The true story of the g-strings and murders behind Welcome to Chippendales
Murder! Arson! Male strippers! Welcome to the mad origin story of the Chippendales, the famed dance troupe known for its male striptease performances, founded by late Indian entrepreneur Somen "Steve" Banerjee.
Hulu's Welcome to Chippendales, from creator Robert Siegel (Pam & Tommy, The Founder), tracks the rise and fall of the gas station attendant-turned-Chippendales CEO (played by Kumail Nanjiani), who was charged in 1993 with orchestrating the 1987 murder of his business partner Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett), an Emmy-winning director and choreographer for Chippendales, and other murder-for-hire plots against employees of competing striptease companies.
But how much of Chippendales is fact and how much is fiction? With the finale now streaming on Hulu, EW breaks down the true stories at the center of the striptease saga.
Did Steve's first partner murder his Playboy model wife?
Yes, the tragic death of Playboy model Dorothy Stratten at the hands of her husband Paul Snider — the nightclub promoter who partnered with Banerjee to transform Chippendales from a backgammon club to the male-stripping venue — is true. In the series, a jealous and possessive Snider (played by Dan Stevens) kills the playmate and budding actress (Nicola Peltz Beckham) with a shotgun before turning the weapon on himself at their Los Angeles home; he didn't like the way Stratten looked at De Noia during a Chippendales dance rehearsal, nor did he appreciate male film producers beckoning his wife to their table during a lunch date to discuss a potential movie role.
The real life murder-suicide sent shockwaves across Hollywood, where Stratten was beginning to forge a career. During the summer of 1980, Stratten expressed a desire to separate from Snider amidst the turbulent and possessive relationship. Late filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich would reveal in an interview several years after Stratten's death that the two fell in love on set of his 1981 film They All Laughed. Stratten went over to the house she once shared with Snider on Aug. 14, 1980, to try to negotiate a divorce settlement, according to reports, and later, a friend and housemate discovered Stratten and Snider's naked bodies in the bedroom.
Police determined that Snider sexually assaulted Stratten before shooting her. She was 20.
Did Steve anonymously call local churches to protest the club for free publicity?
Banerjee was very much of the mind that any publicity was considered good publicity. In the series, the entrepreneur makes a call to the Seventh Day Adventist Church to inform them that male dancers are getting naked at the local Chippendales club. He then phones the press with an anonymous tip that congregants are gathered outside of the club in protest. Former Chippendale dancers corroborated these kooky methods in the A&E docuseries Secrets of the Chippendales Murders.
"In order to get free press, he would call up some of the local churches anonymously and say, 'You know, I heard that these guys are gonna be dancing over at this place, and they're actually naked,'" former dancer Hodari Sababu said. "You'd have the church ladies with their signs, then you'd have the media covering it." Banerjee would also reportedly call the fire department to falsely report overcrowding. Another former dancer, Eddie Prevot, called the free press an essential part of business. "It's hitting the news, and he built his business on negative publicity," Prevot said. "They think they're shutting Steve down. They're doing just the opposite."
Was Steve sued for racially discriminatory practices?
One of the many compelling storylines at the center of the series is that of Otis (Quentin Plair), the only Black Chippendales dancer. He experiences a series of rebuffs from Banerjee, who expresses confusion when De Noia hires Otis. Otis is excluded from the Chippendales calendar, but, Banerjee says, it's nothing personal; it's "just business," as the predominantly white audience may not want to see a half naked Black man in their homes. Later, when Banerjee realizes how lucrative it would be to allow men into the club following the shows, men of color aren't allowed in, prompting a lawsuit for racially discriminatory practices that mirrors a real life suit brought against the club.
The real Banerjee was accused of imposing a racial quota on the number of Black men hired as dancers and admitted into the club as guests. In 1982, after he was turned away, a Black UCLA law student named Don Gibson and others sued Chippendales for discriminatory practices. Gibson said he was turned away three times, once in the company of two white friends who were admitted. To avoid a class action lawsuit, Chippendales reached an agreement in 1985 and promised to ensure that Black guests were admitted and that 25 percent of new hires would be Black. The club also agreed to do at least $500,000 in business with Black merchants.
Did Steve orchestrate arson at a competing club?
Banerjee coaxes his hesitant handyman and confidante Ray (played by Robin de Jesús and based on the person that the real Banerjee ordered to orchestrate murders) into committing arson at a club that begins to offer male-stripping events following the success of Chippendales. The real Banerjee was indeed indicted on charges of arson alongside murder and murder-for-hire, though it's unclear if he was successful with the blazes. He was charged with the attempted arson of Moody's Disco, an establishment in Santa Monica, in 1979 and a Red Onion Restaurant in Marina Del Rey in 1984 or 1985, both of which considered Chippendales competitors at the time.
Was Steve immediately a suspect of Nick's murder?
Following De Noia's murder in the series, Banerjee is immediately considered a suspect by the FBI, with one agent declaring he's "guilty 100 percent" after questioning. In real life, however, nothing immediately linked Banerjee to the 1987 murder. It wasn't until about 1991 that an informant reached out to the FBI and said that Ray had tried to hire him to carry out a hit on employees of Adonis, a competing male-stripping dance troupe. Ray, who was charged and jailed as a result, decided to cooperate with the FBI and confessed that Banerjee was behind De Noia's murder and the plot against the Adonis employees. He was ultimately released from prison to act as an informant for the FBI, meeting with Banerjee with a recording device strapped to his body on various occasions. Finally, a rendezvous at a hotel in Switzerland led to a confession of complicity and resulted in Banerjee's 1993 arrest. A day before his sentencing in 1994, Banerjee was discovered dead in his jail cell from an apparent suicide.
Welcome to Chippendales is now streaming on Hulu.
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