A sentence from her 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year pictorial said it all: ”Dorothy has been living in what can best be described as a Hollywood fairy tale ” But those words echoed darkly two months later when Dorothy Stratten’s nude corpse was found in L.A., dead of a shotgun blast to the head; her estranged husband’s body was nearby. Fame, beauty, jealous rage, and bloody tragedy joined forces, and Stratten’s sordid fairy tale — like a similar one this summer — fascinated the nation.
As a statuesque, naive waitress in a Vancouver Dairy Queen, 18-year-old Dorothy Hoogstraten met the man she’d marry, a charming but sleazy small-time hustler named Paul Snider, who talked her into posing nude and sent the photos to Playboy in 1978. Soon she was on a flight to L.A., her first plane ride; there the blond bombshell would explode. The teen from a broken home quickly became the star of Hugh Hefner’s mansion, gracing Playboy’s pages twice and winning movie and TV roles, including a spot on Fantasy Island. She also landed a glamorous boyfriend, director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), leaving Snider in the dust and insanely jealous.
The smitten director promptly cast Stratten in They All Laughed, a romantic comedy that earned praise for the Monroe-like Playmate. On the afternoon of Aug. 14, 1980, a month after the wrap, Stratten went to Snider’s apartment, presumably to smooth out their messy separation. Friends found the gruesome scene that night: Stratten’s naked body reportedly lay beside a bondage device of Snider’s. She’d been shot and apparently raped; Snider had then turned the gun on himself.
Bogdanovich wrote in his 1984 book about Stratten, The Killing of the Unicorn, ”I could hardly believe that she really existed, that she wasn’t a dream.” Neither could Hollywood, which dramatized her life twice: in the 1981 TV movie Death of a Centerfold, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and in 1983’s Star 80, with a surgically enhanced Mariel Hemingway. But the story wouldn’t end there. Bogdanovich, plagued by guilt, began sending Dorothy’s teenage sister Louise to private school and modeling classes, and lavishing gifts on her. An on Dec. 30, 1988, Bogdanovich, 49, married the 20-year-old. Said Stratten’s mother, weeping, ”I’ve lost another daughter.” The two are still married.
Aug. 14, 1980
Smokey and the Bandit II burned rubber in movie theaters, Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels sizzled at beaches, 60 Minutes kept ticking at the TV top, and Olivia Newton-John had us all believing in ”Magic.”