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Tru stories of Studio 54.

The few times I saw Truman Capote on the dance floor of Studio 54, I don't remember that he was much of a dancer, but that probably had more to do with the disco dance styles of the time with which he was neither by stature nor inclination particularly at home. He much preferred the jitterbug and often did it with the writer Bob Colacello, an habitue of Studio 54 whose memoir about Andy Warhol, Holy Terror, is one of the truly perceptive chronicles of those times. Colacello told me, "What was funny about Truman was, he would always whistle while he danced, but it was never the song you were dancing to. He'd be whistling songs like `Whistle While You Work,' Walt Disney sound-track songs. He'd be whistling these while we would be dancing to Donna Summer singing `Enough is enough.' It would throw me off."

Truman went to Studio 54 (he called it "Cinquantaquattro") enough to be thought of as a regular. Someone said, "When he came, it was like Moses: The seas would part." When he wasn't lolling on a banquette surrounded by friends (or out on the floor with Colacello), Truman was down in the basement under the dance floor in whatever storage cage was that night's VIP lounge--cushions, mattresses on the cement floor, dingy, hideous, but where you'd find the fashion people, models, film and rock stars. Drugs, of course. People would fall asleep and wake up the next morning and think, Where am I?

Steve Rubell, who co-owned Studio 54, went down to the basement one dawn after he'd thought everyone had left and found a Eurotrash princess handcuffed to an overhead pipe. She had been taken down there by her own request, handcuffed, fucked by one of the cocktail waiters--half naked, they ran around in what looked like diapers--who then thought, My God, I've got to get back to the bar! and forgot about the handcuffs.

I can't be sure about the princess's reaction to her night, but a kind of laissez-faire attitude prevailed about Studio 54. As one of the regulars said, "We knew we were having the time of our lives; we were loving it. We knew it was an extraordinary time, and we knew it wouldn't last."

How right she was! Her sentiment is reflected in one of the more memorable photographs of Truman Capote. It shows him, quite portly, slouched on a banquette on the dance-floor level, a white hat pulled down to cover his eyes, as if the swirl of dancers in front of him is too much to take. On one side is Gloria Swanson, the actress, and on the other is Kate Harrington, the beautiful daughter of John O'Shea, one of Truman's lovers. The two are chatting, Kate leaning forward across Truman's lap to communicate with the other over the thump-thump of the disco beat. Truman seems oblivious, as if even the gossip of two women, surely a thing of delectation for him not so many months before, and indeed that of the disco world itself, was of very small consequence to him.

As over the months the crowds in the discos began to thin out, Truman, very often alone, lost in a chaos of booze and drugs, rarely went to the clubs. He spent the days before he died in Los Angeles, in his friend Joanne Carson's house on Sunset Boulevard (where else?), playing imaginary games in which they would pick a foreign country to visit--France, for example--and order in food from a French restaurant. Then, poring over the pictures in magazines, albums, and coffee-table books, they would pay imaginary visits to the Louvre, to the Luxembourg Gardens. They often "went" to China, a place Truman had always wanted to visit and never had. It was about as far removed from the disco world as one could possibly imagine.

Plimpton is author or editor of 25 books, including Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career.
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Title Annotation:Truman Capote a regular at Studio 54
Author:Plimpton, George
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 21, 1998
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