Legendary Topless Dancer Carol Doda Dies

Diane Arbus' photo of Carol Doda

Diane Arbus’ photo of Carol Doda

The topless craze in North Beach that rocked San Francisco during the 60s began with the legendary Carol Doda. She was an amazing character and a true San Franciscan. She died Wednesday, November 11, 2015. She was 78 and I’m sorry to be just finding that out and writing about her now. I didn’t know her but by all accounts she was well-liked and in her later years had her own clothing store. She was a Californian icon and I hate to see them pass. We worked in a topless club, the Galaxie, just across the street from the Condor Club, for most of 1966 with our own covey of topless dancers, singers, and showgirls, who befriended us and helped acclimate us to working on Broadway in the City. We were still fresh from Indiana after slaving away in the dive bars across the Bay, and it took some getting used to. It was one of my favorite years….

This short video is from the Channel 7 ABC News in San Francisco.

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Yvonne D’Angers – Off Broadway Topless Dancer – 1966

Off-Broadway-1966-Y'vonne-D.-AngersI just can’t help it. I am putting up another topless dancer picture. I have spent the last couple of days doing research for a final chapter on our experiences in the  incredible atmosphere of North Beach in San Francisco in 1966.

Originally the old Barbary Coast to the various and often scurrilous sea-farers of the 1800’s it became a major Italian neighborhood in the City, featuring outstanding Italian food and imposing Catholic churches. While known as the “Paris of the West”, in the forties and fifties it spawned the beat generation centered around the City Lights bookstore in North Beach.

As the Beatniks faded away two cultural revolutions began to rise in the cauldron that is San Francisco. One of them was, of course, the rise of the Hippies in the Haight brought on in part by the student population of nearby San Francisco State College. In roughly 1963-4, the mainly Russian neighborhood began to change to the “Drop out, drop in” culture that would reign for a few short years. It was the hotbed for musical expression of the philosophy of the young or as it’s motto states: “Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll”.

Meanwhile, over in North Beach in mid-1964, Carol Doda galvanized the world coming down in a bikini bottom on a piano at the Condor Club. This, of course, was the cultural stream we entered in late 1965 and it was without question a terrific time to be young and in music. Where the Hippie culture was re-defining music, we were reveling in the music of the era we loved. And we were surrounded by some of the best performers and musicians of our time.

But I was reminded in my Internet travels of this stunning lady, another iconic topless dancer of the era, Yvonne D’Angers, who performed at the Off Broadway. She was an Iranian-born blond bombshell who came to be known in the press as “The Persian Lamb”. She was a star witness in the 1965 trial over legality of topless waitresses but was much more famous for chaining herself to the Golden Gate bridge to protest her threatened deportation.

At least a part of the significance to North Beach to the City is trumpeted in a brazen newspaper ad: “Two of San Francisco’s three most famous landmarks … belong to Yvonne D’Angers, now appearing topless in North Beach at Off Broadway.” They fail to mention what that third one was.

Great San Franciscan Characters: #1 Carol Doda

THIS ARTICLE IS REPRINTED FROM THE BLOG BELOW. I am reprinting it because Carol Doda was the flash point for the North Beach Renaissance in the mid-sixties. So we have to thank her for starting that trend because it led to Dave Rapkin of the Galaxie Club on Broadway and Kearney to offer us a year contract there. Hopefully, our club was similar to others there; come for the exposed mammary glands stay for the music and entertainment.  As I remember it there was great entertainment all over that area. From Broadway where Ramsey Lewis, Bobby Freeman, Chubby Checker, and Joey Dee and the Starliters played as well as the nearby Hungry I and Purple Onion who featured at one time or another Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen,  and Mort Sahl, who later played with us at Caesar’s Palace.  Not to mention the Smother’s Brothers and The Kingston Trio and a host of other acts. The ‘naughty but nice’ atmosphere helped lend San Francisco a European city sophistication and attract celebrities and top level audiences. So thanks for getting everybody’s attention Carol; and thanks for remembering it, Tony!


January 17, 2011 by A Golden Gate State of Mind

Rather than start this series with a politician, business or military leader, important and influential in the city’s development though many have been, I thought I would focus on someone who epitomises the colourful, free spirited and boundary stretching personality of the city.

Carol Ann Doda was born of soon to be divorced parents on 29 August 1937 in Solano County, California, growing up in Napa.  She dropped out of school and become a cocktail waitress and lounge entertainer at aged 14.

Described by the Internet Movie Database as a “lovely, busty and curvaceous blonde bombshell” she achieved fame, or notoriety depending upon your point of view, on 19 June 1964 at the Condor Club at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in North Beach, by dancing in a topless swimsuit, the first recognised entertainer of the era to do so, and spawning similar exhibitionism across the nation’s clubs.  Such was her popularity that delegates from the 1964 Republican National Convention flocked to see her and she was given a film role as Sally Silicone in Head, created by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, and featuring The Monkees.  She appeared in another six films.

Wikipedia describes her act, which she performed twelve times nightly, thus: (it) “began with a grand piano lowered from the ceiling by hydraulic motors;  Doda would be atop the piano dancing.  She descended from a hole in the ceiling.  She go-go danced the Swim to a rock and roll combo headed by Bobby Freeman as her piano settled on the stage.  From the waist up Doda emulated aquatic movements like the Australian crawl.  She also did the Twist, the Frug and the Watusi”.

She later enhanced her bust size from 34B to 44DD through  a total of 44 silicone injections, earning her breasts the nicknames of “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco”.  She had them insured for $1.5 million with Lloyd’s of London.

Doda created a further seismic impact in the entertainment industry on 3 September 1969 by dancing completely naked at the Condor, though she was obliged to put the bottom part of her costume back on again in 1972 after a rule was passed prohibiting nude dancing in establishments that served alcohol.

After appearing for more than a decade on KGSC-TV she returned to dancing at the Condor three times a night in 1982, “in a gold gown, traditional elbow-length gloves, and a diaphanous-wraparound.  Her clothing was removed until she wore only a G-string and the wraparound.  In the final portion she was attired in only the wraparound.  Her small body looked slimmer without clothes which was emphasised by the dwarfing effect of her breasts”.

Retiring from stripping later in the decade she formed her own rock band, the Lucky Stiffs. She now runs the highly respectable “Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique” in Cow Hollow.  Well into the new millenium, however, she was performing – with her clothes on – at a variety of North Beach clubs, including Amante’s and Enrico’s Supper Club, singing club standards like “All of Me”.

Despite the notoriety she earned by being the first dancer to break the topless / bottomless taboos in the U.S., her act was rarely regarded as sleazy.  As she herself said: “I always just wanted to give people a good time, have fun.  Nothing really dirty – just fun”.

And finally she has been truly immortalised in having a hamburger named after her at Bill’s Place on Clement at 24th in the Outer Richmond!