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Dorothy Stratten Biography

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Birth Name: Dorothy Stratten

Born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in Feb. 26, 1960 in a Salvation Army Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Stratten's life was marked with sadness from almost the second she was born. Her parents, Nelly and Simon Hoogstraten, separated when she was three, leaving Nelly to struggle to make ends meet for Dorothy, son John, and youngest daughter Louise, who was born out of wedlock from an affair with one of Nelly's employers. In order to help with finances, young Dorothy began working part-time at a Dairy Queen outside Vancouver. It was there that 18-year-old Stratten met a small-time promoter and hustler named Paul Snider, who was 30 at the time of their first encounter in 1978. Snider had a taste for flashy clothes and expensive automobiles, but lacked the talent or drive to fund such desires. His apparent solution to this problem was to ride the coattails of an attractive young woman whom he would groom into a model and actress while serving as her manager and mentor. Vancouver police viewed his business plan differently, and frequently placed Snider under surveillance for prostitution.

Stratten was blissfully unaware of Snider's reputation when she met him in January of 1978. She was dating a local boy at the time, but quickly fell for Snider's calculated show of wealth. She also came to crave the attention he paid her, and took to heart the advice he gave her on how to dress and carry herself. Stratten's mother and siblings warned her repeatedly about Snider's less-than-honorable intentions, but for a small-town girl whose future appeared to begin and end at the Dairy Queen - to say nothing of a fatherless teen who never had a male role model to watch over her - the luxuries that Snider seemed to promise were too tempting to pass up.

Armed with a wholesome, innocent beauty and flawless figure, she landed her first modeling jobs at one of Snider's auto exhibitions, but his goals for his protégé/lover were far loftier. He saw her as a top model, preferably for an upscale men's publication like Playboy. When Hugh Hefner's venerable magazine announced a nationwide search for its 25th anniversary Playmate in 1978, Snider saw his chance. He contacted a photographer in Vancouver to shoot nude photos of Stratten, but was displeased with the result. Later, he contacted photographer Ken Honey and arranged for a session. One roadblock quickly presented itself - Stratten was under 21, which meant that a parental signature was required for the session. Though Nelly was away that particular weekend, Snider still produced the required signature, and Honey shot a string of nude portraits for Playboy consideration.

To Stratten's surprise, the editors at Playboy were taken with her willowy blonde good looks, and arranged to have her flown to Los Angeles for further test shots. Snider was not permitted to attend the session, leaving him to fume in private over it. This snub would foster a growing sense of jealousy and resentment towards his "creation" - which would ultimately lead to both of their demises only two years later.

Snider's fears grew with each day Stratten spent in Los Angeles at the Playboy Mansion. He called her daily, and when the magazine brought her back to Vancouver for some location shots, he clung to her side and caused considerable anxiety for photographer Honey. Meanwhile, Stratten was experiencing her own concerns over Snider and their Svengali-like relationship. She had gotten a taste of the high life while in Los Angeles, having met powerful people via the magazine's legendary parties. She had also begun to develop a sense of her own attractiveness and self-worth. Always the naïve girl with misplaced loyalty, she began worrying that she was betraying Snider. Despite her best intentions, a gulf was opening between the pair.

In late 1978, it was announced that Stratten was one of two models under consideration for the 25th Anniversary Playmate. Unfortunately, she would not claim the title. She did, however, land Miss August of 1979 and received its accompanying $10,000 cash prize. Upon landing Miss August, Stratten did as so many young women before her had done, and shortening her too ethnic-sounding last name from Hoogstraten to Stratten.

Despite the loss of the top prize, Snider still saw Stratten as his entrée to the big time, and upon arriving in Los Angeles, promptly suggested that they marry. Stratten countered by saying that they should wait. The pair became engaged instead. Snider began actively shopping Stratten to producers and promoters for films and modeling jobs. At the same time, they both began taking acting lessons, but Snider - unable to properly express his own emotions and lacking in the looks department as well -quickly dropped out. He proved equally unskilled at navigating the Beverly Hills and Hollywood social scene; his preferred manner of dress - which was kindly described as low-rent pimp - was privately mocked at parties, and his crass approach with possible business partners frequently rubbed people the wrong way.

Stratten, however, had no problem befriending and charming strangers. One of the many who fell under her spell was director Peter Bogdanovich, then something of a Hollywood wunderkind, thanks to films like "The Last Picture Show" (1971). A known procurer of beautiful blondes, Bogdanovich met Stratten at the Playboy Mansion and was smitten by her beauty. He asked her to read for a part in a new film he was launching, but Stratten never followed through. Unbeknownst to both of them at the time, they would soon fall madly in love.

By late 1978, Stratten's Playmate fee was running low and Snider's insatiable spending habits were eating into their limited budget. Stratten found work at the Playboy Club in Century City, continuing to audition for film and television roles in her spare time. Snider continued to dream up get-rich-quick schemes, most notably a male stripper revue and a nation-wide male dancer competition. The financial burden, along with Snider's increasing possessiveness towards Stratten, began to place a considerable strain on their relationship, leaving her to worry privately to friends about their impending marriage. Despite her concerns, Snider had his way once again. To the dismay of everyone who cared about her - from her family to even Hugh Hefner - the mismatched couple were married on June 1, 1979.

