Writer Admits Faking "Saturday Night Fever" Story

Nik Cohn comes clean--there was no real-life Tony Manero

By Marcus Errico Dec 05, 1997 11:45 PMTags
It was the ailment of the late '70s, that catchy Saturday Night Fever. Symptoms were fairly easy to spot: white polyester leisure suit, inescapable urge to boogie everytime the Bee Gees came on the radio, unabashed idolizing of a leaner, hip-swiveling John Travolta. The cause: multiple viewings of Travolta's classic, Saturday Night Fever. The cure: just dance, baby.

For all of you who ever jive talked or struck the classic Travolta point-to-the-sky pose, we've got some bad news.

You were living a lie.

It seems that Nik Cohn, the magazine writer who penned the purported true story of a Brooklyn dancer named "Vincent"--the basis for Travolta's Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever--for New York magazine, admitted this week in New York that he made the whole thing up.

For an article in the December 8 issue celebrating the 20th anniversary of the movie, Cohn tells of a disco deception born of frustration. The British writer describes how he went to Brooklyn's now legendary 2001 Odyssey searching in vain for a flamboyantly dressed fellow he had spotted in the club's entrance a week earlier. "I didn't learn much...I made a lousy interviewer: I knew nothing about this world, and it showed. Quite literally, I didn't speak the language.

"So I faked it. I conjured up the story of the figure in the doorway, and named him Vincent...I wrote it all up. And presented it as fact," Cohn confesses. "There was no excuse for it...I knew the rules of magazine reporting, and I knew that I was breaking them. Bluntly put, I cheated."

Cohn's fabrication became the cover story (titled "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night") on June 7, 1976. Producer Robert Stigwood--who had both the Bee Gees and Travolta (then best known as Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter) under contract--read the piece, liked the gritty "true" story and decided it would be a perfect vehicle for the stars in his stable. You know the rest of the story.

For his part, Cohn says he still feels some remorse for offering his fiction as fact--not to mention setting loose the Fever-ish plague that subsequently engulfed the world. "I was painfully aware that everything Fever brought me was shabbily come by."

Don't cry for Cohn, though. "I failed to return the checks, even so," he admits.

And Cohn will probably be getting some more moolah for the 20-year-old movie that keeps stayin' alive. Stigwood has recently announced that he's turning Fever into a $6.5 million stage musical to be released next year in London.