I didn't read in its entirety, because my life is too short. An example of elaborate rationalisation.
C O P Y R I G H T
Front cover photo courtesy of Shaplro/Sygma
Copyright © 1984 by Peter Bogdanovich and the Estate of Dorothy Stratten.
Excerpts from Dorothy Stratten’s writings copyright © 1980 by the Estate of Dorothy Stratten.
Grateful acknowledgment is given for permission to reprint:
Lyrlcs from the following songs:
“Someday I’ll Find You” by Noel Coward. Copyright 1930 by Chappell & Co., Ltd.
“Love Story” by Karl Sigman and Francis Lai. Copyright © 1970 and 1971 by Famous Music Corporation.
“Dancing in the Dark” by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. Copyright 1931 by Harms, Inc.
“Too Marvelous for Words” by Johnny Mercer and Richard A. Whiting. Copyright 1937 by Harms, Inc.
“Cover Girl,” words and music by Bryan Adams and Linsey Mitchell. Copyright © 1980 by Irving Music, Inc. (BM!) and Adams Communications, Inc., and Zoo Music (PROC).
“I Don’t Think I Can Take You Back Again” by Earl Poole Bail and Jo-El Sonnier. Copyrigllt © 1977 by Wail to Wall Music and Buttercreek Music.
“One Day Since Yesterday” by Earl Poole Bail and Peter Bogdanovich. Copyright © 1980, 1981 by House of Cash and Moon Pictures Music.
“Unicom” by Earl Poole Bail and Peter Bogdanovich. Copyright © 1981 by House of Cash and Moon Pictures Music.
Excerpts from the following works:
Private Lives by Noel Coward. Copyright 1933 by the Estate of Noel Coward.
The quotation by F. Scott Fitzgerald from ‘Winter Dreams” in All the Sad Young Men is used with the permission of Charles Scribners Sons. Copyright 1922 by Frances S. E. Lanahan, copyright renewed 1950.
The quotation by Ernest Hemingway from A Farewell to Arms is used with the permission of Charles Scribners Sons. Copyright 1929 by Charles Scribners Sons, copyright © renewed 1957 by Ernest Hemingway.
Our Town by Thornton Wtlder. Copyright 1938 by Thornton Wilder, copyright © renewed 1957 by Thornton Wilder.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. Copyright 1927 by Albert and Charles Boni, Inc., copyright © renewed 1955 by Thornton Wilder. Reprinted by special permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., and the Estate of Thornton Wilder.
From Reverence to Rape by Molly Haskell. Copyright © 1973, 1974 by Molly Haskell. Reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Publishers.
From pages 842-843 of The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker. Copyright © 1983 by Barbara G. Walker. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publisliers, Inc.
Excerpts from the following film reviews:
Jack Kroll, Newsweek. Copyright © 1981 by Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved.
Carrie Rickey, The Village Voice. Reprinted by permission of the author and The Village Voice. Copyright © 1981
Stephen Schaefer, Us magazine. Copyright © 1982 by Us magazine.
Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times. Copyright © 1981 by the Los Angeles Times.
Excerpts from the Johnny Carson interview with Dorothy Stratten on The Tonight Shaw, courtesy of Carson Productions, Inc. Copyright © 1980.
When people read of the death of Dorothy Stratten, they shook their heads and talked about the eternal triangle. It’s the age-old story: Play with explosives and they blow up. Even I believed it, as the only living member of that triangle. But as I tried to find the truth, I discovered a fourth side to the figure—hidden and dark. Eventually there would be no doubt in my mind that if the playboy-side of the pyramid had never existed, Dorothy would not have died. She could not handle the slick professional machinery of the Playboy sex factory, nor the continual efforts of its founder to bring her into his personal fold, no matter what she wanted.
In memory of all the Dorothys who have ever lived, under whatever name, this work is dedicated to the ones who are living, and who will live: that their lives may be better because of the life and sacrifice of Dorothy Stratten.
This hope embraces most especially Nelly and Louise, Anna, Antonia and Alexandra, Clementine, and Michelle.
It would not have been possible to write this book without the extraordinary help and encouragement of several people, chief among them John Dodds, who was the senior editor at Morrow when agreements to publish this memoir were first struck in August 1981, a year after Dorothy Stratten was killed. Most of the royalties are to go to the Stratten Estate and to Dorothy’s family.
Shirley MacLaine recommended her agent, Lynn Nesbit, who was tremendously encouraging about the earliest rough draft, and said immediately that she thought the people at Morrow would be most sympathetic to the project, especially John Dodds, and (then associate) publisher Sherry Arden. Both Sherry and John had recently lost women very dear to them, a daughter and a wife, and Lynn believed correctly that they would appreciate my feelings and intentions. Sherry has been remarkably supportive and dedicated, and so has Lynn; they both have my deepest thanks. As dear Shirley does, too, for steering me at a crucial moment in the right direction.
It was Dodds more than anyone who shaped the book that finally evolved; his contribution has been invaluable and irreplaceable. Without his genius as an editor, the work could never have been finished.
Even after leaving Morrow to become editor of the hardcover line at New American Library, and then to found his own Belvedere Books imprint, John continued on his own time to work closely with me on every phase of the book’s development. Because of the painfully personal nature of the material, John’s sensitive objectivity was essential. Many times he would interpret back to me what he had read, and suddenly an entirely new light would be thrown on the events. He was patient, tactful, and brilliant in his handling of an unusually difficult circumstance, and has my undying respect and gratitude.
Producer Patrick Curtis came forward courageously with personal information that had extraordinary reverberations; for his real friendship to Dorothy and her memory, he has the appreciation of all of us who loved her. Patrick was also instrumental in contacting model Patti Laurman, a protégé of Paul Snider, who was friendly toward Dorothy and who confirmed several key points to me and offered her observations from a viewpoint very close to the crime. I am very grateful to her. As I am to photographer Mario Casilli who was also willing to speak of his own experiences with Dorothy, and of what he witnessed in her battles with Playboy. Much thanks as well to Molly Bashler, Dorothy’s good friend and roommate in Los Angeles, for her valuable observations.
Writers John Riley and Laura Bernstein shared facts and insights with me on the Stratten story they researched and wrote, but which never got published; they invested a great deal of time, energy, and emotion, and received for their effort no fulfillment or praise. Their legwork and help (Riley’s went on for nearly three years) made an invaluable contribution to this book. That Riley had at a young age lost a woman he loved in a plane crash, contributed greatly to his understanding of Dorothy’s tragedy and our loss. John proved to be more than a fine journalist, but a true colleague.
Toward L.A. police detective Richard DeAnda, whose compassion and grace in dealing with me on the horrible details of the crime, and whose personal indignation while handling the case went far beyond his duty, I feel more than indebted. As I do to former F.B.I. agent, Frank Angell, one of the most respected private investigators in the business, who became a valuable and trusted associate as he helped me track down leads and information for almost three years after the crime. I wanted to know as much as possible, and Angell’s personal sense of commitment to the truth, like DeAnda’s, is rare.
My warmest thanks to several members of the cast and crew of Galaxina and They All Laughed, each of whom contributed their memories of Dorothy and their own observations: Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter, Colleen Camp, George Morfogen, Linda MacEwen, Sean Ferrer, Sheila Stodden, Douglas Dilge, James David Hinton, Scott Rosenfelt, Teresa Austin, Sally Doyle, Patty Bunch. Linda MacEwen also typed a good part of the earliest drafts of the book which, considering her closeness to Dorothy and me, was a heroic act. In addition, Morfogen, Ritter, Camp, and writer David Scott Milton, four of my dearest friends, read sections from several drafts, as did art critic Michael Peppiatt; their comments and encouragement were important and extremely reassuring.
Thanks are due as well to Dorothy’s business manager, Robert Houston, who loved her as a friend, and to her lawyer, Wayne Alexander; they both cooperated with us fully and diligently and far beyond their jobs. As did attorney Robert Powsner, who never met Dorothy, but was retained by her estate and by me to deal with the seamy aftermath in the media, and who became personally involved in a way much of the legal profession avoids.
