Carol Doda, the legendary topless dancer of another era’s North Beach, whose breasts were called a second pair of Twin Peaks for The City, died Monday afternoon in San Francisco. She was 78.
Doda was hospitalized at St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital for about eight months, where she died after suffering from lung and kidney failure, close friends said. Her hearing faded in the last year and she refused to wear hearing aids. “She was a very proud woman,” said Ron Minollo, who knew her all his life.
She was born August 29, 1937, in Solano County, CA. In 1964 Doda danced at the Condor Club topless, and soon gained fame as one of the first entertainers to do so.
She was also among the first celebrities to augment her breasts with silicone implants. Her bra size was then a 44DD, though her act wasn’t limited to her figure.
According to the book Fear and Loathing: Unbuckling American Style, the Condor’s illuminated marquee was meant to be a cartoon illustration of Doda: replete with blinking red nipples.
She soon started singing, dancing, and cracking up the crowds with a comic routine. In a 2009 interview with SF Weekly, she said she expanded her repertoire so it wasn’t just, “Here I am, boys.”
“I don’t think I could accomplish that going somewhere else,” she said, touting her home by the bay.
Doda was a contemporary of Herb Caen and Enrico Banducci (who opened the Hungry i club on Broadway), and said she played Scrabble backstage at the Condor as she waited to dance.
Between sets she’d sip a white nun, a drink made of steamed milk and brandy.
In 1972, a writer for The Stanford Daily, Glenn Garvin, described seeing her arrive for an interview.
“She crawled onto a purple velvet-covered waterbed in the center of the room, and right there I fell in love,” he wrote. “Nobody has ever climbed onto a waterbed like that before. No one else could.”
Doda was also renowned locally for hosting San Jose’s KGSC-TV Channel 36 special, “Perfect 36,” a reference to the channel and also her hourglass figure (though her actual band size was a 44).
Though Doda was a prominent figure of North Beach, the sexual revolution and women’s liberation were also prominent at the time – and according to Doda, protesters from those groups targeted the Condor.
“The women used to parade outside, saying, ‘Burn your bras, burn your bras,'” she told SF Weekly in 2009. “And I said, ‘What are you talking about? I’m not wearing a bra!”
She fought some “really interesting fights,” Lee Houskeeper, a friend and local publicist told the Examiner. “You’re the lowest rung of the food chain when you’re a North Beach stripper from the 60s.”
But, he noted, “Everything was turning upside down and she was at the epicenter of it, stripping.”
“She built North Beach,” he said.
In her later years Doda opened Champagne and Lace in the Marina district, a specialty lingerie shop off Union Street. She was a North Beach neighborhood icon in and out of cafes, a stalwart in local bars and businesses.
A handful of mourners gathered early Wednesday inside Gino and Carlo bar off Columbus Avenue, a frequent haunt of hers. Leaning over their glasses of beer and remembering Doda’s life, the mourners told the Examiner that Doda was about more than just her bust.
Minollo, a part owner of Gino and Carlo for 40 years, said “She was street smart. She had a humor that was unbelievable. She’d say ‘you foo,’” he laughed warmly, remembering her.
Bartender Silvio Maniscaoco wiped down the countertop and said, “I’m not a person who speaks much, but I’m going to miss her deeply. I knew her well.”
A.C. Havassy, a local writer, took a drag of his cigarette, and said she should be remembered fo her quick and piercing humor.
“Some may see her legacy as The Condor,” noted A.C. Havassy, a local writer, “but her legacy was her wit, and her intelligence.”
More than anything, Doda told SF Weekly, she loved The City.
“I feel like I’m part of San Francisco, and San Francisco’s part of me,” she said. “‘I left my heart in San Francisco … where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care.’ … How could I sum it up better than that?”