THE INFLUENCE FACTOR: Part 2: Dan Didio & My Studio 54 Philosophy
Writer’s notes: All DC Comics references imply past events. They do not indicate any criticism or suggest answerability from current management.
I’ve built my career around what I call my Studio 54 philosophy. It’s that philosophy that I’ll use to explain how those dancing on Dan Didio’s grave do so at considerable risk.
If you have not read last week’s article, please do so. If you don’t, this is gonna read strangely.
There’s no way to say this without sounding a bit full of myself, so here goes… I’m the Master Of The Universe. Yep, call me Motu if you like, but I am indeed the Master, etc. etc.
To be the Master of anything requires intelligence, the ability to reason, and self-confidence. Believe it or not, reason and self-esteem are more critical than being smart. If I had to pick one overall, it would be confidence.
Another way to put it is a force of will.
Studio 54 was a fantasy, a wish, a dream to me. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be able to roll in there at will.
Well, rejection is a great motivator.
I was NEVER rejected from 54. My most painful rejection was from the most excellent high school known to mankind the universe (of which I am Master) and all of creation (that’s not me) the High School of Art & Design.
WHAT? But we’ve read dozens of articles where you tell of the love for that high school because you went there. The fans of Michael Davis (both of them) are saying.
I did go there— but was rejected my first try. I tried in the ninth grade for admittance to the tenth grade. DENIED! I’ve wanted to go to that school since I found out it existed in the fourth grade. At that age, waiting six minutes is agony— imagine waiting six years.
I could try again, but there was a catch.
The odds of getting into A&D for admittance to the 9th and 10th grade were four people admitted out of every ten that applied. The 9th and 10th were foundation years where you learn the principals of art. Anyone hoping to get into the 11th grade, the odds were 1 out of 25.
The odds were that low because you’re skipping the foundation years. You major immediately. I was told this by my guidance counselor, no doubt hoping to spare me the pain of rejection for the second time.
“An artist is wishful thinking for one in your position Michael.” Translation: “Nigger*, PLEASE. There’s always work at the Post Office.”
I got in.
That was the moment I realized what my boy Lee calls; THE POWER OF DAVIS.
It wasn’t too long after that I was getting into 54. Because I began to look at things differently.
It wasn’t a Black and White world; there are plenty of shades; this underaged Black kid was now made aware of. My friend Earl and later Lee would hop (not pay) the train from Far Rockaway to Manhattan just to stare at what we thought we would never take part in, life like white people lived.
We would stand outside of Broadway plays, hoping to see whatever TV stars we heard were appearing in the play come out. Stand outside movie theaters showing blockbuster movies. One night we noticed the usher tearing ticket stubs dropping his half. One of us would pretend to trip while walking by, grab the discarded stubs go to the back of the line, and MOVIE NIGHT was born. The highlight of our Manhattan nights was always Studio 54. The street was packed with people all trying to get in; we stood there for hours just happy to be near a place we saw on television.
No such ‘stub’ opportunity at Studio 54, but watching the news one night gave me an idea. There was a story about this woman who gifted Steve Rubell a Studio 54 sculpture. I did a drawing and went down to 54 during the day.
I knocked on the door, a lady answered, said with a smile, “No.” When I asked for Mr. Rubell. That ‘no’ caused me to refine my plan. I knew I’d get in eventually Why? One out of twenty-five is why.
There were photos of all the top doorman from the top clubs in a magazine story that for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of. I did caricatures of all of them. Then I talked to an editor of a pennysaver circular. I’d met her at my cousin’s house, she gave me her number. I was studying illustration at the world’s most fabulous high school, and she told me to come to see her when I graduated.
She ran the art.
The “magazine” came out, my intention; give the originals to the doormen.
I set about dropping the artwork off at the clubs. The first club I got into was Xenon, the only real competition 54 ever had. Funny thing the doorman, Charles, had not seen the drawing just undid the velvet rope for me and my girlfriend Renee. An hour or so later, I caught him by the bar and told him about the drawings.
