August 31, 2016

The Death of Rising Star Dorothy Stratten

Vancouver native Dorothy Stratten very nearly had it all - - small town girl makes good in Hollywood - - living the dream before her estranged husband took it all away.

Dorothy was discovered at the age of eighteen by Playboy, who had received nude photos of the beauty sent by her then-boyfriend Paul Snider.  Snider had found the blonde Dorothy working at a Dairy Queen and, always looking for an angle, the former pimp decided her star potential would allow him to ride her coattails to success.

Playboy liked what it saw and Dorothy headed to L.A., with Snider following her a month or so later.  By August of 1979, she was Playmate of the Month, two months after marrying Snider in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony.  While Dorothy's motivation seemed to be obligation and a sense of gratitude for her "manager," Snider's intent was to keep her from slipping away from him.  Her friends and those acquaintances connected with Playboy were none too happy that she had married the slimy Snider, who began driving around town in a Mercedes with vanity plates - - STAR80- - to indicate where he felt he and his wife were going.

Dorothy and Snider
Dorothy worked as a Bunny at the Playboy Club and acting seemed a natural transition for her.  Hefner believed she could be one of the then few who could move from Playmate to actress.  She got roles, albeit small ones, in tv shows like Fantasy Island and Buck Rogers and the 25th Century and her first film role as a skater in Skatetown, U.S.A.  All of these roles showcased her girl-next-door type of beauty but did little to demonstrate any talent.   Her first starring role was as and in Galaxina, a science fiction parody, released in 1980.    

Her career was gaining momentum but the more success she seemed to gain professionally, the more stress her marriage was put under.  Snider was jealous, not just of Dorothy potentially looking at other men but of her career.  He had wanted to make her a star but now that she was solidly on the way, he began turning on her.

Hugh Hefner encouraged her to leave Snider, calling him a hustler and a pimp but Dorothy felt responsible for her husband and refused.  Friends began to warn her about Snider and his increasingly unstable behavior but again, Dorothy felt responsible.

Dorothy and Bogdanovich
In January 1980, Dorothy received the holy grail of Playboy stardom - - she was crowned the 1980 Playmate of the Year.  She also landed a small role that could have turned the tables completely for her, a mainstream part in the studio film They All Laughed, alongside Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazarra.    Leaving to shoot in New York must have been a wonderful reprieve for Dorothy; director Peter Bogdanovich kept a tight set and Snider was not allowed to be present.  This breather allowed Dorothy to think about her future . . . and fall in love with Bogdanovich,

Snider, always teeming with jealousy, must have known the end was near when Dorothy left to shoot the movie.  There was no doubt in his mind when he hired a private investigator who gave him details of the director and his star's relationship on set that spring of 1980.

Dorothy told her husband she was leaving him.  Snider had always had other women on the side and in fact was living with one by the time Dorothy was filming in New York but such hypocrisy mattered little to him; he wanted Dorothy if for no other reason than so no one else could have her.

Once filming on They All Laughed wrapped, Dorothy returned to L.A. with Bogdanovich and moved into his home.  Bogdanovich was head over heels for her and believed they had a future together, especially once her divorce from Snider was final.

Snider asked his estranged wife to meet him at their former marital home on August 14, 1980.  Against Bogdanovich's concern and wishes, she went.  She thought she and Snider were going to work out details of their split; she didn't know that Snider had acquired a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun.

Shortly after noon, Dorothy arrived at the residence with $1,000 to give Snider in hopes of an amicable divorce.

The house where Dorothy died; a news crew is by her car
At 11 p.m., Snider's private investigator called the owner of the home and Snider's current roommate on his private line to say that he had been attempting to reach Snider for hours without luck.  The roommate noted that there was nothing but silence coming from Snider's room; he knocked and called himself without answer before breaking in and discovering the gruesome sight of two dead bodies.

Both had died of shotgun blasts.  Police theorized that at some point that afternoon Snider had raped his wife before shooting her in the face; Dorothy had held her hand up in front of her as evidenced by a wound to her finger.  After that, based on bloody hand prints found on her, it seems likely that he violated her body on a bondage machine he designed and built before turning the gun on himself.

The tragedy shocked and saddened Hollywood.  Dorothy was known to be a sweet and somewhat naive girl; that she could have met such a brutal end and at the hands of a man she had supported and defended was doubly tragic.  Surprisingly, the media did not make mincemeat of her, instead going after Snider and the bitchy industry itself.  Quite a change from the Cielo Drive victim blaming of a decade earlier, where Sharon Tate's slaughter was laid down at her own doorstep.

