The Story of Playboy's Most Tragic Playmate
She was a beautiful young model and a Hollywood star on the rise—but then she was brutally murdered.
Playboy’s 1980 Playmate of the Year, Dorothy Stratten, had just finished production on her first major film, They All Laughed starring Audrey Hepburn, when her estranged husband, Paul Snider, killed her with a 12-gauge shotgun and then shot himself in their West Los Angeles apartment on August 14, 1980.
The 20-year-old's body was found raped and beaten, her face blasted by Snider's gun.
The blonde beauty with ambition was gone. Her story left America wondering if Playboy was to blame.
Stratten met Snider, a small-time promoter and pimp, when she was a teenager and working at a Vancouver, B.C. Dairy Queen in 1977.
Her sweet face and mature body were captivating, and Snider quickly realized he'd stumbled upon someone with big-time star potential. He convinced her to pose for a nude photo shoot that he'd send to Playboy. Shortly after that, editors selected her Playmate of the Month for August 1979.
"Snider controlled her finances and real estate and even determined who she'd need to sleep with to further her career."
As Stratten shot to stardom, Snider grew obsessive. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Village Voice piece Death of a Playmate, penned by Teresa Carpenter in 1980, Snider controlled her finances and real estate and even determined who she'd need to sleep with to further her career.
The late Hugh Hefner, who passed away at the age of 91 on Wednesday, was, of course, on the list.
“[But] there was a friendship between us. It wasn’t romantic," Hefner, who thought of himself as her father figure, told Carpenter. "This was not a very loose lady."
Stratten and Snider married in Las Vegas on June 1, 1979, and six months later the model, who'd migrated into Hefner's inner circle, was presented with a golden opportunity: the chance to star in a movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich called They All Laughed featuring Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara.
It was the model's big break.
Stratten posing in a blue bikini.
Stratten and Bogdanovich, a close friend of Hefner at the time, started up an affair shortly after filming began.
Bogdanovich was "very excited about her and the film," Hefner told Carpenter in 1980. "I don't think that he was playing with this at all. I think it was important to him. I’m talking about the relationship."
Stratten subsequently ended her relationship with Snider in June 1980 via a letter claiming they were separated physically and financially. When they met a little over a month later to discuss the divorce, he shot her in the face.
"Her blond hair hung naturally, oddly unaffected by the violence to her countenance," Carpenter writes of Stratten's body at the murder scene. "The shell had entered above her left eye leaving the bones of that seraphic face shattered and displaced in a welter of pulp.
"Her body, mocking the soft languid poses of her pictorials, was in full rigor."
Playboy editors were apparently unable to pull photos of Stratten from the next month's magazine, but they removed her from the cover of the 1981 Playmate Calendar and scrapped a Christmas promo featuring a naked Stratten with Hefner.
The publication released a statement to the media on their beloved star:
"The death of Dorothy Stratten comes as a shock to us all. … As Playboy’s Playmate of the Year with a film and a television career of increasing importance, her professional future was a bright one. But equally sad to us is the fact that her loss takes from us all a very special member of the Playboy family.”
But in his exclusive interview with Carpenter, the late Hefner spoke candidly, calling Snider a "very sick guy."
"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," he said at the time. "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.”
In 1977, small-town hustler, Paul Snider, pulls up to a Vancouver Diary Queen in his black Corvette and spots 17-year-old waitress Dorothy Stratten. Snider coaxes Stratten to pose for nude photos in a bid to get her onto the pages of Playboy. Stratten’s mother agrees to sign the model release form, allowing her underage daughter to pose nude. The photos are sent to Playboy that summer. By 1980, Stratten was dead at the hands of Paul Snider. #dorothystratten #murder #deadinhollywood #zine #hollywood #playboy
Even three decades later, the life and death of Playboy's most tragic Playmate remain a true crime fascination.
In May 2017, Reelz channel revisited the bloody crime in its docuseries Murder Made Me Famous, interviewing actor Eric Roberts, who played Snider in the 1983 film, Star 80, and Larry Wilcox, producer of Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story.
Of course, other playmates have met grisly deaths—Yvette Vickers was found mummified in her Beverly Hills home in 2011 and Jasmine Fiore's body was discovered strangled and stuffed into a suitcase in 2009—but Stratten, widely considered to be the next Marilyn Monroe, was carving out a career as a model-turned-actor with help from Hefner at the time of her murder.
"A very sick guy saw his meal ticket slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her."
In 1984, Bogdanovich released a book titled The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980, recalling his lost love's incredible beauty.
“She wasn’t simply beautiful, but unbelievably exquisite beauty…Her beauty was like an extraordinary mirage, too glorious to be real," he writes. In it, he faults his former friend Hefner and Playboy's hedonistic philosophy for Stratten's death.
Though, ironically, Bogdanovich met Stratten at the Playboy Mansion in 1978.
From: Harper's BAZAAR US
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.