The horrific murder of Playboy Playmate and actress Dorothy Stratten by her estranged husband, Paul Snider, has haunted Hollywood since 1980. But there’s so much more to this woman than her demise.
Nearly 30 years after being raped and murdered by her estranged headlines, the late Playboy Playmate and actress Dorothy Stratten is back in the headlines, thanks to the 20/20 documentary “The Death of a Playmate: The Dorothy Stratten Story“. Dorothy was just 20 years old when Paul Snider took her life, and then his own, enraged that her career was blossoming without him, and that she found a new man in director Peter Bogdanovich. Learn more about Dorothy’s death, and more importantly, her life:
1. She was discovered at Dairy Queen in 1978 by a pimp, her future husband, and murderer, Paul Snider. Dorothy was still in high school when Paul spotted her serving ice cream and began grooming her. He would shower her with gifts, dinners, and romantic dates, even buying her an expensive prom dress and escorting her to the school dance — when he was 26. That same year, after Dorothy turned 18, he pressured her to pose nude for a professional photoshoot, and to send the pics to Playmate for their Great Playmate Hunt contest; the winner would be the centerfold for the 25th anniversary issue in 1979.
Dorothy didn’t win the contest, but Hugh Hefner and other Playboy bigwigs loved her photos so much, they made her the August 1979 covergirl. Dorothy and Paul moved to Los Angeles to build her blossoming career, where she continued to pose for the magazine and work at the Playboy Club in LA as a Bunny. She was still dependent on Paul, though, who was leeching onto her success. Paul was not liked by those around Dorothy, especially Hef. He even tried to stop Dorothy from marrying him in 1979.
2. Paul was increasingly disliked by Dorothy’s professional network and social circle. All of Paul’s success depended on Dorothy, and her star power was growing by the day. She didn’t need him anymore. Eric Roberts, who played him in the film Star 80, said Paul was “offensive” and “small-time.” Paul reportedly spent tons of time in the Playboy Mansion grotto making out with other girls. After he was caught, security kicked him off the grounds and said that they would only let him on the property if he was with Dorothy, said former Playboy social secretary Alison Reynolds. Before she and Paul married, Hef made sure to set Dorothy up with a manager to keep her career safe.
3. She started landing film roles. After appearing on the 1979 ABC specialPlayboy’s Roller Disco and Pajama Party, Dorothy started being offered film roles. She landed bit parts in shows like Fantasy Island, later scoring the lead role in the 1980 comedy Galaxina. That same year, she was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year. It’s also when her marriage began to crumble.
4. She left Paul for director Peter Bogdanovich in 1980. The acclaimed filmmaker met Dorothy when he started hanging out at the Playboy Mansion following a breakup. They instantly hit it off, and he cast her in his film The All Laughed, co-starring Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara and John Ritter. Their friendship turned to love during production, while Dorothy was still married to Paul. Dorothy’s friend and co-star, Colleen Camp, says she warned Peter that Paul was bad news, and to be careful about who he was dealing with. When they finished filming in New York, Dorothy left Paul and moved in with Peter. She met with him and hoped they could have an amicable separation, said Larry Wilcox, executive producer of the 1981 film Death of a Centerfold: the Dorothy Stratten Story. After meeting with Dorothy, he borrowed a revolver from a friend and waited outside Dorothy and Peter’s house, but did not harm them.
5. Snider murdered her, and then killed himself, after she came over to negotiate their divorce papers. On August 14, 1980, Dorothy went over to the house she once shared with her husband, and friends Stephen Cushner and Patti Laurman; neither were home all day, but when they got home saw Dorothy and Paul’s cars in the driveway. The pair said they went upstairs to watch TV, and said they just assumed Dorothy and Paul had made up and were downstairs in his bedroom. After not hearing from them for a few hours, Stephen and Patti knocked on the bedroom door, with no answer. Stephen opened the door, and found Paul and Dorothy, naked, covered in blood — and dead. “It looked like it was a horror movie — a staged horror movie — like mannequins and fake blood,” Patti said. “That’s a picture that never goes away, a mental picture that’s stuck in here forever.”
Police determined that Paul raped Dorothy, shot her in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun that he bought the day prior, and then turned the gun on himself. “I think that if you look at the control factor of…forcing sex upon her, I think that’s all a part of his regaining his position of power,” said homicide detective Richard DeAnda, who was on the case. “I think it was more realizing that he had no future without her and didn’t want anyone else to have a future [with] her.”
The 20/20 episode “The Death of a Playmate: The Dorothy Stratten Story” airs October 18 at 9:00pm on ABC. Be sure to tune in.