Content Warning: The following program contains adult content, violence, strong language and suicide. Listener discretion is advised.
Natalia Petrzela: Previously on Welcome to Your Fantasy ...
Scott Garriola: So we had this elaborate, from 1979 to 1991, this conspiracy or these allegations of crimes that Colon was telling us, which we really had no evidence of, we had to corroborate.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Louie Lopez (voice actor): That's all I saw. I saw a little red dot on his face and I saw him go down.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ray Colon (voice actor): A red dot? What do you mean a red dot?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Louie Lopez (voice actor): Where the bullet went in.]
Scott Garriola: We have it on tape. It's beautiful. We have him out of our hair and now we have Banerjee to worry about. He's the one we have to get, the golden goose. He's the one behind everything. So the plan I came up with was, well, let's make Ray a fugitive.
Natalia: Was there one thing that Banerjee said, like the same way that Rivera said "the red dot," was there a phrase or a sentence he said when you were like, "This is it"?
Scott Garriola: He asked, "Do they know about the D?" And then he said, "Do they know I gave you the money for the guns?"
Natalia: And that was it.
Scott Garriola: Yeah, that was it.
Woman: She's got all her dollars in her wallet, she can't wait. [laughs]
Natalia: Are you ready to use those dollars?
Woman 2: Oh definitely! [laughs]
Natalia: What are you hoping to see tonight?
Woman: A lot of ass!
Natalia: A few months into making this podcast, way back in the summer of 2019, we decided we needed to go to an actual Chippendales show. For research. I mean, I couldn't call myself a true Chippendales scholar without actually witnessing the tip 'n' kiss up close.
Woman 3: I'm almost 60, and it's on my bucket list. So I said before I die—not that I'm planning on it, but before I die I want to see the Chippendales. And my husband and my two grown sons are not keen about it.
Natalia: There aren't any actual Chippendales clubs anymore. The club in LA shut down in 1988. And New York in 2001. But the business is still alive and kicking. There's a longstanding residence in Las Vegas at the Rio, which packs them in every night. Or did before the pandemic, anyway.
Natalia: Are you surprised it's still around after 40 years?
Natalia: Why not?
Woman: Why shouldn't it be around?
Woman 2: There's still horny women. Always horny women.
Natalia: And as luck would have it, in August of 2019, they were doing a one-night-only show at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, Long Island, two hours from Manhattan. So on a balmy Thursday night, I drove out to Riverhead with my co-producers, Niki, Christine, and Eleanor. We arrived early and stood under the marquee for an hour before the show, talking to women as they headed inside. There were groups of bachelorettes, a bunch of softball moms in their 50s, a pair of grandmas out for a big night.
Woman: I saw them in the city when I was young.
Woman: And it was amazing.
Natalia: Tell me about it! What was it like?
Woman: Oh, well, they were very handsome young men, let me tell you. And I was very—I can't say it.
Natalia: Tell us! Tell us!
Woman: Horny! [laughs]
Natalia: The vibe was exactly as you'd expect: giddy and silly, some light sexual tension. It felt out of time, in a way. These women sounded exactly like the women in the recordings we'd tracked down from forty years ago, when Steve Banerjee and his guys first started putting up flyers all over LA, advertising a male strip show for women.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, reporter: Are you excited about the idea of men taking their clothes off?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, woman: Excited? Oh! And how! I'm a dirty old grandmother with five grandchildren [laughs]]
Natalia: We went inside, the lights went down. A pop song started blaring over the speakers, and the women in the room started to scream.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: Ladies, are you ready to get wild? Are you ready to misbehave?]
Natalia: And then, well, I'm a little sad to report that seeing these guys perform live after months of hearing stories about the golden years, it was kind of a letdown. I don't know what I expected exactly, but there was no scene here. And the guys on stage, they were good but they weren't stars in the way that Michael Rapp and Scott Marlowe, and Dan Peterson were stars.
Natalia: There were a couple good developments. The cast is way more diverse now than it was back in the day. There were a lot of non-white guys on stage. And there have been out gay dancers in the cast too. Not that that's reflected much in the show itself—the acts featured all the expected hetero fantasy characters: cops and soldiers and firefighters. There was even an entire act where a woman from the audience was handpicked to "marry" one of the strippers on stage.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: I am looking for four of the wildest, craziest, horniest women in here tonight!]
