Recalling the Not-So-True Story Behind Saturday Night Fever

It was based on magazine piece that turned out to be fiction
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2016 12:51 PM CDT
Updated Jul 2, 2016 11:20 AM CDT
Recalling the Not-So-True Story Behind Saturday Night Fever
In this 1977 file photo released by Paramount Pictures, John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney are shown in "Saturday Night Fever."   (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, File)

The Guardian revisits a fascinating piece of pop culture that may be a surprise to those who either love or hate Saturday Night Fever. The 1977 movie that helped turn disco into a phenomenon and John Travolta into a mega-star was actually based on a New York magazine article by British rock critic Nik Cohn after a visit to a New York City dance club. There, he claimed to have spotted the real-life "Vincent" played by Travolta, whom he described as a blue-collar kid who let loose with his friends once a week. “Everything described in this article is factual and was either witnessed by me or told to me directly by the people involved," wrote Cohn in a preface to Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Nights. "Only the names of the main characters have been changed.” Twenty years later, however, Cohn confessed to the same magazine that his story was largely a work of fiction.

“Why did I decide to come clean in 1997? It simply felt like time,” he tells Nadia Khomami of the Guardian. “What seemed OK to me when I was young and stoned no longer sat right. Accountability, let’s say.” Cohn based the Travolta character on "mods" he knew in London, and the Guardian story recounts the context of the time in which the article was written—days when big-name writers such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson blended fact with fiction in their work. Now 70, Cohn insists that a fundamental part still rings true. “Tribal Rites is about identity,” he says. “Finding a place in the world where you can shine. What still resonates, to me at least, is the sense of yearning. If I was writing the story today, Vincent might be trans ..." (Click for the full story.)

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