February 24, 2021

3. Part of the Act

by Welcome to Your Fantasy

Background show artwork for Welcome to Your Fantasy

Greed. Cocaine. Porn in Times Square. It’s New York in the ‘80s and the destination for Chippendales’ flashy second location. As Chippendales gains national fame and daytime talk show ubiquity, Nick de Noia and Steve Banerjee enter into a fateful agreement aimed to take them to bigger heights.

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Cover artwork by Lindsay Mound.

Where to Listen


Content Warning: The following program contains adult content, violence and strong language. Listener discretion is advised.

Natalia Petrzela: Previously on Welcome to Your Fantasy ...

Candace Mayeron: After the show, I go up to one of the waiters. I say, "Who's the genius behind all of this?" He says, "That silver-haired guy over there."

[NEWS CLIP: Nick De Noia. Before working with the Chippendales, Nick was the producer of children's network television. He says he finds this more rewarding.]

Michael Rapp: He came in and took control like a ringmaster. He was gonna be in control of the show. He was gonna give it direction.

Scott Marlowe: He was brilliant about knowing what looked good on stage, but his social abilities were fucking zero.

Alex Paez: Nick was just so focused. That was the thing. He'd say things like, "We don't have time for a cold.

Curt Cressler: He would've ruined Baz Luhrmann's career.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick de Noia: What I've created is the most important entertainment in the world for women. And dammit, it's going to be the best.]

Michael Rapp: Steve didn't have any good ideas, but he was smart enough to surround himself with people who did have good ideas.

Natalia: Do you remember when you first saw tension between them?

Candace Mayeron: I don't know that there ever was not tension between them, quite frankly.

Scott Marlowe: Gary was the emcee, and Gary would say just before I came on, "Here's the guy you love to hate and hate to love." And I think that's who I am. You either love me or you hate me. I don't think I draw a middle ground with people.

Natalia: In 1983, Scott Marlowe was 23 years old, living at home with his parents in Brooklyn and training to be a currency trader on Wall Street.

Scott Marlowe: And I hated every second of my life. I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps where I was treated with amazing amounts of respect, and I was forced into a suit and tie kind of job because it made my parents happy. And I just was a miserable, miserable person.

Natalia: Scott's at his desk one day when a buddy calls him up and asks how he's dressed.

Scott Marlowe: And I said, "What do you mean how am I dressed? I'm wearing a suit. I'm at work." He goes, "Meet me at 61st and 1st. We'll have dinner, and then we're going to a new nightclub." And I said, "What nightclub?" And he goes, "Chippendales."

Natalia: Scott's all, "There's no chance I'm going to a male strip club." But his friend explains the drill: there's a show for women only, then the doors open and it turns into a nightclub, hundreds of women amped up from the show they just watched. When they arrive a little before 10 it's pouring rain outside, so the doorman tells them to come in and hang out 'til the show's over.

Scott Marlowe: So we went in and they put us in the coat room. And you couldn't help but feel the energy through the curtain. And while standing there, I guess curiosity got the best of me and I peeked in. And I saw a site that I never dreamed possible.

Natalia: Describe it to me.

Scott Marlowe: It was the most surreal thing I think I'd ever seen in my life. And I'd seen a lot of shit to date at that point. There was smoke in the air, not from cigarettes, from the fog machine. And strobe lights, and blue lights, and purple lights, and red lights and a thousand at least if not more, screaming women lining the stands. And onstage was a guy in a silver costume with the light shining on him doing his act.

Natalia: Michael Rapp, having just emerged as The Perfect Man.

Scott Marlowe: And I thought to myself, "Oh My God, I want to be that guy. Fuck, I want to be on that stage, and I want to be in that fucking silver costume. And I want those lights shining on me, and I want that attention." I wanted that bad.

Natalia: Scott's standing there gaping from behind the curtains, when one of the show's producers suddenly appears in front of him.

Scott Marlowe: And just stopped and stood and looked at me. He said to me, "Do you want a job?"

Natalia: That night? He asked you right there? Just like, "Do you want a job?"

Scott Marlowe: And I was like, "What?" I was trying to decipher what the fuck was going on at this moment, because the noise was blaring, the smoke was blaring, the girls were screaming in the background, Michael was doing his act. And here was a guy asking me, "Do you want to do what that guy's doing?" And it was like a dream. It was a fucking dream.

