The Dark, Twisted, Fascinating History of Chippendales

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Chippendales has become iconic in American culture. Just hearing the name makes you think of oiled-up men with big muscles wearing bow ties – and pretty much nothing else. The iconic establishment was the first of its kind: male strippers performing for screaming ladies. I just imagine Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze in one of the most hilarious Saturday Night Live sketches ever.

Chippendales / Chippendales / Chippendales / Steve Banerjee.
Source: Getty Images

Chippendales was so iconic and powerful that it continues to be a multi-million-dollar business today – more than four decades after it first opened. But when it comes to big companies or corporations, there is usually more to the story. The origins of Chippendales are quite… dark, to say the least.

Dark Origins

With tons of criminal charges, a murder-suicide, and a murder for hire, the history of Chippendales isn’t as perky as its performers. It’s a story where the rise of feminism and the American dream were mixed with greed and power, creating one of the most intriguing stories in recent history with dark twists at every corner.

A dated image of a show by the Chippendales.
Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images

You may think that Chippendales is just some old tacky idea from the late 1970s – a time when women going to strip clubs were considered scandalous. But the true story of Chippendales includes arson, hired assassins, really stupid business decisions, all driven by jealously, greed, and insecurity.

Here is the twisted yet fascinating story behind the history of Chippendales.

Chippendales Was Founded by a Hard-Working Immigrant

The original founder of Chippendales was a man named Somen “Steve” Banerjee, a United States immigrant from India. According to Los Angeles Magazine, Steve Banerjee came to the country seeking the American Dream, like so many others.

A dated photo of Steve Banerjee outside a club.
Roger Menache, Steve Banerjee. Source: Discovery +

But Steve worked hard at it. He took a job as a janitor and worked his way to owning multiple gas stations in Los Angeles. With his hard work, dedication, and dumb luck (he entered the oil industry at the perfect time). However, Steve had other dreams. His real goal was to own a bar/club.

The Real Steve Banerjee

Okay, so let’s talk about Steve Banerjee. He came across as a hard-working immigrant trying to find a better life in the United States. Although that might have been true, Steve Banerjee was a lot more than that. He was driven by greed and jealousy. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for money and power.

A portrait of Steve Banerjee.
Steve Banerjee. Source: YouTube

Although his gas station venture made him a wealthy man, Steve Banerjee wanted to be known for something. To give you some perspective, his role models were Walt Disney and Hugh Heffner. He really wanted to make a name for himself and was willing to destroy anyone who got in his way.

What Is Chippendales?

In 1975, Steve decided to grow his business empire. Along with his business partner Bruce Nahin, Steve bought a local L.A. nightclub called Destiny II. They thought that keeping the “famous” name would bring in customers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

An image from the opening of a show by the Chippendales.
Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images

Steve had dreams of owning a “classy” club – one he could walk into and feel like a big shot. But this club featured events like mudwrestling and “Female Exotic Dancing Night.” The business decision was an epic failure, according to Eagles Vine. The club did not attract customers and, subsequently, did not make any money.

Instant Success

Steve and Nahin made several desperate attempts to get people through the doors, including backgammon games, dinner theater, magic shows, and wrestling nights. But nothing worked.

A shining marquee sign on a Chippendales’ show.
Photo by Denver Post/Getty Images

Still, it didn’t deter Steve, who had an amazing work ethic and knew how to climb the ladder of success. He wasn’t going to give up that easily. The last gimmick they tried was as an all-male strip show, and to their surprise, it actually worked. Not only did it bring people in, but it brought the club instant popularity and success.

The Club Violated Fire Department Codes

As the club began seeing success, Steve Banerjee was constantly violating overcrowding laws. He had multiple citations from federal agencies. The fire department even said that Chippendales was the biggest violator they had seen in years and that the owner put his customers in danger with blocked exits.

A picture from a Chippendales show.
Source: YouTube

More customers meant more money, so Steve wasn’t going to send people away. One night, the club, which could only hold a maximum of 299 people, contained 435. It was extremely dangerous, but Steve didn’t care.

Publicity Stunt

Some people even claim that Steve Banerjee over-capacitated the club on purpose and even called the police in order to gain traction. If people saw that they were over capacitated, it would make Chippendales seem even more attractive to potential customers. You know what they say: any publicity is good publicity.

A photo of a young woman showing off a dollar bill to a male dancer.
Source: YouTube

Chippendales got in trouble with police once again when they were charged with sexual discrimination for not granting male patrons entry to the club. As a result, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control revoked the club’s liquor license.

