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The tragic story of Dorothy Stratten (born as Dorothy Hoogstraten), started in a Dairy Queen in Vancover, B.C. when she was discovered by Paul Snider, and ended on a fateful August day in 1980, at the hands of the same man. If Charles Manson was the man who murdered the 60’s, it could equally be said that Snider was the man who destroyed the 70’s, and most people don’t even know his name.
The children of the free love era of the late 60’s had grown up and won the sexual revolution. Playboy magazine had long been sounding the herald call, and when the 70’s arrived Playboy was riding high. 1978 was Playboy’s Silver Anniversary and a contest was announced to find the silver anniversary playmate. The winner would get $25,000.00 and the honor of being the anniversary centerfold.
Publisher Hugh Hefner was hosting nearly non-stop parties at the mansion during ’78, and the elite of Hollywood were in attendance. It was a private party, where “What happens here, stays here” was the rule long before Las Vegas adopted the slogan. Hefner had no way of knowing that the girl who would change his life and the lives of several other power brokers was waiting unaware in a Dairy Queen over 1000 miles north.
Dorothy Hoogstraten, had grown up as caretaker for her younger siblings in a single parent home. At 5’9″ she was a tall girl who always felt awkward about her height and looks. Her peers knew she was beautiful but Dorothy didn’t feel like a beauty queen. At 17, she took a job at a local Dairy Queen to help her mother pay the bills. It was there she would have a fateful meeting with Paul Snider. Snider was a small time hustler known as “The Jewish Pimp”. He worked, and hustled his girls in the same area where Stratten worked. He first met her in 1977 and starting working on getting her to pose nude for him. He believed that he had found his ticket to the big leagues in the strikingly beautiful young girl. When Dorothy finally relented, Snider shot a series of photographs and sent them to Playboy (after forging her mother’s signature on the model release form) .
In short order the magazine had Dorothy flown to Los Angeles for a test shoot, and interview with Hefner at the mansion. She would not be chosen 25th Anniversary Playmate, that honor would go to 22 year old Candy Loving. But Hefner was taken with Dorothy, seeing her as the “Ultimate Girl Next Door”. He signed her to a contract with the magazine to be the August 1979 Playmate, and gave her a job at the Playboy Club in the Beverly Hills adjacent Century City. Dorothy was truly a naive small town girl swept up in the whirlwind that was Playboy Enterprises.
Paul Snider was at once elated that his meal ticket had cashed in. He joined Dorothy in LA, and became a frequent guest at the Playboy mansion. From the beginning two things were clear. Hefner didn’t like Paul Snider, and Snider deeply wanted to be liked. It was Snider’s dream to be part of the LA scene, to be a power broker. But all he had was Dorothy, and the extent of what he could offer her ended when the first set of photos were mailed to the Playboy offices. It didn’t take long for Snider to realize that he wasn’t liked. The Jewish Pimp, was a thorn in everyone’s side. He showed up at the Playboy mansion repeatedly, and frequently called Dorothy and the photographer she was working with 10-15 times a day. At one point a Playboy photographer even told Paul he should model, and took a series of photos of him, just to placate him and stop the harassment.
The shoots for playmates at that time ran on a schedule of several months of photography prior to getting the prints retouched and ready for publication. As soon as Snider realized Dorothy’s career was really going to happen, he proposed. It seemed he thought this was the best way to keep control of her and keep Playboy from cutting him out of the picture. They were married on June 1st 1979 in Las Vegas. Paul began apartment hunting. He wanted to live on the west side. He figured it would be a shorter move to Brentwood, Westwood or the Holmby Hills once he had made his fortune. He found an apartment at 10881 Clarkson Rd, right beside the 405 freeway.
Dorothy’s stardom was on a jet powered track. Contacts she made through Playboy lead to immediate film and TV roles. She would appear on Americathon, Skatetown USA, Fantasy Island, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Autumn Born. She then landed her first staring role as the title character in the Sci-fi spoof “Galaxina”. It was a supporting role in the Peter Bogdanovich film “They All Laughed” that would change her life and set in motion the gears that would lead to her demise. After meeting Dorothy at a Playboy Mansion party, Bogdanovich decided to rewrite and expand a supporting role just for her. The film would be shooting in New York, which meant Dorothy would be away during the filming. This was a catalyst for Snider’s control issues with Dorothy.
