What's real in 'Welcome to Chippendales': From tearaway pants to tragic Playmate Dorothy Stratten
There are wild, even sinister surprises revealed once you rip off the cover story of the famed Chippendales dancers.
Hulu's "Welcome to Chippendales," an eight-part drama (first two episodes now streaming; then weekly on Tuesdays) unveils toxic jealousy, arson and even murder unleashed by the culture-changing male revue renowned for those breakaway trousers.
"It's shocking and wild that one story has all this unpredictable, bonkers stuff," says Kumail Nanjiani, 43, who portrays Indian immigrant Somen "Steve" Banerjee, the buttoned-up founder of the male revue that spawned a 1980s cultural phenomenon. "This series is about the fantasy versus the reality of the American dream, and what happens when those bump up against each other. There's a lot of bad stuff here."
Banerjee's rise, fall and clashes with his choreographer, Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett, "The White Lotus") are based on K. Scot Macdonald's 2014 book, "Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders."
The shocking truths (and fiction) in early episodes:
Chippendales started as Destiny II backgammon club
"Welcome to Chippendales" correctly shows Hugh Hefner-idolizing Banerjee putting his savings into what he hoped would be a high-end backgammon club in 1975. The name was the head-scratching "Destiny II."
"That's really what it was called. Steve wanted people to think that his first club was so successful he had to have a sequel to it," says Nanjiani. "Like, it doesn't make sense, but it really does make sense."
The club struggled, even with patron-luring schemes such as female mud wrestling, oyster-eating contests and disco dancing before Banerjee renamed it Chippendales and launched "Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only" in 1978. No male customers were allowed.
The club featured a new sign in Old English script befitting its namesake, the 18th-century English master cabinet and furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. Banerjee recruited the muscular dancers who had to be 6-foot tall, have long hair and "no body hair, especially any that would show around a G-string," according to "Deadly Dance."
Dorothy Stratten's role in Chippendales explored
Promoter Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) stopped by Destiny II randomly after experiencing car trouble and began working with Banerjee as a promoter and Chippendales emcee. Snider was married to model Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham), who later reigned as the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year.
Stratten has been given credit for suggesting the dancers don the same white cuffs, collars and bowties worn by the "bunnies" at Playboy Clubs, most recently in the documentary TV series "Secrets of the Chippendales Murders."
"Dorothy Stratten suggested the Playboy Bunny look to Steve Banerjee, and he immediately loved the idea," says "Welcome to Chippendales" executive producer Robert Siegel. The look became the faux-classy trademark for the male dancers.
Stratten became estranged from Snider, an abusive husband, and began pursuing a promising acting career, suggested by a chance meeting with director Peter Bogdanovich in the series. She was just 20 and had finished production on her first major film, Bogdanovich's '"They All Laughed," when Snider murdered her with a shotgun in the Los Angeles home they shared on August 14, 1980. Snider then turned the gun on himself.
Stratten's tragic story has been told onscreen in 1981's "Death of a Centerfold" (she was played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and in 1983's "Star 80" (Mariel Hemingway).
Tearaway pants became Chippendales' trademark but not by Denise
In the series, the novel tearaway pants concept for the strippers is the brainchild of designer and superfan Denise (Juliette Lewis). Denise is actually a fictional, composite character inserted for story reasons.
As for the origin of the tearaway pants, also used by NBA players to instantly bypass shoes for pants removal, that's not clear. But Chippendales dancers immortalized them.
"I love the tearaway pants, and when you first see the audience's reaction to them here, it's really exciting," says Nanjiani.
Today's touring Chippendales troupes and the Las Vegas headquarters stopped using the pants in 2014.
"Fashion changed and we changed; tearaway pants aren't cool or sexy anymore," says Chippendales publicist Michael Caprio. "Our dancers use tearaway tank tops and tearaway booty shorts, and they have the same effect. The crowds go wild."
Nick De Noia won Emmys for children's TV before Chippendales
According to "Deadly Dance," Banerjee recruited the director and choreographer De Noia, who won two Emmys for his NBC children's series, "Unicorn Tales." De Noia was gay, and divorced from actress Jennifer O'Neill, the star of "Summer of ’42," as the series makes clear.
With his choreography skills, De Noia transformed the dancers' routines and eventually became the face of the franchise. His 1987 murder is explored in future "Welcome to Chippendales" episodes. But Banerjee's simmering jealousy, even as Chippendales becomes a greater success than he ever dreamed, is already apparent.
"Ultimately, the show is about how you have to find the things that make you happy or satisfy you within yourself," says Nanjiani. "Otherwise, you will go down a dark path."