The Curse of the Chippendales, and how I escaped it – Professor Joe Goldblatt

When in 1986 a friend told me she had a “Chip and Dale” calendar that I must see, I wondered why she was so interested in Disney’s beloved chipmunks.

So I was unprepared when she handed me a calendar featuring several semi-nude male models. I was still waiting for the furry creatures to appear when she explained that the ‘Chippendales’ show was now one of the hottest attractions for women in Los Angeles and New York City.

Sometime earlier, a major advertising firm in Washington DC, Ehrlich Manes, had asked me to find an attraction that would entice thousands of women to attend their cosmetics and beauty products exposition. They told me they wanted to create that ubiquitous American concept of “buzz”, the general sense of excitement from having thousands of women in the same room at the same time.

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When I asked how they were going to convince women to pay to attend such an event when they could learn about beauty tips in their local community for free, the chief executive looked me in the eye and said: “That’s why we hired you!”

So I began to conduct research into what motivated women to attend live events. I needed to find something so exciting that they would call their friends and invite them to join them in large numbers. So, after my friend showed me her calendar, I rang the owner of New York Chippendales nightclub, who invited me there for a meeting.

A few days later, I made my way to the infamous Chippendales. The doorman refused to allow me to enter the actual showroom as it was exclusively reserved for female customers, but directed me to the office.

Somen “Steve” Banerjee, originally from India, was a cordial host who looked more like a corporate banker than a nightclub impresario. He politely listened to my request for two male models to appear at the expo, New Faces of ’86, in Washington, but then said he had never allowed his models to appear anywhere but in his nightclubs in order to create exclusivity.

However, when I offered to purchase 500 of his calendars, Mr Banerjee raised both eyebrows. I further explained I would pay for travel to the venue, two nights of hotel, and a fee of $500 for each model. In return, I requested the models briefly appear four times a day, then autograph their calendars. He looked down at his desk, made some short-hand calculations, looked up and said: “It’s a deal.”

The Chippendales created a sensation when Joe Goldblatt took them to Washington, DC for their first public show outside of the nightclubs (Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

I wanted to be sure that the attraction I was going to present would be suitable for my client’s needs, so I asked to view the show. “Absolutely not. No men are allowed,” he replied. But he rose and signalled me to follow him across the room where he removed a small painting from the wall. Behind was a peephole through which we could view the show.

The audience of about 500 women were middle-aged and dressed professionally in corporate-style suits. Upon confirming that this attraction would be suitable for our needs, we shook hands and I returned to Washington. Ehrlich-Manes began promoting the expo with full-page newspaper advertisements announcing “Meet the Chippendale Dancers! First 500 Female Guests receive a free Official Chippendales Calendar! ($6 value!).”

The morning of the expo, I arrived two hours early to inspect the set-up. As I drove slowly along the street to the convention centre amid heavy snowfall, I began to notice women standing in small groups with their friends, many wearing fur coats, from several blocks away. There were thousands of them!

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During the next two days, more than 30,000 women, and a few brave men, attended the expo, most hoping to see and meet the Chippendales, who fulfilled their end of the bargain. They paraded in (with heavy security) and slowly removed their full-length black capes to reveal their classic Chippendales costume of black bow tie, white tuxedo collar and cuffs, and shiny black trousers. They did not remove any other clothing and quickly moved to a raised platform where they met their fans and signed hundreds of calendars.

The show was so successful that the following year the drug store company involved expanded this attraction to Atlanta, Georgia, drawing even larger crowds. After Atlanta, they decided they had significantly promoted cosmetic sales in their stores and would not continue the events.

However, a few months later, I began to receive calls from other venues including state fairs asking if we could bring the Chippendales there. Mr Bannerjee agreed to see if there was a market for further personal appearances and I escorted two Chippendales to a large outdoor fair in Nebraska. Sadly, that experience was not nearly as professional or even classy as the cosmetics expo. The fair officials treated the Chippendales as though they were human livestock on exhibit.

Upon returning to my office after this disappointing episode, I vowed to no longer present the Chippendales, regardless of their growing popularity. I soon realised that I had made a wise decision.

Within a few years, it emerged Steve Banerjee had hired a hitman to kill his main competitors and he was imprisoned. He killed himself in his cell. Although I was shocked at how this smooth, professional, quietly spoken and cordial man could fall so low so quickly, I soon realised it was all due to greed.

Amazon Prime Video is currently running a documentary entitled The Curse of the Chippendales and several of the models I presented at the beauty show are featured. My heart sinks every time I see them, as I realise that they too were misguided, misdirected and mistaken. Like me, they believed that the addictive adrenalin of hundreds of people screaming was sustainable.

The Chippendales continue to perform, most recently during the pandemic in a series of exercise videos. They have also legitimised and promoted the expansion of male striptease with shows such as Australia’s Thunder Down Under. There will always be an insatiable appetite for this type of attraction.

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However, as I review the tragic history of the people associated with the Chippendales, I’m relieved I managed to escape the curse, perhaps just in time.

Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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