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[TIMELINE] Steve Banerjee (Bengali Entrepreneur) - Founded Chippendales

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  • madchinaman
    Steve Banerjee, Bengali Entrepreneur by Anirvan Chatterjee http://www.diasporic.com/articles/steve_banerjee/ This is the story of a Bengali immigrant to the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2006
      Steve Banerjee, Bengali Entrepreneur
      by Anirvan Chatterjee
      http://www.diasporic.com/articles/steve_banerjee/


      This is the story of a Bengali immigrant to the United States--an
      amazing Bengali immigrant entrepreneur. A self made man, he was not
      applauded in our circles for building perhaps the best known brand
      name that any Bengali in North American has ever created. His
      controversial life has turned him into a subject of gossip, and self-
      censorship in Bengali immigrant communities. While we may question
      whether or not we identify with him, we cannot ignore the fact that
      in some of the most crucial moments of his career and life, he chose
      to identify with us. The time has come for us to reclaim the story
      of Somen Banerjee, and to face the assault that the example of his
      tragic and triumphant life makes against some of our most cherished
      myths--the model minority, the politely schmoozing nerdy technology
      entrepreneur, the naïve, self-effacing Bengali immigrant "good boy."

      Model Minority: An Immigrant Success Story
      Somen Banerjee was born in Bombay, India in 1947--the year India
      gained independence from colonial British rule. He was a fourth
      generation printer. While he later went by his nickname "Steve," he
      retained his name "Somen," even after immigration; perhaps the
      coincidence of his given name (in Bengali, pronounced as "show-men")
      did not escape him. Somen left India sometime between the late 1960s
      and early 1970s. He loved to travel. He spent some time in Canada,
      before he settled in Playa Del Rey, California, near Los Angeles, in
      the early 1970s. An entrepreneur from the beginning, he owned and
      operated a Mobil gas station in Playa Del Rey for some time. He
      dabbled in other ventures, but was burned when he lost a large sum
      of money in a failed backgammon club.

      In 1975, Steve used a small investment to buy a failing Los Angeles
      rock and roll bar called Destiny II. He worked to turn it into a
      disco with jazz and street-dance performers. Four years later,
      inspired by word of a Canadian male strip club, Steve renamed the
      club "Chippendales," and along with female mud wrestling, he
      launched a "Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only" it was the
      first American troupe of its kind.

      By the early 1980s, Chippendales was the best known of the several
      hundred male strip clubs in America. Steve drove the business to
      amazing heights with his professionalism and marketing skills. By
      the late 1980s, the Chippendales were almost a household name. Over
      a million copies of their calendar were sold every year. Touring
      profits exceeded $25,000 per week, and at its height, Steve
      controlled an $8 million a year business.

      Steve was known to be a family man. He spent time with his wife and
      daughter, born in 1985. As his success grew, observers noted him to
      be a sharp dresser, and someone who obviously enjoyed the rewards
      that he had earned as a self-made man, going from pumping gas, to
      ownership of an entertainment empire, at the forefront of his
      industry. He owned several homes, including a large one near the
      ocean; he drove fine Mercedes cars. Ever the entrepreneur, he also
      sold real estate in his part time.

      Steve devoted thought to the long term. He idolized Walt Disney, and
      had plans for eventually developing an adult amusement complex. He
      also enjoyed reading business journals, and spent time studying the
      works of favorite designers and filmmakers like Giorgio Armani,
      Calvin Klein, and Steven Spielberg.

      Capitalist: Playing With the Big Boys
      To the outside world, Somen "Steve" Banerjee was the poster child
      for hard working immigrant entrepreneurs, building up their dreams
      in their newly adopted land. However, such success did not come
      without a price. Capitalism is not a game for the weak, and from the
      beginning, Steve understood that his chances for success were based
      on his ability to contend with the competition. In March 1979: Steve
      attempted to get someone to burn down Moody's Disco, a competing
      nightclub in Santa Monica; minor damage was sustained to the
      premises. Again, in 1984, he attempted to have someone burn down the
      competing Red Onion restaurant and bar in Marina del Rey; no major
      damage was caused.

