Chippendales Revue In Review · John Wilkes Booth

Plus Weinstein's toothless defense and HS-football drama in Georgia

Am I tasteless enough to make a “hump day” joke about Margaret Howie’s review bundle of Chippendales/crime properties? Hmm: apparently. But that’s on me; you should read Margaret’s piece anyway, and find out which coverage of these crimes is worth your time. — SDB


The crime
Long before Magic Mike and #thirsttraps came the Chippendales: an all-male stripping revue who became a pop culture phenomenon in the 1980s. Originally created to boost the audience of a flagging Los Angeles nightclub owned by unlikely impresario Steve Banerjee, they would go on to worldwide fame as shorthand for a certain type of female empowerment. But Nick De Noia, the visionary choreographer behind the Chippendale stage show, fell victim to Banerjee’s rampant paranoia and was killed by a hired gun in 1987. He wouldn’t be the only person to be hurt by Banerjee’s fierce competitiveness; Banerjee was arrested after arranging an attempted murder in 1993.

The story
In their heyday Chippendales dancers sold everything from calendars to workout videos, so it’s appropriate that the story of their rise and fall has led to multiple different true-crime properties. The Chippendales Murder from 2000 is a classic product of its time, a made-for-TV movie with a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title and obvious budget limitations. Meanwhile, Welcome to Your Fantasy couldn’t be more typical of a present-day true crime property: a slick multi-episode podcast available only on Spotify. If you’re trying to choose only one, you can pick the one with butts (TV movie), or the one with sociological analysis of butts (podcast). They’re each revealing of how “sexy” true-crime stories get told in two different eras.

The Chippendales Murder establishes its backstory in about ten minutes flat, with a wildly inaccurate depiction of the first meeting between Banerjee (Naveen Andrews) and De Noia (Paul Hipp), where the choreographer has to be begged to join the rundown male strip club. While seeds are sown for the distrust that would grow between them, there’s far more time devoted to the selection of dancers, rehearsals, and the routines themselves. It’s clear what the creators figured the audience wanted from this movie, and it wasn’t scenes of contract negotiations. The dancing sequences are frequent, and unlike the podcast, the production ponied up for a decent pop soundtrack.

There’s an automatic +10 Best Evidence points allocated to any use of LaBelle’s classic song “Lady Marmalade,” and The Chippendales Murder drops the needle on it no less than three times. This isn’t necessarily accurate, as De Noia used a lot of original music in Chippendales routines, but then neither is the aesthetic on display: the hair is slicked-back early-’00s boy-band style, smaller than the poofy heights of the ’80s, and the butts are notably smaller than they would be if this were made today.

Andrews brings his considerable charisma to the portrayal of a man apparently devoid of it in real life, taking Banerjee from awkward but ambitious entrepreneur to a man twisted by his own paranoia. He’s helped out by Paul Hipp, an Abel Ferrara regular who brings intensity to De Noia’s hothead personality. Both of them infuse the story with the needed gravitas, reminding us that these were real people with tragic ends.  

Hitting the right tone on any true-crime property is always a challenge, and both Welcome to Your Fantasy and The Chippendales Murder try to split the difference between what Fantasy host Natalia Petrzela calls the “giddy, silly, a little horny” vibe of the shows and the violent murder that happened in their shadow. While The Chippendales Murder isn’t all that great a movie, the plot is primarily concerned with the crimes that happened beyond all the baby oil and tanning beds. Welcome to Your Fantasy is an engaging, high-quality podcast — but it treats De Noia’s murder as a shiny wrapper for the story it really wants to tell.

Produced by Pineapple Street and Gimlet, WTYF has that Wondery highly-snackable feel to it, but with an extra layer of prestige courtesy of Petrzela. An academic with a background in fitness, she gets in deep on the various cultural shifts that aligned just so to make the Chippendales sensation happen. For the first handful of episodes she takes you behind the velvet rope, with juicy interviews with various club associates. The hit on De Noia was far from the only criminal activity that went down at Chippendales: there was also a racial discrimination case that almost turned violent, an arson attack of a rival club, and not a small amount of cocaine.

De Noia’s murder doesn’t really come up for the first four episodes, but it’s easy not to care too much when the backstory is so fun. But the unfolding of how Banerjee almost got away with one murder, only to sabotage himself with another assassination attempt that was dizzyingly inept, stumbles a little. The procedural parts of the crime are covered competently, but the palatable enthusiasm that’s in the earlier material has waned. By the final ninth “follow-up” episode, where Petrzela and some of her academic friends get their nerd on with a long chat about the intersectional aspects of Chippendales, the killing is barely mentioned. It’s telling that the host sums up this discussion as what’s “beyond just a cool sexy murder story.”

Cool, sexy murder stories might be what sells a podcast that you really want to be about the semiotics of male exotic dancing in late capitalism, but it’s disappointing that the considerable gifts that WTYF has aren’t better used to delve into the crimes. There are plenty of creators who have proved that high-falutin’ dissection of a subject and true crime don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

If you are interested in the murder story — cool, sexy, or otherwise — skip that ninth episode. Or listen, and take a drink at every “heteronomative”; you’ll get wasted enough to be in the perfect condition to watch the dancers shake it in The Chippendales Murder.

