Forty years ago, Dorothy Stratten, (Shortened from Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten) Canadian born, Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979 and Playmate of the Year in 1980, was murdered by a shotgun blast to her face by her estranged husband, Paul Snyder, before he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Just three years prior, in 1977, Stratten was attending Centennial High School in Coquitlam, British Columbia. and working part-time at a local Dairy Queen, where she met the 26-year-old Vancouver-area club promoter and pimp Snider, who began dating her. Snyder was known locally as "The Jewish Pimp". Snider later had a photographer take professional nude photos of her which were sent to Playboy Magazine in the summer of 1978. She was under the age of 19 (the legal age of majority in British Columbia), so she had to persuade her mother to sign the model release form.
In August 1978, she moved to Los Angeles, where she was chosen as a finalist for the 25th Anniversary Great Playmate Hunt. When Stratten arrived at the Playboy Mansion, she was very shy and naive. She was very uncomfortable with the casual nudity and sex. Several contemporary playmates including Pamela Bryant, Gail Stanton and Marcy Hanson befriended Stratten and protected her from some of Hefner's friends whom they considered to be predators. Snider joined her in October, and in June the following year, they married. At the time she became Playboy's Miss August 1979, she also began working as a bunny at the Playboy Club in Century City, Los Angeles. Hugh Hefner had high hopes that Stratten could have meaningful crossover success as an actress and become the star he had always wanted to represent the Playboy Brand. She was featured in episodes of the television series "Buck Rogers" and "Fantasy Island". She also had small roles in 1979 in Americathon and the roller disco comedy Skatetown, U.S.A. Here is Dorothy Stratten's Playboy reel:
Hefner reportedly encouraged Stratten to sever ties with Snider, calling him a "hustler and a pimp." Rosanne Katon and other friends warned Stratten about Snider's behavior. Stratten had spent the first two and a half months of 1980 completing her Playmate of the Year shoot and making her previous movie, "Galaxina", in Los Angeles. With all her work close to home, Snider assumed the role of his wife's chauffeur, as well as her business manager and acting coach. But Snider's near-constant presence, his criticism of and almost daily arguments with his wife, caused Stratten so much stress that her co-workers at Playboy and the "Galaxina" set couldn't help but notice.
On March 22, 1980, Stratten flew to New York City to begin work on what would be her last film project, "They All Laughed " , a romantic comedy being directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It would be Stratten's fifth movie in a career that had only begun the year before and represented her first substantial role in a big-budget picture, playing the unhappily-married love interest of John Ritter, one of the film's stars. Bogdanovich, who also wrote the screenplay, said in an interview that he had based the backstory of Stratten's character on what he'd learned about her marriage to Snider. Snider insisted on accompanying his wife to New York, but Stratten at least recognized the problems he could cause while she was making the most important picture of her young career. Also wanting the freedom to pursue a relationship with Bogdanovich, Stratten convinced Snider to remain in Los Angeles after explaining that the director had decided to close the set of his new film to all but the cast and immediate crew.
Stratten and Bogdanovich consummated their affair on the day after her arrival in New York.
In April, Stratten briefly returned to California to prepare for her upcoming introduction as the new Playmate of the Year and follow-on publicity tour. With several months of filming left to be completed in New York, this was the last time that she would live with Snider in their Los Angeles-area home.
On Wednesday, April 30, at a luncheon held on the grounds of Hefner's mansion, Stratten was presented to the assembled entertainment press as the 1980 Playmate of the Year. In his introductory remarks, Hefner noted that Stratten was from Canada and had received $200,000 in cash and gifts in addition to the title. In a fleeting comment, Hefner also acknowledged the effect that Stratten's charming combination of beauty, intelligence, and sensitivity had on many who knew her when he said, ". . and she is something rather special. They always are, but Dorothy is really quite unique." After taking the lectern, Stratten thanked Mario Casilli, the photographer who shot both her Playmate of the Month and Year pictorials, several Playboy executives, and finally Hefner, who she declared "has made me probably the happiest girl in the world today."
Later that evening, Stratten appeared as a guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson":
The next day Stratten began a two-week promotional tour of Canada. Having no events scheduled over the first weekend, on a whim she flew to New York to surprise Bogdanovich. Conflicted about her marriage now more than ever, Stratten wrote to her husband from Canada asking for more freedom in their relationship. With his wife beyond his immediate control and fearing the worst, upon reading her letter Snider telephoned from L.A. and flew into a rage when Stratten answered. The Canadian tour was arranged to end in her hometown of Vancouver so Stratten might relax for a few days with family before returning to work on "They All Laughed". But Snider appeared in Vancouver at the last minute, where he coerced her into spending some of her brief vacation making personal appearances at several local nightclubs.
