Benita Mattioli of Santa Rosa took the title of her book, “Three Nights at The Condor,” from the ’70s spy movie “Three Days of the Condor.” But in her book, Condor is not a code name for a secret agent. It’s the real name of a famous — sometimes infamous — nightclub in San Francisco.
Co-owned by the author’s husband, Pete Mattioli, The Condor’s claim to fame is that it introduced topless dancing in 1964. It became a tourist hotspot, thanks to its star dancer, the curvaceous, platinum blond Carol Doda.
The following year, the cops cracked down and arrested both Pete Mattioli and Carol Doda. But because no one could pin down what constituted obscenity by the community standards of San Francisco at the time, the judge ordered the jury to acquit them.
A diligently researched book compiled from Pete’s recollections, newspaper archives and other sources, “Three Nights at the Condor” took Benita 10 years to finish. She self-published it in December 2018, and it’s available on Amazon.
Since then, she has taken up public speaking, acquainting her audiences with the wild days and nights of The City’s North Beach district more than half a century ago. “The subject sells out,” she said.
Now Benita, 72, and Pete, 88, live in Santa Rosa’s Oakmont senior living community. Asked if he missed the nightclub scene from San Francisco in the ’60s, Pete grinned and said, “You bet, but you gotta be young to live that wild life.”
Benita, a former airline flight attendant from Utah who met Pete, then a roguish man about town dressed in expensive Italian suits, in 1967 and married him in 1974, didn’t want to leave the old days behind completely.
“I wanted to tell the story,” she said. “I was there all those years. I had stacks of notes and print-ous. Pete’s memory is still sharp.”
She made recordings of him telling stories that on car trips to Salt Lake City.
The book is not so much a scandalous tell-all tome as a meticulous but lively pop culture history.
“I tried to treat the subject matter with the respect I thought it deserved for everyone involved — dancers, club owners, police — while still having fun with it,” Benita said. “It could have been a lot raunchier.”
The title “Three Nights at The Condor” is more than a spin on a spy movie title. The author has devoted a chapter each to a trio of eventful evenings at the nightclub.
Chapter 11,“NIGHT ONE: Topless Begins”: On June 19, 1964, Carol Doda performed bare-breasted at The Condor. Although the act proved to be a boon for the club, Benita Mattioli said the impetus came from the dancers themselves. “The women were saying, ‘I’m gonna do what I want with my body,’” she said during at interview at her Oakmont home.
Chapter 13,“NIGHT TWO: Busted!”: On April 22, 1965, the San Francisco Police Department arrested Carol Doda, Pete Mattioli and his parner, Gino Del Prete, charging Mattioli and Del Prete with keeping a disorderly house, and Doda with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and outraging public decency. They were booked, fingerprinted and released. Their trial ended in acquittal the following month.