'Carol Doda Topless at the Condor' - new doc recalls the '60s trailblazing stripper

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday March 12, 2024
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Carol Doda's acquittal is front page news in the San Francisco Chronicle in 'Carol Doda Topless at The Condor' <br>(photo: Getty © Picturehouse 2024)
Carol Doda's acquittal is front page news in the San Francisco Chronicle in 'Carol Doda Topless at The Condor'
(photo: Getty © Picturehouse 2024)

"The only way to get into show business was to show my business," says the late Carol Doda in "Carol Doda Topless at the Condor," a new feature length documentary by Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker. That quote, heard in the film, pretty much sums up Doda's attitude about her profession.

Doda (1937-2015) was a topless dancer, the first in the country. She was also the country's first bottomless dancer. She showed her business at the Condor, a now legendary nightclub in North Beach. She was very matter-of-fact about her career, and didn't think what she did was a big deal. She single-handedly transformed North Beach's Broadway, turning the street into a world-renowned tourist attraction. For years the crowds lined up to see Doda and the other women who followed in her footsteps.

Carol Doda dances The Swim dance atop the piano at The Condor Club. Carol Doda Topless at The Condor opens in theaters in March 2024.  

Doda's career began during the 1964 Republican National Convention, which took place in San Francisco. When Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's two sons went to the Condor, the press took notice.

A few years later, the Condor was raided. Doda, along with other topless dancers, were arrested and charged with obscenity. They were represented by no less than Melvin Belli, perhaps the most famous attorney in the country at that time. Belli pointed out that it was absurd for the Condor women to be arrested when audiences could readily see nudity in the Broadway musical "Hair" and in movies like "I Am Curious Yellow," an X-rated film from Sweden. He won the case.

One of the owners of the Condor pointed out that the club couldn't possibly have bought the kind of publicity that trial offered. The Condor became more crowded than ever.

But Doda and the other dancers didn't care if the case was won or not. They didn't think they did anything wrong, and most were back on stage as soon as they were bailed out of jail.

Carol Doda poses in front of the iconic San Francisco Condor Club in 1966 in 'Carol Doda Topless at The Condor' (photo: Polaris, © Picturehouse 2024)  

Fascinating fun
"Carol Doda Topless at the Condor" is at once fascinating and fun. Director Jonathan Parker (also the film's writer, producer, and music supervisor) preserves the history of a time whose like will never be seen again. It's an 'only in San Francisco' story, and it documents the life of a very colorful character who lived her life on her own terms. Doda didn't care what people thought of her. Indeed, she reveled in her celebrity.

The story is told through beautifully edited archive footage which captures the San Francisco that was in the 1960s and '70s. It's a tale that's underscored with Doda's own words. The filmmakers unearthed scores of interviews that Doda had given, along with newly shot interviews with other dancers of the period, as well as club managers, bartenders and musicians who worked in the club. Their memories recreate the world that Doda lived in.

The film also covers Doda's post-Condor life, when she tried to earn a living by singing in a band, by opening a lingerie shop, and by running a phone sex line. Doda always kept her private life private, but the filmmakers did their research and uncovered plenty of information, giving the audience a fairly good idea of who Doda was.

"Carol Doda Topless at the Condor" is a fitting tribute to a woman who could only have lived her life in San Francisco. She's a character who deserves to be remembered, and this film ensures that her legacy of liberation and freedom will live on.

'Carol Doda Topless at the Condor' opens March 22 at the Roxie and at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. www.roxie.com www.rafaelfilm.cafilm.org

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