The Chippendales were the original male strippers – oiled up, muscled and wearing nothing but a bow tie, collar and shirt cuffs.
Established in 1979, the Chippendales were the first all-male stripping troupe to make a business performing for mostly female audiences, they were credited with popularising stripping and removing its associated taboo.
The group inspired shows including The Full Monty and Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike.
But behind the glamour of the screaming fans and dry ice was a bitter feud that sparked an arson attack and shocking bungled assassination plot.
The Chippendales were founded by Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee, who had emigrated to the US from India in 1969 with high hopes of becoming a nightclub boss.
Amid oil shortages, Banerjee purchased a petrol station and hiked up the prices – using the profits to rent out a nightclub in West LA.
He re-branded the club Chippendales, named after the replica 18th-century furniture that adorned the venue, in a bid to attract high class clientele to his male exotic dance night.
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“I wanted to package an all-American, Ivy-league look and sell it to the American women.
“The minute the lady walks in here, she feels it’s something different,” he told the LA Times in 1979.
He hired choreographer Nick De Noia, who had a vision of a troupe of “performers” rather than strippers, steering away from the “sleazy” acts that were around at the time.
Candace Mayeron, former associate producer for the Chippendales, explained: “Nick wanted performers not strippers.
“His real skill, as a choreographer and director, was coming up with moves that a great, big, muscled guy could perform and look graceful while doing it.”
Banerjee hired beefcake men he found on the beach and at the gym and would have them take on typical female fantasies – cowboys, barbarians, construction workers, Superman – all wearing a G-string.
But as the Chippendales grew more and more popular with sell-out shows, a secret feud was beginning behind the scenes between Banerjee and De Noia.
De Noia wanted to find a bigger venue and for the troupe to head to New York – and Banerjee agreed.
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
This move made the Chippendales go stratospheric – but Banerjee refused to let De Noia take any credit and he wouldn’t let him have a bigger share of the profits, either.
The two men met up in a restaurant in a bid to have it out with each other.
De Noia agreed to give up his rights to the New York gig in exchange for half of any future touring profit – and they drew up a contract on a napkin and both signed it.
The choreographer then organised tours both in the States and abroad, where the group played to packed clubs and arenas, raking in £25million per year in their peak.
But Banerjee was furiously jealous and attempted to organise his own rival tours – sparking a court battle with De Noia, who said it violated the napkin contract.
De Noia won the court battle – and his relationship with Banerjee totally deteriorated.
On April 7, 1987, an assassin pretending to be a messenger walked into De Noia’s office and shot him in the face, killing him instantly.
Hitman Gilberto Rivera Lopez had been hired by an associate of Banerjee’s named Ray Colon, and paid $25,000 to take out De Noia.
Not only that – Colon had also previously been hired to commit arson attacks on rival clubs – but he’d bungled them.
When detectives arrived on the scene after De Noia’s co-worker found his body, they found no sign of a struggle, and his cash, credit cards and keys were still in his pocket and a ring was still on his finger.
The police suspected Banerjee was involved – but had no evidence to charge him.
Meanwhile, Banerjee had turned his attention to another perceived threat – Adonis, a male stripper troupe touring the UK, starring many of Banerjee’s former employees, including a dancer called Read Scot.
During a show in July 1991, Scot was on the mic at an Adonis show in London, when he was suddenly dragged off stage to meet with two Scotland Yard officers.
The officers gravely gave Scot the news that there was a hit out on him.
“There is a contract out for your life,” Scot recalled a detective telling him in an interview with PEOPLE.
“It’s going to be a cyanide injection…[Someone] will get close to you and inject you with a needle.”
He continued: “I got this cold chill as a detective told me, ‘You can run and hide or you can stay and we catch [the killer] before he gets to you.’
NY Daily News via Getty Images)
“It’s like something you hear in a movie. It didn’t seem like real life.”
He added that he immediately thought it was Banerjee’s doing.
The FBI had been contacted by an informant, a man called Lynn Bressler, who claimed he had also been hired as a hitman by Colon and ordered to travel to the UK and kill the pair for $25,000 a head.
They tracked down Colon – and he claimed he’d been hired by Banerjee.
Club owner Banerjee was arrested and pleaded guilty on charges including the orchestrating the death of De Noia, the hit out on Scot and racketeering.
But in 1994, just hours before he was due to be sentenced to 26 years in prison, he hanged himself in his cell.
“He didn’t get the punishment he deserved,” said Scot.
“He didn’t serve the time for Nick De Noia, for destroying lives, for trying to kill people. He got out easy. He was a coward.”
Candace added: “I felt cheated because I wanted to look him in the eye as he was led away in chains. Even now, I have no forgiveness for Steve.
“He murdered my mentor. There is no forgiving that.”
Lopez, who shot and killed De Noia, was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Colon pleaded guilty to conspiracy and murder for hire and received a reduced sentence for his cooperation with the FBI in convicting Banerjee.
After Banerjee’s death, Colon served an additional two years in a federal prison and house arrest, and was released in 1996.
A film about Banerjee’s life is in the works – with Dev Patel hired to play the lead role.
The Chippendales are still a popular act, performing seven nights a week in Las Vegas, but heartbroken Candace believes the magic is gone.
“It was an entertainment art form that existed nowhere else,” she said.
“From the moment you arrived at the club, the energy in the room was electric. There was nothing else like it – there still isn’t.”
* Curse Of The Chippendales is available on Amazon Prime
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.