Susie Bright’s Journal
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The Gay Gay Gay World of Carol Doda

The Gay Gay Gay World of Carol Doda

There would be no “topless” revolution without the queer revolution

Hello there, and welcome “Back to Bed with Susie Bright”.
This is the week of June 7, 2024

This week on Back to Bed:

I was asked this spring by the San Francisco Chronicle to review a new documentary, Carol Doda Topless at the Condor.

The topic, you’d think, was perfect for the Chron, who covered Doda’s career for 5 decades— and perfect for me!

But after I watched the preview, I had to pull out in a hurry.

“This is the laziest, most bullshit documentary I’ve seen in years, and that’s saying something!” I squawked to my editor. “I know you have to cover this, but you don’t want me.”

I called up the publicist, who I know from the earliest days of the Gay Film Festival — “You know I adore you, but this is the last straw. A film about Carol Doda that erases the gay milieu she entirely existed on? I feel like throwing up.”

Doda, who I came to know personally in her elder years, died in 2015.

Much earlier, she lost her press agent/Svengali/confidante, Big Davey Rosenberg, who was queer as a three-dollar bill and is profiled for his own improbable career by journalist Jack Boulware: “The Mayor of Broadway.” Highly recommended.

Davey wanted to be every inch the star, just as he envisioned for Carol, the day he met her. But this was long before anyone was waving a rainbow flag.

Carol Doda has a beloved spot in the Cockettes archives in the gay history shelves of the San Francisco Library.

It wasn’t just Davey was on the down-low— the closet and the coded rule of gay life was in the fabric of the North Beach and the earliest days of beatniks, barkers, poets and hustlers. Everyone was in on it.

Carol was a gay icon, albeit on a less high-toned level than Bette Midler or Liza Minnelli. She broke out Rudi Gernreich’s “monokini” when Vogue could barely get people to pay attention. (Rudi, another gay man, of course).

Doda was from a different generation, where you never give suckers, or squares, or straight tourists, an even break. It was the entire ethos of the Broadway circus.

Carol having fun on the Cockette’s stage. Also from SFPL archives.

Every old queen, whore, and habitué I know from Broadway’s salad days is long gone. But I took its extravagant “closet’ for granted at the time. If people knew how many gay men were part of the hucksterism of straight porn, titty bars, and sexpot divas . . . Let’s just say it would make you think about things a little differently.

Davey vying to be “The Perfect Man.” What a character. He sadly died at 49.

I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at the real sexual revolution in San Francisco of the 60s— it was fun to let it rip!

As always, write to with your letters, questions, and suggestions.

Til next week, see you next Friday, and

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Susie Bright’s Journal
Back to Bed with Susie Bright
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