Burlesque Pioneer Carol Doda Dies At 78

by Jenavieve Hatch

On the 9th of November, iconic stripper, burlesque pioneer and San Francisco native Carol Doda passed away at the age of 78. 

Before San Francisco was teeming with young tech bros and loaded start-up kids, Wi-Fi equipped Google buses and app-managed parks, it was a haven for the weird and the experimental. The San Francisco of the 1960s and ’70s was an epicenter for counterculture, for communes, for hippies and druggies, for gays and Native and Latin Americans and artists and writers.

And among all of this were the fluorescent lights of the Condor nightclub on Broadway, flashing the megawatt nipples of Carol Doda.  

She wasn’t the first topless stripper in San Francisco, but she was the woman who mainstreamed it, who made art of it, who danced topless and cracked jokes and entertained the masses for decades, turning stripping into an art that would later inspire the neo-burlesque movement. 

“Carol Doda was a part of that early scene that transformed North Beach into what one would expect to see in New Orleans or in some of the areas in Paris. She was bright, able, beautiful, creative and outrageous,” former Mayor Willie Brown told SF Gate. She was more than just her phenomenal bust and platinum hair, though, and avoided the usual career pitfalls of drinking, drugs, and prostitution. 


“Underneath this blonde hair, I do think logically. I know how to survive,” she once said. And survive she did, for 78 years, always in San Francisco. She stopped performing at the Condor in the 1980s, after which she acted in a movie, started a band, worked as a model, and ultimately opened a lingerie shop and performed as a comedian, singer, and dancer in the same North Beach neighborhood where she’d found her career.

It’s hard not to associate Doda’s death — the death of this San Francisco native and icon of the city’s eccentricities — with the slow, hard fading of its glorious weirdness. The SF Gate reports that a tentative memorial is planned for November 22nd, at the Tupelo club on Grant Avenue, in Doda’s cherished North Beach neighborhood.


Photos Via Flickr/Joan Segarra and ph td


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