The Condor, “Big” Davey, Rudi Gernreich’ s monokini and Carol Doda

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WARNING TO THE READER

This article must be avoided by all people who cannot tolerate, accept, and so on, the naked female body. Please abandon ship now and seek safe passage to another destination.

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The Condor Club, North Beach, San Francisco, 1973

Introduction

This is a story about a place, the night club “The Condor”, a female dancer, Carol Doda, a Public Relations (PR) agent, “Big” Davey Rosenbeg, and a fashion designer, Rudi Gernreich. Together, they made “topless entertainment” a reality in San Francisco in the early 1960s.

 

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Carol Doda in The Condor

Carol Doda

Carol Ann Doda was born in Solano County, in Northern California, on Aug. 29, 1937, and raised in San Francisco. Her parents divorced when she was 3.

As reported in LIFE magazine (11 March 1966) Ms. Doda held a number of jobs like prune-picker, file clerk, ballroom dance instructor and cocktail waitress before becoming an employee of the Condor nightclub in San Francisco’s North Beach.

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The Condor

 

The Condor had a different name and owner before 1964. Its name was “House of Pisco”, named after the drink “Pisco Punch”. Pisco is a late 16th century brandy made from grapes that originated in the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was available in San Francisco since the 1830s when it was first brought from Pisco, Peru via ship by rawhide and tallow traders trading with California towns. During the California Gold Rush of 1849 the brandy was readily available in San Francisco.

In 1964 “The Condor” needed a push to its business, which was moderate in volume to say the least.

Hiring “Big” Davey Rosenberg as a PR man was one thing. It turned out that it was more than enough.

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“Big” Davey Rosenfeld in The Condor Club with three of the performers (1972)

 

 

“Big” Davey Rosenberg

“Big” Davey Rosenberg was a public relations agent in San Francisco. He was not a moderate man. He once told a Playboy interviewer.

“I personally am responsible for the name ‘topless entertainment’… I personally put ‘topless’ in the dictionary.”

Davey Rosenberg was the right man in the right place on the 19th June 1964, the day that changed “The Condor” and many other things in San Francisco and the United States of America.

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Rudi Gernreich

Rudi Gernreich

Rudi Gernreich, was an Austrian-born American fashion designer and early gay activist who had learned about female fashion in his aunt’s dress shop in Vienna. Rudi and his mother fled Austria after its annexation to Nazi Germany, where Hitler had banned nudity, among many other acts. Austrian citizens were advocates of exercising nude, a rejection of the over-civilized world. Gernreich was very much against sexualization of the human body and the notion that the body was essentially shameful, which was reflected prominently in his designs. (MessyNessy)

His genial way of cutting fabrics and his dramatic vision of female silhouette gave him the idea to create the top-less swimsuit. Trying to avoid any connection with pornography, he incorporated the idea of ​​topless in every outfit.(afashionhistory)

In 1964 Gernreich designed the monokini, a topless swimsuit. The monokini had a rough reception.

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Widely censored in the media and renounced from all corners including Vatican officials and the U.S Republicans, who tried to blame the suit on the Democrats’ stance on moral issues. Even the Soviet Union chimed in, calling it barbarianism. Never intended by the designer to be a commercial success, over 3000 monokinis at $24 were sold in New York in the summer of 1964 at leading store like Henri Bendel. (MessyNessy)

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L-R: Davey Rosenberg, Gino del Prete, Carol Doda, and Herb Caen at the Condor Club on 22 October 1965

Synthesis

At this point we have all the ingredients required to put together the story. But having all the ingredients of a story is not enough. They have to somehow come together. In this story, the agent who brought them together was Davey Rosenberg.

The Condor’s publicist, “Big” Davy Rosenberg came up with the idea to have Carol Doda dance in a monokini. The garment was brought for $25 at the I. MAgnin store in San Francisco, and on the 19th June 1964, it all came together. Carol Doda, wearing Rudi Gernreich’s monikini  performed topless that night.

In a 2009 interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Ms. Doda, a former secretary and cocktail waitress, said: “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.”  (The New York Times)

Within a few days, women in clubs all the Broadway St. clubs of San Francisco were sporting the monokini in many of the clubs lining San Francisco’s Broadway St, effectively reinventing the burlesque era of the early 20th century and ushering in the era of the topless bar.

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Carol Doda

 

 

 

From a 34B to a 44DD

There was a technicality though that had to be addressed. Carol Doda’s natural bust was not big enough for the monokini dance.

Ms Doda was transformed from a 34B to a 44DD by 44 surgical treatments (the number was “just a coincidence,” she said) in which emulsified silicone, was injected at a cost of about $12,000 in today’s dollars. The procedure has since been banned, but Ms. Doda, who began every day with a bowl of Wheaties, said she suffered no health complications. Her bust was said to have been insured for $1.5 million. (The New York Times)

 

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Carol Doda with Bay Area wrestling pesonality Woody Farmer (1980) – Bay Area News Group Archives

The 1965 Bust

On April 22, 1965 Doda was arrested with Gino del Prete, owner of the Condor Club during police raids to stop bare-bosom shows in North Beach.. They were cleared when two judges instructed innocent verdicts. Judge Friedman’s memorandum to opposing attorneys reads,

“Whether acts … are lewd and dissolute depends not on any individual’s interpretation or personal opinion, but on the consensus of the entire community …” 

Epilogue

Carol Doda is no longer inhabiting this planet. She passed away a month ago. But her legacy stays on.

“I don’t believe topless is a fad,” Carol Doda told the (San Francisco) Chronicle in January 1967. “It’s something that’s going to stay — like burlesque.”