To Iris Chester, who most conscientiously typed the great bulk of the manuscript several times, and helped through all its phases not only with suggestions, but with proofreading, wording and punctuation, a very special thank you.
The initial and most extensive line editing of the book, which involved considerable reshaping and reconstruction, was superbly done by Nancy Houghtaling, whose suggestions and ideas were extremely valuable; both John Dodds and I are most grateful to her. Morrow’s senior editor Laurie Lister and her assistant Deborah Baker were particularly helpful and constructive in their questions and evaluations during the book’s final stages; the intelligence and sensitivity they have shown is remarkable.
A number of authors, composers, lyricists, critics (or their estates), and their publishers have kindly granted permission to print excerpts from their work. Though official recognition is given on the copyright page, I would personally like to add my appreciation to them all. And in particular to Graham Payn and Michael Imison of the Noel Coward Estate for allowing excerpts from Private Lives.
Apart from my immediate family, there are several others who, though they had little to do with the making of this book, nevertheless made considerable contributions—in very different ways—toward keeping me going over the three years of its writing; I will always be thankful for their friendship: Stella Adler, Lori and Glenn Camp, Dorothy and Will Camp, Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, Mike Crane, Trammell Crow, Jr., Maria Currea, the late Allan Dwan, Ramon Farron, Dr. John Felice, Graeme Fife, Steve and Dan Foley, Barbara Ford, Samuel Fuller, Charles Glenn, Barbara and Cary Grant, Beryl, Lucia, Tomas, and Robert Graves, Susan and Sam Grogg, Howard Hirdler, Tom Kobayashi, Larry McMurtry, Neil Malamuth, William Peiffer, Dido Renoir, the late Douglas Robertson, Peggy Robertson, Gena Rowlands, Ray Ruff, Cybill Shepherd, Barbara and Frank Sinatra, Marianne Smith, Carlyle Strickland, Dr. Milton Uhley, and Eric Weissmann.
To Dorothy’s beloved family—her mother, Nelly, who will probably never read this book because the pain would be unbearable, her brother, John, and her sister, Louise, the three who have suffered more than anyone else because they knew Dorothy longer and therefore knew more profoundly how much was lost—any expression of gratitude would be too little. Their encouragement, loyalty, and love made it possible to survive the catastrophe that changed all our lives. They gave me the greatest gift imaginable: They took me into their family and taught me a kind of love as selfless as Dorothy’s and, along with hers, unique in my experience.
Because this is their book as much as it is Dorothy’s, the choice of photographs was made with their feelings in mind. Consequently, there are no pictures of Dorothy from Playboy, or with Paul Snider, or with Hugh Hefner. Those images, should the family happen to see them, would carry too many of the darkest memories. The photos we have used are nearly all family snapshots: candids taken by Dorothy herself, or by her relatives and friends. A couple of months before she was murdered, Steve Schapiro took the best professional photographs of her while she was in the happiest time of her adult life. A number of these appear with his kind permission.
A small handful of names in the story have been changed to protect privacy, since knowing the true identities of these people would add little to the reader’s understanding. For Morrow’s fifth printing, and for the first Bantam paperback edition in 1985, several minor corrections or alterations have been made to the text. Two paragraphs were added below, and two more to the end of the last chapter, in order to bring certain events up to the date marked below.
Numerous women, and a few men, have written to me of their reaction to Dorothy’s story, and each letter conveyed its own particular heartbreak. My deepest thanks to them all for sharing their most intimate pain, for showing me that Dorothy and I were by no means alone in our thoughts or feelings.
Two extraordinarily gifted feminists, the writer Andrea Dworkin and the lawyer Catharine A. MacKinnon, were as troubled in 1979-80 as D.R. and I were though we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. The two women did, and drafted the revolutionary antipornography civil rights law which is referred to at the end of chapter seven. Andrea and Kitty MacKinnon also wrote me the two most beautiful letters about the book, for which I thank them again—as well as for their passion, wisdom, and sacrifice to the cause of women’s rights.
Los Angeles, California
1. February 28, 1960 Dorothy Stratten, born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten, Vancouver, B.C.
2. October 10, 1961 Brother John Arthur born, Vancouver, B.C.
3. August, 1963 Goes with mother and brother to Holland; father deserts family; divorce follows.
4. August, 1967 First odd jobs; mother Nelly remarries.
5. May 8, 1968 Sister Louise Beatrice born, Vancouver, B.C. Mother eventually divorces stepfather for cruelty.
6. June, 1974 Starts Dairy Queen job in Vancouver; has begun to write poetry.
7. September, 1974 Begins high school.
8. October, 1976 Goes steady with first boyfriend.
9. October, 1977 Paul Snider enters Dairy Queen.
10. January, 1978 After a fight, breaks off with first boyfriend.
11. February, 1978 Begins affair with Snider.
12. June, 1978 Graduates high school, starts job at B.C. Telephone .
13. August, 1978 Submits to naked photos; is summoned to L.A. by Playboy; incident with Hefner.
14. October, 1978 Meets P.B. for first time; Snider moves to L.A .
15. January, 1979 Works a s waitress a t Los Angeles Playboy Club .
16. June 1, 1979 Marries Snider in Las Vegas.
17. August, 1979 First Playboy layout published; stars in first film, Autumn Born, shot in Winnipeg.
18. October, 1979 Meets P.B. for the second time.
19. November, 1979 Begins Playmate of the Year pictorial for Playboy.
20. January, 1980 Starts Galaxina.
21. February, 1980 Begins Sex Goddess pictorial for Playboy.
22. March 22, 1980 Flies to New York to begin They All Laughed; moves into Plaza with P.B.
23. April, 1980 Begins three-week tour in Canada. and U.S. for Playboy
24. May, 1980 Attends marriage of mother in Vancouver; goes to L.A.; returns to N. Y. to continue film.
25. June, 1980 Playmate of the Year pictorial published in Playboy.
26. July, 1980 Completes picture, flies to London with P.B.; returns to L.A., moves into his house.
27. August, 1980 Travels to Texas and Mojave Desert for Playboy.
28. August 14, 1980 Tortured and killed by Snider in L.A.
I -The Last Day of the World
On Thursday, August 14, 1980, between noon and 1:00 p.m. in the bedroom of a West Los Angeles house, Dorothy Stratten, a twenty-year-old Canadian film actress and Playboy magazine’s then-current Playmate of the Year, was tortured and killed by her estranged husband, twenty-eight-year-old Paul Snider. Before murdering Dorothy, Snider put her into a bondage machine of his own design. He then raped and brutally sodomized her. After freeing her, he fired a shotgun point-blank at the left side of her face. She was dead before the sound reached her ears. The tip of her left forefinger had been shot off in the explosion. So it was apparent that the last thing Dorothy did was to raise her left hand to her face.
During the next hour, Snider moved the corpse across the room to the bed and had intercourse with it at least once before writing a terse suicide note. He then turned the shotgun on himself.
At 12:30 p.m., private detective Mark L. Goldstein, who had been hired by Snider to follow Dorothy, called from his car phone and was told by Snider that all was going well. Soon after 2 p.m., he called again, but received no answer.
That evening, Patti Laurman and Dr. Steve Cushner, friends of Snider’s who were living in his house, became concerned about his unanswered ringing phone. Later, Goldstein called the doctor, again from his car phone, and asked him to check Snider’s room while Goldstein held on. The doctor and Patti went downstairs, found the door unlocked, and opened it. Laurman, horrified, fled from the room, returned to the phone, and told Goldstein what they had found. Goldstein said he would be right over.
The doctor went into the room. Snider was lying on the floor, his face blasted away. There was an arc of his brains and blood splattered across one wall and the entire ceiling. It was later ascertained that he had been on his knees when he pulled the trigger, and the impact had ricocheted him forward onto the floor with the weapon frozen in his hands.
