Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten
February 28, 1960
|Died||August 14, 1980 (aged 20)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wound|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Playboy centerfold appearance|
|Preceded by||Dorothy Mays|
|Succeeded by||Vicki McCarty|
|Playboy Playmate of the Year|
|Preceded by||Monique St. Pierre|
|Succeeded by||Terri Welles|
Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten (February 28, 1960 – August 14, 1980), known professionally as Dorothy Stratten, was a Canadian Playboy Playmate, model, and actress. Stratten was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979 and Playmate of the Year in 1980. Stratten appeared in three comedy films and in at least two episodes of shows broadcast on US network television. She was murdered at the age of 20 by her estranged husband and manager Paul Snider, who committed suicide on the same day. Her death inspired two motion pictures, the 1981 TV movie Death of a Centerfold and the 1983 theatrical release Star 80, as well as the book The Killing of the Unicorn and the songs "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "The Best Was Yet to Come" by Bryan Adams, and "Cover Girl" by Prism.
Life and career
Stratten was born in Grace Maternity Hospital in Vancouver on February 28, 1960, to Simon and Nelly Hoogstraten, who had emigrated from the Netherlands. In 1961, her brother John Arthur was born and, in May 1968, her sister Louise Stratten.
In 1977, Stratten was attending Centennial High School in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Concurrently, she was working part-time at a local Dairy Queen, where she met 26-year-old Vancouver-area club promoter and pimp Paul Snider, who began dating her. 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. Snider joined her in October, and in June the following year, they married. With her surname shortened to Stratten, she became Playboy's Miss August 1979, and 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. She featured in episodes of the television series Buck Rogers and Fantasy Island in 1979. Also, that year, she had small roles in the films Americathon, the roller disco comedy Skatetown, U.S.A., and a lead role in the exploitation film Autumn Born.
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 began an affair with Peter Bogdanovich while he was directing They All Laughed (1981).
When Stratten arrived at the Playboy Mansion for the 25th Anniversary Playmate Hunt 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.
March 1980 – July 1980
On March 22, 1980, Stratten flew to New York City to begin work on what became her last film project, They All Laughed, a romantic comedy being directed by Bogdanovich. Laughed 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.[a] 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.
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 Southern California. With all her work close to home, Snider assumed the role of his wife's chauffeur, as well as her ersatz manager and acting coach. But Snider's near-constant presence, as well as 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 took notice of the tension in the relationship. As the spring of 1980 approached, 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, she flew to New York on a whim 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 Los Angeles 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. However, 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 Bogdanovich in New York City.
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, Snider rebuffed his wife's attempt to save their marriage.
In the days and weeks after Snider returned to Los Angeles, he found it increasingly difficult to get in touch with Stratten. In late June, just a few weeks after their first wedding anniversary, Snider received another letter from her, this one announcing 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, now through her business manager, to pay the monthly household bills. Little was left over for extravagances, such as the expenses incurred by a private detective working a case 3,000 miles from home. Therefore, 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.
By mid-July, principal photography on They All Laughed was completed and the New York production wrapped. On Wednesday, July 30, Stratten and Bogdanovich returned to Los Angeles after having spent a ten-day holiday together in England. Stratten's official L.A. residence was now at the address of a newly rented Beverly Hills apartment, but in actuality she had quietly moved into Bogdanovich's mansion in Bel Air.
On the night of July 31, 1980, Snider, by now aware that his estranged wife was back in L.A. and living with Bogdanovich, hid among the shadows just outside the director's estate carrying a borrowed handgun, intending to shoot anyone who appeared at the entrance to the property. After several hours of inactivity, Snider grew impatient and left, drove up into the hills overlooking the city and, admitting later to a friend, had thoughts of suicide.
At approximately noon on Friday, August 8, 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.
Later that afternoon, less than a week before Stratten's murder, Snider had to return the borrowed gun to its owner. Over the next five days, he would become obsessed with getting another.
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 11, 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.
August 13, 1980 marked the two-year anniversary of the day that Stratten had first arrived in Los Angeles to begin her acting and modeling career.
On August 13, 1980, the day before Stratten was murdered, 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.
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 were 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.
