The Founders Interview

A conversation with

Frank Bane

Founder of the Continental Theatrical Agency

Interview and story by ED Founder Don Waitt

(NOTE: This story appears in the November 2023 issue of ED Magazine.)


f someone told me Frank Bane came out of his mother’s womb 63 years ago with a phone receiver attached to his ear, I would not be the slightest bit surprised. There is no one in the adult nightclub industry who has spent more time on the phone over the past four decades than Frank Bane. 

I’m not talking about an occasional call. I’m talking about making and receiving phone calls pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week for more than 40 years. 

On landlines. 

On pay phones.

On headsets. 

On cell phones. 

You name it; Frank Bane has talked on it.

And he’s still talking.

To one of three groups of people

Feature entertainers whom he books in adult nightclubs across the country, and even abroad, through his talent agency, the Continental Theatrical Agency.

Club owners and general managers who book those entertainers through Bane and Continental.

His family, either his wife or one of his five children.

Try to have a 10-minute conversation with Frank Bane and not have his cell phone ring.

It’s impossible.

For this Founders Interview at the ED offices, Bane promised not to take any phone calls. Which doesn’t mean he didn’t pick up his phone every time it vibrated, just to see who was calling. “I’m expecting a call from a Judicial Assistant. If he calls, I have to take it. But that’s the only one, I promise.” The Judicial Assistant doesn’t call, so for the next few hours Frank Bane is all mine.

Regarding the aforementioned womb, the one that Frank Bane exited from was, frankly, that of industry royalty. His mother, Rita Bane, is the true founder of the Continental Theatrical Agency, the most well-known and longest-operating booking agency in the history of the adult entertainment industry. And Rita was a star long before she ever founded Continental. Known as Rita Atlanta, she was an accomplished and globally recognized burlesque dancer, who graced stages all across Europe and America.

Whether he knew it or not, with that kind of pedigree, Frank Bane was destined to be a major player in the adult nightclub industry. While Rita may have launched the agency and ran it while her son was off at college, he soon enough returned home to take over the reigns of the agency, which makes him as much of a founder as his mother. A founder not only of the Continental Agency, but also a founder, innovator and a proponent of the concept of club owners augmenting the entertainment they routinely offer by periodically offering something special: a feature entertainer. 

Preferably one booked by Continental.

Personally, I have known Frank Bane longer than any other person in our industry. I knew him back when he had a ponytail. 

The first stories and ads in the Annual EXOTIC DANCER Directory were about and from Continental. Bane spoke on the booking agency panel at the very first Gentlemen’s Club EXPO in 1993 (and yes, that is him on a pay phone at the Stardust Casino at EXPO 1993 on the preceding page).

You would expect a man who has spent four decades on the phone with demanding club owners and even more demanding entertainers to have ulcers, loads of face wrinkles, white hair, or no hair at all, and to look much, much older than their actual age.

Not so with Frank Bane. 

Aggravatingly so. 

He looks the same today as he did at that first EXPO 30 years ago.

*    *     *

Frank Bane was born in Washington, DC at Walter Reed Hospital in 1960. His father was a career Air Force officer, a navigator, so they moved around a lot. He has a brother who was born in London, and a half-brother who was born in Austria. His mother, Rita, was also born in Austria, where she became “The Champagne Girl,” a well known touring burlesque performer who danced on the European circuit. His father met her in Luxembourg. “My father caught her show, and the next thing you know they’re on the Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic to come to the United States.”

Bane never asked his mother why she went into burlesque. “I wish I would have asked more detailed questions and taken notes. After your parents pass away, you think, ‘Well, damn, I should have asked them more questions.’ I think she did it out of necessity. Her mother died when she was six years old, and her father was always in bad health because he fought in World War I and was gassed in the trenches in France. He passed away shortly after World War II, and she was just left looking for something. She started dancing around Vienna and then at various clubs, like the Moulin Rouge. There is a professor from Bowling Green University who used to call me periodically. He has gathered a huge collection of the history of the burlesque business. He traces it back all the way to the 1870s, so there’s a long history of burlesque.”

Stateside, the family moved from one military base to the next. After Bane’s father retired from the Air Force, he would accompany Rita on her burlesque bookings. But in 1964, he died of a heart attack, just four years after Frank was born.“He was out on a job with my mother. My mother was driving the car 90 miles an hour through downtown Kansas City trying to get him to a damned emergency room because of that heart attack. But she didn’t get him there in time.” 

With young children to care for, no husband and no money, Rita had to make a hard decision; she went back to Europe to dance. “She had to go off and make a living. There was a family she found that she trusted to look after us. I’m still in connection with that family to this day, 60 years later. I spent the next four years with them while she worked the European circuit, saved up enough scratch to come back to the United States, buy a house and gather the family back together again.” That family included John, a man who became part of her and Frank’s life. “They were never really married, but he was kind of a stepdad to me.” The new family eventually moved to a farm in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin.

Yes, the industry’s longest operating booking agent used to work on a farm.

*    *     *

WAITT: Why Wisconsin? 

BANE: My mother had traveled through clubs in the Midwest. My mother’s booking agent, Bob Harris, had booked her into a lot of Midwestern clubs, and she liked Wisconsin. Harris wanted to get out of the agency business, so he sold the agency to my stepfather.

WAITT: Growing up, what were your hobbies and interests at that time?

“I was just trying to help out when I got into the agency. But the thing is, I turned out to be pretty good at it.”

