Professor Joe Goldblatt
When in 1986 a female friend told me she had a “Chip and Dale” calendar that I must see, I wondered why she was interested in these beloved Disney chipmunk characters? I researched the science of chipmunks and soon discovered that there are 26 different species and all of them live in North America except for the Siberian breed. The Disney species was not included in the scientific literature.
However, I was not prepared for when she pulled open her dresser top drawer and placed in my hands a large calendar featuring several semi – nude male models that was entitled Chippendales. I was still waiting for the furry small creatures to appear when she explained that the Chippendale’s dancers were now one of the hottest attractions for women in Los Angeles and New York city.
My research into the Chippendales began when a major Washington, DC advertising firm entitled Ehrlich – Manes asked me to find an attraction that would result in enticing thousands of women to attend their cosmetics and beauty products exposition at the local convention centre. I asked them why they were producing this show in March when snow was predicted and when it would have been easier to simply promote cosmetic sales within their client’s, Peoples Drug, operator of over 500 local retail pharmacies from Georgia to Ohio.
Advertising executives replied that they wanted to create that ubiquitous American concept of “buzz” to generate excitement from having thousands of women in the same room at the same time. When I then asked how they were going to convince women to travel individually or together in the snow and pay to attend an event where they could sample costmetics, view new hair styles, and learn about the latest beauty tips when there were innumerable ways they could do this in their local community for free?
The chief executive of the advertising agency looked me directly in the eye and said “That is why we hired you!”
I then began to conduct research regarding female motivation for attending live events. One notable difference from their male counterparts in the pre internet 1980’s was the desire of women to hang out with their other female friends in person. Therefore, I needed to find a reason for them to do this and something so exciting that they would call their friends and invite them to join them in large numbers.
After my friend introduced me to the Chippendales, I wondered if they ever had appeared at exhibitions similar to the one we were planning. I rang the owner of the Chippendales nighclub in New York city and he said “We have never appeared anywhere but in our own two clubs in Los Angeles and New York. However, if you would like to have us appear at your expo, come see me.”
A few days leater I travelled to New York city and made my way to the infamous Chippendales night club. The doorman refused to allow me to enter the actual show room as it was exclusively reserved for only female customers. He then directed me upstairs to the owner’s office.
Somen “Steve” Bannerjee was from India and a cordial host who looked more like a corporate banker than a nightclub impresario. He settled in behind his dimly lit small desk and politely listened to my request to have two of his male models travel to Washington, DC for a weekend of appearances at our beauty expo entitled New Faces of ’86. He said that he had never allowed his models to appear anywhere but in his nightclubs in order to create exclusivity and a strong demand for his product.
I then offered to purchase 500 of his calendars and I immediately witnessed the eyebrow effect. According to the motivational author Sam Horn, when a person raises one eyebrow it demonstrates that they are intrigued with what they are hearing. Mr Bannerjee raised both eyebrows.
I then explained that I would also pay for travel to the venue, two nights of hotel, a fee of $500 for each model and that in return I requested that the models briefly appear four times per day and then autograph their calendars. He looked down at his desk, made some short hand calculations upon a legal pad, looked up and said “It’s a deal.”
However, I wanted to be sure that the attraction I was going to present was suitable for my client’s needs. I then asked him if we could go downstairs and view the show. He shook his head from side to side and said in his quiet voice “Absolutely not. No men are allowed.”
Then he rose and signalled for me to follow him across the room where he removed a small painting from the wall. The painting was hiding a peep hole through which we could view the fabulous Chippendales show. I peered down into the audience of 500 women and noticed they were all middle aged and dressed professionally in corporate style suits. The audience was comprised of upper class females who appeared to be surrounded by their closest friends.
Upon confirming that this attraction would be suitable for our needs we shook hands and I returned to Washington, DC. Ehrlich Manes began promoting the expo with full page advertisements announcing “Meet the Chippendale Dancers! First 500 Female Guests receive a free Official Chippendales Calendar! ($6.00 value!).
The morning of the opening day for the expo, I arrived two hours early to inspect the set up. Snow was coming down in droves and my car crept slowly along the main street toward the convention centre. I first began to notice the thousands of women standing in small groups with their friends, many wearing fur coats, in the driving white snow, from several blocks away from the front door of the convention center.
Upon arriving at the center, I noticed several police and security guards barring entry at the front door until the appointed hour when we would begin selling tickets. During the next two days over 30,000 women (and a few brave men) attended the expo and most were there in hopes of seeing and meeting the Chippendales. The Chippendales fulfilled their end of the bargain by parading in (with heavy security) and slowly removing their black full length black capes to reveal their classic Chippendales costume of black bow tie, white tuxedo collars and white cuffs with shiny full length black trousers. The men did not remove any clothing other than their capes and then they quickly made their way to a heavily guarded 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 expanded this attraction to Atlanta, Georgia where even larger crowds attended the show. However, after Atlanta, the drug store company thought that it had succeeded in significantly promoting cosmetic sales in their stores and therefore it was unecessary to continue in other cities.
A few months after the Atlanta show, I began to receive calls from other venues including state fairs asking if we could bring the Chippendale dancers to other cities. Mr Bannerjees agreed to see if there was a market for further personal appearances and I escorted two Chippendales to an large outdoor fair in the US state of Nebraska. Sadly, the experience at the fair was not nearly as professional or even classy as the cosmetic expo. The fair officials treated the Chippendales as though they were simply human livestock on exhibit for their customers.
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, there was a news bulletin that Steve Banerjee had hired a hit man to kill his main competitors and soon he was imprisoned where he commited suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell. Although I was shocked at how this smooth, professional, quiet spoken, and cordial man could fall so low so quickly, I soon realised it was all due to greed.
This month Prime Video is featuring a new documentary entitled The Curse of the Chippendales and several of the models that I presented at the beauty show are featured. My heart sinks every time I see and hear them as I realise that they too were misguided, misdirected, and mistaken. Like me, they believed that the addictive adrennalin of hundreds of people screaming was legitimate and sustainable. It was not.
Despite their notorious past, the Chippendales continue to perform, most recently in a series of exercise videos during the pandemic and they have also legitimised and promoted the expansion of male strip tease with shows such as Australia’s Thunder Down Under. I suppose there will always be an insatiable appetite for this type of attraction.
However, as I review the tragic history of the people associated with the Chippendales, I am relieved that I managed to escape their curse, perhaps, just in time.
Professor 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