Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten who took the stage name Dorothy Stratten was a gorgeous, Canadian platinum blonde with a figure that could stop traffic. Stratten was born in a Salvation Army hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Simon and Nelly Hoogstraten, who were Dutch immigrants. In 1961 her brother John Arthur was born. Her sister Louise Stratten followed in May 1968. When barely 17, Stratten was spotted working in a Canadian Dairy Queen fast-food restaurant by shady “entrepreneur” Paul Snider, nine years her elder. Snider saw the beautiful girl’s face and knew immediately he could turn her into a star. She soon married Snider, a loser with nothing going for him. In fact Snider was a promoter and a pimp.
Snider convinced Stratten that she would be great as a Playboy model and that she could become rich and famous if she could get comfortable taking her clothes off for the camera. At first, the shy girl-next-door refused, but Snider’s persistence her to pose for his camera ultimately wore her down. After amassing a small personal collection of nude photos of Stratten, Snider sent them to Playboy Magazine in Los Angeles, specifically to the home of Hugh Hefner.
Snider grew up in Vancouver’s East End, a tough area of the city steeped in machismo. His parents divorced when he was a boy and he had to fend for himself from the time he quit school in the seventh grade. His dark hair and mustache were groomed impeccably and women on the nightclub circuit found him attractive. The two things it seemed he could never get enough of were women and money. For a time he was the successful promoter of automobile and cycle shows at the Pacific National Exhibition. But legitimate enterprises didn’t bring him enough to support his expensive tastes and he took to procuring. He wore mink, drove a black Corvette, and flaunted a bejeweled Star of David around his neck. About town he was known as the Jewish Pimp.
“An old acquaintance of Snider’s stated, “Nobody trusted him that much and he was scared to death of drugs. He finally lost a lot of money to loan sharks and the Rounder Crowd hung him by his ankles from the 30th floor of a hotel. He had to leave town.” Snider left for Los Angeles where he acquired a gold limousine and worked his girls on the fringes of Beverly Hills. At various times he toyed with the idea of becoming a star, or perhaps even a director or a producer. He tried to pry his way into powerful circles, but without much success. At length he gave up pimping because the girls weren’t bringing him enough income one had stolen some items and had in fact cost him money and when he returned to Vancouver some time in 1977 Snider resolved to keep straight. For one thing, he was terrified of going to jail. In a chilling prophecy, he once told a woman he would kill himself before he would go to jail.
How it was that this misfit appealed to Stratten was a mystery, unless a closer look was taken at Stratten’s early life. Snider offered to take charge of her and that was nice. Her father had left the family when she was very young. There had never been enough money to buy nice things and now Snider bought her clothes, and gave her a topaz ring set in diamonds. He had a posh apartment with skylights and deep burgundy furniture. Snider bought wine and cooked dinner.
In 1980, she landed a role in the Audrey Hepburn movie They All Laughed, where she began an affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. It was also during this time that she separated from her husband. Stratten appeared in three comedy films and in at least two episodes of shows broadcast on US network television. With her surname shortened to Stratten, she later became Playboy’s Miss August 1979, and began working as a bunny at the Playboy Club in Century City, Los Angeles. This didn’t set too well with Snider however and he soon decided he wanted a piece of the action, since he was, after all, the one that sent Dorothy’s pics to Hefner in the first place. He was only rarely invited to the Mansion, which bothered him, as he would have liked more of an opportunity to cultivate Hefner. Snider would introduce himself to Hefner as Dorothy’s manager, but the magazine magnate could see right through Snider’s facade and kept him at arm’s length, calling him “sleazy.”
Hugh Hefner had high hopes Stratten could have meaningful crossover success as an actress. She guest-starred in episodes of the television series Buck Rogers and Fantasy Island, along with a small role in the 1979 roller disco comedy Skatetown, U.S.A. Having previously appeared on Buck Rogers as “Miss Cosmos,” Stratten must have seemed a natural choice to play the lead fembot, “among the heavenly bodies, the most heavenly body of all!” In 1980 she became Playboy’s Playmate of the Year. Stratten also played the title role in the sci-fi parody Galaxina, her first and only starring role. She gave rise to extravagant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, although unlike Monroe, she was no cripple. She was delighted with her success and wanted more of it. Far from being brutalized by Hollywood, she was coddled by it
Hefner reportedly encouraged Stratten to sever ties with Snider, calling him a “hustler and a pimp.” Rosanne Katon, pictured above, is a playmate, actress and activist. She and other friends warned Stratten about Snider’s obnoxious behavior. Stratten began an affair with Peter Bogdanovich while he was directing They All Laughed, her first major studio film. Snider hired a private investigator to follow Stratten. Stratten moved in with Bogdanovich, planning to file for a divorce from Snider. By August 1980 Snider most likely believed that he had lost Stratten and what he had called his “rocket to the moon.”
