Star 80: The Stellar Dorothy Stratten

It was around 11 p.m. on the evening of 14th August 1980 and Dr Stephen Cushner was growingly increasingly concerned. The private investigator hired by Paul Snider, the friend with whom he shared an apartment, had rung to say that Snider’s phone was not being answered. Knowing that Snider was home, Cushner broke down the door; the scene that greeted him was one of unimaginable horror. Lying naked and bloodied were the bodies of Snider and his estranged wife, the stunning model and Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten.

Only 20 years-old at the time of her death, she was born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in Vancouver on 28th February 1960; her parents had emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands and had two other children, John who was a year younger than Dorothy, and Louise who arrived in 1968.

Whilst working at a local branch of the fast-food restaurant Dairy Queen, at the age of 17, Dorothy caught the eye of Snider, a club-promoter, pimp, drug-dealer all round shady character, who was nine years her senior. Noting her statuesque height and curvaceous figure, which provided a striking contrast to her angelic face, Snider saw the young woman as his path to fame and fortune, apparently telling a friend ‘That girl could make me a lot of money.’

During the summer of 1978, under pressure from Snider, with whom she believed she had fallen in love, Dorothy posed for a series of nude photographs, which Snider then sent to Playboy. Moving to Los Angeles in August that year, Dorothy became a finalist in the Great Playmate Hunt, a celebration of the magazine’s 25th anniversary. After changing her name to Stratten and accepting a position as a bunny at the Century City Playboy Club, she became the Playmate of the Month for August 1979, and even briefly lived at the Playboy Mansion.

Above: Dorothy Stratten’s Playboy Reel (1980)

Dorothy proved to be immensely popular with Playboy readers and in 1980, she was awarded the accolade of Playmate of the Year.

Other modelling work flooded in, but Dorothy’s real ambition was to become an actress. In 1979, she had been given a minor roles in the films Skatetown, U.S.A. and Autumn Born, and appeared in the television shows Fantasy Island and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Above: Dorothy Stratten in Fantasy Island (1979)

In early 1980, Dorothy was offered the lead role in William Sachs’s futuristic fantasy, Galaxina and a part in Peter Bogdanovich’s romantic comedy, They All Laughed, starring Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara and John Ritter. Although Dorothy had been persuaded to marry Snider in Las Vegas in June 1979, the marriage was already in trouble due to his controlling behaviour and the unsuccessful ventures into which he kept pouring a large amount of her earnings. On the film’s set, she grew close to Bogdanovich and they soon began an affair, enabling Dorothy to realise that her relationship with Snider was not one founded upon genuine love and affection. She quickly moved in with the director and intended to ask Snider for a divorce. 

Above: Trailer for Galaxina (1980)

Angered by the loss of his meal-ticket, Snider hired a private investigator to track his wife’s movements and was incensed to learn that she was now living with Bogdanovich. After his repeated attempts to contact her wore Dorothy down, she agreed to visit their former home at 10881 Clarkson Road, West Los Angeles, where Snider still lived, in order to discuss the breakdown of their marriage and the financial implications of their separation.

Instead, as soon as Dorothy entered the apartment, Snider violently attacked her. She was beaten, brutalised, and possibly raped, then finally shot in the face at close range; afterwards, Snider sodomized and further mutilated her corpse before turning the 12 gauge shotgun on himself.

A year after her murder, Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed Dorothy in Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story and in 1983, Bob Fosse directed his last film, Star 80, a biopic with Mariel Hemingway as the tragic starlet and Eric Roberts as her heinous husband. As a tribute to Dorothy, her fellow Canadian Bryan Adams wrote two songs about her, Cover Girl a hit for the Canadian rock band Prism in 1980 and The Best Was Yet To Come for his own 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife.

Above: Trailer for Star 80 (1983)

Peter Bogdanovich never fully got over the loss of his lover, and in 1984 he published The Killing of the Unicorn, an account of their relationship and titled as such because of Dorothy’s love for the mythical creatures. Confessing that, ‘I could hardly believe that she really existed, that she wasn’t a dream,’ Bogdanovich also shared some of the poems Dorothy had written for him, including one presented to him on Valentine’s Day 1980:

Looking at life through a window,
Watching the pain, the forced smiles,
A little bit of laughter…
And life goes on, leaving no time
To get off the world and rest –
Until the very end,
When time means nothing anymore,
Because then you have
All the time in the world,
Forever and ever.

United by their mutual grief, Bogdanovich became close to the Hoogstraten family and gave Dorothy’s younger sister Louise, who bore little resemblance to her glamorous sibling, her film début in the comedy Illegally Yours. In 1988, Bogdanovich married Louise and the couple eventually divorced thirteen years later.

Dorothy Stratten was buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, chosen by Bogdanovich the inscription on her headstone reads, ‘If people bring so much courage to this world the world had 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 that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.’ Incidentally, the cemetery is also the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe, the first ever playmate and another beautiful blonde whom the world had to kill far too soon. In the last interview she gave, Dorothy was asked whether she compared herself to the iconic bombshell, she replied, ‘I don’t think so. I didn’t originally plan to become a celebrity, an actress, a centerfold, whatever. I was happy in the past, I’m happy now for the most part. Marilyn, from what I’ve read, always sought fame, as a kind of solution to loneliness and an unhappy past. It can’t work that way.’

Above: Interview with Dorothy Stratten (1980)


Selected Sources:

The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal – George C. Kohn (2001)

All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse (2009),,20119405,00.html