But Stratten had little time to bemoan her decision that summer, because the promotional machine behind her upcoming magazine layout had cranked up into high gear. She began a cross-country tour to support her Playmate status, with a stop in Vancouver to see her family. Stratten was concerned about her mother's reaction to the nude photos, but by all accounts, Nelly Hoogstraten was proud of her daughter's accomplishments and how far she had come from their humble beginnings. Upon her return to Hollywood, Stratten made cameo appearances in two dreadful comedies - the teensploitation flick "Skatetown USA" (1979) and "Americathon," a glum fantasy with John Ritter. She also made her debut as a lead in a crass, soft S&M thriller from Canada called "Autumn Born," which offered the sight of her bound and beaten at the hands of sadists.

On the surface, everything seemed to be coming Stratten and Snider's way. The couple moved out of their digs in Burbank and into a two-story house in West Los Angeles, which they shared with a young physician named Steve Cushner. Snider lavished himself with expensive cars and clothes and flashy jewelry that was clearly beyond his means. Despite these outward displays of success, Snider was failing miserably with his own schemes. His male revues were a wash, and club owners quickly tired of him. He became aggressive and combative in discussions, privately taking to carrying a loaded gun.

In late 1979, Stratten filmed a small bit for an upcoming Playboy TV special, and while there, ran into Bogdanovich. He reiterated his offer of a role in an upcoming film - a comedy he was working on called "They All Laughed" (1981). Stratten auditioned for the director, though her natural abilities hardly mattered. Bogdanovich was smitten with this seemingly unspoiled woman-child. Soon thereafter, Stratten was named as the 1980 Playmate of the Year, and the magazine announced plans to shoot a special feature in which she would portray legendary blondes from Hollywood's past.

This sudden ascent sent Snider into a tailspin. His private rages became open in her presence, leaving friends to worry that he was beating her. He pressured her to star in a silly science fiction project he had cooked up called "Galaxina" (1980) and concocted a binding contract that would assure him half of her income and property for life - whether they remained married or not. Stratten expressed her fears to those close to her, including Bogdanovich, all of whom were growing deeply concerned for her safety and happiness.

Snider's crushing grip on Stratten drained the joy from all of her successes. Photographers at her Playmate of the Year shoot noted her constant tears and frequent fights with Snider on the phone. In a rare moment of clarity and independence, Stratten pondered openly to West Coast photo editor Marilyn Grabowski whether to ask Hefner if he would purchase property for Snider outside of Los Angeles in order to get him out of her life.

While tensions grew between Snider and Stratten, love had blossomed between the Playmate and Bogdanovich. She began to slowly extricate herself from Snider's clutches and explore a life outside of his suffocating desires. With the help of a high-powered lawyer, she established a corporation for her earnings - one that was completely outside of Snider's grasp. She also traveled alone to New York City to shoot "They All Laughed" and indulge in a whirlwind affair with Bogdanovich, who encouraged her to leave Snider. Together, they drafted a letter to him that detailed their burgeoning relationship. This, combined with his sudden persona non grata status with the Playboy community and Hollywood at large, drove Snider into a brooding tailspin; a keg waiting to go off.

By August of 1980, Stratten and Snider were separated and she was living with Bogdanovich in his lavish home in the exclusive Bel Air estates. She had hoped to reach a settlement with her estranged spouse so the two would divorce as friends, as she did feel she owed him something for her success. It was this sense of loyalty that would seal her fate.

Unbeknownst to anyone, on August 14, she met Snider at their former home to discuss what she thought was a real estate matter. The details of what happened next remained shrouded in mystery and conjecture, but what police were able to piece together was this: at some point that afternoon, Snider physically fought with Stratten (traces of her blond hair were found on his hands) before engaging in rough sex. It was possible that Stratten had been bound to a gruesome bondage chair that Snider was developing for sale in Los Angeles sex shops - and possible that she was bound to it post-mortem. Eventually, Snider produced a shotgun and fired a shell directly into Stratten's head. Thirty minutes later, he turned the gun on himself, and died immediately. Their friend and neighbor, Steve Cushner, discovered the bodies after the private investigator Snider had hired to spy on Stratten requested he check in on them.

Bogdanovich went into a deep shock following Stratten's death, and his misery was compounded by the financial ruin he experienced after attempting to distribute "They All Laughed" theatrically in 1981. Lovingly dedicated to Stratten, the film was a dismal failure, despite the presence of Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara and John Ritter. Sensing a deep need to provide for Stratten's family, he invited her sister Louise and mother Nelly to move in with him in 1981. While he feverishly worked on a memoir of his doomed love affair with Dorothy called The Killing of the Unicorn, he doted upon the younger sister, providing her with an expensive education and medical treatment to correct a problem with her jaw.

Upon the book's publication in 1984, Hefner took umbrage with Bogdanovich's portrayal of the Playboy founder and his empire, later suing the director. He would also level charges against the Stratten biopic "Star 80" (1983), which furthered claims established in Bogdanovich's book that her treatment by the Playboy empire contributed to her death. The film, directed by stage legend Bob Fosse and starring Mariel Hemingway as Stratten and Eric Roberts as Snider, received lukewarm reviews and box office. Though Roberts received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, more attention was granted to the fact that Hemingway had gotten breast implants to play Stratten. A less glossy and more coherent attempt to tell Stratten's story came in 1981 with the TV movie, "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story," with Jamie Lee Curtis as Stratten and Bruce Weitz as Snider.

Bogdanovich's connection to Stratten took a decidedly bizarre turn in 1989 when he married her sister Louise, who was some 13 years his junior. The press, which had lambasted him for his affair with Dorothy nine years before, was ruthless upon hearing the news. Bogdanovich's career continued on the downward path set by "They All Laughed" for nearly the next two decades. In 2001, the couple was divorced, sealing the final chapter on the tragic Dorothy Stratten saga.