Unspeakable Facts About Dorothy Stratten, The Tragic Centerfold 

Byron Fast

Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story, and Dorothy Stratten’s life checks a lot of those boxes. Her brush with fame, however, was tragically brief.  Starting her career as a naïve Playboy bunny, she soon became a pawn in a dangerous game between her controlling husband, an obsessed director, and Hugh Hefner himself. Unfortunately, these shady connections only led to her untimely demise.


1. She Was A Teenage Queen

Born on February 28, 1960, in Vancouver Canada, Dorothy Stratten enjoyed a fairly normal childhood, that is until she reached her teen years. By the time she hit high school, Stratten was doing what most young people do: hanging out with friends, doing homework, and working a part-time job for extra cash. But that was all about to change.

While serving up ice cream at the local Dairy Queen, she met a club promoter—and occasional pimp—named Paul Snider. This fateful meeting would alter Stratten’s life forever.

2. She Met A Player

When Stratten met Snider, he was, as they say, living large. He had a black corvette, and he even wore a soft, mink jacket. Decked out in riches, Snider also had the star of David—encrusted in jewels—dangling from his neck. They called him the Jewish pimp, and his shiny exterior easily impressed a naïve Stratten, but it all masked a much darker purpose.

3. She Stripped Down

Stratten was only 17 years old when she started dating the 26-year-old Snider. Snider was immediately aware of what he had on his hands: A beautiful young woman ripe for manipulation. It took him about two weeks to persuade Stratten to take her clothes off and pose for a professional photographer. But his disgusting plan didn’t end there.

4. She Was Too Young

Snider wanted to submit Stratten’s photographs to Playboy Magazine. While Playboy is no benchmark of morality, it did take issue with Snider’s questionable photographs. It was quite obvious that Stratten was far too young to be posing wearing only her birthday suit. But Snider, determined to expose his underage girlfriend, wasn’t about to give up just yet.

5. Her Mother Messed Up

Stratten’s mother was the next order of business. You see, those photos weren’t going anywhere without a signed parental consent form. With his charm in tow, Snider got down to work. Somehow, he managed to persuade her mother to agree to the disturbing distribution of her daughter’s image. Although she might not have realized at the time, Stratten’s mother had made a monumental mistake.

6. She Made A Big Move

After Snider got the permission he needed, word came back quickly: Playboy was definitely interested. The magazine immediately offered to bring her out to Los Angeles. It was the summer of 1978, and Stratten was about to do two things she’d never done before: fly in a plane and take a ride in a limousine. In reality, however, she was in for a rude awakening.

7. She Was Lost

Stratten soon found herself in over her head. She was still a teenager, and the lifestyle in LA—especially its promiscuity—wasn’t her cup of tea. The magazine’s editor Marilyn Grabowski made a keen observation of this struggling newcomer: “She was a total babe in the woods. I cannot remember another Playmate being that—I don’t want to say naïve—inexperienced, unused to her surroundings and not used to thinking that she was really beautiful.”

Seriously lost in the LA scene, Stratten needed a shoulder to lean on. Unfortunately for her, there was one slimeball still waiting in the wings.

8. She Kept Him Close

Life in LA was tough for Stratten, but she still had Snider to turn to. The photographers noticed that during her photoshoots, she would compulsively call Snider and tell him how things were going. Friends thought it was strange that Stratten gave Snider so much credit for her success. What had he done, after all, besides convincing a teenager to take off her clothes and pose for some pictures?

9. She Introduced Him Around

Snider quickly realized how much of a hold he had on Stratten, so he tied up his loose ends in Vancouver, and joined her in LA. Stratten was eager to introduce him to her friends—but her excitement quickly turned sour. The verdict came in quickly and decisively: Her friends didn’t like Snider one bit. This actually didn’t work in Snider’s favor because Stratten had made one extremely powerful friend.