Dorothy did not look dead. Her torso was draped over the end of the bed, her hair hanging down, still vibrant. There were bloody fingermarks on her buttocks and one shoulder. The coroner later found semen in her vagina and rectum. The violent sodomy had disfigured her. Along black line of ants and other insects led to her face, with a similar trail crawling toward Snider’s head.
Goldstein arrived within minutes, before the police. Later, police detective Richard DeAnda would say that if Goldstein knew of Snider’s mood over the past weeks, knew of the drugs and sex perversions Snider had indulged in, knew of his fury over being barred from the Playboy mansion five days earlier, and knew of Snider’s attempts to secure a weapon. He should have warned someone.
Goldstein reached Hugh M. Hefner by phone with the news that Stratten and Snider were dead. ‘Murder/suicide?’ Hefner asked, to confirm his first searing thought. The skin on Hefner’s body, his secretary would recall, seemed to be moving as he spoke; all the blood had drained from his face. Several of his staff had been trying desperately to reach Stratten for the past twenty-four hours. The first call Hefner made was to me.
I had been worried about Dorothy ever since she left my house that morning. Hefner told me a few days earlier that he had barred Snider from his mansion, assuming I knew the impact this would have, but I had never met Snider, and unfortunately knew little about him.
Surely Hefner knew precisely what Snider was like: He had often been to the mansion in the past eighteen months. His vulgarity and strutting machismo were contrary to the Hefner style, which was far more insidious and subterranean. Snider’s sleazy taste and braggadocio were a little too crass. Dime-store pimps like he was could sully the fine liberal name of Playboy, and of Hugh Hefner, who had become a kind of Walt Disney of pornography homogenized for the masses.
Although Snider wasn’t respectable, the girl he married was. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, thin but voluptuous, Dorothy Stratten was the quintessential American sweetheart, maybe a little too beautiful to be the girl-next-door. She was an A — high-school graduate who was especially interested in law and acting and who expressed herself best in poems. Kind, selfless, and good-natured, Dorothy was an angel in the shape of Aphrodite. ‘Her beauty,’ a friend of mine would say, ‘had a kind of genius.’
I first met Dorothy Stratten at the Playboy mansion in late October of 1978, at about the time that Snider made his initial appearance there for the annual Halloween party. That was when Hefner told Dorothy that Snider looked like a pimp. She laughed and said that was only his costume, but she knew it was the way he normally dressed. Dorothy had had only one boyfriend before Snider seduced her: an unhappy adolescent affair that lasted a year and yielded few happy memories, none of them sexual. When Snider walked into the Vancouver Dairy Queen where Dorothy was working in late 1977, he had been on the city streets since he was fourteen, and had practiced his skills on women and lived off them for over a decade.
By the time Dorothy turned eighteen the following February 28, Snider had launched his campaign and managed to convince her that she was in love. He thought that the extraordinary sensation of a first orgasm would enslave a naive, romantic young girl like Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten. He figured he would be able to get her to do whatever he wanted for a while, and what he wanted most was for her to strip for Playboy’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary Playmate Contest, which would close in August 1978, half a year before Dorothy would turn nineteen, the legal age of consent in Canada.
But Dorothy refused to pose nude. She begged Snider not to bring up the subject again. She could barely stand to take off her clothes at school, or even in front of her mother. But he persisted: Playboy was the only way to get into the movies. Hadn’t he been around the big world of show biz? Wasn’t he a successful promoter, experienced in the ways of Las Vegas and Hollywood? Wasn’t Playboy now sold in stores all over the land? This was the age of liberation for men and women. All. the movie stars were showing their bodies freely. Hadn’t she heard of the sexual revolution?
It took Snider six months of constant pressure, and then he still had to trick Dorothy into a situation with a photographer she knew and trusted—because he had taken her high-school pictures. When she cried, Snider said, ‘Do it for me, baby—do it for me.’ Within days after she finally posed, Snider made Playboy aware of Dorothy Stratten. Within two weeks, she was in Hollywood. During her first days at the Playboy mansion, she was propositioned by numerous men, several of them famous, and then ‘seduced’ by Hugh Hefner. Two years later almost to the day, she was tortured, raped, and murdered.
When the phone finally rang in the last quarter hour of August 14, I was certain it was Dorothy calling to say that everything was all right. But the voice on the other end of the line wasn’t Dorothy’s. It was Hugh Hefner, and I heard him say: ‘Dorothy’s dead.’ I could hear in his terrified voice that he wasn’t mistaken or trying in some dreadful way to be funny. The phone receiver slipped from my hand and fell to the floor and Hefner’s words echoed through me. Dorothy dead? Why not say the world had blown up and all of us were dead? Everything that had ever happened to me in my life, everything in which I had ever believed, had been proved in one blinding explosion to be conclusively wrong. If Dorothy was dead, life was a terrible joke.
I was in the video room with Blaine Novak and Douglas Dilge, two associates from They All Laughed (the picture we had all just completed in New York), and I could hear Novak trying to console me and felt his arms on my shoulders. I wanted to shrug him off violently and run through the house and out to the car. Dilge was on the phone with Hefner, who gave as few of the details as he felt necessary, and Doug was reluctant to repeat even those. I had to plead before he would speak. Shotgun, he said. Shot himself too. They were dead together. It would be more than a week before I heard a hint of the torture Dorothy had been put through before the murder, more than a month before the details became horribly clear. A sound went through me—a growl that became a shriek.
Then suddenly I remembered the movie Dorothy and I had made. It had been killed as well, its two hours a moving photo album of our days together. But the comedy had turned to tragedy.
Eight days later, the ashes of Dorothy Stratten’s body were buried in an oak casket less than a ten-minute drive from the homes of the three men who had most influenced her life and death, less than a few yards from the remains of the last great love goddess of the screen, Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was born the same year as Hugh Hefner, founder of a magazine and proselytizer of a life-style that had helped to destroy both women. Dorothy’s mother, Nelly Schaap, in her grief allowed her new husband to make the decision regarding the body of the stepdaughter he had met only once. It was burned to a few handfuls of ashes.
Most of the people responsible for the event were at the funeral. The only exception, besides the Snider lawyer and the Snider private eye, was the man who pulled the trigger. His body was returned to Canada for burial.
Nelly made the decision to bury her eldest child in Los Angeles because she would be ‘close to the people she loved.’ Dorothy’s younger sister, Louise, had finally told Nelly about Dorothy and me, and Nelly said she had flown to the States partly to meet ‘the only man who ever made Dorothy happy.’ Her daughter, she said, had not had much happiness in her life.
Dorothy asked her mother less than four months earlier to come to New York to talk about her problems. But Nelly had just met the man she would marry, and he did not want her to leave. She would never forgive him for that, or herself, for not going.
Hugh Hefner was at the funeral. As was his chief photographer, Mario Casilli, who quit Playboy shortly after Dorothy’s murder. Though he had worked for that magazine for twenty years, since then he has refused print assignments that involve nudity. Dorothy’s new young lawyer, whom she had met only once, a day before the killing, was there, too; and the young business manager who had genuinely cared for her and tried to help, who had known what trouble Snider was for her.
Dorothy’s father was there too. Simon Hoogstraten had neither contributed to her welfare, seen, nor contacted her since she was four. Though he didn’t respond to Dorothy’s invitation to her high-school graduation, he somehow felt obliged to appear at her funeral. His eyes looked haunted, his expression frozen in shock. He had the look of a man who could not allow himself to think of the terrible mistakes he had made. The more he heard about the lost daughter, the more he must have realized that Dorothy would have loved him beyond devotion if she had been given even the smallest chance. He was the one who could have thrown Snider out the first time he appeared in pimp’s furs to take the eldest daughter on a date. A girl needed a father to warn her of the evils of men. Less than three months earlier, in New York, Dorothy had told me that she didn’t like her father.