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. Three years after the murder, the author's granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, played Stratten in Star 80, the Bob Fosse biopic about the doomed playmate and her husband.
|1979||Americathon||Stage escort dressed as Playboy Bunny||Uncredited, Film debut|
|Skatetown, U.S.A.||Girl at the snack bar||First speaking part|
|Autumn Born||Tara Dawson|
|1980||Galaxina||Galaxina||Only starring role|
|1981||They All Laughed||Dolores Martin||Final film role, Released posthumously|
|1979||Playboy's Roller-Disco & Pajama Party||Herself||Appears in running gag with host Richard Dawson|
|Fantasy Island||Mickey||Episode: "The Victim/The Mermaid"|
|Buck Rogers in the 25th Century||Miss Cosmos||Episode: "Cruise Ship to the Stars"|
|1980||The Tonight Show||Herself||Episode: "04/30/1980"|
Aftermath of Stratten's murder
Stratten is smeared; Hefner is blamed
In early November 1980, less than three full months after Stratten's death, the New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice ran a front-page article about the events leading up to her murder. The title of the piece, "Death of a Playmate", by Teresa Carpenter, is something of a misnomer in the sense that it quickly becomes obvious that the author has deliberately placed Snider, not Stratten, at the center of the story. Carpenter in fact spends a great deal of the article framing Snider in a sympathetic light, going so far as to use several paragraphs to cast doubt about whether he committed the murder. In stark contrast, Carpenter treats Stratten in a contemptuous, dismissive manner that at times borders on outright hostility,[b] deriding, in a petty example her teenage poetry as "plodding iambs" and summing up the dead playmate's cut-short acting and modeling career by coldly pronouncing, "Whether or not Dorothy Stratten would have fulfilled her extravagant promise can't be known. Her legacy will not be examined critically because it is really of no consequence."
Despite her reservations about Snider's guilt, by the end of the article Carpenter does allow that he was the one who killed his wife, finally acknowledging "And yet Snider appears to have been following a script of his own choosing." The hypocrisy of this concession, however, is that it is not born out of any careful examination of the facts and evidence, but rather made because it conveniently serves the core idea of Carpenter's story and the reason why she chose to undercut Stratten and bend the reader's empathy towards her murderer: to claim that Hefner and his magazine bear as much responsibility for the death of Dorothy Stratten as the man who killed her.
Assuming Hefner's perspective, Carpenter cuts through his disbelief in the wake of Stratten's shocking murder. "The irony that Hefner does not perceive . . . ", her argument proposes, " . . . is that Stratten was destroyed not by random particulars, but by a germ breeding within the ethic." She then pivots to the foundational idea underpinning her reasoning and presumed motive for Snider's killing rage: "One of the tacit tenants of the Playboy philosophy—that women can be possessed—had found a fervent adherent in Paul Snider." But lacking any facts in his backstory that would directly link Playboy to her charge of a "fervent adherent", beyond the rather tenuous association that Snider was married to the reigning Playmate of the Year, Carpenter is left with nothing but speculation and sensationalism to prove her point. "He [Snider] had bought the dream without qualification, and he had thought of himself as perhaps one of Playboy's most honest apostles. . . . Instead of fondling himself in private, instead of wreaking abstract violence upon a centerfold, he ravaged a playmate in the flesh."
Compensating for the weakness of her main argument, Carpenter also serves up a mix of anecdotes, mansion gossip, and cynical innuendo, all tailored to poke holes in Hefner's carefully groomed public image as the urbane champion of the American post-war sexual revolution. ("[Hefner] has not one Marion Davies to call his own" is one such cutting remark meant to highlight his assumed frustration at transitioning playmates into legitimate actors.) In sum total, these jabs at Hefner's reputation form an ancillary attack, leaving the accumulating impression that his paternal relationship with Stratten, and in particular his benevolent promotion of her acting career concealed a darker, self-serving intent. To that end, Carpenter ties Hefner to Snider, each one maneuvering to exploit Stratten for their own selfish interests and both men are portrayed as outsiders, desperate to use the playmate to win acceptance and validation: Snider from Hefner and his tight-knit group of mansion pals, and Hefner from the Hollywood power elite.
While many of her lesser barbs aimed at Hefner apparently found their mark, Carpenter's main attack on the publisher, the idea that Stratten's death was the inevitable consequence of Snider's complete and fanatical devotion to the Playboy 'ethic', simply falls apart upon close inspection because the premise is based on nothing but conjecture. To be sure, nearly everyone who read Snider's profile in "Death of a Playmate" would reasonably conclude that he was a misogynist, with any number of examples proving in total that he had spent his adult life exploiting young women, most notably his wife. Similarly, most rational, objective adults would consider Hefner a misogynist, when viewed as a man that dedicated his life's work to creating and promoting a male-dominant lifestyle brand, who also paradoxically declared time and again that he and his brand had managed to liberate both the sexes.