Since Snider knew many of the club owners, he personally negotiated and collected Stratten's appearance fees and then pocketed the entire sum when she returned to New York City and Bogdanovich. During this time in Vancouver, it was reported that Stratten and Snider had a particularly heated argument. At some point during the fight Stratten offered to give up her acting career and suggested the couple permanently return to Canada, however, according to the story Snider, wanted to rebuffed his wife's attempt to rescue their marriage.
Here are in sequence segments one of ABC News profile of Dorothy Stratten, "The Death of a Playmate" Part 1:
In the days and weeks after Snider returned to Los Angeles, he found it increasingly difficult to get in touch with Stratten. Then in late June, just a few weeks after their first wedding anniversary, Snider received another letter from her, this one declaring that they were now physically and financially separated. Snider had several responses to the second letter: He emptied the couples' joint bank account, he had a brief affair with an old girlfriend, and now convinced that Stratten was having an affair of her own with Bogdanovich, Snider hired a private detective to gather evidence of his wife's infidelity.
As a foreign national living in the US without a green card that would allow him to hold a job and having no other source of regular income, Snider relied on Stratten financially, now through her business manager. Little was left over for extravagances, such as the expenses incurred by a private detective working a case 3,000 miles from home. So over the summer of 1980, Snider began selling Stratten's Playmate of the Year prizes at a loss for quick cash, the most notable example being a Jaguar sports car that Playboy had valued at $26,000.
Here is ABC News profile of Dorothy Stratten, "The Death of a Playmate" Part 2:
By mid-July, principal photography on They All Laughed was completed and the New York production wrapped. On Wednesday, July 30, Stratten and Bogdanovich flew back to Los Angeles after having spent a ten-day holiday in England. Stratten's official new L.A. residence was at the address of a newly-rented Beverly Hills apartment, but in actuality she had quietly moved into Bogdanovich's mansion in Bel Air.
At approximately noon on Friday, August 8th, Stratten and Snider saw each other for the first time in nearly three months at Snider's (and Stratten's former) house in West Los Angeles. After having already persuaded Stratten to pose for Playboy and then marry him, Snider was supremely confident before the meeting that he would convince his wife to take him back. But his hopes of a reconciliation were quickly shattered when Stratten admitted that she had fallen in love with Bogdanovich and wanted to finalize their separation. A dejected Snider agreed to meet Stratten one more time the following week to discuss a monetary settlement.
Here is ABC News profile of Dorothy Stratten, "The Death of a Playmate" Part 3:
Over the next five days, he would become obsessed with getting a gun. On August 9, the day after his meeting with Stratten, Snider and the private detective he'd hired went to a local gun store. After being told that the store couldn't sell him a firearm because of his Canadian citizenship, Snider asked the detective to buy the gun Snider wanted for him. The man said no. When Snider saw the private detective again the following day, he tried to convince the man to buy him a machine gun, for "home protection" as Snider explained, but the detective talked him out of the idea. The next day, August 11th, Snider drove out into the San Fernando Valley to look at a gun he'd found for sale in a newspaper. He got lost, however, and eventually gave up and went home before finding the owner's address.
On August 13, 1980 (which marked the two-year anniversary of the day that Stratten had first arrived in Los Angeles to begin her acting and modeling career), Snider bought a used, 12-gauge, pump action shotgun from a private seller he found in a local classified ad. Later that evening in a conversation with friends, Snider described how he had purchased a gun that day and finished his story by cryptically declaring that he was "going to take up hunting."
During the same conversation, barely more than 12 hours before the murder, an otherwise jovial Snider casually brought up the subject of Playmates who had unexpectedly died. In particular, he spoke of Claudia Jennings, an actress and former Playmate of the Year who had been killed in a car accident the year before. Snider made several morbid remarks to his companions related to the problems at Playboy magazine caused by Jennings' death, including a comment about how the editors will pull nude photos of a dead Playmate from the next issue if there's time.
Here is ABC News profile of Dorothy Stratten, "The Death of a Playmate" Part 4;
Stratten arrived for her meeting with Snider at his rented West Los Angeles house at approximately noon on Thursday, August 14. She had spent the morning conferring with her business manager, and one of the topics the pair discussed was the amount of the property settlement the Playmate would offer her estranged husband that afternoon. The police later found $1,100 in cash among Stratten's belongings in the house, which she had apparently brought for Snider as a down payment.
Towards the end of her morning meeting, Stratten's business manager made a fateful observation: that his young client could avoid spending any more time with her husband by handing off the remaining separation and divorce negotiations to her lawyer. Stratten replied that the process would go easier if she dealt with Snider personally, explaining that he was being nice about everything and finally adding, "I'd like to remain his friend."
Snider's two roommates had left in the morning, so the couple was alone when Stratten stepped into the house that she had shared with her husband until just a few months earlier. By all appearances, Stratten had spent some time in the living room, where her purse was found lying open, before she and Snider went into his bedroom.