BANE: I was on the track team for a short period of time, but that didn’t last very long. I mainly worked on the farm while I was in high school. Farm kids get up, do some farming before going to school and then they do some more farming when they get back in the afternoon.

WAITT: So, who ran the agency?

BANE: Mostly my mother. My stepdad bought the thing, but my mother loved the agency business.

But tragedy had a way of finding Bane and his mother. One day on the farm, his stepfather was attacked and killed by one of their bulls. “It was his prized Norwegian Red Bull, 1,800 pounds of bull. Bulls can get ornery sometimes, and they’re unpredictable. He wasn’t gored, because the bull had been de-horned, but that didn’t stop an attack. They call it grubbing. They get you down on the ground and use their head to push down on you and crush your ribs. I was 23.” Bane had just gotten a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin, and was about to start a job, but he returned home to run the farm since his mother was busy running the booking agency. 

BANE: When my stepfather died, I didn’t come back to run the agency. I came back to do the farm duties.

WAITT: Which were?

BANE: Well, it changed over the years. We started out just raising beef cattle and pigs. But it subsequently became a dairy farm, milking cows. My ambition was to expand the farming operation. I bought a 100-acre parcel and an 86-acre parcel, stitched them together and tried to make a go of the farming thing, while my Mom did the agency work. 

WAITT: So you come back and you’re milking cows, but at a certain point you get involved in the agency business. 

BANE: It happened fairly quickly. Mom needed help with that, so I was answering phone calls, meeting people, that kind of thing. Somewhere along the line, I started splitting the duties with her.

WAITT: What year did your mother switch and start calling it the ‘‘Continental Theatrical Agency’?

BANE: From its inception. She couldn’t call it the ‘Bob Harris Agency’ anymore. 

WAITT: Did you ever ask her why that name: Continental Theatrical Agency?

BANE: You have to go back to around 1975. At that time, there was an agent named Paul Jordan who booked girls all around Boston. Wayne Keller booked girls around Nashville. Jess Mack was in Las Vegas. There was Irving Sharnoff in New York City. There were other agents and they all booked in one particular area. So my Mom’s idea, and my Stepdad’s, was to book the whole country.

WAITT: And thus the name Continental?

BANE: I think that was the idea.

Frank Bane and Don Waitt

WAITT: I met your mother once or twice. She was very tiny. And if I remember, kind of quiet. Not at all what you expect from a booking agent. Most people who have never met an agent think they are all like the bombastic agent Ari Gold from the HBO series Entourage.

BANE: There are people who would disagree with you about her being quiet. She could be very talkative and loved talking to the girls on the phone. It was a great pleasure in her life to be an agent and to be arranging the bookings and talking to the girls all the time.

WAITT: Was the agency business something you wanted to do or did you feel an obligation to do it as the son?

BANE: I was just trying to help out when I first got into it. But the thing is, I turned out to be pretty good at it. People started calling and instead of asking for Mom, they started asking for me. I made money in the agency business. It was building and it was prospering. While on the other hand, farming, although my original interest was in that, farming was a hard business to make money.

WAITT: So, you could either milk cows or work with strippers. Seemed like an easy choice.

BANE: I did get to hang out at stripclubs, but not as much as you would think. Remember, we were operating this agency off of a farm, out in the middle of nowhere.

WAITT: You have had a phone of one type or another pressed to your ear over the last 40 years, more than anybody else in this industry. Think about it, you’ve used landlines, pay phones, headsets, cell phones.. 

BANE: Yeah, the whole works. I’ve personally seen the technology evolve so dramatically over the years. I remember when I got my first fax machine; what a thing that was! I couldn’t wait for everybody else to get a fax machine so I’d have people to fax with. I’ve watched as telephone communication has gotten so much better over the years. I remember when I got my first cell phone. Oh, what a relief that was! Now I could have a life. I was free. I could leave the office, leave the landline, and go do what I wanted to do. I remember the first time I answered a phone call with my Motorola flip phone at my favorite watering hole. Everybody stared at me. Where’s the phone cord, you know?

WAITT: You make the career move from farming to talent agency work and end up owning and running the most successful booking agency in our business. Looking back, was that the right move? Do you ever wish you had not gone in that direction and had done something different? 

BANE: I do have regrets for some missed opportunities. Duane Cassano offered me the opportunity to buy into Big Al’s in Peoria, Illinois. The club was not doing great business. He bought it from his brother. He tells me $50,000 and I can have half of it. But I had just bought that 86-acre parcel of land for the farm, so I had to pass. It turned out to be a great club. It started making $80,000 a week. A few years later, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin and bought a house. Right after I spent all that money, Duane calls me and says, “Hey, we’re putting together a riverboat casino and we’re looking for investors.” I said, “I can’t do it; I just bought a house.” So, of course, the casino takes off like a rocket. They sell it for $240 million dollars.

And I’m sitting there, thinking, oh shit. I had these opportunities, you know. So you don’t regret the line of work you’re in, but you do regret not being able to jump on some opportunities.

WAITT: Did you ever want to own a strip club?

BANE: I didn’t really want to own a club because I didn’t know how to run a club. I was traveling in New York City once, and Barry Lisbon from Flashdancers offered me a deal to come in on his club he was about to open. He was down there, in his blue jeans, swinging a hammer, remodeling Flashdancers to turn it into a stripclub. I didn’t feel able to do it at the time. And it also turned out to be a great club.

WAITT: When did you move from Wisconsin to St. Petersburg, Florida?