Natalia: But there weren't any over-the-top Nick de Noia spectacles. No Frankenstein's monster parables. No wild Perfect Man rock opera. I watched and I clapped and I laughed, but still I felt a little bummed. I was so steeped in Chippendales lore at that point that I craved at least a hint of the former glory. But then there was this moment.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: That's when I knew that I wanted to be in a boy band.]
Natalia: That's great!
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: Who here likes the New Kids on the Block?]
Natalia: Yeah, that's me screaming. It was pure instinct. Some latent boy band reflex that had been waiting to be re-activated for the past thirty years.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: Who likes the Backstreet Boys? Me too! Me too!]
Natalia: This is so meta and self-referential, I'm so into this!
Natalia: And the MC introduced the boy band medley, a 10-minute mashup of Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC hits and group choreography, just like in the music videos.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: I want to make this show feel more like a concert, so I want everybody to get as close to the stage as possible.]
Natalia: Let's go, let's go!
Natalia: I'm not ashamed to admit that I ran to the stage. This is how Chippendales functions these days: as a nostalgia machine. Like, we're all there winking at the idea of being at a Chippendales show. And even within the show, the guys are kinda winking, too. They know that any sense of transgression is long gone. It's not a big deal for women to pay to see men dance anymore.
Natalia: No one's gonna be having sex backstage with the dancers. No one's gonna be stuffing their g-strings full of bills. It turns out that the guys don't actually take tips anymore at all. A lot of women did pull bills out and waved them at the guys, but the guys would not take the money. I saw it. Even the tip 'n' kiss, this thing that lured Candace Mayeron into the world of Chippendales all those years ago, It's gone. I was surprised to experience its absence, this thing that had so defined the place.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chippendales announcer: Help me welcome to the stage your Chippendales Boy Band!]
Natalia: We laughed, we had fun. But it was so much tamer than I thought it would be. It was Disney-fied, but not in the way that Steve Banerjee imagined. Not like "We're so huge, Walt Disney will want to build an attraction around us." More like, "We've been engineered in a lab to be perfectly and kind of inoffensively mainstream." It was a really weird thing to realize. 40 years after Steve Banerjee started hiring guys to strip on stage, over 30 years after Nick de Noia's murder, now the whole sordid Chippendales history, the drugs, the sex, the conspiracies and the FBI and the larger-than-life characters, it was just that: history.
Natalia: In this episode, Steve Banerjee's dream comes to its final end, but for the dancers and business associates, and friends and enemies who were there when that dream was becoming a reality, Chippendales still lives on. I'm Natalia Petrzela, and this is Welcome to Your Fantasy episode eight: The Final Act.
Natalia: We left off on September 2, 1993. FBI special agents Scott Garriola and Andrew Stefanak have just arrested Steve Banerjee in the parking lot of his Los Angeles Chippendales office. Banerjee will be charged on eight counts, including racketeering, conspiracy and murder for hire. He pleads not guilty, and a jury trial is set for December 7, 1993.
Natalia: The arrest makes national news. The New York Daily News runs the headline, "G-String King's Busted by G-Men." And of course, after daytime TV helped build up the Chippendale's empire, it also revelled in its downfall.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: Hi, everybody, and welcome to our show, which today takes a hard, very close look at the infamous Chippendale dancers. Those gorgeous hunks in G-strings, worn under skin-tight pants—pants usually removable at a moment's notice. Hard bodies clad in cuffs and bow ties ...]
Candace Mayeron: And I had gotten a call from Geraldo people wanting to put on a Chippendales hour, and asking me if I could please put together some of the guys that should appear on the show. And I said, "Yes, of course I would do that." And they also wanted me on the show as well.
Natalia: Candace Mayeron again, Nick's friend and colleague, who went back on the road with the Chippendales tour after Nick was killed, and who for years was tormented knowing that Steve Banerjee had gotten away with it. Candace was used to operating in the background as a producer, but she leapt at the opportunity to go on Geraldo and set the record straight about her friend Nick's murder.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: Behind the scenes, we'll go to see what loomed. More scandal than you could ever imagine. And here to reveal some of those deep dark secrets, and some of the most popular of the current and past dancers. My first guest is ...]
