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18th July 2019
Carol Doda is credited with being the originator of the modern day American striptease artist, turning from go-go dancer to stripper. During the 1960's she first went "topless" and later took it one step further, by going "bottomless." She was also one of the first strip club performers to have breast enhancements using silicone injections.
Carol Ann Doda performed under her real name, Carol Doda.
Carol Doda was born on 29th August 1937 in Solano County, California, although she grew up in San Francisco (only a little way to the South West from her birthplace). Her parents divorced when she was just 3 years old, and she dropped out of school at age 14 and became a cocktail waitress.
Carol attended the San Francisco Art Institute, and this possibly gave her an interest in performance art or it may have simply been through the clubs she worked at, that she became a club entertainer. It was while working as a lounge entertainer at the Condor Club (still operating today), in the North Beach/Chinatown area of San Francisco, that she became a famous figure. Initially as a go-go dancer, in a signature show atop a piano and performing aquatic dance moves, she went on to take things further...
On 19th June 1964, Carol Doda (then 26) was given a "Monokini" by the Condor clubs publicist "Big" Davy Rosenburg. Designed by Rudi Gernreich, the Monokini is basically a topless swimsuit, and Carol decided to wear this for her show that same night. To say it was an instant success is an understatement - within a few months, topless performances were being copied by entertainers all across the USA - making Ms. Doda a cultural icon of the 60's.
In 1965 Carol Doda and the owner of The Condor Club, Gino del Prete, were both arrested for these topless performances. However, they were cleared of the charges when two judges instructed "Not Guilty" verdicts to be given.
On 3rd September 1969, the show took on an added dimension when Carol began dancing totally nude (i.e. "bottomless" too). This still didn't breach the law until 1972, when the California Alcohol Beverages Commission introduced the prohibition of nude dancing where alcohol was served.
In 1968/9 Carol decided to have her breasts enhanced, going from a size 34 to a big size 44. This consisted of having over 40 injections of silicone, at a cost of $1,500 (the equivalent of about $10,000 today). Once again, this became an instant success and Doda became renowned for her big bust. For about 9 years (until the late 1970's), Carol Doda was the spokesmodel for the local San Jose TV station on channel 36 (KGSC-TV, now called KICU-TV and known as KTVU Plus). Wearing clothes which showed her enlarged assets she could be heard to frequently say the catchphrase "You're watching the perfect 36 in San Jose".
By the early 1980's, at the age of 45, Carol had returned to The Condor Club and was performing there up to 3 nights a week. During this time she was taking voice lessons and started performing with her music band "The Lucky Stiffs", something she would continue to pursue further.
Carol Doda's signature act at The Condor Club began with a white grand piano being lowered from the ceiling on cables and powered by hydraulic lifts. Carol would be on top of the piano as it descended and would be dancing (while laying down) and using dance moves such as "The Swim" and the "Australian Crawl". Once the piano had settled on stage, she would stand up and continue with other popular dances of the era such as the "Twist", the "Frugi" and the "Watusi".
When she went topless and bottomless, the show hardly changed at all. From 1964 to 1972, Carol was performing up to 12 times a night, with a steady flow of customers being managed to move them through the lounge. Following the move to topless an illuminated image of Ms. Doda was featured outside, with red flashing lights representing the position of her nipples - such imagery was subsequently emulated by many clubs throughout the Western world during the 1970's.
In 1968 Doda was profiled in the book "the Pump House Gang" by Tom Wolfe.
Also in 1968, Carol appeared as the character "Sally" in the film "Head". Starring the TV pop group "The Monkees", the film was written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson (who also directed).
Despite her very public life of believed infamy, Carol kept her private life quiet. She is said to have never married but had two children when she was very young. She is said to have little contact with her children: Tom Smith (her son) and Donna Smith Terizan (her predeceased daughter).
Carol stopped stripping in the early 1980's and ran her own lingerie boutique in San Francisco - "Carol Doda's Champagne and Lace". In the evenings she would often be found in night clubs around the Bay area, fronting her music band "The Lucky Stiffs", and continued to do so until 2010.
Following a long stay in St. Lukes Hospital in San Francisco, Carol Doda died on 9th November 2015. She was 78 years old and had complications resulting in kidney failure.
There is an historical marker at the original site of The Condor Club on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, with the new Condor Club just a few strides away. It reads:
Where it all began;
The birthplace of the world's first topless and bottomless entertainment;
Topless - June 19 1964,
Bottomless - September 3 1969.
Starring Ms. Carol Doda;
San Francisco, California.
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