      The mid-1980s had been a difficult period for the Chippendales
      organization. The judgments of a series of major lawsuits--personal
      injury, as well as suits alleging discrimination against patrons,
      both African-American, and male–had hurt the bottom line. On January
      31, 1987, the Chippendales' parent company filed for reorganization
      under federal bankruptcy laws. The organization survived, but not
      all those affiliated with it were so lucky.

      Steve started working with Nick DeNoia, an Emmy-winning director of
      children's TV shows, in the early 1980s. He became the Chippendales
      choreographer, and was a major reason for the success of the
      Chippendales dancers. Nick was initially promised a large share of
      the (then-low or nonexistent) touring revenues. He later exchanged
      his financial interests in the Chippendales clubs for control of all
      touring, and for half the generated profits. As touring grew to
      account for significantly larger proportions of the Chippendales'
      income, Steve and Nick had a falling out; in 1987, Nick DeNoia sued
      Steve for violating their touring agreement by taking his own
      Chippendales revue on the road. In April 1987, Nick DeNoia, was shot
      in the face in New York City, by hired gun Ray Colon. While rumors
      connected Steve to the killings, the case remained unsolved. Steve
      subsequently bought back the Chippendales' touring rights from the
      DeNoia family, for $1.3 million. In 1988, the original Chippendales
      club closed, after losing its liquor license and fire permit. The
      group turned into a solely touring revue, under Steve's new control.

      In 1990 and early 1991, Steve Banerjee tried to have former
      Chippendales choreographer Mike Fullington, then working for the
      competing male dance group Adonis, killed. Ray Colon was also set to
      murder two former Chippendales dancers, who had also joined the
      rival Adonis group, then touring Britain. Ray hired a hitman--an FBI
      informant--to do the deed. The hitman confessed to the American
      Embassy. The conversation between Ray and the hitman was recorded.
      Some time later, Steve flew to Zurich to meet Ray to discuss the
      planned killings, but didn't realize that the police had ensured
      that Ray was wired for sound. By 1990, the FBI had begun to build
      the evidence for what would eventually lead to its case against the
      founder of the Chippendales.

      On September 2, 1993, Steve Banerjee was charged with conspiring to
      kill three business associates, the former club choreographer and
      two dancers who had joined Adonis. He was indicted and held without
      bail on six counts, including conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
      The denial of bail was based on his having earlier told Ray Colon
      that were he to be apprehended, he'd either kill himself, or return
      to India and raise a new family there (by paying a pilot $25,000 to
      get him out of the country without a passport).

      One month later, the charges against Steve Banerjee were expanded to
      include the killing of Nick DeNoia. The grand jury also charged him
      with racketeering and arson, as well as the 1990 planned murder of
      Jagjit Sehdeva, over a business dispute. If convicted, Steve faced
      life in prison, and a fine of up to $1.75 million.

      On July 29, 1994, Steve pled guilty to racketeering, attempting to
      burn down a competing nightclub, and arranging the murder of Nick
      DeNoia. He faced 26 years in jail, as part of a plea bargain that
      would drop his other murder for hire charges; he would also have to
      forfeit his interest in the Chippendales' parent company. He was to
      be sentenced in three months, on October 24. Steve had been treated
      for mild bouts of depression in the time he was in jail; he was
      particularly concerned about the impact that being imprisoned and
      fined would have on his family.

      Sometime between 3 and 4 am on the night of October 23, 1994, just
      hours before he was to be sentenced, Steve Banerjee took his own
      life; he hung himself using a torn bedsheet on a coat hook, in his
      tiny cell in Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles.
      He died at age 48. The police found a note left in his cell--written
      in an Indian language, that they couldn't decipher. A family man
      until the end, Steve may have ended his own life to ensure that his
      estate went to his family, rather than being confiscated by the
      government.

