Dorothy Stratten: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Dorothy Stratten's death - coming on the brink of stardom and right after she made the cover of Playboy Magazine - was an American tragedy. A luminously beautiful, wholesome blonde, Stratten was discovered at a local Dairy Queen in Canada. She was murdered by an abusive, jealous estranged husband just as her star was rising in Hollywood.
Stratten's life will be featured in a two-hour episode of 20/20 on Friday, October 18, 2019. At the time of her death, Stratten, the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year, was only 20 years old and was dating a famous director, Peter Bogdanovich, who would later go on to write a book about her and marry her sister. He's famous for movies like The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon. The coroner called Stratten's death a murder-suicide; the perpetrator was Paul Snider, her estranged husband, who had disintegrated as he lost control due to Stratten's love for Bogdanovich and desire to end the marriage.
Here's what you need to know:
1. Stratten Was Working in a Dairy Queen in British Columbia Only Two Years Before Her Death But Her Star Was Rising Fast
Newspaper coverage from the time of Stratten's death provides the disturbing and grisly details. But before she was murdered, Dorothy Stratten was known as Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten, and she was a wholesome Canadian teenager working at a fast-food restaurant
Only two years before she was murdered, according to a 1980 Associated Press article written shortly after her death, Stratten was working at a Dairy Queen store in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her IMDB profile says that Stratten grew up in a rough neighborhood but stayed out of trouble. Her life trajectory was changed forever when she started dating Paul Snider, described by IMDB as a "promoter and wannabe star."
According to the Village Voice, Snider grew up in Vancouver in a broken home, became a bodybuilder, hit the nightclub circuit, started promoting car shows, earned the label the "Jewish Pimp," and was known to dress flashy, including wearing a mink coat. He drove around LA in a gold limousine for a time. Dorothy was also from a broken home (her parents were Dutch immigrants), and Snider, thinking she could make him a lot of money, swept into her life with jewelry and promises, the article stated, adding that he was only her second boyfriend and she thought of becoming a secretary before meeting Snider. Hugh Hefner, Village Voice reported, would later describe Dorothy's "magic" as being a cross between vulnerability and sensual appeal, and she drew comparisons to Marilyn Monroe.
Snider convinced her to submit photos to Playboy after seeing an advertisement for the magazine's 25th Anniversary Playmate search in 1978, IMDB reports. Playboy was interested, although Candy Loving beat her out that year. She became a playmate the following year, however.
She also acted in four movies in her short lifetime, including the movie Galaxina. Basically, Stratten's star was rising fast, but she was still in the grips of a controlling husband, Snider, to whom she was now married. That is, until she met Peter Bogdanovich, then a powerful director in Hollywood. At the time of her death, she had just completed production on her first major film, They All Laughed, by Bogdanovich.
A People Magazine article from 1989 described how Bogdanovich cast Stratten in a movie. She was only 19 and he quickly became "obsessed with her," telling People, "I could hardly believe that she really existed, that she wasn't a dream. There was something miraculous about Dorothy Stratten."
He added, "I don't know if I can ever love as totally and completely as I loved Dorothy," People Magazine reported, adding that, after the murder, Bogdanovich gave up making movies for a time and devoted himself to Dorothy's mother, Nelly, and her kid sister, Louise, then 12. There's a lot more to the story of Peter and Louise, however.
Her Playboy stats say that Dorothy stood 5'9″, weighed 123 lbs, and had measurements of 36-24-36.
2. Horrifically, Stratten Was Murdered by Her Estranged Husband With a Shotgun Wound to the Face
An Associated Press story from August 1980 reported that the coroner's report confirmed Stratten had died from a "shotgun wound to the face." The naked bodies of Stratten and Snider were discovered at their home in West Los Angeles, according to grisly crime scene photos and the AP.
The coroner found that both Stratten and Snider - who had married in 1979, died "of gunshot wounds to the head." The Village Voice article says the coroner hedged a bit, dubbing it as "questionable suicide, possible homicide."
According to the book Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich, despite that somewhat ambiguous initial statement, the then Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Thomas T. Noguchi later stated, "Paul Snider shot (Dorothy) in the head, then put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger."
The crime scene forensic analysis was complicated by the fact that the police claimed "they were unable to determine scientifically whether or not Snider had fired the shotgun, since his hands were coated with too much blood and tissue for conclusive tests to be conducted."
The New York Times dubbed Snider a "small-time promoter." Stratten was his chance to make it big.
"The motive was apparently that he was despondent over the breakup of the marriage," police Lt. Dan Cooke said at the time to the Associated Press, which added that Stratten moved out of the home she shared with Snider two months before.
A friend and controversial private investigator for Snider named Marc Goldstein had spoken with Snider the day before and Statten was with him. He told the AP, "All I can figure out is that it had to be an act of passion." However, there were signs of control because Goldstein also said that Snider had retained him to investigate whether Stratten was in another relationship.
No one knows for certain what happened that horrible day, but there are clues. Stratten's purse was lying in the middle of the living room floor with a note in Paul's handwriting "explaining his financial distress," according to the Edmonton Journal. Dorothy's body was found "crouched across the bottom corner of a low bed. Both knees were on the carpet and her right shoulder was drooping." The shotgun blast entered above her left eye.