10. She’d Picked A Dud

In just a few short months in LA, Stratten had fostered a friendship with Playboy’s head honcho Hugh Hefner. When Hefner met Snider—who he called a hustler and a pimp—he immediately didn’t like him. He focussed on planning Stratten’s career and none of those plans included Snider. In fact, Hefner was about to make Stratten take center stage.

11. She Was At The Center

Hefner wanted to place Stratten in the most important position in his magazine: The centerfold. A coveted spot and a high-profile position. But that wasn’t all. He also wanted the rising star to start working at the Playboy Club. Hefner was putting a lot of energy and thought into Stratten’s career, while Snider continued to test his limits in the worst ways imaginable.

12. She Worked The Door

While Stratten was working the door at the Playboy Mansion, Snider was inside the mansion, running amok. His place of preference was the water-filled grotto, which was an infamous setting for salacious escapades. Soon the powers that be at the Playboy Mansion grew tired of Snider; Hefner and his cohorts quickly made a decision: Keep Snider as far away from Stratten as they possibly could.

However, when Snider caught on to the treachery, he did something drastic.

13. She Couldn’t See It

Feeling left out of Stratten’s extravagant lifestyle, Snider got down on one knee and proposed. Even though her friends thought Hefner was pure evil, Stratten couldn’t see it. She tended to see the good in people. So, what was Stratten’s response to the proposal? She had two choices: Listen to Hefner’s advice or marry the man of her dreams.

14. She Said “Yes”

At 19 years old, Stratten had a life-altering decision to make. There was her handsome man, on bended knee no less, proposing marriage. In her eyes, Snider was the man responsible for her runaway success—the one who’d picked her out of a crowd and taken a chance on her. To everyone’s dismay, she happily accepted, and the marriage took place in June 1979—just before Stratten’s exposure hit an all-time high.

15. She Appeared On Screen

August 1979 was a big month for Stratten. Hefner had arranged for her to be the featured Playmate of the Month. But he also had other plans for her career. He wanted to see her on the small screen. She soon appeared in TV’s Sci-Fi hit Buck Rogers and on the often lust-fueled Fantasy Island. If Hefner had his way—and he usually did—her next stop would be the big screen.

16. She Did Bit Parts

Hefner managed to get Stratten a couple of small roles in the movies. Her role as a Playboy Bunny in the comedy Americathon wasn’t much of a stretch—and was actually uncredited. She also appeared briefly in the roller disco-themed Skatetown, U.S.A. with Happy Days’ Scott Baio where she played “the girl who orders pizza.” If these roles sound underwhelming, you’re absolutely right.

Thankfully, however, a greater opportunity was right around the corner.

 17. She Met A Famous Filmmaker

In the end, Playboy ended up doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Stratten. While working at the Playboy Club, Stratten met the director Peter Bogdanovich, who had achieved critical success for films like Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show. It’s not clear exactly what happened when Stratten met the celebrated director, but the meeting made Bogdanovich do something rash.

18. She Got Written In

Stratten made such an impression on Bogdanovich that he actually wrote her into his next movie. And the character—that of an unhappy wife—took, as its source, Stratten’s unstable relationship with Snider. This film elevated Stratten to a whole new level: She was slotted to work with the screen legend Audrey Hepburn and Three’s Company’s John Ritter.

But, unfortunately, before the shoot could begin, Stratten had Snider to deal with.

19. She Was Stressed

As Stratten’s star began its ascent, Snider began realizing that he wasn’t even getting off the ground. He had basically been reduced to being his wife’s chauffeur. The two were arguing constantly, and Snider felt stifled by her success. She, on the other hand, needed room to breathe. Luckily, her film with Bogdanovich was shooting in New York City—far from LA and her husband. But she couldn’t get rid of Snider that easily.

20. She Didn’t Want Him Along

As Stratten prepared for her trip to New York to film They All Laughed with Bogdanovich, Snider came to a decision: He would accompany Stratten to the big apple. This was exactly what Stratten didn’t want to happen. Having Snider there would crowd her creativity and threaten her first big break. Moreover, Stratten had another, more secretive, reason for keeping Snider in LA.

