Dorothy Stratten’s modeling and acting career were shockingly short. Discovered by Playboy at the age of 18, the Vancouver-born, sweet-tempered, and shy blonde became an instant success. She was Playmate of the Month in August of 1979 and Playmate of the Year in June of 1980. But in August of 1980, just one year after becoming a Playboy star, she was killed by her estranged husband in a brutal murder-suicide.
Dorothy Was Groomed By a Pimp Right After High School
Dorothy Stratten was working part-time at a Dairy Queen in Canada as she finished high school. She’d just landed a job as a clerk typist for a telephone company and was still scooping ice cream when a nightclub promoter, Paul Snider, noticed her at Dairy Queen.
Snider, an early Chippendales employee, convinced Stratten to date him and immediately started grooming her. He convinced her to shorten her last name from the original “Hoogstraten.” He then persuaded Stratten to partake in a nude photoshoot, which he shared with Playboy. Stratten was chosen as a finalist for the 25th Anniversary Great Playmate Hunt, prompting the couple to move to Los Angeles. Dorothy went first in August 1978 and Snider joined her in October. They got married the following June.
Playboy Immediately Embraced Dorothy Stratten as a Lauded Playmate
Soon after, Playboy made Dorothy Stratten their August 1979 Playmate of the Month. In October of 1979, Stratten started posing for photos that would later specifically be used to present her as Playmate of the Year. Many of her photos were taken by Mario Casilli. The photo project took 6 months, ending in March of 1980. During that time, Stratten also worked as a bunny at the Playboy Club in Century City, Los Angeles.
Dorothy Stratten’s Playboy pictorials featured a mix of angels and sex sirens. The 1979 Playboy centerfold featured her fully nude but with a scarf draped around her back and hip. Her back is arched backward and she’s looking forward, just above the camera lens. Another 1979 centerfold variant shows Stratten wearing white high-waisted slacks and a white cropped t-shirt that reads “Property of Playboy Photo Dept.”
The 1980 Playmate of the Year Pictorial
The photos featured in Playboy’s June 1980 issue initially celebrate Dorothy Stratten as a more angelic Playmate of the Year before moving on to black lingerie. She’s seen on the cover and in other photos wearing a sheer white dress and sitting on green grass. It’s very “Lady Greensleeves.”
In the magazine, alongside a glamorous headshot and the caption “Playmate of the Year” is a smaller photo of Stratten. She could be in her hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s wearing heeled boots, slacks, an open cardigan, a scarf, a cowgirl hat, and no shirt. Stratten proudly pushes her bare chest out, nipples and all. In the background are a house, pine trees, and a nice smattering of fog.
Other photos show Stratten wearing variations of white lingerie. In some, she poses in a breezy white matching camisole and short ensemble. In another, she’s sitting in a chair while wearing a white silk teddy. Trees and nature serve as her backdrop.
Then Dorothy is seen wearing a black lace bodysuit while looking back from a red couch. Another shows her sitting on the ground alongside an assortment of picnic items, a candelabra, and a bale of hay. Once again, we think of “Lady Greensleeves,” but after she’s gone for a romp in the barn rather than the grass. She’s wearing a black front-tie underbust corset and no bottoms. Her breasts are very apparent as she casually holds a goblet of wine in front of her crotch.
Hugh Hefner and Dorothy Stratten Adored Each Other
Destined to be a Playboy star, Dorothy Stratten was admired by Hugh Hefner and fans alike. She was often photographed hanging with Hefner, who hoped that Stratten could become a successful Hollywood actress. That hope was fulfilled. Stratten soon landed a few minor roles in film and TV. She eventually would star in a sci-fi film, Galaxina, as herself, and then later, in They All Laughed, which would be her final movie.
Hefner is quoted as doting on Stratten, saying “she is something rather special. They always are, but Dorothy is really quite unique.” The admiration was reciprocal, as Stratten once said he’d “made me probably the happiest girl in the world today.” But Hefner, usually notorious for sleeping with everyone he deemed beautiful, was not romantically involved with Stratten.
“There was a friendship between us. It wasn’t romantic,” Hefner said after Dorothy’s death. “This was not a very loose lady.”
Stratten was lavished with money and fine gifts as a result of becoming Playmate of the Year. They included a $26,000 Jaguar, a $13,000 10-person custom-made brass bathtub, a $65,000 Russian fur coat, and lots of money.
Stratten Had an Affair With a Movie Director and It Took a Toll on Her Husband’s Mental Health
But Dorothy Stratten’s true affections weren’t for Hugh Hefner, nor her husband. In 1980, she started having an affair with director Peter Bogdanovich while producing They All Laughed. Marital problems and widespread dislike of Paul Snider among the Playboy family led Stratten to eventually separate from Snider.
Snider, on the other hand, became obsessed. He hired a private investigator to travel across the country while Stratten was filming They All Laughed in New York. Snider, who depended on his wife for financial security due to his green card status, became unhinged, suicidal, and homicidal.
On August 14, 1980, Dorothy Stratten agreed to meet up with Paul Snider to discuss divorce proceedings and to give him some money. Snider was living in West Los Angeles with two roommates, who left to give them privacy. The roommates returned hours later, thinking that Snider and Stratten were having an intimate moment in Snider’s bedroom.
The Grisly Murder-Suicide
But after Snider’s private detective, who had witnessed his mental health deteriorates, prompted them to check in on the couple, they came across a grisly scene. Both Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten were naked and deceased. Stratten had been shot in the face and Snider had shot himself in the head. It is believed that Stratten’s body was abused, and possibly raped before her death.
“Her blond hair hung naturally, oddly unaffected by the violence to her countenance,” wrote Teresa Carpenter for The Village Voice. “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.”
Dorothy Stratten is one of the unfortunate women included in the “Centerfold Curse.” Regardless of the superstition, it’s clear that her stardom flew high, bright, and very, very fast. RIP Playboy angel.