Great news for my fellow true crime followers: Welcome to Your Fantasy is a new Spotify podcast that combines the decadent pop culture of the 1970s and early 1980s with murder and mayhem.
Most Americans are familiar with the legendary Chippendales dancers, right? Chippendales made male exotic dancers a very hot commodity back in 1979. Up until that point, the idea of men stripping to music for a female audience had not even been considered.
Then a man named Steve Banerjee bought a nightclub and wanted to make it different from the competition. Banerjee and former lawyer Bruce Nahin put their heads together, and Chippendales was born.
Even our younger readers may remember the Saturday Night Live skit featuring Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley as potential Chippendales dancers competing for a job. It’s one of the more popular classic SNL skits, and is even mentioned on Welcome to Your Fantasy.
What most people don’t know is the shocking, often bloody history of Chippendales, and that’s where Natalia Petrzela and her new podcast Welcome to Your Fantasy come in.
Natalia took some time to speak with 1428 Elm about herself, and about Welcome to Your Fantasy.
1428 Elm: Your online bio is pretty interesting, and tags you as a historian specializing in American politics and culture. Before we dive into the history of Chippendales, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Natalia: I’m a history professor at The New School, a job that sometimes surprises people if they know me through, say, making a podcast about Chippendales, or writing about boutique fitness. But after internships and jobs in magazines, on Wall Street, and as a Spanish teacher, I was drawn to the study of history because I found myself looking at every single political, social, and cultural issue and asking, “how did we get here?” I get to have a job where I get to spend most of my time coming up with considered answers to that question in a way I hope helps people understand our world better.
And when I say “our world,” I don’t just mean the topics we traditionally think of as historically significant – wars and presidents and policy, to name a few – but those that are part of our everyday lives, from food to fitness to what we have defined as “fun” over the years. I am so excited about Welcome to Your Fantasy because it really brings together so many themes I’ve long cared about as a historian, but also as a human being: it’s a story about capitalism and “the American dream,” about sexual liberation and its commodification, and about the making of a mass culture phenomenon. And all these heady themes are bound up in a fascinating true crime story! I feel really lucky my career has led me to work on this podcast and am excited to share it with the world.
1428 Elm: Had you been part of a podcast before Welcome to Your Fantasy? If so, tell us about your past podcast(s).
Natalia: Yes! For over five years I have co-hosted the weekly podcast, Past Present, with fellow historians Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young. It’s a conversation podcast where we “turn hindsight into foresight,” taking one issue in the news and really diving deep in a conversation that helps unpack its historical roots. When we launched it, I barely knew what a podcast was, but it was very clear that there was an appetite for deeper, but still accessible, takes than what was on offer in the mainstream media or on social media. Turns out there still is! We love making Past Present, and both Niki and Neil are co-producers on Welcome to Your Fantasy, so it’s been great to bring that experience to bear on this new project. And listeners will hear from them later in the series!
1428 Elm: How was Welcome to Your Fantasy developed, and who came up with the idea?
Natalia: Over two years ago now, I was asked to give an interview on sexual culture in the 1980s for a European show that was looking at the Chippendales phenomenon. Even if I’m asked to comment as a generalist, I always do pre-research for those kinds of gigs, and I came up with all these fascinating news stories about Chippendales… everything from Gloria Allred holding a domestic violence fundraiser at the club in the early 1980s (and angering a lot of feminists in the process) to this terrible murder that I had no idea existed, even though I vividly remember seeing Chippendales merchandise at the mall at Spencer’s Gifts and on talk shows when I was a kid.
I posted a few of these pics in my Instagram story, and a friend said, “you must pitch this as a podcast!” Long story short, I immediately asked what Niki and Neil thought about it, and we put together a pitch for Pineapple Street Studios, and here we are! I often tell this story to emphasize how it can be really helpful to use social media to share about emerging ideas, rather than just completed projects, because you never know how other people might help you and your thinking. I would not have independently thought to pitch this as a podcast series, but I am obviously so thrilled we did!
1428 Elm: I thought I was pretty familiar with the story of the Chippendales dancers, since I was a young woman in the 1980s, but listening to your podcast, I realized I had no idea of the stories behind them. For instance, I knew about Dorothy Stratton’s murder at the hands of her husband Paul Snider, but the story of his involvement in Chippendales was new to me. As you were researching the history, what stories were you most surprised to uncover (without spoilers, of course)?
Natalia: Even knowing about Dorothy Stratten – not just her murder, but her connection to Chippendales – is a lot more than most! So, I was shocked that there was this backstory of criminality behind the Chippendales phenomenon throughout its whole history, even as it became incredibly popular and a mainstream cultural phenomenon. Yes, things took an especially dark turn when Nick De Noia was murdered, but even from the early days, there was a lot of darkness that you would never have guessed existed if you were visiting the club on a bachelorette, buying a beefcake calendar at the mall, or watching them dance on Donohue. That’s quite an achievement to pull off!
From a totally different perspective, I was really surprised how much race was a theme in the building of the brand. I always sort of knew Chippendales was a phenomenon of white consumer culture, but I did not realize how deliberately that image was cultivated. Just wait until you hear what we uncovered in our reporting on this front!
1428 Elm: Again, with no spoilers, give our readers a synopsis of Welcome to Your Fantasy.
Natalia: In late 1970s Los Angeles, a striving Indian immigrant has a dream to make it big in LA, like his idols, Hugh Hefner and Walt Disney. Over the next decade, together with a NYC musical theater man with Broadway ambitions, they build the most iconic male exotic dance revue in the world: Chippendales. Ubiquitous on daytime TV, at the mall, and of course in their nightclubs and traveling shows, Chippendales mainstreamed the idea that men dancing for women on a “girls’ night out” was harmless, if risqué fun. But the men who helped make this brand a global phenomenon would both end up dead because of it – Welcome to Your Fantasy is the story of their lives, deaths, and the millions they affected along the way.
1428 Elm: What projects will you be working on next?
Natalia: My number one goal right now is to finish my book, FIT NATION, which is about how in the last 75 years, America has become a country obsessed with exercise even as fitness has become largely inaccessible to those who stand to benefit from it most. It’s a huge project – in which the Chippendales and their workout tape make a cameo! – and I am excited to finish it. Next fall, I am co-teaching a course about “Podcasting as History” with Eleanor Kagan, the senior producer from Pineapple Street Studios who led the Welcome to Your Fantasy project. And of course, I am already thinking about what might come next on the podcast front. The 1970s and 80s are full of amazing, untold stories that have tons of archival sources… you know what that means!
1428 Elm: More podcasts! Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Natalia. I really think the true crime lovers among our readers will enjoy listening to Welcome to Your Fantasy. I know I did.
Welcome to Your Fantasy is produced by Spotify and Pineapple Street Studios, in association with Gimlet. It debuts on Wednesday, February 10.
Are you a fan of true crime podcasts, and will you be listening to Welcome to Your Fantasy? Let us know in the comments section.