Natalia: Just like Perfect Man Michael Rapp, Scott's life changes in that moment. He leaves his Wall Street job, he starts working as a host at Chippendales, and then gets promoted to dancer. Eventually he gets his own act—a biker guy. Scott's got all these tattoos from his days in the Marines. A Prince song comes on, he peels off his jeans, and then ...

Scott Marlowe: I basically fucked a motorcycle on stage.

Natalia: How'd that go over?

Scott Marlowe: In my humble opinion, I think very well.

Natalia: The act was tailored to his personality, Scott said. So it was a little edgy by Chippendales' standards.

Scott Marlowe: I wasn't the cute kid next door that you wanted to get to know. I wasn't that guy. I was the guy you wanted to fuck in the back of a truck somewhere and never see again.

Natalia: How did that make you feel about yourself to play up that part of your personality?

Scott Marlowe: I don't think I perceived myself that way, at least while it was happening. This is something that kind of dawned on me after the fact.

Natalia: This is like a very detailed question, but I've always wondered, it's hard to take off jeans isn't it? In a graceful way?

Scott Marlowe: Fuck yeah. And boots and jeans? Yeah. Fuck yeah. Yeah. Very difficult to get undressed and do it coolly.

Natalia: Right. Not to look like you're stooping over. How did you master that, by the way?

Scott Marlowe: I just got better and better and better and being fucking smooth and taking my clothes off. I've taken my clothes off more than any person. I still wait for applause when I get undressed to go into the shower. [laughs]

Natalia: I'm Natalia Petrzela, and this is Welcome to Your Fantasy. One of the reasons I wanted to talk with Scott Marlowe was because he was there when Chippendales blew up. When it went from being a couple successful nightclubs to a full-blown national phenomenon. And unlike Nick de Noia and Steve Banerjee, who were operating behind the scenes, Scott and some of the other dancers experienced the full force of Chippendales fame.

Scott Marlowe: Everywhere we went, we stuck out. We were recognizable. We were unique. We were memorable. We were on billboards and newspaper ads and TV. And we were people you could get your hands on. And that made us, I guess, approachable, right?

Natalia: Scott was living his dream, for a while at least.

Scott Marlowe: There's no me editing this. You basically put on the collars and cuffs, or if you were lucky enough to be a dancer, you automatically went to the top of the list for almost every woman in the room. And when I say that, I mean that you could pretty much throw a dart and whoever it hit would want to sleep with you.

Scott Marlowe: There was one occasion where I was standing on the floor before I became a dancer, and I was hosting and I was working the corner. They put a host in every corner to keep women from getting out of hand and running out onto the floor while the dancer was out there. The woman sitting to my right, she said, "I need to talk to you." And I said, "What do you want to talk about?" I said, "Can I wait till after the show?" Because I really was adamant about doing my job. She said, "No, no, no, no. I got to talk to you right now." I said, "All right, come on." So she followed me into the staircase, and she said to me, "I'll give you $100 for every inch of cocaine I could snort off your cock."

Natalia: Episode Three: Part of the Act.

Natalia: Our first episode was about the early days, and Steve Banerjee's legally dubious moves to get his club off the ground. Episode two was about how Nick de Noia turned Chippendales' low-rent show into a genuine theatrical experience. And now we've arrived at the peak-of-fame years, which anyone who's ever watched a celebrity biopic knows comes right before the things-go-batshit-crazy years.

Natalia: The job of a Chippendales dancer is to sell himself. Well, a fantasy version of himself, The Perfect Man, right? But at some point, as Scott Marlowe will be the first to tell you, you realize that at Chippendales, the fantasy and the reality behind the scenes are two very different things. And that's when trouble starts.

Natalia: It's true for Nick and Steve, too, the guys calling the shots. If the business was gonna grow, then they needed to keep Chippendales' ideal image alive. They needed to seek out a bigger, more mainstream audience wherever they could find it, and turn every controversy into an opportunity, a chance to sell, sell, sell the fantasy at every turn. No matter whose lives got wrecked in the process.

Natalia: The New York club opened in October, 1983. Scott Marlowe was hired a couple months later. And over the course of that next year Chippendales became a household name, mostly due to their appearances on daytime talk shows. If your aunt in Topeka knew about Chippendales, it's because she saw them hip-thrusting on her TV set on a weekday morning.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Richard Bey: Scott Marlowe is an ex Marine known as the Missionary Man. Later he'll be dancing to that song. His favorite food is pasta. His favorite color on women is pink. He's 6'3" and 220 pounds.]