BANE: My mother had bought a house in St. Pete Beach in 1986 and was leasing it out. But she always knew that was where she wanted to go. In 1993 we made the move. I bought a house there and we bought an office nearby.

“I would sleep in a bedroom at the office on Saturday nights because the damn phone would be blowing up.”

Bane is married and has five children, three girls and two boys, ranging in age from 12 to 25. Four of them are with his wife of 22 years, Christina. His son Joshua has been working with Bane at the agency and recently attended EXPO 2023 in Las Vegas. “He has been to some other industry events. I’m getting him acclimated to the industry. He’s on board as a junior agent. He has talents and skills that I don’t possess. He knows how to do things on the internet, how to do social networking.”

WAITT: No one goes to school to learn to be a booking agent. Obviously, Rita learned because she was in the system. How about yourself? 

BANE: I learned from her. And I went on these tours across the country to clubs that she booked. I used to drive all over the place in the 1980s with my old Rand McNally maps. I’d go to various contests and bookings to visit the girls. 

WAITT: You say you actually turned out to be a good agent. What do you think your strength was? Was it convincing club owners to book the feature or making the entertainer feel good with you as their agent? 

BANE: It was both. I didn’t mind being on the phone all the time with the clubs and the entertainers. I was out in a remote area on the farm, so I worked long hours. By 10 in the morning, I’d be answering calls all the way until late at night. I’d put in long, long hours. I was always available. That was a time before cell phones. I made a lot of sales. I broke into some new markets. There was an older porn star by the name of Candy Samples. I met her at one of the award shows. She grabbed me by the hand and took me to all her pornstar friends and said, “This is my agent.” She helped me get launched. And I was dealing with the Russ Meyer girls. He had all these big busted girls. So I had Kitten Natividad, and all of them.

For readers who have never booked a feature entertainer, or any type of specialty act, into their club, here’s how a booking agency like Continental works. An agent from the company contacts you through the mail or email or by phone and encourages you to consider booking one of their acts at your club. An offer will be:

1) Showgirls: Entertainers with choreographed dance routines and elaborate costumes. They may not have much name recognition, but they will put on a great stage show for your customers.

2) Porn stars: Women who have appeared in adult movies, from feature-length films to volume-oriented, reality porn. They will have name recognition, but for the most part, don’t expect them to light the stage afire with their dance moves or their costumes.

3) Specialty Acts: From little people (midgets to you non-PC folks) to super-super busty entertainers to duo acts to contortionists to sexy magicians. The uniqueness, and unusualness, of their attributes or shows will draw customers interested in something new and different.

4) Celebrity Acts: Social media stars, political stars, reality TV stars, in-the-news stars or anyone whose claim to fame is fleeting but who can draw crowds because of their current popularity or notoriety. Don’t expect much, if any, stage work.

5) Magazine Centerfolds: This market segment is pretty much dead on the vine, but in the past it included Penthouse Pets and centerfold stars from such men’s magazines as Cheri, Hustler Busty Beauties, Score and Leg Show. Like the porn stars, magazine covergirls and centerfolds were able to build up a fan base before they appeared on a stage.

The cost for booking a feature depends on a number of factors, from how well-known the entertainer is, or isn’t, to how many shows she will do at your club. The norm is two to three shows a night, usually on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The buyer pays by the show, anywhere from $150 a show for newcomer showgirls to $500-plus per show for established porn stars. The feature usually handles her own transportation costs, although bigger name porn stars requite airfare, and the club provides a hotel room for the feature and makes sure she has transportation to and from the hotel to the club. The agent, for arranging and monitoring the booking, receives a 15 percent commission from the money paid to the feature.

WAITT: Are booking agents more car salesmen or more therapists?

BANE: More of a therapist sometimes dealing with the acts, but not with the club owners. With the clubs it’s just a nuts and bolts business thing. You know, is this girl going to be popular? Are my customers going to like her? How’s her track record? How does she look? By the way, I did sell cars for a period of time when I got out of college. And I wasn’t a very good car salesman. 

WAITT: What attributes are important to have if you want to be a good agent? Say you were interviewing to hire another agent.

BANE: Number one, I want people who listen rather than run their mouth all the time. You can’t satisfy the customer if you’re talking all the time and don’t listen to them when they’re talking. So I want somebody who’s calm, who listens and who is thoughtful. And then, of course, there are the ordinary things you look for in any employee. You have to be there, show up to work every day and you have to answer your phone.

WAITT: You mentioned that in the old days you were on call pretty much 24 hours a day. Is that still the same situation? 

BANE: I used to never get any sleep. At my old office in St. Pete Beach, I had a bedroom. I would sleep there on Saturday nights because I knew that the damn phone would be blowing up. First on the East Coast and then as the bar time started shifting to Central time and all the way out to Pacific time. Issues would be happening all across the country and the phone calls would be coming in. 

Back then it was crazy at times. There was the partying and rampant drug use, all kinds of things. I remember (agent) Steve Chase had an entertainer call him on the phone once and say, “I’m calling you now while I sound perfectly reasonable and sober, but I’m not going to work tonight because I just took two hits of acid and I’m going to be out of my mind in an hour.” But now it has changed. It’s better. People are more professional now.

WAITT: When your phone does ring now, say after midnight, who is usually calling? The entertainer or someone from the club? 

BANE: If it’s after midnight, it’s usually about a payout issue of some sort, so they’re both there. But even that doesn’t happen so much anymore. We do contracts and they are very explicit about how many shows the entertainer is doing and what the payout is supposed to be. Everybody signs the contract. So in a perfect world, we’ve done the contract, the girl shows up, and we don’t get a phone call from anybody.