By eight o'clock that evening, both of the roommates had returned to the house. They saw Stratten's car parked out front and noted that Snider's bedroom door was closed. Assuming that the couple had reconciled and wanted their privacy, the roommates spent the next several hours watching television in the living room.
Alerted by Snider's private detective, the roommates entered the bedroom shortly after 11 pm that night and discovered the bodies of Stratten and Snider. Each had been killed by a single blast from Snider's shotgun. Both bodies were nude. According to the police timeline, Snider had shot Stratten that afternoon within an hour of her arrival at the house. Snider then committed suicide approximately one hour after the murder.
Here is ABC News profile of Dorothy Stratten, "The Death of a Playmate" Part 5:
Sometime after midnight in the early morning of August 15, the private detective telephoned the Playboy Mansion and told Hefner that Stratten had been murdered. Hefner then called Bogdanovich. After collapsing at the news, Bogdanovich was sedated. Stratten's mother was told of her daughter's death at her Vancouver-area home later that morning by an RCMP Mountie.
Stratten's body was cremated and the remains interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery in Los Angeles. The remains of Hefner (d. 2017) and Marilyn Monroe (d. 1962), his magazine's first centerfold, are interred there as well. The epitaph on Stratten's grave marker includes a passage chosen by Bogdanovich from Chapter 34 of the Ernest Hemingway novel A Farewell to Arms.
In August 1981, one year after Stratten's death, "They All Laughed" had disappointing limited run in a handful of theaters in the southwest, the upper midwest, and the northeast, the picture was quietly withdrawn. Upset that what would be his only project with Stratten did not have a nationwide release, and determined that her last screen performance have a chance to be seen by a broader audience, Bogdanovich bought the theatrical rights to the picture. Out of his own pocket, he paid for a re-release of the film in nearly a dozen large markets across North America beginning in late 1981 and rolling into the following year. Despite generally favorable reviews and strong attendance in some theaters, Bogdanovich ultimately sank more than five million dollars, his entire net worth at the time, into the vanity project to properly promote and distribute the movie and rescue Stratten's film legacy. Bogdanovich declared bankruptcy in 1985. In the process, he lost his Los Angeles home where Stratten had lived for the last few weeks of her life.
Here is a scene of Stratten and actor John Ritter from "They All Laughed":
In August 1984, four years after Stratten's death, the publisher William Morrow released a book written by Bogdanovich titled "The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980." in an effort for a greiving Bogndonavich to try to make sense of the murder. The book is by turns a biography of Stratten, a memoir of Bogdanovich's affair and a scathing, feminist attack on Hefner, his Playboy philosophy and the hedonistic sexual mores he celebrated in his magazine and practiced at his mansion, and the entire Playboy organization. By far the most controversial part of the book is the director's claim that Hefner had sexually assaulted a then eighteen-year-old Stratten in August 1978. According to Bogdanovich's allegation the assault occurred while the two were alone in a secluded area of the Playboy Mansion at the end of Stratten's first day of posing for the magazine's photographer. (Bogdanovich chose to use the word "seduced" to describe Hefner's behavior in the book, however, he originally used the word "raped" in the drafts of his manuscript. Bogdanovich and the publisher made the change after being threatened with a lawsuit by Hefner's lawyers.)
Among the other allegations that Bogdanovich made in his book, the most significant are: 1) That Stratten had not married Snider out of love, but rather used her marriage as an excuse to block the advances of Hefner who, Bogdanovich claimed, pursued Stratten as a sexual partner after the purported assault, 2) That Stratten loathed nude modeling and dealing with Playboy in general, and only tolerated the humiliating work in order to promote her acting career, and 3) That Hefner was responsible, in part, for enabling Snider's killing rage when he was banned from entering the Playboy Mansion just days before the murder. Bogdanovich's underlying assertion for the last charge is that Snider was banned because Hefner hated the man. In his defense, Hefner explained that the purpose of the ban was to encourage Stratten and Bogdanovich to appear at the mansion as a couple.
Stratten's murder was depicted in two films. In the made-for-television "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" (1981), Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed Stratten and Bruce Weitz played Paul Snider. Bob Fosse's feature film "Star 80" (1983) starred Mariel Hemingway as Stratten and Eric Roberts as Snider.
In December 1988, at age 49, Bogdanovich married Stratten's sister, Louise, who was 20. Bogdanovich had paid for Louise's private schooling and modeling classes following Stratten's death. They divorced in 2001 after being married for 13 years.
Stratten's name also comes up when talk turns to the ghosts of Los Angeles. Some have reported seeing the shadowy image of a beautiful blonde at the old Playboy building on Sunset Boulevard, while others tell of pale mist floating over the ground near her grave.
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