21. She Fell For Him

You see, Stratten had grown extremely close to Bogdanovich, and with a new romance in the works, she didn’t need her pesky husband around, ruining the mood. Of course, Stratten still had a shred of decency and hadn’t yet slept with the director—but she wanted to see where it could lead. Obviously, this couldn’t happen with Snider constantly by her side.

Running out of options, Stratten came up with a slightly dishonest solution.

22. She Fibbed

Stratten had to keep Snider in LA while she was shooting in New York, so she made up a little story. She told her husband that Bogdanovich preferred a closed set—cast and crew only. Although Snider may have been suspicious of the story, he agreed to stay in LA. Of course, as it turned out, Snider had every reason to worry.

23. She Found Love

Shortly after arriving in New York, Stratten and Bogdanovich became lovers. At this time, Stratten was 20 years old, and Bogdanovich was more than two decades older. Despite the age difference, Bogdanovich still treated her better than Snider ever had. She’d grown so used to Snider’s toxic presence that the director seemed like a dream. Unfortunately, she couldn’t stay in New York forever.

24. She Was In Demand

Stratten still had several months of filming left on Bogdanovich’s film when Hugh Hefner made a big announcement: He dubbed her Playmate of the Year. This meant that Stratten had to hightail it back to LA for the launch of the publicity tour. She had to say a quick farewell to her director—and lover—and return to the city where, unfortunately, her creepy husband lay in wait.

25. She Appeared Late

At the launch of her Playboy tour, Hefner gave an overly gushy speech before Stratten took the microphone. She thanked everyone except one highly sensitive person: Her husband Snider. That couldn’t have gone over well, but at the time, Stratten had bigger things to worry about. After the launch, Stratten went on to appear on The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson.

Big things were happening, but even so, there was only one person on her mind.

26. She Slipped Away

The first part of her promotional tour for Playboy was a two week tour of Canada—her home country. But Stratten had a couple of days before that started, so she followed her heart, and flew to New York to see Bogdanovich. Things continued to click for Stratten and Bogdanovich, and this good feeling prompted Stratten to do something about her deadbeat husband.

27. She Reached Out

While on the Canadian tour, Stratten wrote a letter to her husband. She didn’t dare tell him about her affair with Bogdanovich, but she did ask for something that she probably knew would anger him: A little freedom in their relationship. Surely Snider could read between the lines, and see the writing on the wall. However, instead of stepping aside, Snider took a step closer.

28. She Couldn’t Relax

Stratten’s Canadian tour ended in her hometown of Vancouver. This was where she had family to visit, but it was also where she’d meet Snider. When she arrived in Vancouver, Stratten got a shock: Snider was waiting to surprise her. Instead of letting her relax in her hometown with her family, he did something extremely selfish.

29. He Booked Her

When Stratten arrived in Vancouver, she discovered that Snider had set up some personal appearances at nightclubs owned by old friends. Suddenly, Snider was her manager all over again, negotiating her fees, which he mostly pocketed for himself. The two of them had an intense argument and Stratten even suggested giving up acting and settling with Snider in Canada.

Surely, this proposition would be a dream come true for Snider…Wouldn’t it?

30. They Split

Snider had no intention of letting Stratten quit acting, and weirdly enough, he wasn’t even that interested in saving their marriage. Finding themselves at an impasse, Stratten returned to New York to finish Bogdanovich’s film, and Snider returned to LA to do what he did best—harass Stratten from afar. This time, his non-stop phone calls were met with silence, which infuriated Snider even further.

Eventually, Stratten sent Snider another letter—one that was more to the point, and therefore, more dangerous.

31. She Wrote Him Off

Stratten’s letter to Snider firmly laid out the state of their marriage. It was over—both physically and financially. Snider was, not surprisingly, unhappy with the situation, and immediately withdrew all the funds from their bank accounts. To add insult to injury, he even started up an affair of his own. But other than that, Snider had no cards left to play.

