Warning: Welcome To Chippendales Spoilers Ahead!
Chippendales was around before Magic Mike. Welcome to Chippendales, a limited series on Hulu that starts on November 22, tells the real story of how Somen “Steve” Banerjee started the groundbreaking all-male revue in 1980s Los Angeles. But this story about male strippers, jealousy, and murder is stranger than anything Hollywood could have made up.
The eight-part docudrama is based on the 2014 book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders. It stars Kumail Nanjiani, Juliette Lewis, and White Lotus' Murray Bartlett. Like the book, the show looks at the rise of a popular all-male strip club for women and the fall of the man who owned it.
But to Nanjiani, who plays Banerjee, the man is more than just a bad guy; he's an example of what can go wrong with the American Dream. Nanjiani told the New York Times, “He doesn't feel good in his own skin.” “He can only feel like he has worth if he is successful. But I think he was also a little embarrassed by how he was making money.”
Read on to find out what really happened in “Welcome to Chippendales.”
Who is Somen “Steve” Banerjee?
Banerjee came from India and settled in the United States in the 1960s. He worked for Mattel and ran a Mobil gas station in Southern California before he bought Destiny II, a failing Los Angeles club, in 1975.
(In the show, Nanjiani's character Steve says that the name made it sound like it was a continuation of a business that was already doing well.) But the dance club, which later had things like female mud wrestling and exotic dancing, had trouble getting people to come.
Four years later, Banerjee and his business partner, lawyer Bruce Nahin, changed the name to Chippendales to match the style of the club's wooden furniture and opened a club for women where they could watch men strip. Candace Mayeron, who used to be an associate producer for Chippendales, told 20/20 in 2021 that it was the first time something was made just for women. “We made a place where women could let it all hang out.”
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Where Did Steve Banerjee Get The Idea For Chippendales?
Paul Snider, played by Dan Stevens, is a club promoter and pimp who suggested to Banerjee that he turn his club into a strip club for women. Natalia Petrzela, who hosts the podcast Welcome To Your Fantasy, which covers the Chippendales murder mystery, told Vice in 2021 that Paul Snider had seen a gay male review and thought it would be funny to do this for women. “He told Banerjee about the idea, and that's how it all started.”
Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, who was played by Nicola Peltz-Beckham and was Snider's wife, is said to have suggested that shirtless Chippendale dancers wear bow ties on their collars and cuffs as a nod to the Playboy bunnies.
Eric Gilbert, the former creative director of Playboy, argued in the A&E documentary series Secrets of the Chippendales Murders that Hefner deserves credit for Chippendales' success. “Hugh Hefner gave Steve Banerjee the best gift of all by letting him turn his trademark cuffs and collar into a Chippendales look,” he said. “That switch was so eye-catching that women were immediately drawn to it.”
Banerjee hired Snider to be the first emcee for Chippendales in 1979, but he was quickly replaced when it became clear that he didn't have the charisma needed for the job. In August 1980, Snider killed himself and Stratten, who he was no longer close to. Two movies were made about Stratten's sad death: Star 80, with Bob Fosse, and Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, with Jamie Lee Curtis.
Who is Nick De Noia?
Nick De Noia, who was played by Bartlett, was a charismatic choreographer who had won two Emmys for his work on the NBC children's show Unicorn Tales. Banerjee hired him in 1981 to make dance routines for his Chippendales dancers and made him the company's in-house choreographer.
However, he and Banerjee often had disagreements. Read Scot, a former Chippendales dancer told People that the two of them “used to go toe-to-toe and just scream and curse at each other” about how the shows should go.
In 1984, De Noia moved to New York and started a new Chippendales show. “The Perfect Man,” a sexy parody of Frankenstein, was part of the show. Later, he went on a successful tour with Chippendales Universal, which was a separate company that paid Banerjee royalties for the right to use the Chippendale name.
This tour made Banerjee a lot of money, but it also made the relationship between the founder and choreographer even worse than it was before.