Scott Marlowe: We were on Sally Jesse. We were on Bill Boggs. We were on Geraldo. We were on Richard Bey. We did 'em all.

Natalia: And they were all sort of the same, Scott told me. He'd come out, do his act, then sit on stage while the host and audience asked questions—what makes you do this? Did you go to college? Is this your only job? Do you have a girlfriend? It all made him feel like a freak.

Scott Marlowe: Everybody was using us as, like, the sword swallower at the fucking carnival. You know, we were the two-headed monkey. And it was so dehumanizing.

Natalia: Did you talk to the guys at all about this kind of stuff? Even since then?

Scott Marlowe: No. No, I've never spoken to anybody about this shit.

Natalia: Wow.

Scott Marlowe: You're getting it first hand.

Natalia: But Scott said there was one host who was different.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: If you didn't know me better, you'd say that I wasn't gonna bring the Chippendales guys back.]

Natalia: Phil Donahue.

Scott Marlowe: Phil Donahue, he wasn't looking to make us out to be fucking a circus act. He just really wanted to produce a good show. He was the one guy who stood out that was just really a credible broadcaster.

Natalia: Donahue pretty much invented the daytime talk format. And in the early '80s, he was still king. Eight million viewers tuning in every morning.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: This is your opportunity to make your own inquiry about this particular entertainment feature of our national life. Here are Chippendales! Right here!]

Natalia: It's kind of impossible to overstate how important those TV appearances were for Chippendales, especially the Donahue ones. This was the beginning of the era of what we think of now as "trash TV." Topics you could not look away from, like, "I'm having my brother's baby," "Psychics communing with dead celebrities." And these shows were hugely popular.

Natalia: So if you're Nick de Noia and you're looking to reach millions of women and create a national brand, there's nothing better than being on the daytime TV circuit. Even if the critics of the shows used Chippendales appearances as "Exhibit A" that the moral downfall of America was upon us. That's where Donahue came in to defend what those talk shows were actually doing. Here he is in a 1989 C-SPAN interview.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, C-SPAN host: When people talk about appealing to the lowest common denominator in shows like yours and others, what goes through your head?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: Memories. When we put a homosexual on the Donahue show 21 years ago, people said, "You're appealing to the lowest common denominator." We televised an abortion. "Appealing to the lowest common denominator," like "trash television," is a euphemism we use to describe opinions or ideas with which we disagree. Our job as journalists is not to be popular, it's to tell the truth. Our problem is we are in a game that rewards popularity. And if once in a while these programs feature male strippers? Relax. America will survive these programs.]

Natalia: Donahue was walking exactly the line that Nick was trying to walk. Give 'em something sexy, titillate the crowd, then sell the whole experience as being quite high-minded. As Donahue put it over and over again, his show was made for "women who think." So he could have it both ways: Bring on a bunch of strippers at 9:00 a.m. to bump and grind, then turn it into an elevated conversation about sexuality and morality in America.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: Does anybody care to chat? Yeah?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: We got to listen to our own sexual desires. You dream about it, you think about it, but heretofore it was kept at the coffee klatches and the bridge parties. Now we can come out and do it like the men have been doing it for years and it's great!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: I just have a comment. I don't like it. You know, we're supposed to be a Christian country, and we don't recognize sin for sin. And it saddens my heart. We're talking about lust of the flesh here.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: Well, she—we certainly are talking about lust.]

ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: Jesus said even if we think of committing adultery, it's the same as doing it.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Henry Flores: Well, at Chippendales we offer a show. Good entertainment, good dancing, beautiful-looking men. We're not saying, "Hey, come and take this guy and do this."]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: Well, she thinks that this opens the door to that among others.]

Natalia: Watching these shows now as a historian—as opposed to as a kid in my living room—I really appreciate them as primary sources. We historians use abstract terms like "The rise of the Christian right" and "The culture wars" all the time, but you settle in with a few episodes of Donahue from 1983, and you really see these ideas in action. He's facilitating a real discussion about American values in real time, and a bunch of strippers from Chippendales are right there at the center of it.