Bogdanovich was also weird. In an interview he stated, “In the ’80s’s I did a lot of arcane studies, trying to find the answers to some simple questions. Like, why is it a, b, c and not b, c, a? Or why is it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and not Monday, Wednesday?” Then, back at work as a director for hire, he made some very bad films and, even on the reasonable ones like Mask, made in 1985 with Cher, some redoubtable enemies.
On August 14, 1980, Stratten came to Snider’s house with the intention of offering a cordial divorce. She even brought $1,000, which she planned to give to Snider. But Snider had other plans; he proceeded to rape Stratten before killing her with a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun. He then abused the corpse afterwards, conducting a necrophilic rape, before committing suicide using the same shotgun.
At approximately 11 p.m., Snider’s private investigator called Cushner on his private line, saying that he had been trying to call Snider for several hours, but Snider was not answering. Although there were many guests in the residence, Snider’s bedroom door was closed and they assumed Snider’s privacy was essential. Cushner broke into Snider’s room and discovered the nude bodies of Snider and Stratten. Police believed that Snider murdered Stratten, who was 20, then abused and raped her corpse, before turning the shotgun on himself.
One interesting thing that couldn’t be explained at first was some strange mechanical device in the bedroom. Home-made looking. The coroner’s office could only surmise that it was some kind of kinky “love contraption,” or sex bench. It was later discovered by authorities that Snider had converted a weight bench into a sex device and hoped to eventually market it to the porn industry. Naturally, that too was a failure.
In 1984, Bogdanovich’s book about Stratten was published, titled The Killing of the Unicorn. Stratten’s murder had the exact opposite effect on They All Laughed. Studios wouldn’t touch the film, convinced that the crime would have a negative impact on the movie’s box office, so Bogdanovich bought the negative and distributed it himself only to lose millions of dollars and file for bankrupcy when it opened to tepid numbers. It’s interesting to come upon a film viewed for this series that actually suffered from the tragic murder of its actress: Stratten’s death really did result in the death of the film as well.
But the loss of Dorothy Stratten sent Hefner and his family into seclusion, at least from the press. For one thing, Playboy had been earnestly trying to avoid any bad national publicity that might threaten its application for a casino license in Atlantic City. And Dorothy Stratten was a corporate treasure. She was not just any playmate but the “Eighties’ First Playmate of the Year” who, as Playboy trumpeted in June, was on her way to becoming “one of the few emerging goddesses of the new decade.” The major reason that I’m … that we’re both sittin’ here is that I wanted to talk about it, is because there is still a great tendency … for this thing to fall into the classic cliché of ‘smalltown girl comes to Playboy, comes to Hollywood, life in the fast lane,’ and that was somehow related to her death. And that is not what really happened. A very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power, whatever, slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her.”
The sincerity of the film comes from the director’s relationship with Stratten, a twist of fate that incensed Snider’s maniacal jealousy and indirectly led to her death. It’s hard to watch the muted scenes of domestic trouble between Stratten and her character’s husband in the movie without noticing the real-life parallels. The movie is dedicated to her (in an unfortunate coincidence the dedication appears over a shot of the looming World Trade Center). A quote from Ernest Hemingway’s work adorned Stratten’s tombstone. Ironically Hemingway’s had committed suicide and his granddaughter, Muriel Hemingway, played Stratten in a biography about her life. The picture on the right is Stratten’s plainer sister Louise.
About Stratten’s murder, Bogdanovich stated It’s very hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it — and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. You are never the same again. And you know, murder — it’s such an unnatural act, so sudden, so horrible, you don’t recover from it, you just don’t. It’s a little bit like an A-bomb went off at your feet and somehow you’re still alive. Her death pretty much wrecked me. I was crazy about her. We loved each other. It was the greatest time of my life making that film with her, and then it was destroyed with her, and I just didn’t give a damn if I ever made another movie again.”
Yet four years later, at age 49, in a typical twist of Hollywood’s amoral mentality, Bogdanovich married Stratten’s plainer sister, Louise, who was 20. Bogdanovich paid for Louise’s private schooling and modeling classes. Together, reported Barber, they would tend the dead woman’s grave. They divorced in 2001 after being married for 13 years. Regarding his marriage to Stratten’s sister and their age difference (3), Bogdanovich stated, “well, tough shit. I’ve stopped caring what people think. My life was going to be what it was, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life explaining it.”
For her part Louise stated, “I married young. I never felt I found my identity. I was Dorothy’s sister and Peter’s wife.” In the mid-1980s, Louise filed a slander suit against Hefner and Burl Eldridge, her former stepfather. The lawsuit contended the two falsely told reporters that Bogdanovich had seduced her when she was 13, had sex with her mother after Dorothy Stratten was killed, and that Bogdanovich paid for Louise to have plastic surgery to make her look more like her late sister. Eventually she dropped the lawsuit (I suspect Hef may have paid her o).
Stratten’s murder proved to be the tragic end of a promising life. A young woman lucky enough to be born incredibly beautiful, intelligent and to hail from a good family, the only wrongdoing she made was to become involved with Snider.