• Kristyn Burtt

3 Things You Need To Know About ‘Saturday Night Fever’ 40 Years Later

Updated: Jul 16


Saturday, Dec. 16 is the 40th anniversary of the legendary disco film, Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta already was a bona fide TV star — thanks to Welcome Back, Kotter — but this film turned him into the hottest actor in Hollywood. From white disco suits to The Hustle, this movie is cemented in dance history.


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Here are the three things you should know about Saturday Night Fever:


1. Choreographer: Believe it or not, dance legends like New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d'Amboise and Alvin Ailey star, Judith Jamison, were considered for the job. It’s hard to believe that they wanted a classical choreographer, but that is who original director John Avildsen interviewed for the vital role.


It was the film’s second director John Badham who brought on Lester Wilson, who was the heart of the film’s iconic dance moves.


“Deney Terrio [of Dance Fever] did show John the moves, and I give him credit for that. But I don’t think Lester Wilson got nearly the credit that he deserved,” actor Paul Pape, who played Double J, in the film told Vanity Fair. “The movie was Lester.”


Wilson went on to choreograph the film, The Wiz, the following year. He died of a heart attack brought on by complications from AIDS at the age of 50 in February 1993.

2. John Travolta: Travolta was only 23 years old when he shot the film. However, he knew that his big dance solo was the moneymaker for the movie. He hated how his big scene was edited, so he took charge of the sequence.


“I was crying and very angry because of the way the dance highlight was shot.” he reminisced to Vanity Fair. “I knew how it should appear on-screen, and it wasn’t shot that way. You couldn’t even see my feet!”


Travolta was permitted to take out the close-up shots and give the audience the full-length body shots they deserved — and dance history was made.


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3. The club: The movie was filmed at the 2001 Odyssey disco in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York. However, it was Saturday Night Fever’s production team that added a $15,000 dance floor complete with multicolored lights that were designed to flash in rhythm with the music.


The club closed in 2005, but former employee Vito Bruno bought the floor. Bruno put it up for auction in June 2017 and the iconic dance floor was sold for $1.2 million to an anonymous buyer by the auction house, Profiles in History.


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