Peter Bogdanovich, particularly grief stricken, claimed himself to be a widower and doubting that he would ever find such love again.  (He did; he married Dorothy's younger sister Louise in 1988 when she was 20 and he was 50. They would divorce after 13 years of marriage.)   He also went bankrupt in order to finish They All Laughed, which tanked at the box office and wrote a beautiful tome to Dorothy titled The Killing of the Unicorn.  

Two movies were made about Dorothy's life and death; the first with Jamie Lee Curtis and the second, and better known, with Mariel Hemingway and a frightening Eric Roberts as Snider.  The second was very aptly titled Star 80.  Star 80 had scenes filmed at the actual property Dorothy and Snider lived and died at - - even the murder/suicide scenes were shot in the very room that Dorothy was killed.  Bogdanovich dismissed Star 80 as "shit," although he admitted that he had never met Snider.

Why did Snider do it?  Jealousy was a part, although he himself was living with a blonde teenager that he hoped to turn into another Dorothy Stratten.  I don't think it was jealousy based on love he may or may not have had for her; I think it was jealousy based on Dorothy being his property.  In his mind, he had found and made Dorothy.  Based on that alone, he earned the right to be a star himself, he deserved it.  Nobody, and that included Dorothy, was going to take that away from him.

More importantly though, I think fear motivated Paul Snider.  Fear of losing Dorothy.  Fear of losing his golden ticket, his entry into the entertainment world where everybody was somebody.  Paul Snider knew he was nobody without Dorothy Stratten.  Without her, he would be exposed for the fraud and fake he was.  A failed pimp.  A failed nightclub promoter. A failed husband, whose gorgeous young wife had left their marriage for a man twice her age.  He couldn't return to Vancouver having come so close to the top.

I think once he decided to murder Dorothy he elected to do it in a way that would kill her beauty too.  He would destroy that which had initially attracted him, which had opened doors for her.  Why else would he choose a shotgun?  Why else would he aim it at her face and pull the trigger?  I think he felt power by doing so, I think he probably liked seeing the fear in Dorothy's eyes and knowing that he would be the last thing she ever saw on this earth.

I think he was punishing everyone else as well.  Hollywood and the rest of the world had effectively dropped him.  He would show them.  He would take what they loved most, this thing of beauty, and absolutely destroy it.  

Dorothy's story is especially sad as she felt she knew the man who would ultimately kill her. This man who at one time praised her beauty, gave assurances of love had intentionally pointed a gun at her face and pulled the trigger.  Her friends saw the signs; they noticed Snider's eroding behavior.  How had she not seen it?  Was it her youth?  Did she only see what she wanted to?  Was she so naive that she believed in the general good of everyone?

When I think about this case, my mind races with "what if"s.  What if Dorothy had listened to her friends?  What if she had listened to Hugh Hefner?  What if she had listened to Peter Bogdanovich?  What if she had met Snider in a public place or taken a friend?  What if she had never married Snider?  What if Snider had not come into the Dairy Queen in Vancouver on that particular day?  There are so many "what if"s, my brain hurts with them.

This case too reminds me of one that would follow nearly fourteen years later, also in Los Angeles, when O.J. Simpson would decide that his ex-wife should not live and butcher her, along with the innocent Ron Goldman.  I think the emotions were similar - - jealousy and fear.  Simpson was notoriously jealous of any attention being paid to his ex-wife and I think he was fearful that Nicole had moved on from him, once and for all.  Like Snider, if he couldn't have her, no one could.  The difference, of course, is that Simpson was a far greater narcissist than Snider could ever hope to be and played the murders into himself being victimized and persecuted by the corrupt LAPD.  Snider at least saved us all that.

It's been thirty-six years since Dorothy was brutally taken from this life.  Had she been allowed to live, she would be fifty-six years old.  What she might have become, who she might have become, we will never know.  She was in Hollywood only two years, from 1978 until 1980, and yet had managed to accomplish more in that short period than many artists do in their career lifetimes.  More importantly, she did not allow the seamy underside of the business to change her.  She was still the sweet, kind girl from Canada who wrote poetry.

Dorothy was buried in Westwood Memorial Park, the same location where Natalie Wood would be forever placed to rest a year later.

Paul Snider's body was returned to Canada, where he was laid to rest.  Since he and Dorothy both died without wills, he as her legal husband inherited her estate upon her death which was then reverted to his family upon his death.

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