Natalia: You might recognize some of those dancers.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: The most well-known male stripper in the country, he is still as sexy as ever. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Rapp is here. Come on out Michael. He left Chippendales for a profession with even bigger egos than stripping. Now he's a professional bodybuilder and trainer from New York City. Here is Scott Marlowe. Come on out, Scott.]
Natalia: It's a weird hour of television. They're supposedly there to talk about Steve and Nick, but before they get to that, there's the usual Q and A with the audience.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: Geraldo, is this what they do for a living, or do they have everyday jobs?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: Do you have a problem with homosexuals in your club?]
Natalia: And Geraldo spends a bunch of time kind of publicly degrading the guys on stage with him.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: Michael, perhaps with the obvious pressures of his job, is now divorced from his wife. Mike has three children, all by different women.]
Natalia: Eventually, they get around to talking about Nick's murder.
Candace Mayeron: So Geraldo asks the question flat out to me.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: The man who conspired to murder Nick de Noia, and who in fact hired the hitman who shot him in the face at close range, was none other than Steve Banerjee. Candace, tell us what you feel about Steve Banerjee, the owner of Chippendales, now indicted for racketeering, and conspiring to murder.]
Candace Mayeron: The camera catches Rapp, Michael Rapp just staring at me to see what I'm gonna say, because he knows what I think. They all know what I think. So they're all, like, looking at me to see how I'm gonna answer the question and so forth. Now I'm on national television and I'm an attorney, so I answered it the way I should. I said, "Well ..."
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Candace Mayeron: Steve has only been indicted under these charges, he hasn't been convicted.]
Candace Mayeron: That's really a question for judges and juries.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Candace Mayeron: That's what judges and juries are for.]
Candace Mayeron: Whether or not Steve Banerjee is the perpetrator of the murder of Nick De Noia ...
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Candace Mayeron: I just hope that the perpetrator of Nick's murder, whomever that is, will be brought to justice.]
Candace Mayeron: We all have our own very firm opinions.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Candace Mayeron: And perhaps this is a first step in that procedure.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: Mike, you don't seem very sad about Nick's death.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Michael Rapp: Sad? Of course. I enjoyed working with Nick. Nick was a great guy.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Candace Mayeron: Michael was at the funeral.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geraldo Rivera: Steve Banerjee, now indicted. Is that the death knell of the Chippendales as well?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Michael Rapp: Absolutely not. We're still running the show, four nights a week. The show's still going strong. I mean, it's a lot bigger than Steve Banerjee is now.]
Natalia: He was right. Banerjee's arrest and conviction—which we'll get back to in a minute—didn't change a thing. Michael Rapp danced for another eight years, and Chippendales kept on chugging, right up to September 11, 2001.
Michael Rapp: And 9/11 crushed our New York club because nobody was coming. We had this huge audience, and then of a sudden after 9/11 nobody showed up the next week. It had lost its charm.
Natalia: Rapp decided it was time to move on. The New York club closed shortly after. He tried for a while to be a massage therapist, but that didn't work out so well. Women were intimidated by his handsomeness, he said. They wouldn't request him. It was a strange experience for Rapp. The thing that he'd been celebrated for for the last 20 years, his body and face, was kind of a liability now.
Natalia: That must have felt really unsettling, because you have this whole career where being handsome right attractive is serving you well, and all of a sudden—how did you—that must have been kind of a low place for you.
Michael Rapp: Yeah. I always tell people don't identify with your career because I had identified, I mean I was Michael Rapp from Chippendales, you know?
Michael Rapp: And now I wasn't.
Michael Rapp: Once I had lost my identity. I got to rebuild me the way I wanted—brick by brick. [laughs]
Natalia: That's amazing.
Natalia: Eventually, Rapp became a caretaker for a friend who'd had a stroke. And then his whole life focus shifted to doing personal training and being a life coach. Now he lives with his wife in Arizona, recently transplanted from Queens. Rapp's got a bunch of motivational videos on YouTube and Facebook that he made with a selfie stick on his morning walks to the gym.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Michael Rapp: Good morning. It's Michael Rapp from Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm on my way for a walk. Get a little morning walk in. I am truly enjoying and grateful ...]
Michael Rapp: And I've estimated I've taken off my clothes for over a million women.
Michael Rapp: Yeah, so ...