WAITT: But if you do get a phone call and it’s from a feature entertainer, what is the call most often about? 

BANE: The hotel sucks. I deserve better than this. They put me in a hotel that doesn’t have room service,’ or ‘I’m hungry and there’s no food here,’ or, ‘There’s a cockroach in the bathroom.’ Another reason is usually some other kind of snafu. ‘I was supposed to change planes in Dallas with a short layover, and now my layover is seven hours and I might have to spend the night here and miss some shows.’

WAITT: It’s interesting to me that one of the reasons isn’t a complaint about the club owner or a staffer trying to hit on the entertainer.

BANE: I don’t get too much of that now. It used to happen more a long time ago. The club industry has really solidified, become much more professional. Now there are the club chains, the Ricks clubs, the Deja Vu clubs, The Pony Clubs, etc. They’re very well organized and run professionally. The management is sharp. These guys just do a great job. 

Jerry Westland’s clubs (the Pony Clubs chain), for example. I send girls there, and I never get a complaint. They’re treated like family, they’re cared for, they’re looked after. I can go to sleep at night and not worry about it. Jerry keeps his managers for a long time and they love working for him. I don’t know how he gets them, but he has gems running his places. 

I think that’s a sign of a great club owner when their people stick with them year after year. He treats them right and they take it right down the line and treat my feature perfectly. 

WAITT: If you get a phone call and it’s from the club, what are the two reasons they’re calling?

BANE: ‘She doesn’t look like her pictures.’ 

WAITT: And number two? 

BANE: Occasionally there’s someone that drinks too much. Or she’s not showing up on time. 

WAITT: When do your calls start and when do they end on average?

BANE: I get calls sometimes as early as nine in the morning. It’s amazing. Some club owners are at it first thing in the morning. They go in and they do their business and then they have their managers take care of things later on at night. Then I have other guys who are just up all night. I get a lot of text messages now, which is great. Text messaging just took over. So a lot of people don’t call me late at night anymore.

WAITT: Over the years, what are some of the craziest things that have happened to features you’ve booked? 

BANE: I had a feature who was working in Milwaukee. It was her first ever booking. The door guy took her out for dinner and when they came back to the club there was an issue with another driver over a parking spot. All of a sudden the window rolls down on the other car and the guy sticks out a shotgun and kills the poor door guy. The feature quit the business on the spot.

WAITT: Any other stories, not quite as deadly?

BANE: There was a club called the Fuzzy Grape in Massachusetts that had an upstairs apartment where the features stayed. I had a feature in there one time who did a snake act. One of those big boa constrictors. It had become unmanageable, so when she moved out of the apartment, she just left the snake there and didn’t say anything to anyone. The snake found a warm place near the water heater and just hid. Couple of weeks later I had Topsy Curvy booked at the club and she went to the apartment at three in the morning and when she opened the door she was greeted by this 100-pound, 10-foot-long snake. She almost had a heart attack. She went running down the street screaming her lungs out.

“You have to shift gears every now and then. Your customers will get bored if you keep running the same thing.”

WAITT: Any more?

BANE: One day I got a call from a feature. I was at the farm in Wisconsin. The woman says, “So how about those jobs? You said you were going to put me here and there and some other place.” And I said, “I don’t remember talking to you. Exactly when did I promise you jobs at this place and that place, and the other place?” And she says, “Well, it was last week that you told me.” And I said, “I don’t recall talking to you last week.” And she said, “Yes you did. It was out here in Las Vegas. Remember? In the hot tub.” Then it hit me. I’m sitting at my desk for 12 hours a day, and some other prick is calling himself Frank Bane, promising girls jobs and getting laid in a hot tub in Las Vegas.”

WAITT: Did you ever find out who it was? 

BANE: No, I never did find out who the culprit was. What a great scam though.

WAITT: Your website says, “Continental does not specialize in booking a certain type of feature. We’re an agency that covers the whole field, like general practitioners. We book new beginner entertainers, showgirls and centerfolds, adult film tars, novelty acts and pop-culture celebrities.” Why is it important to point that out?

BANE: I want the clubs to know there’s a wide variety of people or features that they can have. Oftentimes the clubs will be stuck on one particular kind of thing. They’ll book showgirl after showgirl after showgirl. And they need to know that you have to shift gears every now and then. Change it up a little bit. Your customers will get bored if you keep running the same thing. I recommend they mix it up a little bit to reach out to different market segments in their area.

WAITT: I’ve heard from club operators that another benefit to booking features is that, for the club’s staff and entertainers, a feature booking brings some much-needed excitement to the club.

BANE: Yes. It can get boring for your staff and entertainers, as well as your customers, if you do the same thing over and over again. If they don’t run features, the club is just advertising two-for-one drink specials and a free buffet all the time. That’s not enough. Their business will gradually slide. It will diminish a little bit all the time as their brand wears down. You have to refresh it.

WAITT: When I interviewed other industry founders like Harry Mohney and Michael Peter, they emphasized making the club’s entertainment great. They said if you want to be successful, you’ve got to focus on your entertainment. They didn’t even specify the dancers. They just said the entertainment value. 

