Death of a Playmate
Dorothy Stratten was the focus of the dreams and ambitions of three men. One killed her.
In 1977, Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten, 17, was a 5-foot-9 girl in a little red uniform, her blond hair in pigtails, her delicate features and creamy skin as pure as a scoop of French vanilla. Paul Snider spotted her in a Vancouver, Dairy Queen and thought she had something special. Two years later, the waitress, was known to the world as Dorothy Stratten, was the queen of that American kingdom that rested on the border between fantasy, pop culture and pornography.
She was a Playboy centerfold.
A year after that, she was dead.
It is shortly past four in the afternoon and Hugh Hefner glides wordlessly into the library of his Playboy Mansion West. He is wearing pajamas and looking somber in green silk. The incongruous spectacle of a sybarite in mourning. To date, his public profession of grief has been contained in a press release: “The death of Dorothy Stratten comes as a shock to us all. … As Playboy’s Playmate of the Year with a film and a television career of increasing importance, her professional future was a bright one. But equally sad to us is the fact that her loss takes from us all a very special member of the Playboy family.”
That’s all. A dispassionate eulogy from which one might conclude that Miss Stratten died in her sleep of pneumonia. One, certainly, which masked the turmoil her death created within the Organization. During the morning hours after Stratten was found nude in a West Los Angeles apartment, her face blasted away by 12-gauge buckshot, editors scrambled to pull her photos from the upcoming October issue. It could not be done.
The issues were already run. So they pulled her ethereal blond image from the cover of the 1981 Playmate Calendar and promptly scrapped a Christmas promotion featuring her posed in the buff with Hefner. Other playmates, of course, have expired violently. Wilhelmina Rietveld took a massive overdose of barbiturates in 1973. Claudia Jennings known as “Queen of the B-Movies,” was crushed to death last fall in her Volkswagen convertible. Both caused grief and chagrin to the self-serious “family” of playmates whose aura does not admit the possibility of shaving nicks and bladder infections, let alone death.