That being said, what he did next must have broken Stratten’s heart.

32. He Sold Her Out

Stratten had received some pretty extravagant prizes from Playboy as payment for her work. Unfortunately, as Stratten’s husband, Snider had access to all of them. Snider needed money and he looked at Stratten’s $26,000 Jaguar and made a decision to sell it. He sold other prizes as well, and then he did something even more outrageous.

33. She Was Under Watch

Snider burned through Stratten’s money in no time, his dismal future stretching out ahead of him. With the money slipping through his fingers, he needed another way to get his hands on some cash. Perhaps if he could prove that his wife was having an affair, he could land himself a decent settlement. But how could he get proof of what was going on in New York, when he was in LA?

That’s when Snider made a very expensive call and hired a private investigator to follow Stratten in New York.

34. Her Life Imitated Art

The film Stratten was working on, They All Laughed, ironically mirrored her own messed up personal life. You see, the film was actually about private detectives spying on adulterous spouses, and that was exactly what was happening to her. Technically speaking, Stratten had two spies following, only one was an actor and the other was the real thing.

35. She Returned

Filming wrapped in the middle of July. It was 1980. Stratten and Bognadovich were finally through with the film in New York and decided to take a hard-earned break. After a two-week trip to London, they headed back to LA. In order to avoid going back to Snider, Stratten rented herself a Beverly Hills apartment. There was, however, something suspicious about this rental.

36. She Pulled A Fast One

It may have looked like Stratton was ready to live on her own, but that wasn’t the reality. In fact, her apartment was almost always empty. She only rented the apartment in order to give Snider, and others, a home address in order to hide her real address—Bogdanovich’s mansion in Bel-Air. Sadly, she wasn’t fooling anyone, especially the suspicious Snider.

37. She Tried To Keep The Peace

Snider was slowly realizing that Stratten wanted nothing to do with him. She met with him a few times, and they talked about a settlement that would give Snider some much-needed money. Stratten wanted to remain amicable, but Snider had already gone to a dark place, crying and writing love songs to his lost bride—but then he took an even more sinister turn.

38. She Lost Him To The Shadows

Snider quickly went from feeling sorry for himself about Stratten to feeling very angry. It’s unclear exactly what he was thinking, but apparently, he borrowed a weapon from a friend. It was a .38 revolver. Armed and delusional, Snider lurked outside of  Bogdanovich’s mansion. His intentions were horrifying: He planned to shoot at anyone exiting the luxurious home.

Unfortunately, his first stakeout was a bust. Nobody left the home, and Snider gave up…for the time being.

39. She Told Him Flat Out

Snider eventually had to return the borrowed revolver to his friend, and for a moment, his revenge took a back seat. He set up a meeting with Stratten, confident he could win her back. Well, that didn’t happen. Not even close. At the meeting, Stratten told Snider the last thing he wanted to hear: She was in love with Bogdanovich.

Moreover, she wanted to complete their separation and offered Snider a payout.

40. He Went Shopping For Danger

Spurred on by Stratten’s news, Snider convinced himself that he needed a weapon. He was still in touch with the private detective he’d hired to follow Stratten, and the two went shopping for a firearm. Being Canadian didn’t allow Snider to legally purchase a weapon, so he pleaded with the detective to buy it for him, telling him it was for protection.

Luckily, the detective gave Snider a hard no.

41. She Didn’t Listen

On August 14, 1980, Stratten had made a plan to meet Snider to hammer out a settlement that would be financially beneficial for him. Since Snider had launched her career, she felt she at least owed him that. Both Bogdanovich and Hugh Hefner told Stratten she shouldn’t go—even going so far as to forbid it. Unfortunately, the advice fell on deaf ears.

42. She Snuck Away

Stratten lied to both Bogdanovich and Hefner and attended what she hoped would be a productive meeting with Snider. They’d agreed to meet up at the house they had once shared. Snider had two roommates—Patti Laurman and Stephen Cushner—but neither were in when Stratten arrived. She had no idea that was walking straight into the greatest nightmare of her life.