Natalia: And the women are too. Women who've long been pushed to the sidelines of conversations about politics and culture, now get to have the conversation themselves on a national stage. And that, in some way, feels like real progress. But I also suspect Nick de Noia and the TV execs behind the scenes just saw this as a market opportunity. The image of the working woman with cash to spend was everywhere. It's in legislation like the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, it's in movies like 9 to 5, which means that the women in this audience can use their hard-earned dollars and their airtime to say what they believe in. Whether it's Jesus, or the empowerment of male stripping, or the idea that this entire thing means we're all going to Hell.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: I guess I'm really surprised, because I thought it would be very dirty, you know? I thought I would feel dirty about it. And they're so beautiful, and there's real talent behind what they're doing, and I'm just delighted to find that I could get past all the behavior and the conditioning that I've had and enjoy it.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: How do you feel about her point?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: It hurts me.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: What's going to happen to them?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: When Christ comes?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: Well, no, no. I mean, sorry. You know, Tuesday night. I didn't have this profound a question.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: What do you mean?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: What's going to happen to these women now as a result of their feelings? Will their marriages be undermined? Will they want to go out and fool around?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: They can't have the Lord's blessing on their life.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Phil Donahue: All right. We'll be back in just a moment.]

Natalia: So there's this idea I mentioned at the top of this episode. It came up explicitly with Scott Marlowe, but also with a lot of the other guys I talked to, about the gap between the fantasy they were selling—literally embodying—and the reality of being a dancer at the club. Like, take the tip 'n' kiss. That moment when a woman in the audience waves a bill, and the gorgeous man of her dreams comes over and gives her a mint-scented kiss on the lips.

Scott Marlowe: It's a fucking nightmare. It's a fucking nightmare!

Natalia: Yeah.

Scott Marlowe: I mean, it's just ugh. Oh shit! [laughs].

Natalia: I mean, I empathize with you. I mean, this sounds ...

Scott Marlowe: Would you want to kiss 200—do you enjoy kissing men? There's a question. Do you enjoy kissing men? Yes. Right?

Natalia: I mean, yes. But random strangers? Like ...

Scott Marlowe: Okay. So would you enjoy kissing 250 men in 15 minutes?

Natalia: And pretend that you like it, right? You have to, like, really act like this is ...

Scott Marlowe: Yeah, it's called part of the act.

Natalia: Every single thing they did—at least publicly—was part of the act too, Scott said. And the talk shows, even Donahue, were no exception. Their job was to sell the fantasy that Nick had been selling since the moment he took over the show. Nick was incredibly particular about what his dancers could and could not say when they went on TV. There were strict rules not to talk about drugs or sex or anything that could make the club sound the least bit sleazy. Another dancer told me how once he went off script when they went on Donahue.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, audience member: I just want to know what the biggest tip one of the dancers has gotten in his in g-string?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Scott Layne: Once I got ten $20 bills all wrapped up, and I didn't know it until I got backstage. And when I went out to thank her she said, "You're mine for the night." And I said, "Well, you can have it back, you know, I'm not for sale." So I said, "I'll give it back." And she pulled a gun on me. So I didn't tell you that one, did I Nick?]

Natalia: He told me Nick was so angry with him afterwards. And you can see it when you watch the tape. Nick's sitting there shocked, and clearly pissed. He closes his eyes and shakes his head at one point, like he cannot believe this is happening. A story like that undermines the whole purpose for being on these shows in the first place, which is to make Chippendales accessible and unthreatening to all these women in middle America who might not fly to New York or LA to go to a show, but who probably would go to the mall where they could spend a lot of money on calendars and coffee mugs, and because it's the '80s, even on a Chippendales workout video.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Muscle Motion: Mmm. Good, Michael. Overhead reach right. And left. And now reach for the sky.]

Natalia: That's Muscle Motion. It came out in 1983, and it's a Nick de Noia special. Nick produced it and made the money off of it totally separate from Steve Banerjee. This is something that's gonna cause a lot of problems down the line: what belongs to Nick and what belongs to Steve. But for the moment, I just want to focus on the tape, because this thing, this exercise video, it is an amazing Chippendales artifact. I have two friends and fellow producers on this show, Neil Young—no, not that one—and Niki Hemmer, who are also obsessed with it.

Neil J. Young: Yeah, the close ups are really amazing, particularly of those pelvic thrusts. The camera knows what it's doing.