Natalia: Put that on your tombstone.
Michael Rapp: Tell me about it, right? [laughs]
Natalia: As for Scott Marlowe, even back in the heyday of drugs and sex when, as he put it, he could throw a dart into the crowd and sleep with any woman it hit, some part of him knew he couldn't keep living that way, and that he needed to change something and get out.
Scott Marlowe: The real answer was fall in love. But how could you fall in love at that job? I was kind of—I was lost. I really was. And I was very, very depressed. I was working as a bouncer in some clubs and I did some bodyguarding work. You know, what a typical big ex-Marine would do, right?
Natalia: Yeah. Right.
Scott Marlowe: And I met a girl in one of the bars that I worked in. And she was special. She was special. And that's kind of what I was looking for my whole life, I guess. I didn't know I was, but I was. Later on in life when my son was born, my wife pointed out to me that I was angry. And I just think I'm an angry person. I went to a therapist years later, which my wife pointed out I needed to see. And I spoke to this guy and this guy was actually really good. Anyway, I think I've got myself figured out. [laughs]
Natalia: We'll be right back.
Natalia: After Steve Banerjee was arrested in September of '93, he sat in the metropolitan detention center in downtown LA for a year without bail. When you have enough money, you can avoid a reckoning for a long time, and Banerjee's lawyers requested continuance after continuance, blowing past the original trial date set for the winter of 1993. It isn't until June of '94 that jury selection finally begins.
Natalia: Why was this a kind of hot case?
Bruce Nahin: It's Chippendales, babe. We're still talking about it 40 years later.
Natalia: Bruce Nahin, Banerjee's lawyer from the early days, was one of his few visitors in jail.
Bruce Nahin: The one time I went to see Steve, he blamed me for his arrest. Which was absurd, because I had no clue about him trying to kill the kids in Britain. But had I known, I certainly wouldn't have been at fault for trying to have him arrested [laughs] But I didn't. I didn't know, so I had no reason to.
Natalia: How'd you feel, walking in there?
Bruce Nahin: Apprehensive. I mean, here my partner's in the slam, you know, and it's never a comfortable feeling to go visit someone in jail.
Natalia: What was his demeanor like when you visited him? Was he down? Was he aggressive?
Bruce Nahin: Belligerent.
Natalia: In a last ditch effort, Banerjee and his lawyers try to submit a pre-trial motion. They want to suppress the recordings the FBI got from Ray Colon's hotel room in Switzerland. They're not successful, and soon after they request a plea hearing with the judge.
Steve Cymer: There wasn't a trial. Banerjee pled guilty.
Natalia: That's Steve Clymer again, the prosecutor on the case. On July 29, 1994, the prosecution and judge accept the plea. Banerjee will be sentenced to 26 years in prison. As for Chippendales—the company he built from the ground up—he'll have to forfeit it to the US government.
Steve Clymer: Part of what we wanted was the Chippendales because he had been successful and been able to keep the Chippendales himself in part because of the crimes he committed. And so it was reasonable for us to want to say he should have to disgorge or lose that, forfeit it to the government because it was so enmeshed in the crimes he committed.
Steve Clymer: All his crimes were related to his operation of the Chippendales.
Natalia: Banerjee's sentencing is scheduled for October 24. Over the next three months, he and his attorneys do what they can to avoid the seizure of Chippendales, but they're ultimately out of moves. Once Banerjee is sentenced, the business will no longer be his. Around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of his sentencing, Steve Banerjee does something no one saw coming: he hangs himself in his jail cell.
[NEWS CLIP: Just hours before he was to be sentenced, Chippendales owner, Somen Banerjee committed suicide in his jail cell.]
[NEWS CLIP: Last July, Banerjee admitted to setting up de Noia's murder.]
[NEWS CLIP: Steve Banerjee's multimillion-dollar rise and fall.]
[NEWS CLIP: He took a failing West LA club and turned it into a huge success with a singular attraction. And Banerjee made a lot of money.]
[NEWS CLIP: Banerjee was facing a 26-year prison sentence.]
[NEWS CLIP: This afternoon, Banerjee's attorney fought to have the case closed, but that was postponed. The FBI is still investigating.]
Natalia: It is his last, most extreme act. His final way of maintaining control of Chippendales, and keeping the business in his own name.