43. She Went In On Her Own

When Stratten arrived at her meeting with Snider, she didn’t realize that he’d become ominously unstable. He’d been talking to his friends about some very dark subjects. He broached the topic of hunting and talked about Playmates that had unexpectedly passed. But that wasn’t the most distressing part. Most importantly, Snide had finally been able to purchase a 12-gauge firearm.

44. The Door Was Closed

Later that evening, Snider’s roommates, Laurman and Cushner, returned to the house. They noticed Stratten’s car in front, and they also noticed that Snider had closed his bedroom door. They were sure that Stratten and Snider wanted privacy, so Laurman and Cushner started to watch TV in the living room. Little did they know, Snider’s closed bedroom door hid an unspeakable horror. 

45. He Had A Bad Feeling

On that same evening, Snider’s private detective suddenly had a bad feeling. He called Snider’s house and spoke to Laurman and Cushner. He said he had concerns about Snider, and asked the roommates to check on him. Following the detective’s advice, they quietly went to the door and knocked. They really didn’t want to disturb the couple who they assumed had reconciled.

When they heard no answer, they opened the door…

46. She Had Ben

Patti Laurman said the scene looked like two mannequins covered in fake blood. She went on to say that it resembled “a stage horror movie.” Sadly, it was all too real. They called the authorities of course, but nothing would bring Stratten back now. The lead-up to this massacre was too terrible to even contemplate: Snider had raped her, shot her in the face, and then had taken his own life.

All that was left to do was inform her family and friends.

47. It Was He Said, He Said

Hefner and Bogdanovich were both struck dumb by the news of Stratten’s demise. But soon they’d both be talking. Hefner blamed Bogdanovich because he’d taken another man’s wife. Bogdanovich, on the other hand, placed the blame on the seamy culture of magazines like Playboy. I guess he’d conveniently forgotten that he’d met Stratten while scouring the Playboy Club for women.

48. Her Family Got A New Member

Strangely—and sort of sweetly—Bogdanovich continued a relationship with Stratten’s family. He said that they would have been his in-laws one day, so why would he not stay in touch? He did more than just stay in touch, however. He actually took care of them financially. Then, Bogdanovich even went a step further, but unfortunately, it was more creepy than anything else.

49. Her Sister Took Over

Six years after Stratten passed, Bogdanovich married her half-sister Louise Stratten—who was then 20 years old. Bogdanovich went on to write and produce films with Louise and lived with her even after the two of them divorced. While some people suggested that the pairing of Bogdanovich and Louise was an uncomfortable conclusion to the story, someone else was more frank.

50. Hefner Strikes Again

It seems that Hugh Hefner couldn’t stop blaming Bogdanovich for losing Stratten. He lashed out at Bogdanovich’s relationship with Stratten’s sister, accusing Bogdanovich of seducing Louise when she was only 13 years old. He also accused him of having a relationship with Stratten’s mother Nelly, and of getting Louise to get plastic surgery to look more like her half-sister.

51. The Best Was Yet To Come

Two movies have told the story of Stratten’s short, tragic life: Star 80 and Death of a Centerfold. There exists, however, another, perhaps lesser-known, pop culture entry about her life. In 1983, fellow Canadian Bryan Adams released the song “The Best Was Yet To Come” as a tribute to Stratten. The song serves as a reminder of the incredible potential that we lost on that terrible day in August 1980.

52. He Never Got Over Her

Bogdanovich remained close to Stratten’s family—and still does to this day. He and his ex Louise Stratten made the 2014 comedy She’s Funny That Way with Jennifer Anniston. Strangely enough, Bogdanovich still lives with both Louise Stratten and Nelly Hoogstraten, the mother of both Dorothy and Louise. It seems that, after all the turmoil, Bogdanovich just wants to live surrounded by memories of his beloved Dorothy Stratten.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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