Niki Hemmer: No, it's not subtle at all. Like, when they're doing hip bridges and hip raises, they're just, like, thrusting their crotches. And at that point, they know they don't need to narrate this, right?

Natalia: Niki and Neil are also historians, and we recorded this conversation a while back. Our plan was to nerd out and place it in the context of 1980's America. To talk about how it was the perfect Chippendales product—along with the calendars—for reaching women in the heartland. But I don't know. You start watching Muscle Motion and it's a little hard to stay on track. I have to play you some. You're allowed to work out as you listen. I am.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Muscle Motion: Deep breath. In fact, there's no other way.]

[NEWS CLIP: The Chippendales are now making house calls with their Muscle Motion exercise tape. Ladies, in case you're wondering, as far as I know, only Michael is married. And most of the men told me that they are really using the Chippendales and the Muscle Motion exercise tape as a stepping stone into acting. I've got to admit they're getting a lot of exposure.]

Natalia: That is Michael Rapp that the reporter is talking about. He's in the video.

Niki: Is that how he gets his pecs as big as Kansas?

Natalia: Funny you should ask. No, because all those guys were bodybuilders. They were lifting weights. They were not step touching in aerobics classes, just to make that clear. But the thing about that is actually, it's not really a good exercise video. And I say that as a certified fitness instructor. But I mean, purely from an exercise standpoint, it's very basic. It's like hip circles, overhead reaches, jumping jacks. I mean, the tell should be they're wearing jeans in some of the shots. But compared to Jane Fonda or some of the other workouts, it's actually, I would say not a very good workout at all.

Niki: I think my favorite thing about it is the narration, because the workout video itself is kind of porn-y, but only in the way that, like, hip thrusts are kind of porn-y. But the narration is what tips it over into, like, Cinemax After Dark right? When it's like, "Oh, that's so good!"

Natalia: Yeah. Let's actually listen to her.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Muscle Motion: Pretty good Dennis. You just keep your mind on what you're doing. It's always a good idea to keep Roger's hands busy. Right, Roger?]

Natalia: That's actually my favorite scene. That voice is Nancy Gregory, and she's not just the breathy Muscle Motion woman. She actually was this really esteemed choreographer. She's a friend of Nick's, and she not only does the voice there but she's working with him on the show as well. But can we please just hear a little bit more Muscle Motion because I kind of love it? Here's the cool down stretch.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Muscle Motion: I don't know about you guys, but that didn't cool me off at all.]

Natalia: But so the other reason I wanted to talk about Muscle Motion is because it ends up at the center of this classroom controversy in the spring and summer of 1984. This is like the anecdote that hits all of my intellectual passions, by the way.

Niki: Wait. Who is bringing this into a classroom?

Natalia: A PE teacher in Illinois in a small town outside of Peoria. Her name is Alice Zook, and she decides to play Muscle Motion in PE class, her girls' gym class. Seems like a great idea. Nothing could go wrong.

Niki: Great idea!

Neil: Not surprisingly, the parents go crazy about this, because this is not the sort of content in this small religious town in Illinois that parents wanted their daughters seeing. And, you know, she ends up losing her job over this, and she goes on to sue the school district.

Natalia: So they end up holding a hearing at Alice Zook's high school, and all the news media is there. They come from all over. Guess who else shows up? Nancy Gregory, you know, the woman with the softcore porn voice narration. So she shows up there with Nick and their lawyers, and they go to testify on Alice Zook's behalf, this PE teacher, because they think that it'll be great PR for Chippendales.

Neil: But, you know, it's so classic Nick. This moment fits Nick to a tee. Like, he is never not selling, and at this time he's working really hard to sell the Chippendales to middle America. He knows it's really a chance for him to literally play to Peoria.

Natalia: This all happens not coincidentally a few months before he's launching a Chippendales tour. So this is another way to get the word out, because the tour by definition is about spreading the show around the country. Actually, here he is in St. Louis, on Sally Jesse Raphael announcing it.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Nick de Noia: We're on tour for the first time. Well, Sally what we saw was so funny, is that our club in New York, women are flying in from Chicago and Boston and St. Louis. We finally said, "Let's take it on the road. Let's bring it to the women." So we're starting now.]