      Anti-Hero: Why Steve Banerjee Matters
      Much has been written about the vaunted myth of the model minority.
      The loudest voices in the Bengali community in America (as with many
      South Asian diasporic communities) have been willing to accept the
      consequences of the label; internally marginalized groups (real or
      imagined) have been more willing to publicly challenge the concept --
      but to what end? Long evenings of discussions don't mean very much
      as long as the terms and consequences of the debate remain
      unaltered. Histories like that of Steve Banerjee allow us to begin
      to do just this. Steve Banerjee is Bengali. Again, Steve Banerjee is
      Bengali. His Bengali-boy-does-good, rags-to-riches rise incorporates
      the same tactics and techniques that many of the Silicon Valley
      entrepreneurs, heroes of the community, use today. His success based
      on "culturally derived" values of hard work, ambition, care for
      family, etc. predates that of the more recent wave of middle-class
      IIT engineers laden down with stock option glory. To condemn Steve
      Banerjee is to condemn one who is narrowly different from our
      greatest heroes. Same culture, same ambition, and with even greater
      success -- surely the Chippendales are a more lasting contribution
      to the American cultural landscape than the plethora of desi-
      engineered technology products. To condemn Steve Banerjee is to
      acknowledge that model minority values are not neutrally positive,
      neutrally equal.

      While the Bengali community has been slow to identify with Somen
      Banerjee, the triumph and tragedy of his life has been recognized by
      the outside world. Barry Sonnenfield, the director of the hit
      film "Men In Black", plans to produce a film called "Chippendales,"
      based on the life of Steve Banerjee and the early history of his
      troupe, based on Ron Sheldon's unpublished book of the same name.
      It's expected out sometime in 2000, from Touchstone Pictures, which
      is owned by Disney. (The British television network ITV showed a
      program on the same theme in September 1998, called "Chippendales: A
      Secret History.") It would be the ultimate irony if the first major
      Bengali immigrant character on the American big screen were to be
      someone we refuse to acknowledge as one of our own. Acknowledgement
      does not imply endorsement; as a community, we need to begin to
      break past our own myths about ourselves, to see ourselves as fully
      rounded, capable of having our own complex antiheroes. The legacy of
      Somen Banerjee both extends and reinforces different parts of our
      understanding of what it means to be Bengali in America, but we can
      never learn from it unless we can begin to extend our sense of
      community identification to acknowledge the non-politically-correct
      aspects of our shared history, warts and all.

      =============

      APA Believe it or not: Somen the Showman
      By Anirvan Chatterjee, Special to AsianWeek
      http://news.asianweek.com/news/view_article.html?
      article_id=613c3983f41b4a1fe6c015356acda291


      APA Heritage Month is a time to look at our community and examine
      our issues, define our strengths and celebrate our success. But by
      now we all know about Norm Mineta and the early Vietnamese settlers
      in Louisiana — it's time to look at some of our community's wackier
      characters. Did you know about the Chinese couple who served up
      potatoes to Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Ariz.? Or that Chang and Eng,
      the original Siamese Twins, have over 2,000 descendants in America
      (featured next week)? Or that the creator of the 1980s male review
      Chippendales was South Asian? Read on and be amazed.

      Somen Banerjee was born in Bombay, India in 1947 — the year India
      gained independence from colonial British rule. He was a fourth
      generation printer. While he later went by his nickname "Steve," he
      retained the name Somen even after immigration; perhaps the
      coincidence of his given name (pronounced "show-men in Bengali) did
      not escape him.

      Somen left India in the late 1960s and moved around some before
      settling in Playa Del Rey, Calif., near Los Angeles, in the early
      1970s. An entrepreneur from the beginning, he owned and operated a
      Mobil gas station in Playa Del Rey. In 1975, Steve used a small
      investment to buy a failing Los Angeles rock and roll bar called
      Destiny II. He worked to turn it into a disco with jazz and street-
      dance performers.

