James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Uncovering Carol Doda Ephemera

The death of Carol Doda last week left me with a sneaking suspicion that I had seen a few treasures in the Hormel Center's archives about her. Due to her fame as a straight topless entertainer at the Condor Club, it may seem surprising (as it was to me!) that there would be anything at all about her in the LGBT collections. But this is an example of how archives promote unexpected and revealing connections.

The Rise and Fall of the World poster, January 1972
Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79)

To address my curiosity, I checked the Online Archive of California under San Francisco Public Library and searched for "Doda." I found three collections with Doda material: the Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79), the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78), and the San Francisco Biography Collection in the San Francisco History Center.

My first stop was the Ritz Papers where I discovered a poster for Arthur Meyer's film The Rise and Fall of the World (as Seen From a Sexual Position). Miss Carol Doda was the star and the poster advertised the film's "world sneak premiere" and live stage show in January 1972. The event took place at the Palace Theatre, the home of many Cockettes productions. And the poster by Todd Trexler exhibits the same characteristic style which one can see in his artwork for other Nocturnal Dream Shows productions.

A connection to the Cockettes seems likely.

Carol Doda rehearsal, January 1972
Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78)

I next checked the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection and found a real treat...a photo labeled "Carol Doda rehearsal, 1/1972." Based on the date, it seems safe to assume that this was a rehearsal for the live show. Though uncredited, the photo was probably taken by Mintun who was a regular piano accompanist for the Cockettes at that time.

Hmm...another Cockettes connection...but nothing, ahem, explicit.

Press release, San Francisco Biography Collection
San Francisco History Center

My last stop was to look through the file on Doda in the San Francisco History Center's San Francisco Biography Collection. The file includes newspaper clippings and other ephemera--including a press release for the film's world premiere in June 1972! It's described as "an erotic satire that parodies the styles of Fellini, Busby Berkeley and Woody Allen." I'm intrigued. It was filmed in and around San Francisco. And the press release notes that the film features cameo roles by the Cockettes. Now the connection between Carol Doda and these Hormel Center archival collections is fully revealed.

San Francisco Examiner clippings
San Francisco History Center

Of course, the unasked and unanswered question for me was: how was the film received? So I checked the San Francisco Examiner newspaper clippings morgue and found a few reviews. The film was not award-winning and was very gently critiqued by Stanley Eichelbaum and Jeanne Miller. Regardless of what one thinks of the film, its star Carol Doda left a lasting impression on San Francisco history and was a cameo player in its LGBT history, too.

San Francisco Examiner clippings
San Francisco History Center
It was an easy task to find these items but it required a little detective work to piece together the whole story. Archival collections often contain a few critical parts of the larger picture. It's the job of the curious researcher to uncover additional facts and connections to complete the rough sketch.

The Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79), the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78), and the San Francisco Biography Collection are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.