Nelly would not go near the grave. She stayed in front of the chapel while the others went to stand under the large tree near the mound of freshly dug earth. Her face remained tightly closed off, beyond grief. A large part of her had died with the child she had loved the longest, for nearly half her life. Her new husband would never understand, and Nelly would be separated from him permanently before the end of the year.
My oldest daughter, Antonia, held back her tears, as did Dorothy’s sister, Louise. Her brother, John, wept openly, and so did my younger daughter, Alexandra. I looked out at the sun breaking through the leaves onto the grass under the tree and imagined Dorothy dancing there, free and happy.
Because her ashes were the only weight in the coffin, it took a long time to descend into the grave. As the casket clanked downward, Hefner stood, white and shaken, next to Casilli. I remembered his words a few days earlier when he told me that he would ‘never get over what happened.’ Certainly the last thing Hefner wanted was for Dorothy to die. The shock and fear in his eyes was genuine, impossible to hide or feign. He looked truly humbled, desperate for this day to end. Was he sharing with me similar feelings of guilt and remorse? A desperate ache to turn back time and do things differently? Would he share the relentless series of confrontations with himself about his culpability in the tragedy? Will the words echo endlessly for both of us: If only we had known.
The remains of the body that Casilli had photographed so intimately for Hefner, and for the boys of the world, passed them. Was Casilli remembering how Dorothy had cried when she first posed naked? Was Hefner thinking of their secret time in the Jacuzzi?
Dorothy might forgive them, of course. She might even forgive Snider. But I could not. Not him, not Hefner, not myself. If I had known more, I could have saved her—it was not only my lack of specific information and of other people’s motives but a fatal lack of intuitive awareness about people’s duplicity: All this cost me the most cherished love of my life. As the months and years of investigation went on and I found out more and more about Hefner’s role in the events, my rage toward him grew. If I had to confront my own responsibility, there could be no way to ignore his.
Perhaps the case I have built against Hefner in my mind and heart may be viewed by others as a way out of my own agony. But revealing the truth about his actions does not alter my own, nor lessen the awful awareness that if I had done certain things differently, understood more quickly, Dorothy would still be alive. None of the extenuating circumstances, nor the guilts that Hefner must bear, nor the mistakes so many others made, can ever change that terrible knowledge for me.
When people read of the death of Dorothy Stratten, they shook their heads and talked about the eternal triangle. It was the age-old story: Play with explosives and they blow up. Even I believed it, as the only living member of that triangle. But as I tried to find the truth, I discovered a fourth side to the figure— hidden and dark. Eventually there would be no doubt in my mind that if the shadowy Hefner-side of the pyramid had never existed, Dorothy would not have died. She could have dealt with Paul Snider, a small-town pimp who first spotted and sold her, but she could not handle the slick professional machinery of the Playboy sex factory, nor the continual efforts of its founder to bring her into his personal fold, no matter what shewanted.
The minister read the words:
And I thought: What good is any of that now to Dorothy? Where was God when she was alive? How could a woman so full of grace and talent be senselessly murdered in her twenty-first summer?
Her voice was in my ear, in the soft wind through the trees: ‘Throw the rose on the coffin, Peter, it’s time, they’ve suffered enough.’ And I took three steps forward, looked down into the grave at the coffin, and let the pink flower fall. John and the girls did the same, and Hefner and Mario, and we all walked away.
On the last full day we would ever have alone together, in London, Dorothy had asked me if I would make ‘a sad love story’ for her, and we both smiled, remembering the popular novel and movie she liked. I grinned and asked what kind of sad love story she had in mind: One in which there was a death at the end? And she nodded a barely perceptible yes. Our smiles faded and we looked at each other for a long moment. I touched her cheek and promised that I would, and she smiled softly.
The love story Dorothy requested turned out to be our own, as she had feared and as I could never have imagined. To tell that story now I would have to understand how all of us ended up there, standing in the blazing August sun, under an old, sheltering tree, to bury the mortal remains of this dazzling, brilliant woman.
Thornton Wilder wrote:
... There is a land of the living and a
land of the dead and the bridge is
love, the only survival, the only meaning.
And so, for Dorothy, because she was the noblest person I ever met, the gentlest and the bravest, how better could I serve her memory, or keep her love and spirit alive, than to honor her with the whole truth and nothing but, until death do us join? This, then, is for you, D.R. The one you asked for in London, a little more than two weeks before you were murdered.
II - The Base of the Pyramid
Los Angeles, August 1978 The fourth wall of the pyramid was begun before Dorothy was born, when Hefner, an enterprising twenty-seven-year-old Midwesterner, came up with an idea: Take masturbation out of the bathroom and put it on the newsstands. In late 1953, when the first issue of Playboyappeared, it was revolutionary in its obvious approach to men’s fantasies. But it gained a measure of respectability as the years went by when the Supreme Court ruled, by implication, that Playboy articles were of ‘redeeming social value.’ In its first year, the magazine’s circulation grew from 70,000 to 175,000; in twenty years Playboy sold more than 6 million copies monthly.
An extremely shy young man from a strict Methodist family, young Hugh was a virgin through military service and into his twenties. And then there was a tremendous setback in his romantic life: His boyhood sweetheart, his first real-life pinup, made him a cuckold. Earlier in the same year Dorothy was killed, a book was published, Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese, which told most or the story: Hefner himself (and the ex-Mrs. Hefner) had given Talese all the details of the one great disappointment of his life. The book reported how Mildred, the girl he had always planned to marry, his one and only love, had broken down during a movie they were attending— its crime story seemed to parallel hers—and confessed soon after that for more than a year she had been having an affair with another man. Mildred had told young Hefner that of course she understood why he wouldn’t want to marry her now.
But young Hef did marry Mildred; he forgave her. Also, he told Talese, for a time, having been alarmed by the competition, he wanted Mildred more than ever. She bore him two children, a girl and a boy, yet the relationship didn’t survive. Although he was still married, Hefner roamed about, lost. He continued to read sex books and any pornography he could find, and masturbated regularly. His favorite dream was to strip and seduce everybody’s girl-next-door, the one who had broken his heart.
Until Playboy arrived, pornography was not easily accessible to the average man. And it was embarrassing to buy. Then, in 1951, Marilyn Monroe’s nude calendar photograph scandalized the country. Marilyn had done the photo two years before, but her subsequent popularity in movies brought it to light. She apologized to the public. The calendar sold out and secured her stardom. The interest in Marilyn’s nude picture did not escape the notice of Hugh Marston Hefner.
He put up six hundred dollars of his own money, borrowed more from his parents, among others, and set up shop in the kitchen of his small apartment. He paid his secretaries a little extra to strip and pose, and created the first mass-circulation magazine to openly encourage male masturbatory fantasies. And the increasingly impressive by-lines on Playboy articles gave it a patina of respectability. To the men and boys of the world, Hefner became the great emancipator, a swinger who shared the wealth, a liberal thinker who rode the crest of a revolution that changed the nation.
The concept of mass-publishing pictures of female physical perfection did not originate with Hefner. In the 1940s, Esquire started printing a monthly foldout Varga drawing of a slightly naughty, but dreamily hygienic showgirl. The work had a certain wit, an awareness on the part of the models and artist of the purpose of the drawing. It was a kind of fancified Art Deco erotica, in which Varga and his anonymous girls were collaborators. The not-so-subtle smirk in the drawings gave each woman the look of an experienced hooker.
Hefner removed the smirk and the artist, replaced the showgirl with the girl-next-door, and used glamorous color photography, aided by all the tricks of the trade: lenses, filters, makeup, touch-up. The profound difference to the reader was that Hefner’s model purported to be real: There was no artistic license to consider. Weren’t these, then, photographs of the perfect woman?