The Idea for Male Strippers

So, with all this success, you may be wondering who came up with the idea for male strippers. The short answer is it came from a notorious murderer. While seeking business advice, you should probably avoid people who have high chances of becoming murderers. But Steve Banerjee failed to heed.

A headshot of Paul Snider during a party.
Source: YouTube

Los Angeles Magazine reported that one of the regulars at Destiny II (before the name was changed to Chippendales) was a man named Paul Snider. Snider was a pretty sketchy dude who liked to call himself “The Jewish Pimp.”

Snider Was Married to a Playboy Playmate

According to People, Snider earned some fame through his Playboy Playmate wife, Dorothy Stratten. Snider promoted Dorothy by taking pictures of her and launching her career as a nude model. But he also abused her terribly.

A studio portrait of Dorothy Stratten.
Dorothy Stratten. Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Apparently, Hugh Heffner himself was worried about the playmate, telling Dorothy to stay away from Snider. He just gave off a strange vibe, and everyone who knew him said there was something off. More on him later, but in short: Snider ultimately murdered Dorothy and then took his own life in 1980.

Launching Chippendales

But in 1979, Snider and his wife were significant in the launch of Chippendales. Snider suggested an all-male strip show, and Steve didn’t hate the idea. According to Rare, Dorothy Stratten was the one who came up with the iconic outfits: bow ties, cuffs, and nothing else.

A picture of Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten at home.
Paul, Sniderm, Dorothy Stratten. Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Steve was willing to try anything at this point, and to his surprise, it hit a sweet spot in American cultural history with the women’s liberation movement and sex becoming more mainstream. At the time, erotic films were being released in theaters. The name Chippendales came from an 18th-century furniture designer because Steven thought the name conveyed “pure class.”

Hugh Heffner Was the Only Male Allowed Entry

With the exception of Hugh Heffner, the club allowed only entry to women. Steve Banerjee was flying high. He was so proud of the club and was delighted that it was becoming a huge success. Plus, he was starstruck that Heffner was there. Remember, the Playboy founder was one of Steve’s biggest inspirations.

Hugh Hefner and Dorothy pose for a picture.
Photo by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

Police claim that Snider killed his girlfriend after she broke up with him, but Hugh Heffner had a different explanation: “a very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power, whatever, slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her. In 2003, Chippendales successfully registered its “Cuffs and Collar” uniform as the trademark because of an agreement between Heffner and Nahin arranged by playboy model Dorothy Stratten.

Chippendales Was White-Centric

Los Angeles was an extremely diverse city in 1979, with many people celebrating different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That’s why it was the ideal destination for an ambitious immigrant like Steve Banerjee.

A dated image from a night at the club.
Photo by Diana Nethercott/Toronto Star/Getty Images

So, you might assume that Steve would want to make his strip show as diverse as possible, but he wasn’t that kind of guy. He wasn’t as open-minded as you’d think; when he first launched Chippendales, there were almost no dancers of color performing.

Classy Means White!

Historian and podcaster Natalia Petrzela said that in their early days, Chippendales hired almost exclusively white people. Steve was obsessed with the idea of having a “classy” club, and as Petrzela explained, for the Indian immigrant, “classy meant white.” The club became a mostly white island in the midst of one of the most diverse cities in the United States.

A picture of former Chippendales’ dancers.
Source: Discovery +

Not only were the dancers white, but the audiences were also overwhelmingly white. Eventually, the Chippendales brand became nationally recognized, and they started to hire the occasional Black dancer. Typically, only one Black dancer would perform at a time, so the main group of performers remained white.

A Wild Atmosphere

During Chippendale’s early years, the dancers assumed the club would be shut down. It was an out-of-control environment, and nobody thought that this place would stay open. It was so wild that women would show up with scissors and cut the G-strings off the male dancers.

A still from a show.
Source: YouTube

Michael Rapp, who was an original cast member, said, “When we first started, we thought that we could have been closed down in a day. We thought it would be a fad that wouldn’t last that long.” Rapp added that because of that, “we were going to have as much fun as we could while we had it.”

The Perfect Time

The more you learn about the history of Chippendales, the more you’ll realize that despite his work ethic and determination, Steve Banerjee wasn’t the best businessman. Still, his club became a gigantic success after he hit the jackpot with the idea of an all-male strip show.

The Chippendales walk the street.
Photo by CHARRIAU/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The New York Post noted that every night there were lines that went all the way around the block since hundreds of women would pay a lot to get in and be entertained by the hunky, oiled-up male dancers. It gave women a sense of empowerment as their sexuality.