Steve Clymer: A criminal defendant's conviction under the law is not final until he's sentenced. And for our purposes, that meant that part of his plea agreement where he had agreed to forfeit the Chippendales to the federal government never came to pass, because we needed a final conviction for that to happen. Our suspicion at the time was that Banerjee committed suicide so his wife could keep the Chippendales instead of the government getting the Chippendales.
Natalia: Where did you find out that he had killed himself? Were you in the courtroom or on the way?
Steve Clymer: Oh, no. We knew before we went down. The marshal service notified us.
Natalia: Were you surprised?
Steve Clymer: Yeah. I never had a defendant do that on the night before sentencing before. It was shocking.
Candace Mayeron: I went to the courthouse to see him being sentenced, to see him being brought in in shackles, and to have him see me.
Natalia: Candace Mayeron again.
Candace Mayeron: We never went into the courthouse because they met us on the courthouse steps and said, "There is not going to be any sentencing. Banerjee died last night." I'm featured on the newsreel footage.
Natalia: And in that footage, Candace is on the front steps of the courthouse, standing out in a fire engine red skirt-suit. She looks pissed. The former MC, Clarke Wilson, is right by her side.
[NEWS CLIP: De Noia's friends are angry Banerjee killed himself before he could be sentenced.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Clarke Wilson: Nick de Noia was a dear friend and he was a creative genius. And now his murderer is dead by suicide. And so I guess that is some form of closure, but it sure doesn't feel like it today.]
Natalia: A lot of the people I talked to about their time at Chippendales had a different, more complicated reaction than Candace did. Like Dan Peterson who remember, had once been Banerjee's confidante, and then ended up getting shot at at the beach because Steve was so enraged he'd created a competing calendar. Dan said that when he looks back on it all, he knows he should think of Steve as a cold-blooded killer, but mostly he just feels sad for him.
Dan Peterson: I know people get mad at me by feeling bad for Steve because Steve killed Nick. And I do feel bad for both of them. And I think what he did was completely wrong. There was no reason for him to do it. He had all the money in the world. Chippendales was still big, it was all still there, and here he goes and does something stupid. Ends his life and Nick's life. Stupid.
Natalia: Dan parlayed his calendar work into a career as a professional photographer. He takes photos of models and celebrities—even shot a Chippendales calendar in 2006. He also competes in Iron Man triathlons, and he still lives in Thousand Oaks in the same house he grew up in, but now with his wife and kids.
Natalia: Hodari Subabu, the guy who warned Don Gibson that Steve had taken a hit out on him, he's still grappling with his feelings about Banerjee, too.
Natalia: So do you remember where you were when Banerjee died?
Hodari Subabu: Yeah.
Natalia: Tell me about that.
Hodari Subabu: Yeah. I remember because it came on the news or something. And by that time, I hadn't seen him in a few years and I kinda lost track of him. And then I heard about the case where he went to jail. Subsequent to that, I know so many guys who were in jail with him, but it came on the news that he hung himself in jail. I'm like, damn, man. It was really, really sad, even though I hadn't reached out for him. It's almost like I'm going to. You know, it's been, what, four or five—I'm gonna call Steve because after that you figure that the animosity is over. And okay, he's in jail, and maybe I'll go and visit him. But you got time, you always figure you got time. And he ends up dead, and it was kind of devastating for me.
Natalia: Like, you have some regret it sounds like for not mending ways.
Hodari Subabu: Yeah, I don't know. I wish he was alive, because he didn't even get a life sentence. He would've been out way before now. Because then you only had to do half of the time.
Richard Barsh: I was shocked. I know Steve wasn't the happiest guy in the world, but I couldn't see him doing that. But I can't see anybody doing that. But I think he couldn't stand that he was gonna get 25 years in jail. I think that was just way too much for him.
Natalia: This is Richard Barsh. If you remember all the way back in episode one, he was the guy Banerjee hired to be the MC in the very early days. He wore a tux and made a bunch of corny jokes, and went out on stage in roller skates.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Richard Barsh: Do you wanna see more?]