Three years after Monroe’s calendar story broke, and five years after she posed, the cover of the rather tame first issue of Playboy featured a poor wire-service photo of Marilyn waving, accompanied by the blurb:
in any magazine
MARILYN MONROE NUDE
Marilyn had no control over the picture and received no money, but the issue sold. By the time Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten was born in a Salvation Army hospital in Vancouver six years later, Playboy’s circulation was 1.1 million. And the legend persisted that the first woman to pose naked for the magazine was Marilyn Monroe. Hefner and his organization did as much as they could over the years to encourage that misconception. In 1984 they would headline THE LAST NUDE PHOTO OF MARILYN MONROE.
When Playboy celebrated its tenth anniversary, Dorothy was four and her father had already deserted her and her mother and brother. Somehow Nelly managed to make enough money cleaning other people’s homes to feed the two children. At the age of seven, Dorothy began doing odd jobs to help out while Nelly studied practical nursing.
Meanwhile, as Playboy turned thirteen, Hefner was reportedly well past Don Giovanni’s thousand and three conquests. In those days, all the action was still at the Chicago mansion. Dominated by an indoor swimming pool with a glassed-in ceiling, round-the-clock kitchen staff and waiters, plenty of new or would-be Playmates in residence, Hefner’s home for young women virtually advertised sexual satisfaction guaranteed. The sixties were Hefner’s golden decade: The magazine and the Playboy Clubs around the country were thriving. Now what did Mildred think of her cuckolded ex-husband? Had he shown her sufficiently what she had given up—the hero of millions? He had made it easy for her: If she wanted to see by whom she had been replaced, she had only to open the latest issue—a catalogue of her ex-husband’s victories easily available across the nation. It was the cuckold’s ultimate revenge.
By the end of the sixties, I had reached thirty, had made only one (unsuccessful) film, had a very lovely daughter but was beginning to realize I had married too young, hardly knowing myself very well, much less my wife. By the early seventies, my life had been changed completely. A second beautiful daughter had been born but the marriage had ended, and another long-term relationship had begun; my father had died; and three consecutive films of mine (The Last Picture Show; What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon) had become critical and popular successes. I was suddenly a wealthy, famous young man. But I was still a long way from understanding myself, the woman I lived with, or the world around us.
In 1972, Playboy invaded my life. Its editors had, without permission, extracted from Picture Show two frames of Cybill Shepherd naked, and printed them. (Shepherd and I were then living together.) While moviegoers had seen less than seven seconds of her nude—and in constant motion—Playboyreaders could gaze endlessly at the poorly reproduced photographs. Moreover, her appearance in the magazine would seem to have been with her approval, even though she had expressly forbidden any still shots of those brief sequences. The following year, Cybill sued Playboy, and Hugh Hefner personally, for nine million dollars.
The seventies were far less secure than the sixties for the Playboy empire. The Shepherd lawsuit and others like it took their toll. And there were drug problems as well. One of Hefner’s private secretaries, Bobbie Amstein, became involved in a cocaine connection, and subsequently committed suicide. Anti-Hefner rumors in Chicago were rampant. But the Mansion West had been opened and he had begun to spend most of his time in Southern California. He was forty-seven and living mainly with dark-haired Barbi Benton. He also had committed himself to regular orgies. It was this predilection that finally, he would tell me, drove Barbi away.
Also in 1973, Willy Rey, a woman of twenty-three, died of a drug overdose in Canada. It had been exactly two years since she left her native Vancouver, changed her name from Wilhelmina Rheitvald, posed for, and appeared in, Playboy. Mario Casilli took all her pictures. For a time, Willy had been a mansion regular. The story never received much publicity, and Playboy pretended it had never happened. They told Dorothy Stratten that she was the first Canadian to appear in the magazine.
By the end of the seventies, things looked bad for me. Although Cybill had two successes on her own (The Heartbreak Kid and Taxi Driver), two films we had done together (Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love) had failed at the box office. Another of mine (Nickelodeon) had also fallen below expectations critically and with the public. The Shepherd lawsuit was settled by the payment to her of all legal fees and half the movie rights to a bookPlayboy owned and would produce if I directed. This picture, Saint Jack (which they did not finally produce, though Hefner’s name appeared on it), eventually became a succes d’estime out not a financial winner. The enforced separations Cybill and I endured because of studio resistance to our working together eventually helped to break up our relationship. Cybill married a home-town man and almost immediately had the child she had wanted to share with me. I felt adrift and rudderless. A great many women entered my life—too many to do me any permanent good. When my mother died of cancer, my daughters and younger sister looked to me as head of the family. But I was not able to help anyone.
I had few male friends. My closest relationships were always with women. I had been married faithfully to Polly Platt, with whom I had two daughters, for almost nine years, and Cybill and I had a marriage in all but name for the next eight years. There followed more than a year of devastating promiscuity, which left me exhausted and miserable, hoping for an enduring bond that would never lose its strength or magic.
By 1978, Hefner and his associates were in the midst of their most expensive promotional campaign: the international search for Playboy’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary Playmate. Hefner personally told me of the quest for a quarter-century centerfold and ran a short promotional film for me at the mansion. The Shepherd lawsuit had been settled amicably after Hefner himself came to my house to discuss the terms. The four-minute journey had been one of the conditions, and Hefner had borne the indignity with only a touch of irritation. His retribution was always covert: He invited Cybill and me to become regulars at mansion weekends and parties and said he would see that our names were placed on the ‘gang list,’ which meant either of us could drop over anytime. Our greatest enemy had somehow become a friendly acquaintance, anxious to be more.
When Hefner took Cybill and me on a tour of his upstairs quarters, a lot of Barbi Benton’s things were still there. The two were then in the process of their final split; she had become fed up with Hefner and his weekly sex parties. We had heard rumors about the private games at the mansion, but details at the time were scarce. The implications behind the special Hefner tour of his bedrooms and bath were not difficult to read, most obvious being the moment when he hinted broadly that we ‘join’ him sometime for a little Jacuzzi. The raised eyebrows of hope and the sideways smile did it for Cybill—she told me later that she had felt nauseated.
The first insider to speak candidly to me about the Hefner orgies was Patrick Curtis—a year and a half after the murder. Curtis had a show biz head start on most of us, having played Melanie’s newborn baby in Gone With the Wina. Subsequently he had acted for years on TV and in pictures before becoming a producer. It was he who brought Raquel Welch to the screen, and they were married for several years. When they broke up and a later romance ended badly, Curtis took to going to Hefner’s. He was chagrined that he had participated in some of the orgies, and decided he would just as soon not go back.
The rules of the orgy, Curtis explained, were easy: anything went—or anyone. He mentioned ‘the hundreds of times’ one of Hefner’s women had gone downstairs and invited the new girl from Iowa, or Missouri, or Montana. Suddenly the girl found herself ‘in a situation she would never have tolerated’ back home—but this was Hollywood, the young women would think. This was the modern world— didn’t everybody do it this way? These girls were passed among several men and women in one night. Everybody who wanted to watched; and the spectator/participant list included many famous names, including the king of Playboy. ‘The girls end up just lying there,’ Curtis said: ‘Anyone who wants to get on is OK.’
Most of my visits to the mansion were innocent: a game or two of pinball, chitchat and a sandwich, a movie, a fight on closed-circuit TV. My first experience as a single guest at a Playboy party was strangely prophetic: The nineteen-year-old with whom I struck up a conversation turned out to be Hefner’s date for the late-evening orgy that night. Call her Tammy. The first thing she said to me was that we were ‘being watched,’ but I was far too naive about the Playboy scene to take the words seriously, though I followed her into a deserted room so that we could talk more privately. Tammy said that everyone had been telling her she ought to pose for Playboy, but she didn’t know if she should or not. They said it was a good way to break into the movies. I told her it was about the worst way and eventually convinced her to agree to take a ride to my house, where we could talk unobserved. I promised to bring her back whenever she wanted, and meant it. She was far more innocent than she looked or tried to act, I realized, and hoped first to make her trust me, and then talk her out of the Playboy idea, knowing that no one in Hollywood considered the Playmates anything more than glorified call girls. Playmates were usually gone in thirty days, as soon as the next issue appeared.
