The horrifying story of how Dorothy Stratten got pulled into a deadly world of fame, porn, and violence, and the men who kept on exploiting her even after she was dead.
“Dorothy looked at the world with love, and believed that all people were good down deep,” said Peter Bogdanovich, one of the men who loved her. “She was mistaken.”
Just a few days before, she’d met her end at the hands of one of those people she’d trusted – her husband, Paul Snider. She was found in his apartment, stripped naked and shot to death, the tragic end to what seemed like it was going to be one of Hollywood’s most incredible success stories.
A Teenage Dorothy Stratten Falls For A Pimp Named Paul Snider
“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,’” Hugh Hefner said after Dorothy Stratten died. “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.”
That “very sick guy” was Paul Snider – or, as he was known in their hometown of Coquitlam, British Columbia, “The Jewish Pimp.” He was easy to spot around town: the guy in the mink coat with a bejeweled Star of David around his neck on the prowl for good-looking girls.
Dorothy Stratten was just an 18-year-old girl working the cash register at Dairy Queen when she met him, but Snider already knew he’d hit the jackpot. “That girl could make me a lot of money,” he told a friend.
Up until then, her life had been nothing remarkable. Dorothy thought of herself as plain and uninteresting, and she couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of being courted a wealthier, older man. Snider bought her diamonds and jewelry, cooked her dinner, fed her wine, and gushed about how she was beautiful enough to be a model.
The type of modeling Paul Snider had in mind, though, didn’t involve a runway. He slowly talked Dorothy into stripping off all of her clothes and letting him take pictures – even though, in Canada at the time, she was still legally underage. And after sending those pictures off to Playboy, he convinced her to move all the way to Los Angeles to compete in its 25th Anniversary Great Playmate Hunt.
Dorothy was going to make him something bigger than a guy who got girls to turn tricks on a street corner. She was going to make him a millionaire.
Dorothy Stratten Becomes Playboy’s Miss August 1979
Hugh Hefner saw as much money in this sweet little blonde as Snider did. He gave her a full spread in his magazine as Miss August 1979 as soon as he could and went right to whispering in her ear about how he was going to make her a star.
He was still whispering those promises when he pulled her into a private room in his mansion and – according to Bogdanovich, although Hefner denies it – raped her by the jacuzzi.
Even that Dorothy Stratten treated as a forgivable lapse of judgment. Every man in her life was using her for her body; all Hefner had done was show her that he was no different from the other men in her life. Perhaps that’s why no matter how many of her friends tried to convince her to leave Paul Snider, she never listened. Snider was just one more pimp in a world filled with them.
When he proposed, she said yes. “He cares for me so much,” Stratten told a friend when she tried to convince her to say no. “He’s always there when I need him. I can’t ever imagine myself being with any other man but Paul.”
The Next Marilyn Monroe
Dorothy Stratten was “the next Marilyn Monroe”, Hefner told the world. She wasn’t just going to be a naked a girl on the cover of a magazine. He was going to make her a star on the silver screen. He helped her get roles on Buck Rogers and Fantasy Island, and then in the movies like Americathon and Skatetown, USA. In less than a year, she landed her first starring role as a sexpot robot in a sci-fi comedy called Galaxina.
“We’re on a rocket ship to the moon!” Snider would tell her. It was true. The press was already calling her “one of the few emerging goddesses of the new decade”, and she was already lined up to co-star in a major film with Audrey Hepburn.
Paul Snider, though, wasn’t as firmly locked onto her rocket ship as he wanted to believe. For most of their time in Los Angeles, he didn’t even have a work visa and so he couldn’t bring a penny in to support them. In time, he started to bring in a little bit – in fact, Snider was the man who created the Chippendales dancers – but he was still living in a rented home he shared with two other guys.
And while he was struggling to bring money, Stratten’s heart was wandering elsewhere. She was in New York, filming her scenes with Audrey Hepburn and secretly carrying on an affair with the movie’s director, Peter Bogdanovich.
The Fall Of A Rising Star
Snider started to get suspicious. He would call Stratten and tell her how much he loved her, and she would just go silent on the other end. Something, he knew, had changed.
He hired a private investigator to tail her and find out what was going on, but the investigator didn’t have to tell him anything. When Stratten flew back into town, she told him the truth herself. She’d fallen in love with Bogdanovich, she told him. She wanted a divorce.
Snider didn’t say much, not in front of her, anyway. But his friends reported that after Stratten called it off, he started taking a strange interest in guns and hunting. He bought a 12-gauge shotgun, took a few shooting lessons, and started slipping into conversations that Playboy had a policy not to print nude pictures of a girl if she got murdered.
Dorothy Stratten went to his house for the last time on Aug. 13, 1980. It was supposed to be a meeting about a property settlement she’d offered him as part of the divorce. Her manager had tried to talk her out of going to see him herself, but she’d insisted, saying, “I’d like to remain his friend.”
Paul Snider’s roommates found them when they checked his room a little after 11:00 p.m. Both Stratten and Snider were lying naked on the bed, a shotgun blast boring a hole through each of their heads.
According to the police report, Snider had shot her in the eye with a 12-gauge shotgun, leaving nothing but a pulp of shattered bones and blood in her eye socket. Then, in a mad fit of grief, terror, and depravity, he’d stripped the clothes off of her and raped her dead body. There were bloody handprints left on her flesh where he’d gripped her.
It must have taken him a moment to realize when he’d done. He must have been staring at the horror when he finally worked up the courage to put that shotgun inside of his own mouth and pull the trigger.
Eulogy For A Playmate
Paul Snider was wrong about one thing: Hefner didn’t pull her next spread. He knew people would buy it because Dorothy Stratten’s name was all over the news. Hefner let the October issue run with the naked body of a then-deceased woman on the cover, and even worked her old photos into another issue in December that called her as one of “Sex Stars of the 1980s.”
She ended up on the silver screen, but now as the subject and not the star. Two movies — Star 80 and Death Of A Centerfold — and a book were released telling her story over the next couple of years, and Hugh Hefner sent his lawyers after every one.
Peter Bogdanovich would never get over her. “I don’t know if I can ever love as totally and completely as I loved Dorothy,” he said more than a year after her death. He spent the next few years taking care of her mother and ended up marrying Dorothy’s sister Louise.
“There is no life Dorothy’s touched that has not been changed for the better through knowing her,” Bogdanovich said in his eulogy, “however briefly.”