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HUNKS ON PARADE : It's Dark and Sweaty Work, but Someone Has to Give Women Someone to Scream At

April 23, 1988|DIANNE KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

These are sensitive guys.

They're tired of explaining to those ignoramuses out there that this is a class act, that some of them even have college degrees, professions to fall back on when their muscles start to sag, when the tanning salons start taking their toll in tiny little lines around their eyes.

Even the tawdry lingo of the trade itself conspires against them. They are dancers, actors, entertainers, fulfillers of fantasies. Stripping is seedy.

"People don't understand it," says Al Pranno, 24, a strapping male specimen with an earring stuck through his earlobe and curls cascading off his crown. "They want to believe the stereotype. When people hear a different story, they aren't sure that it's quite right. But I like to shatter the myth that we are muscle-bound airheads."

Pranno, instead, is a muscle-bound French horn player. He has a degree in accounting. Maybe, he says, he'll go to law school and then open an Italian restaurant on the side--with mom in the kitchen.

But when Pranno and the other gorgeous hunks at the Chippendales Los Angeles nightclub aren't talking, they're showing. Almost everything. They take it off at the club, on the road and around the world.

"I didn't have a problem at all," Pranno says of that night in Denver some three years ago when he first unencumbered himself of everything but the skimpiest G-string before a crowd of awe-struck women.

"Now, if you have a mental problem about taking your clothes off in front of 200 women, then maybe you should review your career choice."

The lights in Anaheim's Century Theater are dimming. The audience of about 1,000 women, and maybe about four men, is giddy with anticipation.

They have already bought dozens of $7 Chippendales calendars, hawked on stage before the show and signed by some of the same topless bods featured therein. They have sat through the opening act, a rock group distinguished by loud noise and lewd dancing.

They have even made their way past a motley group of protesters outside the theater who, while carrying signs urging sinners to repent, harangue them for plotting a lascivious night out for ladies.

"Shame on you for what you do!" is a favorite chant.

Of course, nobody has done anything quite yet, although more than a few members of the audience look ready. There are a lot of tight and tiny minis, spandex dresses, spike heels and cleavage pushed up and out.

And, now, almost an hour later, when that disco beat begins bouncing off the walls, these party animals turn their heads along with everyone else to watch for The Men of Chippendales come stampeding down the aisles like wild stallions.

But first comes the fake fog. It engulfs the stage. The spotlights change colors. The women hoot and holler. Some dance in their seats, shimmying their shoulders.

When the men do make their dash for the circular stage, a few women manage to grab at some rear ends.

The evening has begun.

Steve Banerjee, owner and creator of Chippendales, wishes he could have gotten his hands on CBS anchorman Dan Rather maybe 20 years ago, before distinguished but after adolescence.

"If he didn't have his job, I would talk him into taking this job," Banerjee says, unsmiling, in all seriousness, between puffs on a cigarette.

Rather, he says, has the rugged good looks that Banerjee says he learned to sell after reading "The Selling of the President," Joe McGinnis' 1968 book that chronicled the second presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon.

But Banerjee says he focused instead on John F. Kennedy, about how he translated his sex appeal into votes from the women of America.

"It's just like that," he says. "In order to make money, you have to go to the mass market. So I package these beautiful, stunning guys with a touch of Ivy League. They have an elegant look about them."

Banerjee, a native of Bombay, India, compares himself to a diamond dealer or a real estate developer. He says he has an eye for quality raw material and, most of the time, knows how to shape it.

"I get them a good stylist. I get them good photographs," he says. "I package them. I can package anything."

But Banerjee stresses that the formula works only if followed to the letter. It boils down to an imprecise yet exacting blend of classic American good looks, a prototype honed after years of watching women watch men.

Square jaws, broad shoulders and tight little behinds are a must. Muscles, too, are required, but then again, not too many muscles. Height helps. Gay, no matter how gorgeous, is out. Banerjee says women can always tell.

"It's a science," he says. "If you don't follow your formula all the way, your bottom line won't be right. It's capitalism, blatant, you might call it."

Hence, the stripping. Hence, the "kiss and tip." Hence, the lack of any pretense of subtlety.

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