Chippendales is a touring dance troupe best known for its male striptease performances and for its dancers' distinctive upper body costume of a bow tie and shirt cuffs worn on an otherwise bare torso.
Established in 1979, Chippendales was the first all-male stripping troupe to make a business performing for mostly female audiences. Through the quality of its staging and choreography, Chippendales also helped legitimize stripping as a form of popular entertainment.
|Three original 1979 Chippendales cast members (L to R) |
Richard Barash, Dustin Stevens and Roger Menache
After operating a Mobil gas station, Somen Banerjee and his newly acquired partner, a law student at Loyola Law School named Bruce Nahin, bought a failed west Los Angeles disco named Destiny II and turned it into a nightclub featuring female mud wrestling and a "Female Exotic Dancing Night." Destiny II was located at 3739 Overland Avenue at McCune Avenue in Palms. The idea of featuring male dancers came from a nightclub promotional idea by Paul Snider, while the club name Chippendales was suggested by Nahin because of the Chippendale style furniture at the club.
The concept of the male strip show was brought to Banerjee and Nahin by Snider (later notorious for killing his estranged wife, Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten and then himself) who was desperate to revive his nightclub business because other ideas of backgammon and female mud wrestling were failing. Banerjee was the creative force behind Chippendales, packaging the idea of a male burlesque show with the name of elegant furniture in a night club venue that was clean and refined, and that allowed women to feel comfortable to watch men strip down to a G-string. The initial script was written by Richard Barsh, who was the show's first Emcee. The concept immediately gained a huge female following. Together with choreographer and Emmy award winner Nicholas De Noia and his associate Candace Mayeron (Snider had died in 1980), Chippendales was expanded to New York's Club Magique, London, Hamburg,Amsterdam, Thailand, Australia, Philadelphia, and Florida. Choreographer De Noia was originally in charge of the stage show. Authorized shows also toured extensively in the U.S. (by De Noia and Mayeron), Asia, and Europe (through Banerjee).
For Chippendales, the early 1980s were filled with major lawsuits pertaining to personal injury, alleged sexual bias against male guests, charges of racial discrimination and later in 1988 bankruptcy due to Banerjee's refusal to pay a $300,000+ (approx) printing invoice to Anderson Lithograph for a layout error created by a Culver City design firm, Haiku Advertising (owned by Al Ako) whereby the 1987 Chippendales calendar had 31 days in each month. Banerjee had signed off on all the press sheets yet still refused to pay the printing company. Haiku Advertising went bankrupt and Chippendales (Easebe Inc) re-emerged from bankruptcy with a corrected calendar and less debt.
Eventually, De Noia and Banerjee fell out (forcing Nahin to deal with each of his partners separately). Banerjee brought in choreographer/director Steve Merritt, who, with his partner Mark Donnelly, had stage shows playing in Las Vegas and London. Merritt and Donnelly had the idea of putting the male strippers into a kind of mini-Broadway show, with dancers, music, and themes. To find strippers, they recruited the most attractive men they could find from Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Santa Monica Beach. Merritt taught the men how to dance and perform.
Merritt became the choreographer of the Los Angeles show, and ultimately took charge of New York also. This resulted in two separate shows being performed, the De Noia touring version, and the Banerjee-Merritt Version. Banerjee could not tolerate De Noia's ownership of the touring companies and in 1987 hired a hit man to brutally murder De Noia. Mayeron took over producing duties until Banerjee successfully purchased the touring rights from De Noia's heirs for a paltry $1 million. Once De Noia was killed, Merritt took control of the touring shows as well.
The Chippendales, though still popular, continued to suffer from legal troubles, conflicts with "copycat" companies, and in 1993, an allegation of murder — that Banerjee had arranged De Noia's 1987 killing and the proposed killing of Nahin.
Banerjee's bail was denied, due to testimony that Banerjee had said he intended to pay a private pilot $25,000 to fly him back to India without a passport, and threatened to commit suicide if he was arrested. Soon after, the charges against him were expanded to include the hired hit of De Noia and the planned hit of Nahin and a group in Europe known as Adonis. In the early morning of October 23, 1994, after sentencing, Banerjee's body was found lying in his linen-free cell dead from what was officially termed a self-inflicted hanging. It was speculated that Banerjee wanted to shield his wife from a wrongful death lawsuit and from a $1.75 million fine from the government (Chippendales was worth considerably more than $1.75 million), he killed himself before his trial was technically completed Banerjee knew that the almost-certain wrongful death suit by Nick De Noia's relatives would not be able to rely on the higher standard of evidence ("beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, largely recognized to be 95% or more likely to be guilty, required in criminal trials), De Noia's family would have to re-prove all of the evidence at any wrongful death trial (a civil standard would apply here, only a mere "preponderance of the evidence" standard, or 51% or more likely to be guilty.)
The entirety of Banerjee's share in the Chippendales corporation and his estate were passed on, (in the absence of a $1.75 million fine and any successful lawsuit by the De Noia family), to his wife Irene, who thereafter sold the company (without, according to court records, Nahin's knowledge and without first obtaining Nahin's permission) to the current owner, Chippendales USA. Merritt staged shows at various Chippendales clubs until his death in the 1990s. Irene died of breast cancer in the early 2000s. Mark Donnelly is currently a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. Nahin produces films in Los Angeles.
The company is currently run by Kevin Denberg, whose grandfather was part of a partnership with Steve and Gary Rogers to open a Chippendales club in New York City in the 1980s. Kevin Denberg bought Chippendales in 2000 with several other investors, and immediately set about distancing the company from its somewhat risqué past.