Carol Doda, the ample-bosomed San Francisco stripper whose topless act helped popularize that form of entertainment more than 50 years ago and who was immortalized in a Tom Wolfe book and avidly chronicled by newspaper columnist Herb Caen, died Nov. 9. She was 78.
The cause was complications from kidney failure, said a friend, Ron Minolla.
Ms. Doda was a waitress and go-go dancer at the Condor nightclub when she first went topless in June 1964 after a promoter persuaded her to try on avant-garde designer Rudi Gernreich’s monokini bathing suit.
“It was my only way to get in show business,” she later told the Chicago Tribune. “So I showed my business.”
She added that the club management also persuaded her to enhance her bust to a 44DD with the new technique of silicone injections.
She participated in blatant publicity stunts — impressing her bust in wet cement in front of the club — that caused an immediate sensation in a city that also had a sizable conservative blue-collar population at the time. A month after she first donned the monokini, San Francisco hosted the Republican National Convention that nominated Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater for president.
Ms. Doda’s presence at the Condor changed every nightspot on busy Broadway in San Francisco. During its heyday in the early 1970s, the street in North Beach buzzed with more than two dozen clubs where carnival-like barkers beckoned passersby to watch bare-breasted dancers. The era spanned about 20 years.
Ms. Doda — a onetime prune picker, file clerk, ballroom-dancing teacher and cocktail waitress — remained the best-known. She drew attention from national publications such as Life and Newsweek. In his San Francisco Chronicle columns, Caen once dubbed her “the Susan B. Anthony of this particular liberating movement.”
Ms. Doda, who with other topless entertainers prevailed in a 1966 lawsuit brought by the city, charging lewd conduct, played a character called Sally Silicone in “Head,” a 1968 film featuring the Monkees, and was profiled that same year in Wolfe’s book “The Pump House Gang.”
The Condor soon put up a 20-foot-tall illuminated sign carrying her likeness and, in time, the club became a state historical landmark.
“I feel a responsibility toward the community,” Ms. Doda once said. “We get tourists who come out here from the Midwest and want to see two things: the Golden Gate Bridge and Carol Doda.”
Carol Ann Doda was born on Aug. 29, 1937, and grew up in San Francisco. She never married or had children.
At the Condor, she began dancing bottomless in the late 1960s until a California state agency soon thereafter prohibited completely nude dancing at establishments that also served alcohol.
She left the Condor in 1985 and later owned a lingerie store, performed in a rock band, was a model and comedian, and sang and danced at another club. She also ran a fantasy phone line, which she called Carol Doda’s Pleasure Palace or TeleDoda.
“Dr. Ruth is more graphic than I am,” she told the San Francisco Tribune. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”