But the fact remains that misogyny had persisted for centuries before either man was born. And cuckolded men like Snider had abused and killed their partners for countless generations by the time Hefner sold his first magazine. Yet with the full understanding of that long and ugly history of men perpetuating the exploitation and use of violence against women, Carpenter, failing to produce a single item of relevant evidence in support of her argument, would rather try to convince her audience that Dorothy Stratten was murdered because, and solely because, one day years before they met, her husband-to-be had eagerly thumbed his way through his very first copy of Playboy.
Bogdanovich and They All Laughed
In August 1981, one year after Stratten's death, her final film, the romantic comedy They All Laughed, which was written and directed by Bogdanovich, had its US release. After a 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 They All Laughed 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.
In the years since its inauspicious debut, They All Laughed has been recognized by filmmakers, critics, and others as being one of Bogdanovich's best pictures. One Day Since Yesterday, a documentary about the making and cultural importance of Bogdanovich's romantic comedy, which includes interviews with the director and his remembrances of Stratten, premiered in 2014.
The Killing of the Unicorn
In August 1984, four years after Stratten's death, the publisher William Morrow released a book by Bogdanovich titled The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980.
The Killing of the Unicorn is by turns a biography of Stratten, a memoir of Bogdanovich's affair with the married Playmate who was half his age, 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.
Nearly every review of The Killing of the Unicorn in the US press was negative. While few objected to Bogdanovich's attacks on Hefner and Playboy, many were skeptical of his newfound feminism, pointing out, for example, that he "seemed oblivious to his own sexist susceptibility to 'the whore/Madonna complex' in his view of women." The review that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, for instance, had its tone concisely summarized in the blunt headline that led off the piece, "Shabby little shocker." Film critic Roger Ebert, writing for the crosstown Chicago Sun-Times, managed to express empathy for Bogdanovich and the tragedy of Stratten's death, but was no less critical, stating that he could understand why Bogdanovich felt the need to write the book, "but I wish he hadn't published it."
In a print article that appeared shortly after the murder, Hefner, who was 33 years older than Stratten, used the word "friendship" to describe his relationship with her and was said to see himself as a "father figure" to the Playmate. The image that Hefner presented to the public as a supportive, benevolent, paternal figure to Stratten was further emphasized the following spring when Playboy published her biography in its May 1981 issue. It was later reported that Hefner had personally supervised the editing of the article.
In 1985, when asked again about his relationship with Stratten after the release of The Killing of the Unicorn, Hefner did concede to a crucial detail that lay at the heart of Bogdanovich's allegation. Namely, Hefner admitted that several weeks after Stratten first arrived in Los Angeles, the two had taken a nude soak in the "grotto" Jacuzzi on the Playboy Mansion grounds, the place where Bogdanovich claimed the sexual assault had occurred. In the same interview, while allowing that they had "hugged" in the Jacuzzi, Hefner denied having forced himself on Stratten. Hefner also denied, despite his reputation, that he'd ever so much as made a pass at the young Canadian, suggesting that his sexual interest in Stratten had ended in the Jacuzzi after learning that she expected to become engaged to her boyfriend. (This conversation would have occurred approximately two months before Hefner would first meet Snider.)
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.
Singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, along with co-writer Jim Valance, wrote the song "The Best Was Yet to Come" as the closing track for Adams' 1983 LP Cuts Like a Knife as a dedication to Dorothy Stratten. Adams also co-wrote with Lindsay Mitchell of the Canadian band Prism the track "Cover Girl" for their greatest hits collection "All the Best From Prism" (1980), which had not appeared on any prior album.
- Coincidentally, Ritter had played a lead role in Stratten's first movie, the comedy Americathon (1979), although the two had no scenes together.
- Carpenter's contempt extends far beyond Stratten to include the other Playmates, everyone else associated with Playboy, and Bogdanovich. But the author saved her most caustic vitriol for Hefner, who while recognized as vastly more successful at exploiting women, is portrayed by the end of the article as otherwise just as pathetic as Snider.
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- Gavin Rossdale [@GavinRossdale] (August 25, 2012). "Dorothy Stratten..check out her story. my song was written for her and her memory" (Tweet). Retrieved October 30, 2020 – via Twitter.