BANE: I was so surprised when I first started booking little people. Customers came out of the woodwork to see them. I thought I was taking a risk the first time I booked a little person feature, but the club owner called me all excited and said the club had run out of beer. Tiny Texie has been a big part of our agency ever since I met her in 2019. She draws huge crowds and is booked constantly. It breathes a whole new breath of fresh air into the club when you do new things. Which you can do by booking features or doing contests. In the regular nightclub business, Joe’s Disco or whatever, they know that every five years they have to reinvent themselves because their brand will diminish over a period of time. So they remodel and rebrand and offer something different and try to make another five-year run out of it.

WAITT: In the early 2000s, there were — what we at ED Publications liked to call — the Great Booking Agency Wars. There was the Continental Theatrical Agency with you and agent (the late) Ken Shinkle; Jim and Ann Marie Hayek at the Pure Talent Agency; Tony and Eleanor Bucci at Universal Entertainment; Mike Rose with the Rose Agency; and Tony Indovina and Steve Chase with The Lee Network. You were all duking it out, fighting over features and clubs. What was it like back then, compared to now? The knives were certainly out.

BANE: The knives were actually out starting in the 1980s. There were all these little agents all over the place. Shortly after I got into the business, there was a dancer by the name of Lucky Love who was finishing up her career as a dancer. That was Eleanor Bucci who started the Universal Entertainment Agency. She was a contemporary with my Mom. There was some pretty serious competition between her agency and ours. I would book one club in the town, and Eleanor would book another club in the town.

I remember one of my stars at the time who did so much for me was Melissa Wolf. The way I got her to come with my agency was, when she was booked down in El Paso I told her to go compare the club Eleanor had booked her at and the club that I booked in El Paso. Because often we had the better club. So that’s how she came over to me.

Frank Bane and Eleanor Bucci at EXPO 2003

WAITT: When I talk the agency wars, it was more the new kids on the block, the Hayeks, the Roses, etc. So what was your reaction when they came along and how did you weather that? 

BANE: At the time, there was a little bit of annoyance. Anne Marie had been a touring feature entertainer named Lauren Fox. I booked her all over the place. All of a sudden she decided, ‘Well, I’m going to be an agent now and try to book features into all these clubs which I happen to know because you booked me into them.’ Mike Rose, similar thing. His wife or girlfriend at the time was a Penthouse Pet who was a feature. He was traveling around with her. So he started his own agency. There are no hard feelings now. Back then it was just unwanted competition. I like them both. Mike went on to become a successful club operator and I book his features.

WAITT: As far as showgirl feature bookings go, you have pretty much become the last agent standing. Why do you think you outlasted them all? 

BANE: I don’t know. Anne Marie went on to do other things, booking casinos or something. Mike Rose hooked up with (the late) Jerry Reid Sr. and got his toehold in the nightclub business. Turned out he had a talent for it. Dave’s still there (Dave Michaels of A-List Features, started by Michaels after he left The Lee Network). People don’t realize how big Dave is. I have always branched out to do other things. I went back and got my law degree. I try to do things where there’s a mutual reinforcing thing between the new things I am doing and the agency business. We work for nightclub owners. We do represent the girls in the talent agency, but we deal with club owners and we try to provide them with services. 

WAITT: When I first got into this industry, I was surprised to hear that many club owners like it when another adult club, a competing club, opens a few blocks from them. The reason being, it now gives a customer two reasons to come to that area. Is it tougher now for you to get new clubs since you are really the only one on the phone extolling the virtues of booking a feature? 

BANE: In a way, yes. In the old days, there’d be three or four clubs in a town and Eleanor would talk one of them into booking features. The next thing you know, my phone starts ringing from the other clubs. There’s definitely some spillover benefit. 

WAITT: It seems to me that the late 1990s and early 2000s were the height of the feature business. There’s no question that as we sit here in 2023, it’s not as big.

BANE: It’s a changing market. There are fewer clubs, too. Some of the clubs out there now are doing great, but they don’t have as many clubs to compete with as they used to have to. Fewer clubs means less competition and less need for features in order to compete.

“Club owners started asking for girls with the most Twitter and Instagram followers.”

WAITT: What about the quality of the features? If you went to the EXPO 20 years ago, a feature would not step on the tradeshow floor without her hair done, her makeup perfect, dressed to kill in a dress or a gown. Today you see features on the EXPO tradeshow floor wearing sweats, or cut-off shorts and sandals. There are some who would say the quality of the showmanship and the professionalism of today’s feature does not match that from the past.

BANE: Yes, maybe there were some great features in the past. But I think you’re looking at it with rose-colored nostalgia glasses. There were problem features back then. There were mediocre features back then. And there are great ones out there now, too. They just pop up. 

WAITT: Some club operators blame agencies for the decline, saying the agencies were selling features to clubs who did not have the talent, experience or looks to be features?

BANE: That’s because clubs are looking for different things now. We get calls that say, ‘You know you sent me the best stage performer in the world, but she didn’t increase my traffic at all.’ So club owners started asking for girls with the most Twitter followers, or the most Instagram followers. Who do I have that has the biggest reach on social network marketing? They’re looking for who’s going to draw customers in the door, and that’s not always the same thing as who’s going to put on the best show on their stage.

Jim Hayek, Bane, Ann Marie Hayek and the late Ken Shinkle

WAITT: In the past, being a feature who could get lots of bookings was all about having credits, either from spreads in men’s magazines like Cheri or Penthouse, or appearances in adult movies like Behind the Green Door or New Wave Hookers. But the men’s magazine business has disappeared, and feature-length adult movies have been replaced with reality porn like Butt Bangers Volume 38. So how do you sell girls now without credits?