Natalia: Barsh's life took an odd turn after Chippendales. He owned the copyright to the original Chippendales show, and wrote a lot of the campy acts that Nick de Noia rewrote or replaced when he arrived on the scene. After Barsh was pushed out, he sued Steve Banerjee for copyright infringement. That lawsuit ended up dragging on for 12 years. At one point, shortly before Nick was killed, Barsh says that one of the dancers called him and told him that he'd better be careful because Banerjee had taken a hit out on him. Barsh left LA right away and hid out in the mountains.
Richard Barsh: I took it seriously. But I tried to put a funny spin to it, because I went to my parents' house and I told them. And I bought myself a fake beard, really bad, fake beard and a wig. And my parents were like, "Rick, this isn't funny. This is not funny." And I said, "I know, I know."
Natalia: That was in 1987. In 1993, Barsh was supposed to finally have his day in court with Banerjee. But Banerjee never showed up. The FBI had arrested him earlier that week.
Richard Barsh: I felt sorry for Steve, but Steve had done a lot of bad things in his life. Steve had a ton of money. Steve was a multimillionaire, and Nick had made millions from it. They both had made millions from doing this show, but they were so greedy. They were still greedy for more, which really shocks me that you can't—I really can't see it, because what did you gain? And everybody would say to me, "Boy, you really lost out on that Chippendales case." And I said, "Excuse me?" I said, “Nick's dead, Steve's dead. I'm still alive.”
Natalia: By the time Banerjee's sentencing date rolled around, Eric Gilbert, another of his former right-hand men, was an art director living in Malibu.
Eric Gilbert: Scott Garriola at the FBI called me and said, "Well, some good news." He goes, "You don't have to appear in court today." I'm like, "Why is that?" And he goes, "Because your boss killed himself." And I said, "Wow, really?" And he goes, "Yeah." Then he says, "I guess you could take this off your resume." [laughs]
Natalia: Oh my gosh! Wow! How did you feel?
Eric Gilbert: I was relieved. It's really a very telling tale of morality. He was just some schmo from India who actually came from a pretty well-to-do family, bought a couple of gas stations, parlayed it, worked his ass off, washed cars, filled up gas tanks, bought a cheap nightclub, played around with different ideas until he found one that could work. If he wasn't so singularly fucked-up in being paranoid and super cheap, if he didn't have those two problems, he could've made—he would've been alive today and been a hundred millionaire. But the guy had some fatal flaws, sadly, and screwed him over.
Natalia: As for Bruce Nahin, Banerjee's lawyer in the early days, he kept on practicing law. And then in 2004, he was found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars from his clients that he used to bankroll a horse ranch. And then he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But Bruce has a somewhat different view of his place in history.
Bruce Nahin: My ex-wife once said—I don't know if you remember the movie Schindler's List.
Natalia: Of course, not a forgettable film.
Bruce Nahin: At the end of Schindler, all the survivors put rocks on his tomb. She says, when I die, women will come with their beefcake calendar.
Natalia: How do you feel about that?
Bruce Nahin: That's okay. I guess I'm a cultural icon. I would've preferred the Academy Award.
Natalia: After Steve Banerjee's death, ownership of Chippendales went to his wife, Irene, who quickly sold it off to a couple of Banerjee's associates. In 1996, Lou Pearlman, the mogul responsible the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, bought in—at least for a little while. He was later accused of fraud, physical and sexual abuse, and went to prison for running a $300-million Ponzi scheme. In 2000, a group of investors took over the company. These days it's run by a former investment banker named Kevin Denberg.
Natalia: The New York club was shut down after 9/11, when the city's nightclub scene changed dramatically. It later became a Bed, Bath & Beyond, where I bought the sheets for my first apartment.
Natalia: But by then, Chippendales was bigger than any New York club or LA club. It was bigger than Nick de Noia and Steve Banerjee. The world tours never stopped. In 2005, they added a nightly residency in Vegas. In 2012, the movie Magic Mike came out, and it felt like there was this sudden male stripper renaissance. And now in Vegas, you can have your pick of a bunch of other troupes too: Black Magic, Hunk-o-Mania, Thunder From Down Under.
Natalia: We haven't talked much about Steve's or Nick's families, the people for whom their legacies cast the most complicated shadow. I spent a few hours speaking with Steve Banerjee's two sons, who ultimately decided they didn't want us to use their interviews. One of them, Christian, was only four when his father died. He now makes his living as a male stripper.
