In 1979, a former caretaker who moved from Mumbai to Los Angeles in pursuit of the American Dream became the unexpected founder of a male stripper empire.
The Chippendale family was born. But while the shows were risqué — oiled-up men spun onstage for an audience of women clamoring to stuff dollar bills into their thongs — male strippers were the first to truly go mainstream — As dance troupes became a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s, the real story behind the scenes was even more eye-opening.
The story of founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee’s determination and entrepreneurial spirit turns into a tale of fierce competition and greed, culminating in arson, hired killers and murder. “Anyone or anything that stood in Banerjee’s way, he would hire someone to kill or burn a competitor,” said the Los Angeles FBI agent, quoted in an indictment when the charges were laid in the 1990s.
The story is now in Welcome to Chippendale, created by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler, Pam and Tommy), Kumail Nanjiani with Juliette Lewis, Murray Bartlett, Starring Zach Palmisano, Colin Seifert and Analie Ashford.
“It’s just an incredible true crime story,” Siegel told Sky News. “Crime is mixed with sex and drugs and male stripping. It’s a crazy, fun world. But there’s a lot of real stuff too. It’s an exploration of all these big issues of racism and capitalism and what it means to be an outsider.” opportunities, and the American Dream, immigrants…
“And the main character…just for this Indian immigrant, conservative, very conservative, nerd, to drop into this wild world of Los Angeles, smoking cocaine and stripping.
“He followed the classic immigrant journey: go to America, work hard, use your entrepreneurial skills, build your own business, make yourself big. He’s doing exactly what is considered a classic immigrant success story, but he’s applying it For something so blasphemous, so shocking.”
Banerjee immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, ran a gas station, and then bought the Destiny II club in 1975. Filled with ideas to make his bar stand out, the venue reportedly hosted women’s mud wrestling and exotic dances — “ladies only” — before the idea of a male striptease was born.
Chippendales became a phenomenon and the dancers were instantly known for their uniforms of bow ties, bow ties and cuffs – a reversal of the iconic Playboy trademark as it was in Hugh Hefner.
According to the Los Angeles Times archives, “the club began to attract women in droves, who could gaze and kiss sweaty, tanned, muscular young men in thongs for a $20 admission fee.”
By 1981, the Chippendale family had their own “person of the month” calendar. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Banerjee described the experience as “Women’s Disneyland.” More clubs opened in New York, Dallas and Denver.
But the success of the Chippendales sparked imitation. According to a government sentencing memo, “Banerjee’s concerns about these competitors resulted in three attempted arson attacks,” the Los Angeles Times reported; two attempts resulted in minor damage to two rival bars, while the third plan was abandoned.
Trouble was also brewing between Banerjee and the TV director and choreographer Nick DeNoah, who helped turn the show into a huge stage production. In 1983, De Noah wrote on a napkin that he had the right to take the Chippendales on the road and own the show in perpetuity; Banerjee reportedly signed it, not understanding the full nature of what that meant .
Amidst all this were financial problems, with racial discrimination lawsuits brought in 1983 and an error during the calendar printing run in 1987 which resulted in 31 days in February – costing the company around $300,000 (about £247,000 today).
Murder for Hire, Abetting Murder and Arson Charges
In 1987, de Noah was shot in the face while sitting at his desk in Manhattan, New York. Banerjee was not formally implicated for his involvement until years later — but when he was charged with murder for hire in 1993, he was also accused of conspiring to kill two Chippendale dancers and a reportedly A producer who defected to a hostile group.
Candace Mayeron, who performed and toured with De Noia after her split from Banerjee, said she was concerned about who was behind the murder , she didn’t have a “spark of doubt”.
“Steve and Nick had an argument,” she told Elle magazine in 2021. “Nick was a articulate New Yorker, and he talked about Chippendale a lot on TV. He started being called ‘Mr. Chippendale.’ I” I think that fueled Steve’s anger at Nick. Their war of words turned vicious. I’ve been with Nick for so long, I never knew he had other enemies. It’s not hard to connect the dots. “
According to the official report, Banerjee’s charges were filed under the U.S. federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and racketeering activities include murder for hire, abetting murder and arson.
Hours before his sentencing in 1994, Banerjee was found dead in his cell, taking his own life.
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Siegel researched the case from news reports and court documents from the time, as well as books and podcasts recounting what happened.
“Steve was rarely interviewed,” he said. “I mean, barely. So we kind of had to cobble together what we had [about his life] Together… there are court documents and articles about crimes, arson… club finances.
“There are articles about racism lawsuits, clubs discriminating against black patrons. Steve equates white people with class, he doesn’t want black people in clubs.”
Siegel said he was most shocked to find out what happened to the 1987 calendar and how it was the catalyst for Banerjee’s downfall.
“It was this utter collapse that led to the financial collapse of the company and led to [Banerjee] Kind of lost his ***. For him, this was the final nail in the coffin. It was later learned that he came from a printing family.
“It was a gift from the god of writing… He left India, turned his back on the family business, and came to America. Ultimately, it was typographical errors that brought him down.”
Welcome to Chippendales, starring Kumail Nanjiani, premieres January 11 on Disney+ in the UK