BANE: The value of credits has diminished. Behind the Green Door, Marilyn Chambers was in huge demand. They paid top dollar to book her. And then came these VHS tapes going around the country, and everybody seemed to be a porn star all of a sudden. And we thought, ‘Oh, there will never be a great star again.’ Then, all of a sudden, we had big stars again like Amber Lynn and Christy Canyon and Teri Weigel. They always seem to come along. The internet age is no different; we are seeing new features rise to the top again, this time as a result of online exposure.

WAITT: But you’re selling them now more on their social media presence because they don’t have magazine or porn credits.

BANE: That’s right. 

WAITT: Who is harder to deal with, the feature entertainer or the guy who’s on the road with her, be it her husband, her boyfriend or her roadie; those guys who are sometimes unflatteringly referred to as suitcase pimps? Are they a benefit or a hindrance?

BANE: Generally, I like them now because typically they help organize everything and make sure things go smoothly. Now, in the past, we had problems. Oh, geez, we had fights in the clubs, abusive boyfriends. I had a pornstar feature, and her boyfriend had a dispute with the hotel front desk lady and called her an ‘old cunt.’ She’s like 70 years old, so they get thrown out of the hotel in the middle of the night. And of course they call me. But now, a lot of the ones who travel with the features are just helpful.

WAITT: I have the utmost respect for feature entertainers. They go to a city they’ve never been to before, usually by themselves. They go into a club packed with type A aggressive girls, jealous of the stage time and attention the feature is getting. And a week later, they’re off to another new town.

BANE: I have always tried to send them to clubs where I know the people well. Some times there are weird family connections. For example, Albert Bortz from Blush in Pittsburgh. He’s retired now. But my mother used to dance for his family when they ran clubs in Pittsburgh. So when I was sending girls to Pittsburgh, we knew the girl was going to be safe. She was going to be well-treated. And it was that way for a lot of clubs. 

If I had a new club, I had certain girls who I would tell, you’re the guinea pig feature, the first one going in. You’re the one testing the waters to see how this works. I had some people that were eager to do that. Melissa Wolf comes to mind. She loved being the first feature in town, because it was new and exciting and all the crowd wanted to come in and throw money at her. Not everybody wanted to take that risk. But Melissa would go in and blaze the trail. And once I saw that the club worked out, the other features would follow.

“I always tell the features, ‘One of the reasons to do contests is so you can see what the competition is doing.’”

WAITT: Over the years there have been very few black feature entertainers, which is surprising given the growth of urban adult clubs and also of black actresses playing leading roles in major motion pictures and TV shows. Why is that not spilling over to the feature industry?

BANE: Years ago there was a circuit of black clubs, urban clubs, as they’re called now, and they had their own clientele. I tried to serve that market for a while. (Former Continental agent) Harry Hardenbrook was quite good at it. We used to book Midori, Janet Jackme, a bunch of black porn stars and they were very popular. But for some reason, the circuit wasn’t big enough to sustain itself. It didn’t transfer over into the white clubs at that time in terms of black porn stars. Now there are some really talented black showgirls breaking through. The audiences are more mixed now, and the black showgirl talent is undeniable. You had a black showgirl win her division at your EDI West contest this year (Miss Galaxy). 

Frank Bane networking

WAITT: Samantha Jones ran all the national entertainer pageants before Rio Rivers bought them. What’s your best Samantha Jones story? 

BANE: I didn’t really work with Sam that much. She was very close with my mother, who supplied girls for her contests. It was a good working relationship. My mother and Sam were thick as thieves putting those contests together. Sam always paid us a bonus, not very much, a hundred bucks a head or something like that. And it was an opportunity for us to see the features all in one place and for them to see each other, which is important. I always tell the features, ‘One of the reasons to do contests is so you can see what the competition is doing.’ Because these girls are doing musical chairs going around the country. They don’t get to see what shows other features are doing. 

WAITT: Do you agree that these pageants and contests are great for introducing new features to the business? 

BANE: Rio’s contests are like that. With the EDIs (ED’s Exotic Dancer Invitationals), you’re mostly using established features. And some of the other contest promoters do all-star feature showcases. Rio’s the only one who’s really working from the ground, up. She catches a lot of flack from people saying, you know, some of your girls should have been left home. But there’s always a certain percentage of the ones she finds that turn out to be great.

I liken her to baseball scouts for a small market team. Like scouts out there in the Dominican Republic watching kids play baseball and occasionally they find a star and bring them back to America and they wind up in the major leagues at the small market team. But then the Yankees offer them big money and they leave. The beauty of it is that she brings up a new crop. Some of them are going to be successful and a lot of them are not going to be successful. And the ones who are successful tend to walk away and say, ‘I’m not doing Rio’s contests anymore because now I’m a star,’ or something like that.

WAITT: You mentioned Eleanor Bucci earlier. I once asked her if she ever had a problem with features she had booked not paying her the agency commission. Eleanor said, “I never have a problem. That’s why God made lead pipes.” She was very tough. Do you agree?

BANE: Yes, I agree. She had a reputation. She could be hard. She was better at collecting money. Right now, we don’t have much of a collection problem. As I said, the business has become more organized, more honest. It’s very rare that I get ripped off anymore. 

Today, I complain if it takes somebody two weeks to pay me instead of one week. But back in the ‘90s, we were bringing new people in from the adult film industry, we were trying them out, and we’d get stiffed on a regular basis. I used to write off 10 percent of my revenues as just noncollectable. 

WAITT: Do you think Eleanor had to be tough because the industry back then was so male-dominated? You have a woman who’s talking to these club owners, talking to these girls, and so she has to give the impression she’s tough.