Yet I never got to say all that to Tammy. She had been right—we were being observed and followed. A mansion regular arrived to break up our conversation, and then, when Tammy came out front to join me at my car, Hefner appeared, flanked by several angry-looking buddies. He said he had a date with the lady after the party. It had been planned for some time. We were simply taking a ride, I said, and would return within an hour, but as I spoke I could see Tammy being maneuvered backward into the house by the regulars. She looked frightened. Hefner was smiling solicitously and explaining that he and Tammy had arranged this date several days ago. Since I was there for the first time, I felt that I had broken a cardinal rule.
I caught a glimpse of the top of Tammy’s head as she was being swallowed up among the crowd, and tried to joke with Hefner, saying, ‘I thought I was the guest here, Hef...’ But he had the ready answer for that one: ‘I’m not that good a host.’ His place, I said, was like the greatest boys’ camp ever built, and Hefner’s smile faded. After a couple of Playboy years, I heard much later, Tammy had become a high-priced call girl in Paris. None of the other Playboy girls I would come to know ended up much better.
The regular weekday Monopoly games were almost always played by an all-male cast. The occasional women were spoken-for observers, or one of Hefner’s private secretaries. His ‘special lady’ of the moment (Sondra Theodore then) sometimes joined us. It was a custom-made Monopoly set, and each of the regulars had a playing token specifically molded in his image. I was left to choose one of the remaining tokens and always picked the anonymous Playboy Bunny to represent me. This never failed to get a laugh and discussion from the players, who thought I was being either ironic or perverse. The truth is I genuinely empathized far more with the Playboy women than with the Playboy men and, therefore, had more sympathy for them as well.
Often the same regulars would congregate in the game house, a few yards away from the main building, where they would play pinball, pool, and other penny-arcade games while the jukebox cranked out hits from the thirties and forties—Hefner’s youth. His eyes would tear at the sentimental love songs of Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Hefner was always pointedly warm and solicitous, kidding around and treating me like a son or younger brother. In the Monopoly games, he made a show of giving me what seemed like fair advice, because I was not a regular player and therefore at a disadvantage. It didn’t matter—I always lost.
Hefner and I got into a couple of serious conversations about my troubled career and my indecision as to what to do next. His advice seemed well meant and genuine, though of course it all added up to my directing the picture he and Cybill now owned. When I spoke of my love for Cybill, his eyes misted over and his smile looked sad. He said he didn’t think he could ever be faithful to one woman again. No single woman could satisfy him now. And I would contradict him and say that if the right woman came along, he could fall in love and be happy with her, but Hefner shook his head and said he doubted it.
I bought Hefner’s generally affable and admiring personal attitude and found him likable in short doses. I quickly tired of the Monopoly games, though the last time I played—just before leaving for Singapore to direct the movie Playboy co-owned—I won. Hefner had been more than helpful in his assistance, and later I began to wonder if there hadn’t been a fix.
There were often film and TV celebrities at the mansion: Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, and others less easily recognizable. I thought of those times I had seen one of the most notorious movie-star studs with Hefner at the mansion, the two of them sharing an easy familiarity. There were frequent macho innuendos in the banter between them, especially the time they strolled around a new toy Hefner had just purchased. They called it a ‘fuck chair.’ It looked more like an old shoeshine stand—there were so many different places to put hands, feet, knees, and rear. The men were chuckling as they circled the contraption, exchanging ideas on how many different sexual positions could be assumed. They were discussing their knowledge of the secrets of the bedroom wars, the technique of the great lovers: hold off; make love so that the woman has several orgasms before the man; then thrust home, a hero every time. How long a man could hold out, therefore, was part of the test of cocksmanship, and most of their references were to that ability. What they extolled wasn’t pleasure for both men and women, but men’s exercise of power over women.
Early in 1980, a new book came out that revealed a little more of Hefner, though I didn’t read it until over two years later. Mike McGrady had written the Linda Lovelace best seller, Ordeal, in which some Hefner orgies were described. The most chilling story dealt with Hefner’s desire to see a dog screw Linda—or any other woman. It wasn’t Lovelace he was interested in, it was watching bestiality. He owned several stag reels of similar events, but had never actually seen the live action. Linda’s husband/promoter/manager had been threatening for years to kill her if she wouldn’t do precisely as she was told, so she consented to let Hefner and other regulars watch while she supposedly attempted to get the dog to make it with her. She was, in truth, subtly doing the opposite, and the dog refused to perform. Hefner was disappointed, but philosophical. On another occasion, in the Jacuzzi during one of the regular orgies, Hefner sodomized Linda Lovelace.
If, in his most private moments, Hefner had any thought that it might be possible to pull himself back to the romantic idealism of his youth, there was a way: find and create a star. As Playboy, his alter ego, neared its twenty-fifth birthday, he needed that movie star: his own Garbo, Dietrich, or Harlow. He knew that Monroe connection was fake and wanted a real sex goddess to emerge from the pages of Playboy. Without that, it would be too easy to write off his women as one-month wonders, of no further interest (even to their readers) after the usual four weeks of masturbatory guilts and pleasures.
The great Twenty-fifth Anniversary Playmate Hunt was conceived as a quick way to spread a vast dragnet to find the Silver Star for Hefner to expose and possess: an enduring sex goddess of talent and beauty who would gain the respect and admiration of the world. The grand validation. In the meantime, as friend to the famous, he plied the picture people with drinks and food and entertainment and women, and used their names to make his establishment all the more respectable. Some people even believed that Jimmy Carter’s candid interview in Playboy just before the election had supplied the winning margin. In twenty-five years, Hefner had gone from porn King to kingmaker. But without a star, what did it all add up to? A desire for bestiality? Sodomy with the heroine of Deep Throat? Hefner’s fervent, unspoken, prayers centered on the greatest dreamgirl of all time.
When Dorothy Hoogstraten turned thirteen, the usual adolescent unhappiness that accompanies that age didn’t push her out into the world of her peers as it does with most. She retreated into herself, stayed in her room, started smoking. By the time she was sixteen she had developed an ulcer. Dorothy began to write poems as a way of thinking to herself, and of communicating with others. She wrote on scraps of paper, envelopes, school assignments; she gave many away to friends. At fourteen, she began a part-time job in a Dairy Queen: ‘It was great to get work that young,’ she would write, ‘but I turned fifteen, and sixteen and seventeen, and at eighteen I was still working there, wearing a little red uniform with my hair in pigtails....’
Dorothy was not so different from most girls in North America, more sensitive and beautiful perhaps, more curious and kind. She stood out, but was by no means unique in her experiences and reactions to men. She was as insecure as most, as anxious to grow up and be a big girl, to do something with her life, and to find happiness. All the various life-style advertisements that bombarded Dorothy were as confusing to her as they were to most of us. Unlike many, however, she wanted to find answers, to help others to find them. For her friends Geraldine and Cheryl, she wrote:
Yet Dorothy often had nightmares; she would wake up sweating and crawl into her younger sister’s bed. Several poems revealed that she frequently had death on her mind:
Late in 1977, Paul Leslie Snider entered the Dairy Queen where Dorothy was working and appraised her knowingly to see if she might be a good candidate for the streets, but quickly realized her pigtails and innocent smile were genuine. He was right—she would not be eighteen for another couple of months. But Snider was in no hurry; he figured this one had Playboy potential. During that New Year’s weekend, Dorothy broke up with her first boyfriend; she had been sleeping with him for a year and hating it. Later she wrote or him:
Sometimes we’d get along really well, and then he would... ruin everything by dragging me to the bedroom. I dreaded that so much, but felt I owed it to him. Sometimes I thought that was all he wanted from me because he used to get angry when I refused him. I thought sex was the most animalistic and beastly thing ever to be invented. Steve never pleased me.... I dreaded the end of the night when I had to give myself up to him. It was sort of like a game I kept losing and that was how I lost.
