August 29, 1937 – Carol Ann Doda:
“The minute I knew I existed in life was the night I started the Condor thing, The only thing that mattered to me was entertaining people. That always drove me.”
She was a topless stripper in San Francisco in the 1960s through 1980s, one of the first of the era. She introduced topless dancing to the city, launching a craze for topless nightclubs which spread across America and beyond.
In 1964 Doda made international news, first by dancing topless at the Condor Club, then by enhancing her bust from size 34 to 44 with silicone injections. Her breasts became known as Doda’s “Twin 44s” and “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco”. She was one of the first well-known performers to be surgically enhanced. She had 44 injections, at a cost of $1,500.
In 1964, Doda was working as a cocktail waitress and go-go dancer at the Condor Club when she was persuaded to dance on stage wearing only one of Rudi Gernreich‘s monokini topless swimsuits.
Before, racy nightclubs offered traditional burlesque shows featuring the slow and titillating striptease. By entering the stage bare-breasted, Doda introduced a new form of entertainment which involved dancing and singing while already half-naked. The act was a sensation and the Condor Club became the most popular, and the most imitated, nightspot in San Francisco.
Doda dropped out of school when she was 14 years old, but she attended the San Francisco Art Institute before working at the Condor Club in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Her act began with a grand piano being lowered from the ceiling by hydraulic motors; Doda would be atop the piano dancing, as it descended from a hole in the ceiling. She go-go danced doing the “Swim” to music by a combo headed by Bobby Freeman as the piano settled on the stage. From the waist up Doda emulated aquatic movements. She also did the Twist, the Frug, and the Watusi.
Once, Liberace visited the Condor Club and arrived just as the topless Doda was descending from the ceiling on the white piano. Liberace remarked:
“What a coincidence. We both use Baldwins!”
Two months after she started her topless performances, the rest of San Francisco’s clubs along Broadway were topless, soon followed by other entertainers across America. Doda became an American cultural icon of the 1960s.
The Republican National Convention was held in San Francisco during the summer of 1964 and many of the delegates came to see Doda do her thing. She was profiled in Tom Wolfe‘s book The Pump House Gang (1968) and appeared that same year as “”Sally Silicone in the nutty film Head (1968) written and produced by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, directed by Rafelson, starring pop group The Monkees.
In 1969 she introduced “bottomless” dancing at the Condor Club, which briefly started a new club craze, until the Californian authorities introduced a law in 1972 which made naked performances in a club where alcohol was served strictly illegal.
For more than 20 years Doda was a permanent fixture at the Condor Club, which erected a huge neon billboard of her outside its doors, complete with flashing lights for nipples.
Nasty Nicaraguan dictator General Anastasio Somoza Debayle paid an unexpected visit to the Condor Club in 1973. Seven limousines pulled up before the startled parking attendants. About two dozen U.S Secret Service agents accompanied the General’s party of nine and guarded each door. Somoza sent to Doda a word backstage as he departed that he considered her performance “most outstanding”.
From the late-1960s through the late-1970s, Doda was the spokesmodel for channel 36 television station KGSC-TV, out of San Jose. Filmed from the waist up and wearing clothes which showed off her prominent physical attributes to best advantage. She would purr: “You’re watching the Perfect 36 in San Jose”. She also appeared on-air to do editorial commentary on the issues of the day.
In 1982 Doda was still dancing at the Condor Club three times a night. She was 45 years old and performed to Rock ‘n’ roll, Blues, and Ragtime. Each act was the same: Doda appearing in a gold gown, traditional elbow-length gloves, and a long diaphanous scarf. She would remove her costume until she down to only a g-string and the diaphanous scarf. For her finale, she would get down to just the scarf. Her small body looked slimmer without clothes, a perception which was emphasized by the dwarfing effect of her boobs. At the time she was taking dance and voice lessons but she had no definite plans for her future.
Her topless piano act at the Condor Club received even more public attention in 1983 when a manager at the club, “Jimmy the Beard” Ferrozzo, was crushed to death by the hydraulic piano after he accidentally kicked the up switch while in a romantic clinch with a woman on top of the instrument.
Doda retired from stripping in the 1980s and opened Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique in San Francisco. The shop specialized in bustiers and novelty underwear. Her piña colada flavored panties were particularly popular. She was still onstage sometimes, performing with her band, The Lucky Stiffs. Into the 21st century, she could be found performing (fully clothed) at several North Beach clubs. She was more than a stripper; Doda was a deft comic and an expressive singer. She considered herself “an entertainer”.
Doda lived in San Francisco until the end. She never envisioned an end to her showbiz career:
“The only way I’ll stop performing is when I can’t walk anymore, honey.”
Her neon sign still flickers in my memories of a favorite city when it was at its most fun and most subversive, at a time of sexual revolution and Women’s Lib. The libbers targeted the Condor Club. Doda:
“The women used to parade outside, saying, ‘Burn your bras, burn your bras! And I said, ‘What are you talking about? I’m not wearing a bra!”
I went to see her in September 1971 at the urging of my friend Nancy Bleiweiss, herself a big San Francisco celebrity. Doda in slinky glitter and high heels belted out songs and jokes to a riotous audience while she made her tits pump up and down and sideways. And, of course, I remember the large neon sign outside the Condor Club and standing in awe at Doda’s neon-lit larger-than-life-size-tits and blinking incandescent nipples pointed to the San Francisco skyline, and the barkers standing outside the club inciting tourists to step inside and checkout Doda’s show.