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November 12, 2015

Carol Doda, America's First Famous Topless Dancer, Dies

SAN FRANCISCO—Carol Ann Doda, long considered the most famous (and possibly the first) topless dancer in an adult nightclub in the United States, died on November 9 from complications of kidney failure. She was 78. Doda was just 26 when she took the stage at the Condor Club in San Francisco's North Beach area on June 19, 1964. Thanks to a gift from Condor publicist Davy Rosenberg, she performed her act wearing a "monokini" created by then-up-and-coming fashion designer Rudi Gernreich that allowed her 34B size breasts to sway freely with the music. News of her act quickly became tabloid fodder in the City by the Bay, and although the club was busted shortly afterwards—though not before hosting a large number of guests from the Republican National Convention in July of that year—Doda was acquitted on the charge of "public indecency," and went on to earn over $500 per week—or $4,000 per week in 2015 dollars. Being one of the first dancers to understand that bigger tits meant bigger tips, Doda underwent several surgical treatments to increase her bust size to 44DD. This was accomplished, in those days before breast augmentation became commonplace, by doctors injecting emulsified silicone directly into her breasts—a procedure which is no longer performed because of silicone's proven adverse effects on the human body, although Doda claimed she never suffered any ill effects from the treatments. However, her breasts were reportedly insured for $1.5 million. According to her obituary in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen characterized Doda as "the Susan B. Anthony of this particular liberating movement." Almost needless to say, she was villified by many of the conservative feminists of her day. Such was her enduring fame that Doda continued dancing, though no longer topless, at North Beach clubs even into her 72nd year—she was born in 1937—telling a reporter in 2009 that, "The only way I’ll stop performing is when I can’t walk anymore, honey." Doda was also reportedly the inspiration for Russ Meyer's film Mondo Topless, and she appeared as a dancer in the Monkees' film debut Head, directed by Jack Nicholson's close associate Bob Rafelson. According to The Times, "Ms. Doda later started a rock band, the Lucky Stiffs, regularly appeared as a host on local cable television and ran a lingerie boutique [Carol Doda's Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique] in San Francisco." Doda never married, and has no known surviving relatives. However, friends of hers are planning a memorial for her at the Tupelo restaurant, 1337 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133, on November 22.

 
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