In a statement released after her death, Bogdanovich said, "Dorothy Stratten was as gifted and intelligent an actress as she was beautiful, and she was very beautiful indeed - in every way imaginable - most particularly in her heart. She and I feel in love during our picture and had planned to be married as soon as her divorce was final. The loss to her mother and father, her sister and brother, to my children, to her friends and to me is larger than we can calculate."
3. The Marriage Had Unraveled in the Weeks Before Dorothy's Murder, With Snider Growing Increasingly Desperate
A 1980 article in the Edmonton Journal reported that Snider expected "but could not prove" that Stratten was having an affair. Snider had found "poems and love letters" from Bogdanovich to Stratten, according to the Journal, and wanted Goldstein, the private investigator to do more research.
Snider was afraid he would never see her again and that he was losing control, The Journal reported. He had called a photographer friend crying because he could "not touch Dorothy or get near her." Dorothy had gone on a holiday to London with Bogdanovich.
Knowing that Hugh Hefner was planning a Midsummer Night's Dream party at the Playboy Mansion, Snider tried to finagle an invite but was told he could only come if he was with Dorothy. Dorothy didn't go to the apartment. She had moved into a Beverly Hills apartment on paper, but the person who really lived in it was Bogdanovich's personal assistant, according to Edmonton Journal. She was really living with Peter Bogdanovich in Bel Air.
Stratten went to a playmate event out of state and then agreed to meet Snider on August 8, 1980 for lunch. That was a fatal decision. He told friends, "The queen is coming back." But the lunch unraveled, with Dorothy confessing that she was in love with Bogdanovich and wanted out of the relationship.
Snider then set the murder plot in motion, The Journal reported, buying a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun through an ad, learning how to load and fire it.
Court records in a 1985 suit that Goldstein filed against Peter Bogdanovich and Stratten's estate provide more details. The court records contain responses that Bogdanovich gave to interrogatories in the court case.
Bogdanovich states in the court records that Snider had purchased a gun and had earlier borrowed a handgun from an individual named "Chip" that he returned to that man. He also tried to purchase an automatic weapon. Snider was "upset and despondent because of, among other things, the marital problems Snider was experiencing with Stratten and that Stratten was romantically involved with Bogdanovich," the records say.
The breakup of Snider's marriage to Stratten was "imminent," Bogdanovich believed. Snider "had been barred from the Playboy mansion unless he was accompanied by Stratten and...this infuriated Snider." Furthermore Bogdanovich claimed that Snider was involved "with drugs and perverse sex at the time he was upset concerning the breakup of his marriage and looking to purchase a gun."
Bogdanovich said that Snider had arranged for a meeting with Stratten after he was aware that she "desired to terminate the marriage and after Snider had purchased a gun." Dorothy Stratten "kept the meeting with Snider as arranged on August 14, 1980." Snider was "moody, upset and/or despondent" in the days before the death, the court records saw.
4. Bogdanovich Married Stratten's Sister, Louise, After Her Death
The traumatized Peter Bogdanovich rebounded romantically after Dorothy's horrific death, but he did so in a surprising way. He married Dorothy's younger sister, Louise.
A 1989 Associated Press article reported that Bodanovich had married Dorothy's younger sister, Louise Hoogstratten, 20. At the time, Bogdanovich was 49 years old. She also went by the name L.B. Hoogstratten (that surname was Dorothy's real last name).
They were married in Canada. The AP article reported that Louise had filed a slander suit against Hugh Hefner and her former stepfather alleging they "falsely told reporters that Bogdanovich had seduced Louise Stratten when she was 13 and had sex with her mother after Dorothy Stratten was killed, and that Bogdanovich had paid for Louise to have plastic surgery to make her look more like her late sister." But the lawsuit was later dropped.
In 1984, Bogdanovich wrote a book called, The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980. It can still be purchased on Amazon.
According to Louise's IMDB profile, she "is an actress and producer, known for City Island (2009), Django Unchained (2012) and It: Chapter Two (2019)." She is no longer with Bogdanovich. It was the third marriage for Bogdanovich; in 2001, he filed for divorce after 12 years of marriage to Louise.
In 2016, Louise attended a screening of a Bogdanovich movie with the director.
5. Stratten's Story Has Been Immortalized in Hollywood Movies
The story of Dorothy Stratten, the playmate whose life was snatched away too soon, has been the subject of various Hollywood ventures. The best known is Star 80, with Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy. It was based on a Village Voice article by Teresa Carpenter, according to The New York Times. The actor Eric Roberts played Paul Snider.
You can read that seminal Village Voice article here; it was called Death of a Playmate. When Stratten died, Hugh Hefner, the article recounts, released a statement proclaiming his shock and a "very special member of the Playboy family."
In the article, Hefner rejected the simplistic narrative that Stratten was a small-town girl who made it big and died once she hit the fast lane, saying the death was the fault of Paul Snider, a "very sick guy" who "saw a meal ticket" and felt his "connection to power" slipping away.
According to the book on Bogdanovich, Bogdanovich had an epitaph from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms "carved on Dorothy's headstone:
"...if people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry."
There were no traces of drugs found in either Stratten or Snider. According to the book, Bogdanovich locked himself away for a time after the murder, watching Dorothy's footage from They All Laughed. He was described as going crazy and being on the "brink of a major breakdown" for several years after Dorothy died.
The horrific murder of Playboy Playmate and actress Dorothy Stratten by her estranged husband, Paul Snider, has haunted Hollywood since 1980. But there's so much more to this woman than her demise. Nearly 30
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