“(Back then) features had to experience a lot of things for the first time, problems that seem to be solved now.”

BANE: I don’t think she was making it up. She was naturally tough. But there’s always a market for a female agent out there. A lot of club owners liked talking to Eleanor, liked talking to my mother, and I’m not sure what the reason for it was, but they felt comfortable dealing with them. A lot of club owners preferred talking to Ann Marie when she was booking.

WAITT: Eleanor also told me that when she was a burlesque dancer, if a new girl came to the club, when she first went on stage the other dancers would unscrew a light bulb, cover it with a handkerchief and break the glass into tiny pieces. Then they would sprinkle it into the new girl’s powdered foundation makeup so that when she brushed it onto her face the shards of glass would lacerate her face. And entertainers today complain when someone says something mean about them on Twitter. Do today’s features realize how tough touring used to be?

BANE: No, they don’t. Back then there weren’t all these hotel chains, features would be going to a town out in the middle of nowhere and they would have to stay at the Scenic Inn where you had to have a key to get in from outside. They had to experience a lot of things for the first time, problems that seem to have been solved now. 

But there were some good things back then. When my mother was dancing in this country in the early 1960s, there was a theater circuit. They hadn’t become porno theaters yet; they were burlesque theaters. And she’d travel around and be the dancer. And there’d be a baggy pants comic and a live band. And there was a certain camaraderie amongst the girls who traveled around together that way.

Bane with Dave Michaels of A-List Features

WAITT: You’ve had a number of agents work with you at Continental. Perhaps the best known was Ken Shinkle, who passed away a few years ago, and who was with the agency for six years. He was on board during the agency wars. How valuable was Ken to your agency?

BANE: Ken was a mixed blessing, okay? He was hard to deal with. He was a difficult character, you know. There were some girls that loved him, and he looked after those girls. As the owner of the agency, I appreciated that somebody was taking care of those girls. He was a good agent, but he could be bossy and controlling and manipulative and aggressive. I got tired, quite honestly, of having to soothe people.

WAITT: At one point you were sharing office space with Dave Michaels and his agency, A-List Features.

BANE: We used to be partners in that we would share revenues. We don’t really do that anymore, but we’re still friends and neighbors. Our kids go to the same school and we do the carpool thing together. Dave has become very big in the adult film star features business. We both draw from the same pool of girls. When he does recruiting of adult film stars and I do recruiting for showgirls and novelty acts, we get a big pool together. He draws from it and I draw from it. 

WAITT: So he’s booking the same girls as you, but just at different venues?

BANE: Yes. He has his own set of clubs that he books. 

WAITT: When you were competing with other agencies, what was better for you: an exclusivity with a club or an exclusivity with a feature? 

BANE: Obviously it depends on the feature. We used to have exclusive girls and exclusive clubs. But the clubs are there longer. The girls, they get married, they retire. COVID crushed the agency business. I had some great exclusive clubs that kept coming back to me, especially The Pony Clubs. Quite honestly, I don’t think the agency would have survived if it had not been for them.

WAITT: As if you aren’t busy enough, you went to college a few years back to get your law degree. Why?

BANE: I was getting ready to sit down for the law school admission test in 1983. I had graduated the University of Wisconsin and I was working some construction jobs in the meantime. That was my next step. My stepdad got killed by the bull. I went back to look after the farm, started working in the talent agency business, started making money, and somehow passing the bar to become an attorney got pushed to the back burner, and then the burner behind that. So in 2008 I went to Stetson University here in town and graduated in 2012. I got my law degree and my master’s in business administration at the same time.

WAITT: Did you do it more for personal satisfaction, and not really as a way to make a living? 

BANE: I’m doing more of it now. It’s building up. And when COVID hit, thank God I had a law job. It helped carry me through. I did a lot of immigration work. I had one case that I wound up arguing before the Florida Supreme Court. 

“We used to have exclusive girls and exclusive clubs. But the clubs are there longer. The girls get married.”

WAITT: Did you win?

BANE: No, but it was worth a try. And it was quite a privilege.

WAITT: For a club owner who has never done a booking, describe an average booking.  

BANE: The price per show depends on whether it’s a lower price girl or a higher price girl. 

If they’re looking for adult film stars, I always tell them it’s going to wind up being a plane ticket from LA or Las Vegas, and a decent hotel. Usually these bookings now are for two days with two shows a day. The cost is anywhere from $400 a show to over a thousand a show, even $1,500 in some cases for porn stars. 

The showgirls make less on a per show basis, but oftentimes they do more shows per day and they might be at the club for three or four nights. Their per-show cost can range from anywhere from $100 to $150 a show for beginners, while the established showgirls can get $200 to $400 a show. 

One thing I’ll clarify on that is, a lot of it has to do with the number of shows, too. They’re cheaper by the dozen, so to speak.

It’s good to be Frank Bane

WAITT: What does the club owner need to do once he has got the booking?

BANE: They have to use social media. Many clubs are building up their own social networks to reach customers. The light box with the big, upcoming announcements poster in the lobby is very important. People see that and they think, oh yeah, maybe I’ll come in and see that show when it’s here next month.

WAITT: What’s the most money you — and the feature — ever made on a booking?

BANE: Amber Lynn was getting paid $18,000 a week. Those were in the days of 10 percent agency commission (today it’s 15 percent), so I made $1,800 every time I booked her. I think Ginger Lynn might have been getting similar numbers for a period of time. And on Morgana the Kissing Bandit I was making about $1,600 a booking in commissions.