Natalia: As for Nick's family, they're now the keepers of this exhaustive archive he maintained of his life as an entertainer: playbills, photos, 8x10 glamour shots, business cards, clapboards, letters and more, all meticulously organized in these thick binders that tell the story he wanted told. When I visited his niece and nephew on the Jersey Shore, they brought out the boxes and files, and we sat there at the kitchen table eating turkey sandwiches and going through them together. They let me hold his Emmy in my hands. Nick's great niece Nicole was there too. She's named after him.
Candace Mayeron: After Chippendales, I knew every good-looking guy in America. If you bought any calendar of good-looking guys or posters of good-looking guys, odds are I produced it.
Natalia: These days, Candace Mayeron spends her time organizing backgammon tournaments. She's still close with a lot of the old Chippendales guys.
Candace Mayeron: We all went to the movies together when Magic Mike came out.
Christine: Oh you did?
Natalia: And she supports their careers. We went with her to a show called Hollywood Men, run by a former Chippendale dancer. Candace was a VIP at the place. They had a special booth all reserved for her. She knew every guy's name. She asked them about their lives. And they all came around to give her a hug and say hi.
Candace Mayeron: I'll give you a tip. Anybody who's going to a show and is interested in a guy, do not go up to him and say, "Oh, you're so hot, you're so sexy on stage." Go up to him and say, "You really are a good performer." That's how you get to them. They like to think of themselves as performers and not pieces of meat.
Candace Mayeron: I can tell you this: I never once got bored. I never once got tired of going to a show or bored with it. Never. Not after thousands of performances.
Candace Mayeron: There's nothing else besides a top-quality male strip show. And this was great theater. You can't name another event where people are at a fever's pitch the entire two and a half hours. Not the Super Bowl. There's moments of silence in the stadium. Nothing, there is nothing where, as a member of the audience, you're on edge the entire two and a half hours in a good way.
Natalia: I think we're ready to wrap, Candace. Is there anything else you want to add?
Candace Mayeron: [sighs] I don't think so. I think that if I wanted to add anything else, Chippendales was an extraordinary time in the United States. It was iconic, and it was a cultural phenomenon for a very good reason. The beauty and the wonderfulness that was Chippendales should not be sullied by the fact that behind the scenes, there was something terrible that went on.
Natalia: Well, thank you, Candace.
Candace Mayeron: TTYL, Natalia.
Candace Mayeron: See I'm hip, I'm fucking hip.
Natalia: You are so hip. I love it.
Candace Mayeron: I'm so fucking hip. Thanks, honey. Bye-bye.
Natalia: Bye. [laughs]
Natalia: Next time, I'm gonna sit down with my two co-producers and fellow historians to talk about why this Chippendales story is gonna stick with us long after this podcast is over.
Niki Hemmer: And the question becomes, is this women's liberation, or is this the commodification of the idea of women being freer, of women having more resources?
Natalia: What do you think the biggest misconception about the Chippendales is out there?
Michael Rapp: That we're gay or that we're dumb.
Natalia: And we'll hear from you too.
Natalia: Welcome to Your Fantasy is a production of Pineapple Street Studios in association with Gimlet. It's hosted by me, Natalia Petrzela. Our senior producer is Eleanor Kagan. Our producer is Christine Driscoll, and our associate producer is Erin Kelly. Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young are consulting producers.
Natalia: Our editors are Joel Lovell and Maddy Sprung-Keyser. It was mixed by Hannis Brown. And fact-checked by Ben Phelan.
Natalia: This show features original music by Daoud Anthony. And thanks to our music supervisor Jasmine Flott. The executive producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. From Gimlet, our executive producer is Lydia Polgreen and our editor is Collin Campbell.
Natalia: We've got a Spotify playlist with tons of music from the original show, so you can recreate the club experience for yourself in the comfort of your own home. You can find the link in the show notes.
Natalia: For more wild talk show moments, and maybe even a photo or two of us when we went to see Chippednales, check out our Instagram account @ChippendalesRevealed. That's our handle @ChippendalesRevealed.
Natalia: Did you ever go to Chippendales? We want to hear about it. Leave us a short voicemail—30 seconds to a minute, tops—at (323) 475-9424, and we might play it on a future episode. That's 323-475-9424.
Natalia: This is a Spotify Original Podcast.