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The Encyclopedia of Superlatives

Marc Benecke, 1979.  

By Jim Holt
What makes a great nightclub doorman? The first test is consistency—a test that Armin Amiri, who manned the velvet rope at Bungalow 8 a decade ago, willfully flunked. “Someone might be allowed in four nights in a row, and not the fifth, just to keep it interesting,” Amiri once boasted. The second test is kindness—not among the virtues of the late Haoui Montaug, chief vetter at the Palladium, Danceteria, and other eighties clubs too numerous to mention. (“Back to the kennel!”)

Despite their flaws, such legendary club doormen of yesteryear showed an undeniable flair in their role of nightlife arbiter elegantiae. But none rivaled Marc Benecke of Studio 54. Improbably young (he was a 19-year-old Hunter College political-science major when Steve Rubell hired him), hatchet-faced yet preppily handsome, he possessed a regal demeanor enhanced by the full-length Norma Kamali down overcoat he wore against the cold. Atop a fire hydrant next to the entrance, he cast the perfect party out of the most glittering raw materials—fashion, Hollywood, royalty, rock, drag, art world, Eurotrash, punk.

Notwithstanding his great power, Marc was kind. He never yawned ostentatiously on the many nights when Grace Jones arrived in the nude. And he was consistent. Even his rare blunders had a way of bearing fruit. When he refused entry to the creators of the disco group Chic despite their exotic appearance, they were so incensed that they went home and wrote a bitch-song about it, which evolved—fuck off … freak off … freak out—into the monster hit “Le Freak.” Marc once even let me into Studio 54 for free when I told him it was my birthday—although he did make me show him my driver’s license.

Woody, Mia, and Soon-Yi in 1987, before things got weird.  

By Michael Musto
As told to Mary Kaye Schilling
Most recently, there was the Charlie Sheen rampage at the Plaza Hotel, which had his suite in shambles, an escort in the bathroom, and his publicist saying it was because of an allergic reaction to medication. Or the marriage of Liza Minnelli and David Gest in 2002; I wrote at the time that when Dominick Dunne showed up at the church, it certified it as a crime scene. In 1991, we got our own big-haired Dynasty-style scandal with the Trump divorce. But the No. 1 juiciest bit of gossip and scandal, because it became a topic of watercooler conversation for months—for years!—would have to be the revelation of Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. People were so outraged! Everybody loves a triangle, but this one was deliciously sick, from the dark side of everyone’s imagination: The wronged woman (Mia Farrow), the overentitled man (Allen, betraying his nerdy, lovable persona), and the other woman, who, in this case, was Mia’s adopted daughter. I remember O. J. Simpson saying to me at the time—and this was before his own scandal—“Go Woody! Get some!” He was in the minority. Of course, Woody got the last laugh: They’re still together.

By Pat Di Lillo
Co-founder, The Phun Phactory
About four or five thousand artists came through our doors [at the original Phun Phactory, a nonprofit supporting graffiti artists], but Child will always stick out in my mind. He was a young kid, about 19 or 20, when I met him in 2001. Of course I loved Iz the Wiz, who co-founded the Phun Phactory with me. From the beginning, he would paint on the trains. And he had the most ups—it’s all about how many times your name is up and where. But Child did 3-D stuff, which was kind of unheard of at the time. You’d have to stare at his work for a lot longer to decipher it. Back in the day, there had been some kids trying to do 3-D—bubble letters that were easy to read—and eventually some of them graduated to a style and technique like his. But Child had been doing it from the get-go.

By Lydia Davis
I might opt for Grace Paley’s Aunt Rose—“I was popular in certain circles”—or the acid Holden Caulfield. But it is the enigmatic Bartleby, from Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: a Story of Wall-Street,” who may be most compelling in the end. On his third day of employment in the narrator’s law office, when asked to read over a copy, he says that he prefers not to. And from then on, his succinct refusals, his silence, and his pale composure, as though he were occupied elsewhere, in some mental space to which no one else in the story has access, make him at once mysterious, dignified, bizarre, comical, and touching. He dies curled up on the ground in a prison yard, by his own choice, decisively beyond reach.