse was that if too many black gay men and women show up it would scare the white gay men away, an important observation itself on racism in WeHo. In fact, he wanted only white gay men at the disco. He made lukewarm promises to change but never followed through with them.

Shamefully, knowing all about these Jim Crow practices, every weekend a thousand gay men continued to patronize the disco. Partiers at Studio One became a textbook intersectional example of how the oppressed can also become the oppressor.

At the same time as Forbes’ racist and sexist door policies were occurring, further east on Santa Monica Boulevard, a mere mile away from Studio One, Gene La Pietra’s Circus disco, and other gay dance clubs in Los Angeles, had no problem with all races and sexes dancing harmoniously together.

Also, about the same time Studio One was opening in the early 1970’s, Jewel Thais-Williams was creating Jewel’s Catch One disco in the Pico/Crenshaw area, a largely black club with a friendly open-door policy—everyone was welcomed and everyone came.  It was like a Black Noah’s Ark—everybody was represented.

In hearing about the “Studio One Forever” documentary, Thais-Williams, a pillar of and respected elder in the L.A. LGBTQ community, said, “I urge people to boycott and have nothing to do with this film project.  I took Studio One’s racism and misogyny personally, and picketed myself at Studio One numerous times with my brothers and sisters.  It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”  

Circus and Catch One became models of multiculturalism in the Los Angeles gay and lesbian community and their racial and class diversity widely known and lauded—and they were financially successful as well. Studio One, on the other hand, represented a white, monocultural gay reality with non-white people and women unwelcomed.

In the trailer, it is surprising to see WeHo City Councilmember John Duran, comedian/writer Bruce Vilanch, and film historian David Del Valle, among others, involved with the documentary, mindlessly singing hosannas in the highest to Studio One without any reference to its racial and sex discrimination past.

The whole community knows about its infamous history. Why would the producers and participants of the documentary, white gay men of that generation, pretend like they do not know?  The Advocate, the national gay newspaper at the time headquartered in L.A., ran continuing news stories about the protests.  The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article about Studio One’s abhorrent discriminatory practices.

Today, most gay men of any race, particularly in this time of a BLM sea change in L.A. and the country, would have the moral and political intelligence not to associate their names with such a racist and retrograde enterprise.

“Studio One Forever” is being produced by Lloyd Coleman (founder of Rocket Entertainment), Chris Isaacson (a producer), Gary Steinberg (Hollywood Hills realtor) and Marc Saltarelli (film director), who is the documentary’s director.  Stephen Israel (independent film producer) is executive producer.  Its fiscal sponsor is The Film Collaborative, who I am sure would love to hear your opinion about its involvement with the Studio One Forever documentary.

With its well-documented Jim Crow consciousness and practices, I feel it is unconscionable to glorify Studio One.  It was an essential part of the problem a younger generation currently is dedicated to change and transform.  The title of the documentary should be changed from “Studio One Forever” to “Studio One Never Again.” 

The white, wealthy, monocultural “WeHo Bubble” is increasingly becoming a problem and an embarrassment to the progressive Los Angeles LGBTQ community.

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Seriously
Seriously
1 month ago

Much of the author’s comments in this article appeared in 2017, when LAist quoted him, only he has added a few additional superlatives denouncing West Hollywood and pretty much everyone who was ever in attendance at Studio One. If the new elevated consciousness has arrived, complete with vitriol and vilification, there’s nothing new or elevated about it.
The message in this article is all but lost in its excesses.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

The white, wealthy, monocultural “WeHo Bubble” denunciation in this rather inflammatory article borders on the pompous, sanctimonious diatribes which tend to undermine an author’s message. Though not “race baiting” by definition, perhaps a second cousin.
Making one aspect, however unacceptable, the entire focus of subject matter can tend to distort or “rewrite history”. Let people decide for themselves. There have always been those who dispute that these clubs served any useful purpose. I disagree.
If this project is accurate, objective and balanced, I believe it can have value.

Disappointed
Disappointed
1 month ago

I’m even more disappointed now to see you removed my comments, which were clearly constructive and on point, while leaving the cheap shot leveled by JF1, even though their comments were expressly against your policy of “focusing on the issue, not the commenters.” Apparently JF1 has some relationship with your website affording him or her special privileges. Echoes of shabby policies.