The Owner Tried to Burn Down His Competition

Evidently, that kind of success inspired others to rip off the Chippendales recipe. After some competing local bars snagged some customers, Steve should have looked for new innovative ways to up his game and make Chippendales stand out. Instead, he attempted to hire people to burn down two competing establishments.

An image of an establishment bursting into flames.
Source: YouTube

According to the Associated Press, Steve wanted to take down Moody’s Disco in Santa Monica and the Red Onion Restaurant in Marina Del Rey. That sounds a little extreme, but that’s Steve Banerjee for you.

Fortunately, He Was Unsuccessful

Think Magazine reported that both attempts thankfully failed. The competing clubs did suffer some minor damage but nothing that destroyed their business. As Chippendales increased in fame and popularity, more and more copycats started popping up all over the nation.

A still from a show.
Source: YouTube

Obviously, this means that arson was an ineffective strategy. The Los Angeles Times noted that Steve Banerjee seemed to have gotten away with attempted arson, but he would ultimately be indicted on both counts – and plead guilty to the charges (more on that later).

Meet Nick De Noia

In 1981, Steve Banerjee decided to hire successful television producer Nick De Noia to help class up the dance routines and stage productions at his club. This is where the story starts to get juicy. Not only did Nick class up the productions, but he outclassed Steve Banerjee in every way.

A photo of Nick De Noia and his girlfriend.
Nicholas DeNoia, Jennifer O’Neill. Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

According to Los Angeles Magazine, Nick was the mastermind who came up with the gimmicks and costumes that really put Chippendales on the map, including routines about superheroes, Frankenstein, and the legendary “unknown flasher” who wore a paper hat during his performance.

Hiring Nick Was Steve’s Biggest Mistake

Nick De Noia also convinced that Steve Banerjee to sign away lucrative aspects of the business, according to The New York Post. This allowed Nick to operate an East Coast version of the club, but he also kind of tricked Steve. He took the strippers on tour and ran the touring production pretty much independently – and kept all the profits.

A headshot of Nick De Noia.
Nick De Noia. Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

That wasn’t the worst part. Rage started to really brew when Nick De Noia became the face of Chippendales, and the greedy, power-hungry Steve Banerjee was not happy about it.

Nick Was Becoming the Face of Chippendales

Remember, greed would destroy Steve Banerjee. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for power and money. But as the brand grew, it was Nick De Noia who appeared on television shows like The Sally Jesse Raphael Show and Donahue promoting the club.

A photo of Nick De Noia and Candance Mayeron at the club.
Candance Mayeron, Nick De Noia. Source: Pinterest

Steve’s anger was growing. He was filled with jealously because he felt like his work and contribution as co-founder of Chippendales was being forgotten. Not only did everyone think Nick was the founder, but Steve felt like Nick was taking credit for his idea – and the media allowed it.

A Cultural Phenomenon

Sure, Chippendales was a massive success and cultural phenomenon, but its original success was due to its novelty. As we mentioned, sex was becoming more mainstream, and there was a sudden demand for a safe place for women to go and express their sexuality and fantasies.

An image of a male bartender at the Chippendales’ club.
Source: Pinterest

Women’s sexuality was considered taboo and barely even talked about for centuries, and things were finally changing. A club featuring good-looking, oiled-up men stripping was a place that women didn’t even know they needed. Now, Chippendales needed to keep its success going.

Maintaining the Success

Steve Banerjee knew that in order to keep that level of success, he needed to take his club to the next level. It was time to step up the production value of the show, and that’s when he hired Nick De Noia. However, this partnership wasn’t going very well. First off, Steve wasn’t thrilled about Nick getting all the attention and becoming the face of Chippendales.

A group of Chippendales’ men poses with a female staff member.
The Chippendales, Candance Mayeron. Source: Pinterest

But even before that, Steve and Banerjee didn’t get along. They would be in a constant power struggle, fighting over who was in charge, but they also just had very different visions.

Different Visions

Nick cared about the performance aspect and wanted to hire talented dancers to perform. But Steve didn’t really care if they could dance well or not; he just wanted to hire men that looked good with their shirts off.

A picture of Candance and Nick during a tour.
Source: Pinterest

But Steve started to get jealous of all the attention Nick was getting, especially when people assumed that Nick was the founder of Chippendales. Things got worse when Nick came up with the idea for an East Coast location.

The Napkin Deal

He jotted down an agreement on a napkin, and as we mentioned, the deal gave Nick independent control over the new endeavor – as well as half of its revenue. Banerjee signed it, but apparently, he didn’t understand the language Nick used and accidentally granted him indefinite control.

