Obituary: Carol Doda
Stripper who brought topless dancing to San Francisco
Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30
Carol Doda, who has died aged 78, introduced topless dancing to San Francisco in the mid-sixties, launching a craze for topless nightclubs which spread across America and beyond.
In 1964, Carol Doda was a cocktail waitress and go-go dancer at the Condor club on Broadway, San Francisco, when she was persuaded to dance on stage wearing only a Rudi Gernreich monokini topless swimsuit.
Up until then, racy nightclubs offered traditional burlesque shows which centred on the slow and titillating process of striptease. By entering the stage bare-breasted, Carol 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 most imitated, in San Francisco.
Almost immediately Carol Doda spent $1,500 on silicone injections to enhance her embonpoint to a size 44DD. The process - which was relatively new at the time - was painful , and irreversible, but it brought her more publicity as the owner of "the New Twin Peaks of San Francisco".
Carol Doda developed a unique act in which she performed some of the best-known dance crazes of the time (including 'The Swim', 'The Frug' and 'The Watusi') and was lowered on to the stage while shimmying on top of a Baldwin baby grand piano.
On one occasion Liberace was visiting the Condor and arrived just as the topless Miss Doda was descending from the ceiling on a white piano. "What a coincidence," remarked the pianist, "we both use Baldwins."
In 1969 she introduced "bottomless" (naked) dancing at the Condor, which - briefly - started a new nightclub craze, until the Californian authorities introduced a law in 1972 that forbade naked performances in a club where alcohol was served.
For more than 20 years Carol Doda was a permanent fixture at the Condor, which erected a huge neon billboard of her outside its doors, complete with flashing lights representing her nipples.
She regarded her fame as a blessing. "The minute I knew I existed in life was the night I started the Condor thing," she said. "The only thing that mattered to me was entertaining people. That always drove me."
Carol Doda was born on August 29, 1937, in Solano Country, California, and grew up in San Francisco, where, at the age of 14, she dropped out of school and became a cocktail waitress.
Her topless piano act at the Condor was brought to even wider public attention in 1983 when a manager at the club, James '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 his girlfriend on top of the instrument.
In 1985, Carol Doda left the Condor club. She went on to set up a lingerie shop, Champagne and Lace, which specialised in bustiers and novelty underwear (the pina colada flavoured knickers were particularly popular), while continuing to perform with her band, the Lucky Stiffs.
She also made regular appearances on a local television station, had a role in the film Head (1968) and featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Pump House Gang.
From 2009 until shortly before her death on November 9, Carol Doda continued to perform (fully clothed) at several nightclubs in San Francisco. "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging," she said recently, "but I can draw a pretty good crowd."
Carol Doda had two children with whom she had little contact. Her daughter predeceased her. She is survived by her son.