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Disappointed

Your comment hasn’t shown up. Please resubmit it. Also, the email address you provide isn’t valid, so I am unable to reach you about the missing comment via that

Disappointed
Disappointed
1 month ago

Isn’t the point of this discussion, as well as the national discourse, emphasizing the importance of calling out discrimination whatever the source? Race baiting… not so fast. Taking cheap shots…not productive. It’s no secret why gays were closeted, even with their own families. Everyone who was an adult in the early seventies remembers how universally gays were reviled and hated across all demographics, including, ironically and disappointingly, others who were struggling as objects of discrimination and intolerance. It’s all the more disappointing, though not surprising, to recognize that members of the gay community were not immune to this behavior. The… Read more »

JM WEHO
JM WEHO
1 month ago

Mr. Strasburg, I’m afraid you missed the point. If you didn’t experience the racism first hand then as far as you’re concerned it didn’t exist. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, if you were non-white some of the gay bars did not welcome you. I hope Mr. Saltarelli’s film affords a balanced depiction of Studio One, good and bad. I’m afraid the white, wealthy, monocultural “WeHo Bubble” is alive and well. Systemic racism still exists in our fair city. I love living in WEHO since I moved here in 1994 but there is still much work to be done to… Read more »

Observer
Observer
1 month ago

Doesn’t everyone love being oh so Politically Correct?

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
1 month ago

With all respect to Mr. Kilhefner and his decades of activism and leadership, he misses the mark when he, like others, treats West Hollywood and its residents as a monolith with insulting and over-generalized commentary on its history and its current state. He further misses the mark by painting a nasty and intolerant portrait based on a three-minute preview. Even further, the bullseye is missed by a wide mark with the “white, wealthy, monoculture, ‘WeHo Bubble'” bullpuckey that is belied by observational evidence to the contrary. It fits the narrative of the tea party of the left to over-generalize and… Read more »

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
1 month ago

I first went to Studio One in 1978 and continued going for several years. I very clearly remember a black go-go dancer, who was very popular and was a regular performer, and I remember women there because I wondered what was in it for them that they would want to hang out at a gay men’s disco? I was shocked to see some of them go into the men’s restroom. There were absolutely black guys at Studio One and I am still on the look-out for one in particular who was one of the most handsome men I had ever… Read more »

Marc Saltarelli
1 month ago

I’m the director of STUDIO ONE FOREVER, and it’s interesting how Mr.Kilhefner can judge a work-in-progress trailer and assume that the feature length film doesn’t deal with the racist and sexist discrimination that happened in the 70’s. It does, and this led to a boycott of Studio One. It’s actually a big part of the film, but because of time we couldn’t include every narrative thread in the trailer. We also include drag queen discrimination that happened to some backlot performers. Please be assured that the film will be a comprehensive look at the club from1974-1993. We would love to… Read more »

Ruth Williams
Ruth Williams
1 month ago

Last time I checked, I am a female and often went to Studio One on the weekends with friends. There were gay, straight, and many male and female people of color. I often saw female celebrities there, Tina Turner, Joan Rivers and many more. When I ran for City Council Scott threw a fun fund-raiser for me. I heard he passed away about 10 years ago. It’s true it was primarily a gay disco but during the times I attended I never witnessed any discrimination.

Cathy
Cathy
1 month ago

History is history regardless of how one feels about it now. If we start being selective as to what we want the past to show, one can only imagine what the history books might say or leave out about the last almost 4 trumpian years!

The omission of facts regarding anti-black and anti-women practices need to be included in the history and evolution of Studio One otherwise, why even bother.

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

As a patron of Studio One and the other gay establishments in West Hollywood beginning in 1978, I wasn’t thinking about why there were no Black guys or women in the discos and bars. I wasn’t looking for them. All I wanted to do was have a good time and, maybe, hook-up. That’s all. So, it turns out that Studio One had an active anti-Black and women policy. That is a shame. As for their racist policy, that I find offensive. As for anti-women policy, well, I don’t. At the time I believed that if women started to patronize a… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

I was the same demographic and at that time just walking down Santa Monica on a Friday or Saturday night was an act of political defiance. As a community we had a lot on our plate, but even so that did not excuse racist or sexist policies. On the other hand back in the day West Hollywood welcomed places like the Speak Easy and Flippers that had large African American clientele. Hopefully Don Kilhefner’s accurate insights will be taken constructively to the producers of this film.

Mike
Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Whatever Don Kilhefner’s insights are they won’t ruin my fond memories of Studio One. However, I couldn’t approve of those policies in this day and age. Back then I was naive, and, I really didn’t care. My justification was that a lot of other clubs practiced the same policies. If it wasn’t due to race or sex then it was how you dressed or what shape you were in. I was more comfortable with a business owner practicing discrimination than any government agency.