A photo of the Chippendales backstage preparing for a show.
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Steve quickly realized that hiring Nick De Noia may have been the worst business decision he had ever made. After Nick tricked Steve into giving him control of the company, he couldn’t really get rid of him. However, things calmed down a bit when Nick moved to New York to run the East Coast version of the show.

Steve Didn’t Make the Greatest Business Decisions

Steve’s rage and anger stemmed from the fact that he wasn’t the best businessman. Not only did he make bad partnership decisions, but he made terrible financial decisions. The New York Post reported that Steve’s issues began when he didn’t pay his taxes.

A picture of Chippendales’ members.
Source: Pinterest

As the bill for his back taxes increased, he combined his money problems with more mistakes. He came up with good ideas: lending the Chippendales name to merchandise, as well a sexy calendar showcasing the half-naked dancers in seductive poses.

He Didn’t Pay His Taxes

Steve’s ideas were a surefire hit – but he mishandled the entire project. Steve ended up with a calendar where every month had 31 days, and obviously, he couldn’t sell those. He had to reprint the calendars, which cost him a hefty $70,000 (almost $200,000 in today’s money).

A still of Steve during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Eventually, the deep-seated wrath and resentment would come to a head. Steve miscalculated once again when he allowed his jealously to get the best of him. He couldn’t stand watching Nick become the face of Chippendales.

His Jealous Rage

As we now know, that infamous napkin deal meant that Nick De Noia had full control over the touring version of the show. But after Steve saw Nick being celebrated as the genius behind the club that Steve founded, his feelings of anger intensified.

A picture of Nick and some Chippendales during a rehearsal.
Source: Discovery +

Since Nick had this successful touring version of the show, Steve decided to create a competing West Coast tour. But a napkin deal is still a deal. Nick ended up suing Steve since he had already legally given him the rights to that idea. Naturally, the lawsuit only added to Steve Banerjee’s financial issues.

He Did the Only Logical Thing

When businesses face internal disagreements, most professionals seek legal remedies – they either sue or have lawyers deal with it and negotiate a settlement. The process is very slow and often frustrating. But the advantage is that everyone stays alive and out of jail.

An image of Chippendales’ website and male shadows beneath.
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Steve didn’t do what your average smart businessman would. Steve was understandably upset that he had been treated unfairly by the man he hired, Nick De Noia. Instead of bringing in a lawyer, he decided to take a slightly different route for justice: He hired an assassin.

Steve Regretted Hiring Nick

According to Oxygen, the only reason Steve even hired Nick in the first place was that he had a background in television and experience with the stage aspects. And despite his approach, Nick made an immediate impact on the quality of the performances overall.

A portrait of Nick at home.
Source: Pinterest

But as The New York Post stated, Nick De Noia was also a ruthless business man who tricked Steve Banerjee into signing away control of what would become the most profitable aspect of the business. So, it only makes sense that Steve would try and get revenge on his sneaky business partner.

He Hired a Hit Man

So, apparently, on April 7, 1987, a man casually walked into Nick De Noia’s office and shot him in the face. According to Los Angeles Magazine, the man Steve hired was named Ray Colon, who passed on the job to a local drug addict named Louie. Louie posed as a messenger when he entered the building, and then he simply walked right out.

A profile picture of the hitman.
Louie, the hitman. Source: YouTube

Steve was immediately excluded as a suspect because his alibi checked out. Authorities said the killer was an unidentified Hispanic man about 35 to 40 years old who was clean-shaven with salt and pepper hair.

Steve Was on a Murderous Roll

But as it turned out, Steve wasn’t plotting just one murder in 1987 – he wanted two people dead. In 1979, Steve bought the original club that would become Chippendales with Bruce Nahin. By 1987, Nahin was still a co-owner of the now incredibly successful club.

A photo of Steve and De Noia arguing.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

After Nick tricked him into overseeing an East Coast location and running the touring version of the show independently, Nick was making a lot of money. Greed was Steve Banerjee’s biggest downfall; I can’t stress that enough. But he dealt with Nick by hiring a hitman.

Solving Two Problems at Once

Efficiency is key, and Steve was hoping to kill two birds with one stone (literally). The Hollywood Reporter explained that Steve also wanted to have his co-founder and business partner killed so that he could secure complete control over the Chippendales growing empire.

An still of Nick on television.
Source: YouTube

As historian Genevieve Carlton explains it, Nahin was supposed to take a trip to New York to meet with Nick De Noia. But fortunately for Nahin, he had to cancel his travel plans at the last minute because of an illness in the family. The change of plans saved his life.

Getting Away With Murder… Almost

Although he was just a bad criminal, as he was a bad businessman, Steve Banerjee almost got away with his crimes. The investigation into Nick De Noia’s death in 1987 went cold after a year, and no one really suspected that Steve would go as far as to hire someone to murder him.