But she kept thinking there was something wrong with her—maybe she was frigid. When Steve maliciously destroyed the Christmas present it had taken her months to pay for, Dorothy ended the relationship. Shortly afterward, Snider called again at the Dairy Queen and began his attempts to win her.
It didn’t take long. The first boyfriend’s thoughtless, patronizing manner, their painful bedroom scenes, her mother’s unpleasant experiences with men, the boys and men on the streets who threatened or tormented her, or exposed themselves to her, her father’s desertion—all these had prepared Dorothy for the friendly, almost paternal approach from a man eight years older who seemed to be kind, considerate, and successful.
Snider also knew the right buttons to push romantically. When Dorothy felt an orgasm for the first time, she believed some part of herself would be forever in his debt. What she had discovered in her own body and heart she identified with Snider and dung to him as the source, not realizing she had really found it in herself. The explosion had awakened something powerful. Perhaps this was love, she thought, though she would write: ‘If you don’t know what love is, how are you supposed to know if you’re in love?’ Yet the lovely secret she shared with Paul couldn’t be explained to Louise or John or to her mother. This was so much closer to those stars you were supposed to see when love struck. Sleeping Beauty, after all, arose through the kiss of the Prince. It was a pervasive male fantasy: The beautiful, submissive Princess, awakened to the beauties of life and love through the gentle touch of a Prince. Sleeping Beauty, unlike Eve, lived happily ever after, but then Eve presumed to taste the fruit of wisdom. Learn the moral well, girls—don’t awaken on your own, wait for a man.
Dorothy thought she had fallen in love. Nelly tried to warn her about Snider, but then, Dorothy would have thought, her mother hadn’t had the best luck with men: Her first husband had run off, her second husband and boyfriends had often been unkind to the kids. One had broken Johnny’s arm and bloodied Dorothy’s nose. Dorothy would have better luck. At least Paul brought her presents. He was stern sometimes, but he never yelled—not at first. The repeated protests of her family and friends only helped to create a Romeo and Juliet fantasy that Snider inflamed and used to his own advantage.
He continually tried to cajole Dorothy into posing naked for Playboy—though the thought terrified her so that she cried each time. She did not know that he had been a pimp in various cities for over a decade, that he had worked in his father’s sweatshop as a leather cutter by day and worked the streets at night, learning from white and black pimps how to manipulate young women. He gave them marijuana, while he used cocaine. Those who could afford it rubbed coke on the penis which, serving as an anesthetic, prolongs an erection and delays orgasm. Inhaling it numbs the feelings as well, so that a man becomes a mindless battering ram in pursuit of senseless, destructive pleasure.
At the local nightspots, everybody knew Snider and treated him as a celebrity. Dorothy felt privileged to be with him. She didn’t know that on the streets Snider was called ‘the Jewish pimp’; that he had for several years dealt in drugs and prostitution, not only in Vancouver, but in Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Nor that he had been arrested numerous times by the vice squad and that, to gain release, he would inform on other pimps and pushers.
To Dorothy, he was a promoter, a producer. He put on a couple of car shows that summer of 1978, but no one told her that he had been forced, on the last car show he had worked, to sell his share for cash to save his life. Snider had gotten involved with the girlfriend of a local mobster who was serving time in jail. He even used the mobster’s money to pay for plastic surgery on the girl’s breasts. When the man got out, he found Snider and held him by the ankles out a window thirty stories from the ground. Snider cried and pleaded and promised all his money. Afterward, he left town for nearly a year. He had just returned when he first spotted Dorothy.
As Dorothy celebrated her eighteenth birthday, Snider continued his calculated attentions to her: a lavish gift, retreat, another lavish gift, plenty of romantic dialogue. The talk of posing for Playboy increased monthly. As time was running out for the contest, Snider applied pressure weekly. Eventually, Dorothy’s mother inadvertently played into his hands by going to Europe for three weeks at the start of August.
First, Snider made a deal with Ewe Meyer, the local photographer who had taken Dorothy’s high-school graduation picture: If Meyer would help Snider convince Dorothy to strip for Playboy and they used the pictures, Snider would give him the one-thousand-dollar finder’s fee. The photos, Dorothy was told, were to be portraits of both her and Snider, but after a few of those were shot, the truth came out. She later would describe to actress Molly Bashler, her L.A. roommate, how Snider had stripped to his shorts and assumed his favorite muscleman poses. He lovingly collected them of himself from every era and angle. Meyer and Snider then tried to encourage Dorothy to take off her clothes too, and she cried. Snider began pleading. ‘Do it for me, baby,’ he begged softly. ‘Please do it for me.’ Eventually, she did. Snider would never give Meyer the finder’s fee, but Meyer’s photos would sell after Dorothy was killed. The Pulitzer Prize-winning article in The Village Voice used several.
The few acceptable partially naked pictures Meyer got of an obviously frightened girl with a breathtaking face and body were enough to interest Ken Honey, a Vancouver photographer who had already sent several Canadian women to Playboy. Because Dorothy was underage, Honey said he would need her mother’s or father’s signature on the application. Snider returned with Nelly’s signature forged on the document and the matter was dropped. Honey had taken one look at the photos and knew that he had found a girl in whom Hefner would be especially interested. So he agreed to break precedent and shoot at Snider’s apartment instead of the usual session at his studio. To Dorothy, Snider spoke with great enthusiasm of Playboy’s interest and their high professional ethics: Today everybody did Playboy. She posed, but she cried throughout the session, and never for a moment stopped wishing it would end.
Honey sent the photographs overnight to Los Angeles, and Playboy V.P Marilyn Grabowski instantly recognized what she had. and immediately took the pictures to Hefner. He had despaired of finding the perfect Playmate. The contest was about over and although he had spent many pleasurable evenings appraising and sampling the contestants, he hadn’t found that special one. She had to be a blonde, with large breasts, a slim waist, and healthy buttocks, tall, with a beautiful but innocent-looking face. The title character in Little Annie Fanny, the magazine’s long-running cartoon serial, was Hefner’s ideal. Later, he would plan a feature film with Dorothy Stratten as Annie.
Although no woman possessed all of Hefner’s requirements, Candy Loving from Oklahoma led the race. But she was a brunette, married, and in her mid-twenties, hardly perfect for Hefner, who wanted the anniversary winner not only in his magazine but also for himself—the Silver Star would be his ‘new lady.’ When he saw Dorothy’s photographs, he realized without a doubt that she was the girl of a million Playboy fantasies.
Less than two days after Hefner saw her photos, Dorothy arrived at his house. Honey had been instructed to get her there as soon as possible. Snider objected when he heard there was only one round-trip ticket, but didn’t suggest she refuse to go. He used the speed of Playboy’s response to emphasize to Dorothy how right he was about her potential and the best way to exploit it. He instructed her to tell her brother she had a modeling job, and her supervisor at B.C. Telephone, where she had begun to work in June, that a family emergency had arisen and she had to be gone for a couple of days.
On August 13, 1978, Dorothy took an airplane for the first time in her life and, from L.A. International, her first limousine: to the Playboy building on the Sunset Strip. Marilyn Grabowski, who welcomed her, would later recall how Dorothy had tried to act older than her years. Grabowski led the way to the Playboy studio, where their veteran centerfold photographer, Mario Casilli, was waiting. His Italian Santa Claus looks were reassuring, and he of course was used to nervous young women. Dorothy was given a glass or two of white wine to relax her, and Casilli got as much as he needed. Afterward, Grabowski rode in the limousine with her to the mansion. Dorothy tried to put out of her mind one of the last things Snider had said to her: that she might have to sleep with Hefner to win the contest, but that Snider would understand as long as she came back to him (just as he had learned to say from all the pimps).
