Friday, November 13, 2015

Carol Ann Doda

Amidst grain-filled pyramids, babies butchered (or not) by Planned Parenthood, giant retaining walls to keep out willing workers, and ill-informed presidential candidates thankfully bathed in the blood of the lamb, you may have missed an important passing. Carol Doda died four days ago in California at the age of 78, marking the end of an era.

Ms. Doda was the country’s first (public) topless dancer. (I add the word public because I suspect that even before her performances, somewhere, sometimes, someone danced topless for someone else.)

She was a waitress at the Condor nightclub, a faceless place on Broadway in San Francisco, and she wanted to be in show business. She had a good smile and pouty lips, a sort of Americanized very blond Brigitte Bardot, and she could sing a little and dance a little. The mid-60s were heady times on the West Coast, so when the Condor’s owner suggested she model designer Rudy Gernreich’s monokiny bathing suit, she did just that, and the world was never the same again. In time, she decided that her poitrinne did not adequately represent her ambitions, so she became another pioneer. Her breasts were surgically augmented to a generous 44-DD. Playboy magazine did a photospread of her ample figure, and soon she was a household name.

My mother, who found my copy of Playboy as she was searching my room for God knows what, was amazed. “I would fall over,” she said. “How can she stand up straight?” My father, ever the realist, inspected the photo for a good five minutes before saying, “She must have a very strong back.”

Ms. Doda was now a world-wide celebrity, and the Condor put a twenty-foot-tall sign of her likeness on its roof. Tourists from Europe and Asia flocked to the club. Tom Wolfe discovered her and wrote, in the introduction of The Pump House Gang, “I met Carol Doda. She blew up her breasts with emulsified silicone, the main ingredient in Silly Putty, and became the greatest resource of the San Francisco tourist industry.” And indeed, she played Sally Silicone opposite the Monkees in the movie Head. She recorded a not-very-good ten-song album that today is a collectible. Then she went bottomless as well as topless, which led to a state suit prohibiting nude dancing at places that served liquor. There was a never-confirmed rumor that she might start dancing at a Dairy Queen.

In time her ample chest began to sag. There were more operations. She retired from her dancing platform in 1985. She opened up a gift shop, sang with a rock band, and, one last time, was a pioneer of what has become a staple of the adult industry. She ran Carol Doda’s Pleasure Palace, one of the country’s first fantasy sex phone lines.

Ms. Doda never married. Her life was strangely free of the scandals permeating the lives of more modern celebrities. There was no substance abuse or addiction, no seven-foot-tall drug-addled basketball players, no illicit affairs, no sex changes, no shoplifting or drunken driving charges. Instead, she nurtured the fantasies of a generation of adolescents and, in a strange way, weas at the forefront of the movement that stated women’s bodies were their own.

Critics might say she opened the floodgates of sexual permissiveness. I prefer to think of her as a revolutionary feminist.

Rest in peace, Carol Ann Doda.   

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