Carol Doda, Pioneering Stripper Who Brought Topless Dancing Into The Mainstream, Dies At 78

Carol Doda, the legendary stripper who revolutionized the art of exotic dancing when she decided to go topless in the 1960s, has died. She was 78 years old.

Carol Doda, who’s very ample breasts were dubbed “The New Twin Peaks of San Francisco,” passed away on Monday, November 9, due to complications from kidney failure, reports the Washington Post.

In the 1960s, Doda performed at San Francisco’s Condor Club as part of a lounge act which saw her descend from the ceiling astride a piano that had been fixed with hydraulic motors. In June of 1964, a promoter of the club convinced Carol to change her costume to that of a risqué monokini by designer Rudi Gernreich. It was a move that would make Doda one of the first dancers in San Francisco to dance topless — one that would not only revolutionize the art of exotic dancing, but also skyrocket Doda into near celebrity-caliber fame. Carol’s bare-chested debut happened to coincide with San Francisco’s hosting of the Republican National Convention, the timing of which helped the blonde beauty’s rise to fame, says Carol’s long-time friend Lee Housekeeper, according to Jezebel.

“When the [beatniks] were handing the torch to the hippies, a girl named Carol Doda changed the world from a pole at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Broadway.”

Doda’s fame soon went nationwide, and she drew attention from publications like Newsweek and Life. Carol’s life was also chronicled by the newspaper columnist Herb Caen, who once called Doda “the Susan B. Anthony of this particular liberating movement.”

Not long after becoming one of the first topless dancers in the state, Carol admitted during an interview with the Chicago Tribune that management at the Condor Club persuaded Doda to enhance her bust — to a whopping 44DD — with the help of the then-new technique of silicone injections.

“It was my only way to get in show business. So I showed my business.”

Thanks to Doda’s daring move to topless dancing, San Francisco saw a two-decade-long era of salacious night-time entertainment where more than a dozen clubs along North Beach boasted bare-breasted dancers, with carnival-like barkers beckoning to customers from under the neon lights of their respective clubs. Though of course, Carol Doda remained the most well-known, with people from all over the country travelling to San Francisco to watch her dance. The club even boasted a 20-foot sign of her likeness.

“I feel a responsibility toward the community. We get tourists who come out here from the Midwest and want to see two things: the Golden Gate Bridge and Carol Doda.”

Carol, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, was somewhat of a Jill-of-all-trades before becoming a dancer at the Condor — having worked, at one time or another, as a prune-picker, a file clerk, a cocktail waitress, and a ballroom dance instructor. In 1968, Doda appeared in a movie entitled Head, co-starring the Monkees, in which she played a character named Silicone Sally. That same year, Carol was profiled in Tom Wolfe’s book The Pump House Gang.

After leaving the Condor Club in 1985, Carol opened her own lingerie store in San Francisco called “Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique,” and went on to sing in a rock band, do some modelling, perform stand-up comedy, sing and dance at another club, and even operated her own phone-sex line that she called “Carol Doda’s Pleasure Palace,” or “TeleDoda.”

Though Carol Doda never married or had children, she is survived by the throngs of adoring fans who will never forget her.

[Photo by Eric Molina via Flickr/Resized/CC 2.0]