Natalia: If you took anything away from that little panel discussion, other than the line "It's good to keep Roger's hands busy," it's that all of this stuff: the talk shows, the video, and now the tour, are all part of Nick's master plan to make Chippendales his, for him to be the impresario over the Chippendales empire. And it seems to be working.

Natalia: Except the more Nick succeeds, the more it becomes clear Nick's biggest obstacle won't be the religious right or Midwestern PE teachers. It'll be his own business partner. When we come back, the deal that leads to disaster.

Natalia: There's one thing that people say changed everything between Nick and Steve. They'll talk about how different the two men were, how there was tension between them from the get-go, but also that it mostly worked. They needed each other, even if they couldn't stand each other. There's no way Chippendales would have become so famous if Nick and Steve hadn't become partners.

Natalia: But then came "The Napkin Deal." That's what everyone calls it, "The Napkin Deal." It allowed Nick to form a tour and to take Chippendales on the road. But looking back, it also sealed the fate of his life. And Steve's too. That's how people talk about it. It all would have been different if not for "The Napkin Deal."

Natalia: You were at that Napkin Deal dinner?

Dan Peterson: I was there. It was three of us.

Natalia: You, Banerjee and Nick?

Dan Peterson: And Nick. Having dinner, discussing what was going to happen ...

Natalia: That's Dan Peterson, the Tom Selleck look-alike who spent his off-hours listening to Steve Banerjee talk about his big dreams, like the Chippendales ride at Disneyland. Back in the days when the New York club was still also just a dream, Dan went to this dinner with Steve and Nick, where Nick said he could make New York happen, but in return, he wanted a 50-50 split on the club's profits. And there was one other thing.

Dan Peterson: And that's when Nick basically proposed to Steve that he would have a road show in perpetuity. And Banerjee didn't know what "perpetuity" meant, and he just thought, it's going to expand Chippendales. That was how it started. And Nick wrote on a napkin, "I have the right to take Chippendales on the road, and I own this in perpetuity." And Banerjee signed it.

Natalia: With Dan as witness, Steve signed the back of a cocktail napkin, and handed Nick ownership of what would soon be one of the most profitable parts of the Chippendales empire, the tour, forever.

Natalia: Do you really think that Banerjee didn't know what "in perpetuity" meant?

Dan Peterson: He didn't.

Natalia: How do you know he didn't know?

Dan Peterson: Because he told me afterward. I remember when Nick said, "I have the right, I own this show." You know, and he even said, "Dan was there and you signed the contract." And Banerjee said, "I didn't sign the contract for that." And I said, "No, you signed a deal."

Natalia: And he said, "I didn't know what it meant?"

Dan Peterson: He said he didn't sign that. And I said, "You did sign that. You signed a thing saying that he could have it forever." And that is where it all fell apart.

Natalia: We tried to track down the actual napkin, but no luck. But it doesn't really matter, because after that meeting, Nick got to work doing what he'd always done: traveling on the road with a song and dance revue. Only now with less clothing.

Candace Mayeron: Once Nick started to develop a tour, it became incredibly profitable.

Natalia: Remember Candace Mayeron? She's the investment banker-slash-lawyer-slash-backgammon champ-slash Ayn Rand-ian gemologist who ended up working for Nick de Noia. Candace wore a lot of hats at Chippendales too. Among them, when Nick wasn't around, she handled things out on the road.

Candace Mayeron: One time, a couple of my dancers got arrested in Jacksonville. Jacksonville was a church town, guys were jumping over fences when vice came into the club, and a couple of dancers were put in jail overnight. And then I had to go into court, which I could do because I was an attorney, but I didn't have those clothes with me. And I went into court in purple spandex, braless! I said, "Screw this. You know, If I'm gonna do it, I'm going all out." And I had my Chippendales jacket too. We all got jackets, embroidered jackets, and I had that on and walked into court that way.

Natalia: Do you still have that jacket?

Candace Mayeron: Damn right, I have that jacket.

Natalia: Candace watched the animosity between Nick and Steve heat up as the tours became more successful.

Candace Mayeron: Banerjee had never envisioned a room holding more than a few hundred, whereas Nick put us into arenas that hold a thousand or more, as well as clubs that held just 400, 500, 600. Banerjee had never thought about this. So one night, we get word Banerjee is sending a group on tour on the road. And this is directly against the contract that he had with Nick.