He sent someone to the office to look for them. Turns out Roger, the other head door guy at Xenon, was recruited by 54 and took all the art with him. Charles was so moved by the gesture he told me to come down anytime then introduced me to Brian, Roger’s replacement. From that moment on, I was VIP at the 2nd biggest nightclub in NYC.
This was the night that started to shape my Studio 54 philosophy.
My Studio 54 philosophy:
Get to the decision-maker.
One night I showed up at Xenon, and neither Brian or Charles were at the door. The guy there was someone I’d seen before from his swagger I knew he was the boss. I rolled up to the rope and dropped a “Charles always lets me in” all I got was a look and a view of his back when he turned around on me. I was heartbroken, so I started to leave when I hear—
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” The voice belonged to a stunning Black woman who was always at the club.
She was standing next to the guy who turned his back on me. Now I was being waved in by the same guy. Turns out, I was right; the guy was the owner Howard Stein and the woman was his girlfriend Tawn Christian. I’d happen upon some guys crowding her once and told them to step off (white folk, that means “leave her alone” ). I’d forgotten all about that. She hadn’t.
Now not only was I getting into Xenon, but I was also getting in free.
It’s not easy getting to the guy on top, but once you do that makes it much more manageable. Put another way, if you know Jay-Z you now have access to his infrastructure. Work your relationship with Jay first. If you’re interested in just milking connections for whatever you can get, you will quickly be found out.
Once that happens, you’re DEAD. Jay makes a call telling people you’re a dick, you are done done done.
Safeguard your relationships.
I learned the hard way to guard your relationships like its water, and you’re in the desert. At one point, I’m riding high thinking my shit don’t stink (white folk y’all got that I assume), so I bring my boy Lee who invites his boy Lenny who invites his girl Ghetto to Studio 54. I don’t remember her name, but Ghetto fits. While working through the crowded dance floor, Ghetto steps on the foot of a Princess. A real honest to Jesus Allah Jehovah Buddha Kirby Princess.
That was bad enough, but Ghetto acted her name. I’m still surprised the Princess’ bodyguards didn’t shoot Ms. G. That’s kinda what saved me. I quickly owned up to bringing the group that almost caused an international incident. What else could I do? It’s a fair bet we were the only Black people from the hood there. Ghetto’s “YEAH, WHAT? That’s what you get for BE IN IN MY WAY!” Made it more visible.
When wrong, apologize.
If possible, bring up the wrong and take responsibility before you’re summoned to explain yourself. Trust me, seldom will that not get you points.
My apology featured:
- A promise never to bring thugs with me again.
- A plea to continue coming to Studio 54, the highlight of my life.
- A plan: “If you want to bust a cap in the back of her head, I’m ok with it.”
That I said to the bodyguards a laugh from those guys and a hug from the Princess saved my Studio 54 privileges. Roger slapped me on the back, then whispered, “Michael, well done, but if it happens again, you’re gone.”
Consider who brought you in.
No one can control how someone you don’ t know will act. If the Princess wasn’t even-tempered if Roger was in a bad mood, if any of those were in play—I’m dead at 54. Roger then makes a call, I’m gone at Xenon, I’m gone everywhere.
Never again would I make the mistake of hooking someone up with people I don’t know. Roger may have been fired if the incident had turned into a critical issue why? Because of his relationship with me. He was the reason I was there, and in business, if you bring someone in, they are your responsibility at the start of their involvement.
Remember, most likely, YOUR contact has a boss.
Don’t sever a relationship when someone is fired.
This may be the most crucial part of my Studio 54 philosophy.
Roger going to 54 worked out great for me. He was truly touched when he was gifted with the original artwork.
Xenon was my favorite club; however, this was Studio 54.
I was getting into the most famous nightclub in the world and for free.
Talented People always end up somewhere else.
Charles went to a new club ‘X’ Roger went back to Xenon, and Mark from 54 ended up in LA, where he was on the door at a few clubs.
Wherever those guys went, I had carte blanche.