The Chippendales Murder is currently available on Vimeo…

…and in two parts on YouTube.

Welcome to Your Fantasy is available on Spotify. — Margaret Howie

I apologize for the whiplash you might experience as we change topics, but Eve teased a round-up of recent Harvey Weinstein headlines yesterday, so here’s the latest. We’ll start with an AP story from last week noting that Weinstein’s lawyers claim he didn’t receive a fair trial thanks to various rulings by the trial judge. Judge James Burke’s decisions included

a decision allowing additional accusers to testify about allegations that never led to criminal charges.

Weinstein’s lawyers also challenged Burke’s refusal to remove a juror who had written a novel involving predatory older men, as well as his decision to allow prosecutors to have an expert on victim behavior and rape myths testify while rejecting testimony on similar subjects from defense experts.

I would note that half the goddamn western canon is the literary lionization of predatory older men, and that even in the midlist neighborhood, that topic isn’t exactly niche, but Weinstein’s team is desperate to prove on appeal that he didn’t get the impartial jury he deserved. Which I agree is a right of Weinstein’s, but I’m also pretty sure you could put 12 robot umpires in the jury box and not get a different outcome.

Weinstein is also desperate to avoid extradition to California to face a raft of charges there, and in a hearing earlier this week, he hoped ongoing vision and dental problems would make him look pathetic enough to stall Golden State authorities (I’m paraphrasing). Page Six reports that Weinstein attorney Norman Effman told Judge Kenneth Case Weinstein’s going blind and has lost four teeth. (He also had COVID last year, and if this is how he’s masking, it’s not a surprise.)

Effman also had a ticky-tack objection to the way Los Angeles County filed extradition paperwork, but the real issue here is likely that an L.A. grand jury secretly indicted Weinstein on the outstanding charges there a couple of weeks ago — a move that’s probably going to shorten the extradition timeline. I can’t prove it, but I don’t think Team Weinstein cares where he literally, geographically is; I think their sense, somehow, is that, if he can just stay put in New York until his appeal is heard, he has a shot of getting out from under this and turning the ship, but if he has to go to California, he’s doomed.

And that’s probably true, so: give him a bridge and a pair of Warby Parkers already and put him on the fuckin’ plane. And when that’s done, make sure every other New York State inmate also gets their eyes and teeth looked at and not just this one whiny former big shot. — SDB

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Hat tip to my esteemed colleague Allison Lowe Huff for tipping me to Joe Drape’s New York Times longread, “Trouble in Titletown,” on the scandal(s) gripping Valdosta, GA’s famed high-school football program. You might not think this has anything to tell you, but it’s the longread equivalent of Friday Night Lights and the first season of QB1, and from a how-the-sausage-is-made standpoint I can tell you, you wait years in your writing life sometimes to get to write a section intro like this:

Not many people know that Nub Nelson’s real first name is Michael. He got the nickname after his horse stepped in front of a pickup truck with him in the saddle. That was the end of the horse and might have been the end of Nelson if the doctors hadn’t taken off his gangrenous arm at the elbow. Nelson, 65, said that he has never considered the loss a tragedy.

His only regret was that he never got to be a Valdosta Wildcat.

“It kills me; I’ll never get over it,” said Nelson, who carried his firstborn son home from the hospital in a Wildcats helmet.

I could give you three grafs on interior construction here but will confine myself to one remark, to wit: the use of “carried” instead of “took” is everything. The helmet detail gives you the person; “carried” gives you the place.

And this is before you get to the lawsuit from the coach saying he was fired because of his race (he’s white); his replacement, his replacement’s reality-TV c.v., and his replacement’s second family (oh, and…his replacement’s tax-evasion “issues” and misappropriation of district funds); and a secret conversation slandering several of the faces on college football’s Mt. Rushmore.

And to this line:

Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, the Alabama police and the ghost of Bear Bryant did not return a reporter’s calls.

I mean…just read it. Drape is for real and this piece is a page-turner. — SDB

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of one of the actual faces on Mt. Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln, by John Wilkes Booth. If you got the same reminder from History Channel’s This Day In History-bot and were like, “You know, I’ve really got to fill in some gaps in my reading on that ‘case,’” great news: 1) I already consumed a handful of properties around the margins, and 2) you can probably drop-kick them off your TBR/DVR without regrets.

  • Blood On The Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Edward Steers Jr.). I deemed this one “exhaustive. It's also exhausting, in that way an academic-press book can be -- every last fact unearthed is reported, at pitilessly correct length,” and found its semi-defense of Booth misguided.

  • The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth (History Channel). This one’s based on Michael Kauffman’s well-regarded American Brutus, and if you can find it, it’s a solid sit: it had a lot of intel I didn’t already know, and “I always appreciate it when a documentary assumes my interest in the subject implies a certain depth of knowledge, and doesn't do a Wiki review of the basics.”

  • Lust for Fame: The Stage Career of John Wilkes Booth (Gordon Samples). Kind of amusing in how its attempt to get us to take Booth seriously as an actor and cultural force of his time backfires, but what boils down to When Actor Bullshit Turns Deadly is not a great investment of time. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: Is Elizabeth Holmes pursuing a “Svengali defense”? Eve has more.

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