Natalia: So a Steve-run tour to compete with the Nick-run tour. An old-fashioned Chippendales' traveling exotic dance-off in flagrant violation of "The Napkin Deal." One day, Nick and Candace hear that Steve's group has a gig in Seattle.

Candace Mayeron: Nick sends me to Seattle, and son of a gun, there's a Chippendales show in Seattle. And I buy a ticket and I go in. And Banerjee, it was his dancers on a night that Los Angeles was dark, and his guys were all performing in Seattle. Of course, I had to stay at the back of the room because if anybody saw me, they'd know me immediately, and they would know that I'm there looking at Banerjee cheating on the contract. So then, you know, I took some pictures, and I went back and I gave them to Nick.

Natalia: What did Nick say when he got confirmation?

Candace Mayeron: I mean, Nick was apoplectic. And what he did about it after that, I have no idea. They probably just had a knock-down fight, another really terrible fight over the phone or in person or in New York or who knows what. Nick was always upset about the altercations with Steve Banerjee.

Natalia: After talking to Scott Marlowe on the phone for, like, two hours, you know, the guy who made love to a motorcycle on stage every night, I asked him if he or the other dancers were aware of all the tension between Nick and Steve. Did it spill into the day-to-day of the New York club? Did it affect them at all?

Scott Marlowe: No, I don't think anybody had any idea. And by the way, we didn't care. It had nothing to do with us. At that point we weren't dealing with Nick or Steve on a day to day basis. I don't even know where Nick was living. I know Steve was back in California. We saw Nick very infrequently at that time.

Natalia: Oh, really? What do you think he was up to?

Scott Marlowe: I have no idea. If you saw Nick once a month, twice a month, that was a lot. I think he would just, like, pop in to make sure his investment was up and running, and to make sure it was still running the way he wanted it to. And it grew to a much larger—they had California, they were putting together a traveling show. You know, there was paraphernalia, merchandise, there was advertising, there was getting us on talk shows. There was a lot going on. So I don't think he was much at the club at all.

Natalia: Once the tours got started, though, Scott said his life got consumed by Chippendales.

Scott Marlowe: So we would work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday in New York. Sunday morning we would wake up and we would fly to Virginia Beach, and we would do Sunday two shows, Monday a show, Tuesday a show. Wednesday morning we would fly back to New York and start the process all over again.

Natalia: Ugh.

Scott Marlowe: And they were just paying us our salary. And I was a model and an actor, maybe not the most successful model and actor, but a model and an actor. And I said, "Whoa. If you take me out of New York Sunday through Tuesday, I can't go on auditions. You need to compensate me for that."

Natalia: He started to complain that it was too much. They were getting taken advantage of. And for Scott, that was the beginning of the end.

Scott Marlowe: It would have been different if some of the other guys would have kind of like rallied around the flagpole with me, but they didn't. They just kind of kept their mouths shut and let me do all the talking. Even if they agreed with me, and I was doing it for their best interest, I was the only one verbalizing these thoughts. And I think they saw me a thorn in their side, and they wrote me out of the cast. Even though I was one of the top three in the current show, they wrote me out.

Scott Marlowe: I was 100 percent Chippendale. I was fuckin' born to do that. It was the greatest and the worst thing that ever could have happened to me. Most people don't hear me say the worst thing. They don't hear that part. They hear me say it's the best thing, because they see this as the most amazing opportunity in the world. And it was. Don't let me for a minute try to diminish that. It was, but it left some indelible stains on my memory that I'll never get rid of.

Scott Marlowe: So, you know, the minute a guy gets defrocked from Chippendales, you're now prime pickings for these revues because you've got the credentials. You're fucking an ex-Chippendale dancer. It's like you were an NBA championship team and now they traded you, but someone's gonna pick you up.

Natalia: Yeah.

Scott Marlowe: So I bounced around from bar to bar doing a night here, a night there, and working with a crew or two. And it was even more depressing and disgusting and low, and that was my low. I was just really fucking just embarrassed and ashamed and just not—I wasn't a Chippendale dancer anymore. I wasn't the top of the heap. I was now one of the—I was a dick shaker in a fucking bar in fucking Queens. Oh boy. Great life.

Natalia: More than anything, Scott said, being a dancer, playing this role every night where you're supposed to be connecting with the women in the audience, fulfilling their fantasies, it ruined his ability to connect to women in real life.