A lot of people are dancing a gig on Dan Didio’s grave. Dan isn’t dead. Far from it.
He’s got almost two decades of insider information from one of the two top comic book publishers on Earth. Dan possesses relationships with world-class talent, and there is no-one except idiots who won’t take his call.
Dan did great things at DC that non-competes he no doubt signed don’t mean shit in reality. All it does is buy DC time to change some internal workings. It also stops Dan from writing DC COMICS: THE UNBELIEVABLE STORY OF SUPERMAN’S METH HABIT.
That’s a joke title, everyone knows Superman does not do meth. The hardest thing he does is drink coke he tried snorting it but sneezed and blew his dealer’s head off.
Yeah, that was uncalled for. I’m going to remove it. But if I do that, you won’t see I did such a noble thing. That means its YOUR fault that silliness is here.
Wow. GROW UP, will ya?
If Dan’s non-compete is one or even two years, during that time, he’ll be working on what his next act is anyway. When my year-long non-compete with Motown expired, my next project with Simon and Schuster was announced a day after it ended. By the end of the month, the project was in the market place.
Dan will not have any problem maintaining his boss’s status because he’s a smart, talented, capable executive.
The dumbest— I mean DUMBEST— thing a creator without the influence of a significant playa could do is go online and bath in a glowing victory they had nothing to do with.
Figure out what real power is.
Roger, Charles, Brian, and Mark, actual power wasn’t because they were the doormen at elite clubs. Their power is WHY they were the doormen.
The doormen at clubs like 54 and Xenon were not just some lucky guy who filled out an application. Anyone could recognize Mick Jagger or Andy Warhol.
Doormen at 5-star clubs were put in that position to spot CEO’s, Senators, royalty, and the like.
Could you spot those people?
Many doormen from the Studio 54 era came from an Ivy League school, an influential, wealthy family, or both.
Don’t take it personally.
Dan was once a friend. I did a giant solid for him, and he never returned the gesture. How could he? His boss tried to destroy me, and Dan would have been an idiot to cross that line.
I’m gonna do exactly what I did when Disney canned him. I’m going to call and offer him a hand. If he needs anything and I can be of some help, I will.
It’s never a good thing to rejoice when someone is suffering a setback.
Once Frank Sinatra was the biggest star in the world. He fell hard from that and was back playing very small singing gigs. Also, an actor his acting career was all but dead. He had to beg to audition for a part in the movie; From Here To Eternity.
He won the Academy Award for his role.
Just like that, he was a headliner again. Within a year, he was the biggest star on the planet again.
Remember if a person screwed you once they may do it again. They may not, but why chance it?
Sinatra never forgot those who were there when he was on top but deserted him when he hit bottom.
Keep the true nature of all your relationships on the down-low.
What many young people don’t understand about influence is this; let’s say you said nothing about Dan’s dismissal. If buddies with someone who did that puts you at risk.
It works another way also.
DC Comics has relationships with many of my Bad Boy Studio Mentor program alumni. Although DC wants nothing to do with me.
Almost to a person I’ve heard this from my former students; “Michael, would you mind if I did x for DC? “Or “Say the word Mike and I’m done with them.”
The ability to remove a revenue source from a company is real power. Why haven’t I done that?
Twice I killed a project that directly affected my house. It wasn’t revenge; it was business.
When I was a kid, I read The Fountainhead. I loved that book. Then I grew up. Now the book and its writer, in my opinion, are jokes.
I will admit the characters in the book are excellent as examples. Everyone wants to be Howard Roark, the novel’s hero, a brilliant architect of absolute integrity.
I’m Ellsworth Toohey. Like Toohey, I’ve built an influential brand command a large part of (Black) content talent and distribution.
UPS Hilton Hotels and DC learned I’m a dangerous opponent AKA the wrong nigga* too fuck with.
As is Dan Didio.
*Writer’s notes yet again: The use of ‘nigga’ in this narrative means imposing dangerous and formidable. It’s a hip-hop term used in this manner, not a racial one.