A mugshot of Ray Colon.
Ray Colon. Source: Pinterest

Hitman Rick Colon gave the job to a local criminal to do his dirty work. Since no one got a good look at the killer and no progress was made, authorities were unable to figure out a motive or understand why someone would want Nick De Noia dead.

The Case Went Cold

With no suspects, no witnesses, and no leads, police were looking for a motive, according to The Sun. They just couldn’t figure it out and found no clear connection between the murder and Steve Banerjee – or anyone else for that matter.

A photo of a former Chippendales’ dancer.
Source: Pinterest

So, in 1988, it seemed as though Steve got everything he wanted. Nick De Noia was finally out of the picture, and his family sold back his Chippendales shares to Steve for $1.3 million. Eagle Vine noted that this was about a tenth of Chippendale’s actual value at the time.

Steve Banerjee Was Trying to Murder His Way to Success

By the time 1988 rolled around, Steve Banerjee thought he had found a new way to succeed in business − by murdering people. He had no problem getting rid of anyone who might get in the way of his success. Like I said, money was the most important thing to him.

A still of Steve during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Not only did the police have no idea that Steve was behind the murder, but Nick De Noia’s family sold him their Chippendales stock at a huge discount. Since he got away with a murder-for-hire plot once, it’s no wonder Steve thought that having more people murdered would work again.

The Copycats Will Pay!

We mentioned how the Chippendales success sparked copycat clubs popping up around the country. In the early 1990s, a group of former dancers teamed up with a former MC at the club named Read Scot. Their idea was to create a similar show entitled Adonis: The Men of Hollywood.

A current photo of Read Scot during an interview.
Read Scot. Source: YouTube

As you might imagine, the jealous Steve Banerjee was angry. That’s when he hired an assassin named Strawberry to carry out the murders – amazingly, using a cyanide mixture prepared by Steve himself.

Strawberry Snitched

However, Strawberry got nervous and chickened out at the last minute. That’s when he decided to call an old contact, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who put him in touch with the FBI. Strawberry confessed and told the police what Steve was really up to.

A security videotape of Steve exiting his car.
Source: YouTube

The FBI staged a sting operation and collected enough evidence to charge Steve Banerjee with attempted murder, arson, and racketeering. They even had footage of him bragging about how he could just flee back to India if he ever got into trouble in America. Things were not looking good for the greedy club owner.

He Knew He Was in Big Trouble

After he was arrested and charged with arson, attempted murder, and other violent crimes, the walls began closing in on Chippendale’s co-founder Steve Banerjee, but he had one last move to make. The FBI noted that he planned on running to India if he had the chance.

A still of Steve during an interview.
Source: YouTube

He knew he was about to lose everything, so he came up with a clever idea. According to The New York Post, he pleaded guilty and then made sure to have all his assets – most importantly his Chippendales stake – transferred to his wife, Irene.

Who Owns Chippendales Now?

Irene then divorced Banerjee and sold Chippendales, which would have left him with literally nothing. With the FBI arguing against bail, Steve wouldn’t have the opportunity to escape back to India, where he thought he would be able to start over under a new name; Steve felt hopeless.

A dated image of an open audition for Chippendales’ calendar models.
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Days before he was supposed to be sentenced, Steve Banerjee tied his bedsheets into a makeshift noose and killed himself in his jail cell. Authorities said that Steve Banerjee was definitely depressed, but they had no reason to believe that he would kill himself.

Steve Wouldn’t Give Up Chippendales

Steve’s confession and guilty plea meant that he would only get 26 years in prison… as long as he gave up his stake in Chippendales. He wasn’t going to let that happen. Remember, his money and power meant everything to him, and he wasn’t going to lose the successful club that he had founded.

Chippendales’ members pose for a picture with a mysterious woman after the show.
Photo by CHARRIAU/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

If he had made it to sentencing, Steve would have gotten 26 years, but instead, he killed himself in his jail cell hours before that could happen. Apparently, Steve Banerjee was so jealous and power-hungry that he would rather die before losing his stake in Chippendales.

A Cautionary Tale

Although he did leave the club to his wife, she was forced to relinquish ownership. She didn’t want anything to do with him. So, in the end, Steve Banerjee left a mark on the world, but it wasn’t a positive one. His wife didn’t even keep the stakes which is what he was hoping for.

A still from a Chippendales’ show.
Source: ABC News

This story should be served as a cautionary tale about what jealousy and gluttony can do to a person. It may be surprising that Steve was a family man who truly wanted to give his children a good life. But greed got the best of him.