Scott Marlowe: You're having sex every day with two and three people. Every day, every day, every day. A different girl, maybe sometimes twice, but never more than three. And you kind of run aground and sex becomes boring.

Natalia: Mm-hmm.

Scott Marlowe: You know, I can almost try and make a parallel to when I worked in a bakery as a kid. When I first got the job, I tasted every piece of cake in the place, right?

Natalia: Yeah.

Scott Marlowe: And then as a result, after working there for nine months, I never ate a piece of cake again the rest of my life. So it was kinda almost the same thing. After you've slept with 300, 400, 500 women, there was no piece of female that I hadn't seen, done, or was excited by anymore. And it scared me. It frightened me, because now fucking what? And the real answer should have been obvious, and it wasn't, maybe because I was very shallow in that job. The real answer was, fall in love. But how could you fall in love at that job? There was no care, no interest, no emotion, no nothing, no intimacy. It was an act. And it damaged me.

Natalia: There's this thing Scott said to me at the very end of our conversation that's as poignant as anything anyone said to me in the year I spent reporting this story. With so many of the people I talked to about their time at Chippendales, there was a sense that they were working hard to kind of glorify the past, as if they were kings of the world. And like they were still selling this line that Chippendales was selling all the time, about how wholesome the experience of a Chippendales show was. All the talk show appearances, all of Nick's constant marketing, this is like a Broadway show, women can finally express their desires in a safe environment, and on and on. And here was Scott Marlowe saying that this thing that he wanted so, so badly, ultimately nearly destroyed him. That it wasn't just that he lost the ability to connect with women. He lost himself, too.

Scott Marlowe: You had to protect yourself, and the only way to protect yourself was not be you. So how do you not be you? Well, you get fucking liquored up or drugged up, or put yourself 50 miles away and just do your act and get the fuck out of there. Because if you started to believe that you are that person, you're just fooling yourself. You're a laughing stock. You're a fucking guy in a fucking clown suit, you know, dancing for dollars. That's what it came down to.

Natalia: Mm-hmm.

Scott Marlowe: And I hate to explode the illusion that we were these wonderful, wonderful kind of images—and we were—but we were human beings inside, but we weren't treated as such. I am Scott Marlowe. I was in the original show, and I played many different roles. And now—now I'm not. Now I'm not playing a role. Now I'm me.

Natalia: Scott Marlowe's not the only Chippendales dancer to confront the dark side. Next episode we go back to LA, where success has only made Steve Banerjee more paranoid, and the dancers more exposed.

Hodari Subabu: When he was really starting to go through this megalomaniac thing where he wanted people killed.

Natalia: Yeah.

Hodari Subabu: I was in on the beginning of that.

William Hunt: Don tells my dad he's being followed, and that he thinks it's Chippendales. And my dad says, "You're being paranoid. Stop it. You're crazy." And he goes, "No, I'm being followed."

Don Gibson: He says, "I need to talk to you because there's some shit about to go down that I don't want to be involved with." I go, "Are you fucking kidding me?"


Natalia: Welcome to Your Fantasy is a production of Pineapple Street Studios in association with Gimlet. It's hosted by me, Natalia Petrzela. Our senior producer is Eleanor Kagan, our producer is Christine Driscoll, and our associate producer is Erin Kelly. Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young are consulting producers.

Natalia: Our editors are Joel Lovell and Maddy Sprung-Keyser. It was mixed by Hannis Brown, and fact-checked by Ben Phelan. Special thanks to Josh Gwynn and Courtney Harrell.

Natalia: This show features original music by Daoud Anthony. And thanks to our music supervisor Jasmine Flott. The executive producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. From Gimlet, our executive producer is Lydia Polgreen and our editor is Collin Campbell.

Natalia: We've got a Spotify playlist with tons of music from the original show, so you can recreate the club experience for yourself in the comfort of your own home. You can find the link in the show notes.

Natalia: If you want to see resident bad boy Scott Marlowe for yourself, and those hip thrusts in Muscle Motion, go check out our Instagram account @ChippendalesRevealed. That's the handle. @ChippendalesRevealed.

Natalia: Did you ever go to Chippendales? We want to hear about it. Leave us a short voicemail—30 seconds to a minute, tops—at (323) 475-9424, and we might play it on a future episode. That's (323) 475 9424.

Natalia: This is a Spotify original podcast.