      Four years later, inspired by word of a Canadian male strip club,
      Steve renamed the club Chippendales, and along with female mud
      wrestling, launched a "Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only." It
      was the first American troupe of its kind. By the early 1980s,
      Chippendales was the best known of the several hundred male strip
      clubs in America. And by the late 1980s, the Chippendales were
      almost a household name. Over one million copies of their calendar
      were sold every year. Touring profits exceeded $25,000 per week, and
      at the venture's height, Steve controlled an $8 million business.

      However, such success did not come without a price. In March 1979;
      Steve attempted to get someone to burn down Moody's Disco, a
      competing nightclub in Santa Monica; minor damage was sustained to
      the premises. Again, in 1984, he attempted to have someone burn down
      the competing Red Onion restaurant and bar in Marina del Rey; no
      major damage was caused.

      The mid-1980s were a difficult period for the Chippendales
      organization. The judgments of a series of major lawsuits — personal
      injury, as well as suits alleging discrimination against two
      patrons, both African American males — had hurt the bottom line. On
      January 31, 1987, the Chippendales' parent company filed for
      reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws. The organization
      survived, but not all those affiliated with it were so lucky.

      In the early 1980s, Steve had started working with Nick DeNoia, an
      Emmy-winning director of children's TV shows. DeNoia became the
      Chippendales' choreographer, and was a major reason for the success
      of the Chippendales dancers. But Steve and Nick had a falling out;
      in 1987, Nick DeNoia sued Steve for violating their touring
      agreement by taking his own Chippendales revue on the road.

      In April 1987, Nick DeNoia, was shot in the face in New York City by
      hired gun Ray Colon. While rumors connected Steve to the killings,
      the case remained unsolved. Steve subsequently bought back the
      Chippendales' touring rights from the DeNoia family, for $1.3
      million. In 1988, the original Chippendales club closed, after
      losing its liquor license and fire permit. The group turned into a
      solely touring revue, under Steve's control.

      In 1990 and early 1991, Steve tried to have former Chippendales
      choreographer Mike Fullington, then working for the competing male
      dance group Adonis, killed. Ray Colon was also set to murder two
      former Chippendales dancers, who had also joined the rival Adonis
      group, then touring Britain. Ray hired a hitman — an FBI informant —
      to do the deed. The hitman confessed to the American Embassy. The
      conversation between Ray and the hitman was recorded. Some time
      later, Steve flew to Zurich to meet Ray to discuss the planned
      killings, but didn't realize that the police had ensured that Ray
      was wired for sound. By 1990, the FBI had begun to build evidence
      for what would eventually lead to its case against the founder of
      the Chippendales.

      On Sept. 2, 1993, Steve Banerjee was charged with conspiring to kill
      three business associates, the former club choreographer and two
      dancers who had joined Adonis. He was indicted and held without bail
      on six counts, including conspiracy to commit murder for hire. The
      denial of bail was based on his having earlier told Ray Colon that
      were he to be apprehended, he'd either kill himself or return to
      India and raise a new family there (by paying a pilot $25,000 to get
      him out of the country without a passport).

      One month later, the charges against Steve Banerjee were expanded to
      include the killing of Nick DeNoia. The grand jury also charged him
      with racketeering and arson, as well as the 1990 planned murder of
      Jagjit Sehdeva, over a business dispute. If convicted, Steve faced
      life in prison, and a fine of up to $1.75 million.

      On July 29, 1994, Steve pled guilty to racketeering, attempting to
      burn down a competing nightclub, and arranging the murder of Nick
      DeNoia. He faced 26 years in jail, as part of a plea bargain that
      would drop his other murder for hire charges; he would also have to
      forfeit his interest in the Chippendales' parent company. He was to
      be sentenced in three months, on October 24.

      Sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. on the night of Oct. 23, 1994, just
      hours before he was to be sentenced, Steve Banerjee took his own
      life; he hung himself using a torn bedsheet on a coat hook, in his
      tiny cell in the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los
      Angeles. He was 48. The police found a note left in his cell —
      written in an Indian language that they couldn't decipher.

      Banerjee's life was dramatized in the 2000 USA Network movie, The
      Chippendales Murder.


      =============


      CHIPPENDALE
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chippendales_dancers


      Chippendale dancers are a group of men who provocatively dance for a
      primarily female audience. They are best known as being shirtless,
      muscular and wearing little else but bow ties, white cuffs and black
      leather pants.

      The original "Chippendales" nightclub was started by Bengali
      immigrant and entrepreneur Somen "Steve" Banerjee. After owning a
      Mobil gas station and a failed backgammmon club, he used a small
      investment to purchase a failed Los Angeles club named "Destiny II".
      Originally, Chippendales had female mud wrestling and a 'Male Exotic
      Dancing Night' for the ladies. It was the first one of its kind in
      the USA. Banerjee established a relationship with choreographer Nick
      DeNoia, who had won an Emmy directing children's shows, in the early
      1980's. Nick was talented and driven. He recruited the 'best
      looking' men to bring women's fantasies to life, not just strip
      tease. There is no doubt he played a major role in the successes
      that made Chippendales a world-famous institution.

      Banerjee was paranoid of competition and twice attempted to have a
      hired arsonist burn down clubs nearby. For Chippendales, the
      entirety of the early 1980's was filled with major lawsuits
      pertaining to personal injury and discrimination. In 1987, the
      company filed for bankruptcy and began reorganization. Also in 1987,
      Banerjee and Nick DeNoia had a falling out over touring rights to
      Chippendales. DeNoia sued Banerjee, claiming he had violated a term
      of their agreement which entitled DeNoia to most of the control of
      the touring rights for Chippendales. In April of 1987 DeNoia was
      found murdered in his NYC office, having been shot with a single
      bullet. Rumors emerged that Banerjee had arranged the hit. In 1988,
      the original "Chippendales" club was shut down after losing its
      liquor license and fire permit. The group became solely a touring
      opportunity with Banerjee maintaining control.

      In 1990 and 1991, Banerjee enlisted ex-con Ray Colon. He wanted a
      former Chippendales' choreographer and protege of Nick DeNoia, Mike
      Fullington, as well as two previous Chippendales dancers to be
      killed. At the time the targets were touring Great Britain, where
      they had joined the Adonis club, a competitor of Chippendales'.
      Rather than do the deed himself Colon attempted to hire a hitman to
      do the job. The man was an FBI informant. An entire conversation
      between Colon and the hitman setting up the hit was recorded. The
      informant brought the evidence to the US Embassy. Colon had a
      meeting with Banerjee in Zurich to discuss the planned killings
      where he was wired for sound. In 1993, Banerjee was indicted on
      counts of conspiracy and attempting to hire a hitman. His bail was
      denied due to the statements of Ray Colon, who claimed that Banerjee
      had told him that he intended to pay a private pilot $25K to fly him
      back to India without a passport, or to commit suicide, if he were
      caught for his acts. Soon after, his charges were expanded to
      include the hired hit of Nick DeNoia. Banerjee eventually pled
      guilty to attempted arson, racketeering, and murder for hire. He
      entered into a plea agreement that would lead to 26 years in prison,
      loss of his share of the Chippendales' parent company, and most of
      his estate. An ever devoted family man, Banerjee took his own life
      by hanging himself in his cell during the early morning hours of
      Oct. 23, 1994, hours away from his sentencing. Due to the fact he
      committed suicide before his trial was completed, the entirety of
      his share in the Chippendales' corporation and his estate were
      securely passed on to his family.

      Chippendales currently do shows at the Rio in Las Vegas as well as
      other places around the world.
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