Legal Battle over Floor from 'Saturday Night Fever'

That lighted, flashing floor where John Travolta strutted his stuff in the movie Saturday Night Fever is now the subject of a lawsuit almost as hot as the Bee Gees. Two businessmen are tangling over who owns this piece of disco history.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to a corner of Brooklyn, 30 years ago, when the movie Saturday Night Fever made disco mainstream, and John Travolta made polyester a fashion statement. The lighted dance floor where Travolta strutted his stuff is at the center of an odd custody battle now, as Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON reporting:

TEMPLE-RASTON: The beat is immediately recognizable, a staple that is a theme song not just for a movie, but for the disco age.

(Soundbite of music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: What a difference three decades makes. Today, memories of Saturday Night Fever have been largely reduced to John Travolta's white suit, now in the Smithsonian Institution. His character's pre-occupation with his hair...

Mr. JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Tony Manero) Would you watch the hair? You know, I work on my hair a long, and you hit it. He hits my hair.

TEMPLE-RASTON: ...and the lighted Plexiglas floor, the 2001 Odyssey, the Brooklyn club where Travolta showed the world he could dance. (Soundbite of music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: That floor is at the center of a bitter court battle in the Kings County Supreme Court, as two businessmen, Vito Bruno and Jay Rizzo, tangle over who owns this piece of disco history.

Mr. VITO BRUNO (businessman): I've been involved with that dance floor since, uh, it was built.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Vito Bruno, a concert promoter in Brooklyn, who says he bought the floor in what was billed an absolute auction last year.

Mr. BRUNO: I worked at the nightclub 2001 Odyssey as a kid, and I've had a, almost 30-year relationship with this thing, 25 years, I think it is?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Flipping through the New York Times classifieds, Bruno came across an auction announcement that said that everything at 2001 Odyssey's old location, from lights to bar glasses, to unused bottles of booze, was all on the block. Buried in the list, though, Bruno saw something he'd always wanted, the original Saturday Night Fever dance floor. But the auction didn't go exactly as planned according to Vito's Bruno's lawyer, Bruno Cataspati(ph).

Mr. BRUNO CATASPATI (lawyer for Vito Bruno): Well, he was the highest bidder at, and his highest bid was $6,000. The bidding process, as far as I understand, when they put the dance floor up, Mr. Bruno bid a thousand dollars. And the auctioneer said, I have a thousand, can I hear two? So, Vito looks around, and doesn't see anybody bidding.

He says, okay, I'll give you two thousand. I have two, do I hear three? And he still looks around. He goes, okay, I'll give you the three, but who am I bidding against? Okay, I have three, do I have four? Look, I'll give you the $4,000, but there's nobody else bidding. And he did that until he bid six, and then the auctioneer said, item withdrawn.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The owner of the old 2001 Odyssey, a Brooklyn man named Jay Rizzo, told Bruno that he had no intention of letting the floor go for such a paltry sum. Instead, he allowed a Beverly Hills company to auction it. This time, the floor, 300 square feet of yellow, red, and blue flashing Plexiglas, went for $160,000. And therein lies the rub. Vito Bruno says it was no longer Rizzo's to sell. Mr. Rizzo's lawyer, Paul Hugle(ph), sees it differently.

Mr. PAUL HUGLE (lawyer for Jay Rizzo): I mean, our position is very simple. The auction was subject to, all bids were subject to our approval, or to a certain minimum, and the bid was too low. And it wasn't accepted, and that's really the beginning, middle, and end of it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Unless Bruno and Rizzo can come to a compromise before they go to trial, a jury will decide if a man who literally grew up with disco will get to own a piece of its history. And for now, the floor that launched a dance craze is gathering dust in a Staten Island warehouse, and flickers to life only on film. For NPR News, I'm Dina Temple-Raston.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montaine.

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