WAITT: Was it worth the money to the clubs?

BANE: They would actually do well. They’d have lines around the block. And the customers wanted Polaroids at $20 a shot. It was a period of mass popularity for some of these girls.

WAITT: As an agent don’t you also act, to a degree, like a personal manager for some of the entertainers?

BANE: You do try to guide them and tell them what the route is to success. You tell them they have to be able to do good shows. You tell them they have to be able to promote themselves. Sometimes the advice changes over time. But always, if you start off with a good-looking girl, the rest of it is learned behavior. If she can put some decent shows together, if she can dance and do routines, if she can get some good costumes, and if she can do something that’s interesting on stage, she’ll be a success.

WAITT: Because of technology, you went from landlines and pay phones to a cell phone, and from printing and mailing out 8-by-10 glossies to simply emailing a link with a feature’s photos. Have those advancements helped or hurt your business?

BANE: Both. Email has been just fabulous. The office that I had on St. Pete Beach was 2,000 square feet and half of it looked like a post office. Each girl had her own box and a special mail slot for all their promo. They all had to be packaged, put in a UPS envelope and sent out. I was paying $400 a week in UPS charges to send out promo packets to the clubs. I replaced that 1,000 square foot thing with a thumb drive. I can just send them out now from the computer. 

WAITT: So that’s how it helped, but obviously it has got to hurt from the perspective of entertainers can now book direct, or attempt to book direct.

BANE: It happens, but not as much as I thought it would. I remember when my mother was still in the business and you were coming out with the very first EXOTIC DANCER Directory with detailed listings on all of the stripclubs across the country. She was very worried about it. She said, “Uh, oh! This horrible directory is coming out. It’s going to ruin our business.” But it didn’t. I kept the directory nearby and I used it. Every time something comes along, you think it’s going to short circuit your business but then you just adapt.

If a club owner is approached by a feature, who says, ‘Hey, book me direct, and I’ll charge you less,’ they shouldn’t do it. You want to go through an agent because we’ve got the contract, we’ve got the paperwork, we’ve got the history, we’ve got the knowledge. The club owner doesn’t know. He has just been quoted $400 a show and the girl has worked 10 other cities for $200 a show. We pitch the entertainers who do great shows and who are reliable. We back away from people who pull no shows, or cause other troubles. When you get somebody from us, we know that it reflects on us, so we try to put through people who are going to be a success. 

“Every time something comes along, you think it’s going to short circuit your business, but then you just adapt.”

WAITT: What changes have you seen in entertainers — both features and entertainers at the clubs — over the last 40 years?

BANE: Well, the function of them has changed. When I first got in it, there wasn’t really lap dancing. And then somewhere along the line it became VIP rooms behind curtains. When I got into it, it was pretty much stage dancing. Another change is that now the house girls are suing the clubs, biting the hand that feeds them, so to speak. So there are more legal issues that a club owner has to be mindful of.

WAITT: Is it hard to get entertainers today to become touring features?

Frank Bane and son Joshua

BANE: Features have a certain personality trait. Some girls are just driven to do shows. They take great pride in the performances and what they can do on stage. They want to be the best. You see that pop up whenever you go to your EDI contests. The girls are there showing their stuff. It’s not just them just chasing a higher show rate. They’re performers and they love it and they take pride in it. So there’s always going to be some of them. 

But if they turn around and say, ‘Well, I work at a really slamming club and it’s a damn gold mine and I’m making $1,000 a night and I still get to sleep in my bed at night, why should I go on the road?’ There’s no argument with that. I have that problem now with the adult film stars out in LA. It’s been hard to bring that part of the business back because, when COVID hit, they needed another source of revenue. They all got on OnlyFans and, to their great surprise, they started making $50,000 a month. So how do I get them back on the road? 

WAITT: Leaving out current touring features, who would be your favorite features from the last 30 years? Like if it were the Frank Bane Hall of Fame of Features?

BANE: There would be a Melissa Wolf, certainly (Note: Melissa was inducted into the ED Hall of Fame in 2000). She was great. She opened a lot of doors for me. She had a wonderful personality. She wanted to work all the time, and there was always work for her. There was a showgirl named Aura Lee who was great as a performer. Christina Aguchi was wonderful (Note: Christina was inducted into the ED Hall of Fame in 2021). I was sorry to see her retire.I’ll probably think of more names later on.  

WAITT: I see a lot of guys out there who are now in their 60s and 70s. Very few of them have sons, or daughters who are following them into the business. When I started, everybody in the industry was young, right? Now, the ownership, for the most part, is getting near retirement age, but I don’t see a lot of offspring filling in. What do you see happening to those clubs?

“They got on OnlyFans and started making $50,000 a month. So how do I get them back on the road?”

BANE: They’re probably going to be sold to the chains. They’re all buying. It seems the chains are trying to expand. 

WAITT: And what about for Continental? Is the plan for your son to take it over? 

BANE: Yes, Joshua will. It’ll be a few years of working with me before he can really wrap his head around the whole thing.

WAITT: So you see Continental living on?

BANE: It will change a little bit here and there. It morphs because we add services. We’re more than just a talent agency. Certainly the talent agency is the bedrock of it all, but we do more. 

NEXT ISSUE: The Founders Interview with a club owner and First Amendment rights maverick in the Midwest market: Dick Snow of Bazooka’s Showgirls in Kansas City, Missouri.

EXPO deal 1