pelican & piano

by Art Chantry (

this little poster (a repro given to me by my pal, scott mcdougall) is for an appearance by carol doda signing copies of the The Pelican, a humor/opinion newspaper/magazine of the students of Berkeley College, in san francisco, california. the pelican was one of those official/unnoffical early ‘underground’ college papers that have always been created by students for their campuses since time immemorial. it was founded around 1903 and stumbled along in various forms until it finally died a lonely death around 1988. during that time it (among many things) carefully documented the free speech movement at it emerged on berkeley campus – the “days of rage.” it also introduced the cartoonist rube goldberg to he world. interesting legacy, eh?

art chantry.......

the idea that there was a big story in this publication celebrating the infamous san francisco STRIPPER, carol doda, would be an odd thing in itself, except for the fact that ms. doda bieifly became a hero of the free speech movement dring this period of time (this flyer is dated to 1966.) even the artwok on this flyer is an interesting transition period between college ‘cheerleader graphics’ and early psychedelic lettering. the artist (“M.A.” – nobody seems to know who that was. my guess is “Michael Angelo”) drew the thing entirely by hand (real typesetting was expensive and was difficult to apply on a mimeograph and ‘ditto’ process – which works with stencilling and impact type – typewriter). so, this style that tended to emerge in college campus alternative press was this crude hand-drawn/typewriter style. exactly like high school student newspapers of the era.

this style also transferred immediately (through technology and the presence of college students) into the early surfing and psychedelic scenes as they developed in southern california. initially, the san francisco connections drew heavily from the LA scene, but staying true to it’s rebel outsider bohemian history, soon rejected anything associated with that ‘plastic’ entertainment city as cultural poison. along came the early psychedlic artists – mouse/kelly (car culture), rick griffin (surf culture), wes wilson (student politics) and victor moscoso (student commercial art world – and started to create a slightly more sophisticated version of this organic hand-drawn type look – the classic psychedelic period. however, in the early early days, the look of this poster was the hip underground style you saw and can be best considered “proto-psych.”

so, why was a stripper given this much attention in the crazy political scene of the counterculture and the free speech movement? it’s sorta simple, actually. carol doda was a pioneer in the world of ‘free expression’ (aka – erotic dancing). what she did was considered in the liberal world of the radical left as a form of self-expression (however tacky). as the police (the ‘pigs’ – a word that dates back to the victorian criminal underworld) took efforts to shut her act down, she grabbed lots of headlines. so, her transfer into the world of radical politics was not only logical, it was good for business.

carol doda was the first topless dancer. initially working as a go-go girl, she was given one of those infamous “topless bathing suits” (the ‘monokini’ designed by rudy gernreich) as a gift and she was dared to peform her act wearing it. she did and it was a sensation. she also became one of the first (and first FAMOUS) exotic dancers to get a “silicon boob job”, changing her bustline from a 34 to a 44 overnight. it tuned her into an instant ‘bawdy’ celebrity and the club she worked at, ‘the condor’, became a household name and massive tourist destination. a few years later, she upped the ante and became the first BOTTOMLESS dancer as well. carol doda (who began life as a simple go-go dancer alongside the likes of toni basil and teri garr) basically invented the popular topless style we all take for granted today. and those enormous breasts popularized the fake plastic tits we all aspire to have today. not bad for a lone stripper.

so, the idea of an underground celebrity like her becoming a pop icon in the political revolution of the era is not so far of an intellectual stretch as one may at first imagine. think: “radical politics and teenage hormones”, and you have a hit combination. integrity and good taste be damned!

her “act” consisted of her go-go dancing topless on top of a white velvet grand piano that was slowly lowered from the ceiling of the club – carol flailing away with her 44-inch plastic breasts the whole time. even that piano became a star. she was so successful that she eventually owned the club and her act ran for decades (in fact, she still performs today – albeit fully clothed). i remember few years back the ‘condor’ club was finally closed and the items inside were auctioned off. that infamous piano went for a high price. there is still a bronze plaque historical marker outside the old location indicating the “history’ that was made there.

however, there is a darker side to that piano that makes it even a slightly more interesting historical object. in 1983, an assistant manager of the condor, james “jimmy the beard” ferrozzo, was crushed to death by that piano as it malfunctioned and raised to the ceiling by ‘accident’. the motor apparently burned out and pinned him in a spot that was not aligned with the hole in the ceiling where carol would emerge. he was asphyxiated. his body was found draped over his naked screaming girlfriend, stripper teresa hill, who had been pinned under him for

s when they were found.

naked screaming girlfiend? what were they doing, exactly, all naked on top of carol doda’s white velvet piano as it rose to the ceiling? hmmmmm… the surviving girlfriend’s only statement (as described in the press) was “she (hill) was so intoxicated she doesn’t even remember getting on the piano.”

nuff said.

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