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When Did Things Start Going Wrong For Chippendales?
Soon after it was made, Chippendales became a cultural phenomenon that led to sexy calendars, appearances on Phil Donahue, and SNL parodies. As Chippendales' popularity grew, De Noia became the face of the franchise.
He was even called “Mr. Chippendales,” which Banerjee didn't like. Mayeron told Elle in 2021, “I think Steve's anger toward Nick was made worse by his nickname.” “Their words started to hurt each other.”
Banerjee had problems other than being envious of De Noia. He had been doing shady business deals for years, which put his empire at risk. In 1979, he paid someone to set up Moody's Disco on fire, which was a rival club.
He tried to do the same thing with a different competitor five years later. Chippendales went bankrupt in 1987 after a black UCLA law student, Don Gibson, sued the club for racial discrimination after he was turned away from the club.
As Banerjee tried harder to protect himself, he got madder about the Chippendales tour deal he had made with De Noia. The contract, which De Noia had written on a cocktail napkin, said that De Noia would own the rights to the tour and that they would split the profits from the tour 50/50 forever.
Banerjee became sure that De Noia was stealing from him as the tour got more popular. He hired Ray Colon, a former police officer, and nightclub performer, to help him catch De Noia. On April 7, 1987, De Noia was sitting at his desk in his New York office when he was shot and killed.
So What Happened To Steve Banerjee?
Since De Noia's murder wasn't solved for years, Banerjee, who had bought back the touring rights after the choreographer's death, seemed to feel stronger. In 1990, he asked Colon to help him try to kill Michael Fullington, a former Chippendales dancer and choreographer, and two other former Chippendales dancers who had started a rival troupe called Adonis: Men of Hollywood.
The Hitman Colon hired didn't do the job, but he did tell the FBI about the plan to kill someone. 20/20 says that when the FBI looked through Colon's apartment, they found enough cyanide to kill 230 people.
After being in jail for seven months, Colon agreed to help the FBI build a case against Banerjee, which was not an easy thing to do. Colon met with Banerjee in June 1992 to try to get him to confess, but Banerjee wouldn't answer Colon's questions out loud. Instead, he replied with Post-It notes, which he then threw away right away.
The next year, Colon met Banerjee in Zurich, Switzerland, and the FBI got a recording of Banerjee admitting that he gave Colon $500 to buy the guns that were used to kill De Noia.
Banerjee was charged in September 1993 with getting Colon to kill De Noia and try to kill three former Chippendales dancers. He agreed to serve 26 years in prison and give up his share of Chippendales after pleading guilty to murder for hire, attempted arson, and racketeering. Banerjee killed himself on October 23, 1994, just hours before he was to be sentenced for killing De Noia for money.
“I was on the courthouse steps with our emcee and two dancers when someone came out and said there would be no hearing because Steve had killed himself in jail the night before,” Mayeron told Elle. “I really felt ripped off.”
Scot, who was one of Banerjee's attempted victims, agreed, telling 20/20, “[Banerjee] didn't get the punishment he deserved. He didn't go to jail for Nick De Noia, for ruining people's lives, or for trying to kill people. He got lucky. He was a weakling.”
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Chippendales Made It Through The Scandal, or Not?
After Banerjee died, Chippendales went to his ex-wife Irene Banerjee, who died in 2001. The Banerjee family is no longer involved in Chippendales, but in 2020, Banerjee's son, Christian, started his own male revue called Strippendales. He told the New York Post, “It's not like I saw Magic Mike and wanted to be like that.” “This came from a deeper part of my heart.”
Chippendales have had a special place in culture for a long time. Banerjee opened the first club 40 years ago, but the show still goes on tour all over the world, and its Las Vegas residency is still a popular place to go.
When asked how Chippendales got through the scandal, Petrzela told Los Angeles Magazine, “People don't just watch for sexual titillation.” “They're going out with their girlfriends to meet new people. It's a place where women can feel safe.
You can watch Welcome To Chippendales exclusively on Hulu.