It was clear that Stratten and Snider were heading in opposite directions. Snider still had no permit to work in the US. With several partners, he founded the Chippendales male strip show, however when the project took off, the partners quickly found a way to cut out the abrasive Snider. At the same time Dorothy had been named Playmate of the Year for 1980. Snider famously purchased a Mercedes convertible with the vanity license “Star 80” as he believed Dorothy would prove to be the biggest star of the year. Of course the car, like everything else Snider had, was purchased with Dorothy’s money.
Bogdanovich had fallen deeply in love with Dorothy, and she found in him a lover, a mentor and a father figure. It might be more accurate to label him as a Svengali. He arranged for Dorothy to spend a lot more time in New York, and soon they were sharing a hotel suite. Back in LA, Snider had designed a prototype “Sex/Bondage Chair” that he was inspired to build after visiting “The Pleasure Chest”, an adult store on Santa Monica Blvd. When he returned to the store with his prototype, it was firmly rejected. He tried several other avenues but struck out each time. It was then Snider’s attention turned back to Dorothy full time. He hired a private investigator to follow her, and soon had his suspicions confirmed. She was having an affair with Bogdanovich. When Snider confronted her with the knowledge, she informed him that she wanted a divorce. With filming over, she had returned to LA and immediately moved in with Bogdanovich.
On August 14th, 1980 she set up a meeting with Snider to discuss terms for their divorce. She did not tell Bogdanovich where she was going. On the way her younger sister, who was going to accompany her to the meeting, changed her mind and was dropped off at the beach. Stratten promised to return for her by 2pm. Shortly after noon, her Mercury Cougar parked in front of the Clarkson Rd. apartment. No one knows what the exact chain of events were on that afternoon. After knocking repeatedly with no response, Snider’s roommate opened the door to Snider’s part of the apartment and found Stratten dead of a gunshot wound to the head, and Snider also deceased by means of suicide with the same weapon. Police found evidence of brutal sexual assault on Stratten both perimortem and postmortem. Hair and tape removed from the bondage chair indicated that Stratten was bound to it during some part of the event. In a bizarre twist of fate, Snider’s family would receive all of Dorothy’s assets, since they were still married and she proceeded him in death.
Bogdanovich and Hefner were both devastated by the loss. Bogdanovich still had a film to edit, with Dorothy as a main character. He spent countless dark hours in the editing room watching her as he edited the film. It was released one year to the day after her death, and was not commercially successful. Bogdanovich and Hefner each blamed the other for Dorothy’s death. Bogdanovich would author a book, “The Killing of the Unicorn” in which he outlined his case for blaming Hugh Hefner. Shortly after the release of the book Hefner would suffer a stroke. He blamed stress caused by the book’s release for his health problems. He later held a press conference explaining why he felt Bogdanovich was responsible, and explaining that keeping his silence had lead to his stroke. Bogdanovich began spending a lot of time with Dorothy’s family. In 1988, he would marry Dorothy’s sister, Louise, who was 20 at the time. Louise had a deep streak of survivors guilt, believing if she had not chosen to be dropped of at the beach, Snider wouldn’t have gone through with his plans. The couple divorced in 2001.
In death, Dorothy became more influential than she had been in life. In the early 1980’s “The Moral Majority”, led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell and endorsed by President Ronald Reagan, would become a major influence in the direction of the country. They seized on the Stratten story as proof of how a “Corrupt Lifestyle” had exploited and ultimately killed this simple girl next door. This would all be part of a domino effect, seeing the closing of all of the Playboy clubs, and the end of the sexual revolution era.
Dorothy’s life story was portrayed on TV in “Death of a Centerfold” starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and in the Bob Fosse film “Star 80” staring Mariel Hemingway. The film had its own controversy as Hemingway chose to get breast implants in order to play the large breasted Stratten. This was heralded as another example of a sex culture run amok. Fellow Canadian, Brian Adams, would co-author two songs about Stratten. The first, “Cover Girl” became a hit for the band Prism, and the second “The Best was Yet to Come” appeared on Adam’s album “Cuts Like a Knife”. It would also be covered by singer Laura Branigan.
With one savage, selfish act, a small time hustler would become the flame that incinerated an era. Snider became the power broker he always wanted to be, changing the lives of industry titans, he just didn’t live to see it.