A few months later, Snider pressured Stratten to write a quick autobiography, the revelations of a Playmate. After considerable badgering, she produced two brief chapters—thirty handwritten pages—before she quit. In New York, when I too suggested she make note of some of her experiences, Dorothy said: ‘I’m not going to write it.’ I didn’t learn of her efforts until a few months after the murder. When I read them, I discovered why she had stopped. Dorothy had begun to realize that the things she could tell were now outweighed by what she could not let Paul or anyone else read. The story was becoming a continuous series of omissions and half-truths, which wasn’t Dorothy’s style. She had stopped her book with the first clear sign of trouble in her relationship with Paul Snider. She had written: ‘He still couldn’t figure out why I talked so little and why I had such a hard time telling him something or answering his questions.’ Yet in the words she chose, she revealed her vulnerability, and her willingness to look for the good in everyone. She had described her initial meeting with Hefner and with Patrick Curtis, as many a wide-eyed and terrified teenager might, on meeting her first celebrity: ‘I thought my knees were going to go out from under me....
Long after Dorothy was killed, Curtis would recall: ‘She was shaking like a leaf, but when she walked into the mansion and out to the yard, people were just stunned. Dorothy wouldn’t have known if it had come up and hit her on the nose—she was in a catatonic state almost.’
She had described all this carefully in the aborted memoir. Goldstein had a number of Stratten’s papers in his possession which he claimed were given to him by Snider. Goldstein turned over the materials, to the police who made a copy available to Riley. Hefner got wind of the existence of a Stratten journal, diary, or memoir and, according to reports, became extremely agitated and most anxious to see the writings. Playboy demanded a copy from the police. They complied. Riley informed his lawyer, who was also Dorothy’s lawyer; and the Stratten Estate, the legal owner of her writings, demanded all the originals and received only photocopies.
Eventually, there was considerable speculation over which of the men at the mansion had made the one simple pass she mentioned in her memoir. In the posthumous Playboy tribute, Hefner would write (with a small rap on the knuckles) that the man had been Patrick Curtis, but Hefner had been covering not only for himself but for a much closer (and more famous) buddy, film star James Caan. Certainly Curtis had made it clear in a polite way that he found Dorothy attractive and desirable, but after she told him about the boyfriend in Vancouver whom she loved and planned to marry, Curtis backed off and eventually became a good friend. With Caan, however, it was a different situation. Though he was a good actor, Dorothy thought, she certainly wasn’t attracted to him, and became embarrassed by his overt attentions. Then in the midst of a sticky divorce, Caan was living full time at the mansion, and later would put even more pressure on Stratten.
What really happened on the first visit Dorothy made to the Playboy mansion exactly two years before Snider killed her? It would be three-and-one-half years—and Dorothy would be dead—before I would be told the full story.
Curtis and one of the regular women talked her into a naked swim in the dark waters of the Jacuzzi grotto by telling her that everyone swam there without bathing suits. Indeed, the swim passed innocently enough, but it would lead to her undoing. The three of them put on the house’s white terry-cloth robes and Curtis led the two women to the game house; again he and the woman said everybody went around the mansion in towels and robes. But Dorothy’s arrival in the game house, after midnight, did not pass without notice. Significant looks were exchanged between Hefner and several of the regulars.
Everyone at Playboy already spoke of how much Hefner liked and wanted Dorothy. Wasn’t she the perfect candidate they’d been seeking to celebrate his past twenty-five years? Caan’s interest might have worried Hefner, but Dorothy’s innocence would probably require a little pressure to break her in. Her sudden entrance with Curtis upset him. That Curtis, of all people, should have won not only Dorothy’s confidence, but her body first, infuriated Hefner. Perhaps it embarrassed him in front of his friends. ‘Hef made an assumption that was inaccurate,’ Curtis would say later. He never would have gone swimming with her alone, Patrick said, but with the other woman along, he thought it would be all right—forgetting for a moment that to Hefner and his mansion pals one man and two women were less than the usual number of participants. ‘I really feel badly about that,’ Curtis would tell me, ‘because I feel that to some extent I’m responsible....’
At 1:30 in the morning, Dorothy was back in her room in a guesthouse by the tennis court when a phone call came from one of Hefner’s private secretaries: Could she please join Mr. Hefner for a little swim in the Jacuzzi? Dorothy was frightened, but more afraid to say no. Wouldn’t it be an insult to refuse the employer and hose what had not been denied to another guest? Dorothy wandered nervously around the deserted grounds before finding the grotto. She wrapped herself in a towel and waited for Hefner in the steamy darkness.
An hour or two later, Curtis’s phone rang. He had given Dorothy the number and told her to call if she needed anything. She was sobbing bitterly. Curtis had to ask what was the matter several times before she told him what had happened with Hefner in the Jacuzzi. She said that Hefner had told her afterward that he assumed she and Curtis had made love and that his ‘ego was hurt.’ Dorothy, wretched and angry, wanted to know what she was supposed to do now. ‘Is that part of the program? Is that what’s expected of a Playmate?’
Curtis assured her at length that what had happened in the Jacuzzi had nothing to do with her becoming the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Playmate. He told her how much Hefner genuinely liked her, how really important she was to him, ‘so that she would feel a bit better about herself—rather than like another piece of cheese.’ Curtis would recall: ‘There was no question—she did not want it to happen again. She was trying to minimize the reality and look toward tomorrow, to find out how she could extricate herself from a situation she didn’t want to put herself in again.’
If Dorothy’s anger and indignation did not move her to speak about the incident with anyone but Curtis, and later with Snider, it was no doubt because she quickly realized how unbelievable her story would sound. Asked down to the Jacuzzi late at night? What did she think would happen? How could anyone be so naive? But knowing Dorothy, she was naive, and did think that Hefner, like Curtis, only wanted a swim.
In 1982, Ms. magazine would run a cover piece that discussed the prevalence in our society of these forced ‘seductions,’ and of the women’s problems in dealing not only with the often violent scenes, but with the guilt and complicity involved in the aftermath: The men acting as though this is what the women were asking for—any outrage expressed by the women, therefore, was dismissable as hypocrisy. What had happened was the woman’s own fault.
Dorothy herself, at the age of eighteen, probably would not have spoken of the Jacuzzi encounter in these terms, but knowing the circumstances and the principles involved, it is difficult to call her experience anything else. Soon after, Dorothy wrote a poem about the mansion, a place where everything was available but love: ‘This Disneyland,’ she called it, ‘where people are the games.’
After the initial weekend, Dorothy went back to Vancouver and tried unsuccessfully to save her B.C. Telephone job by saying she needed a couple of weeks off for urgent family problems. She told her brother and sister (her mother was still in Europe) that she had received a modeling job in Los Angeles, and returned immediately. Playboy had said she was needed for three or four days, but after a week, they told her another few days would be necessary. In her careful memoir, she wrote,
... My visit extended to three weeks. Paul was getting more and more nervous every day. He would call the photographer in Vancouver and yell at him.He would call the photographer in L. A. and ask him questions. He called the studio, and he called the mansion three or four times a day. He couldn’t figure out why I was staying so long.
It was at this time that Dorothy often used the key Patrick Curtis had given her to his house: Whenever the pressure from Hefner or Caan or any of the others became too strong. She left this kindness of Curtis’s out of her memoir because it would lead to questions about the mansion she dared not touch: Patrick would understand, as one of only a handful of people who knew the real reason why Dorothy needed refuge and protection. Dorothy wrote of these circumstances:
... Sometimes I cried before I went to sleep. A lot of men were entering my life all of a sudden and a lot of them wanted me. No one was ever pushy or forceful—but talk can be very powerful—especially to a mixed-up little girl. And I was getting confused.... I was getting lonely and I was getting depressed!
One night there was a huge pajama party.... I got drunk and danced and ate and had a good time, and the next day I was in bed sick. Paul called me in the morning about ten o’clock. I told him I had to see him and that it was so important that he fly down. He understood. I met him at five p.m. at the airport and we stayed at a hotel for the weekend.
I knew I had to see Paul because I felt something was starting to go wrong.... I knew I could only be strong for a certain amount of time and I was getting too depressed. In trying to get over my depression I had to think of Paul less and start enjoying myself with other people. I knew eventually that wouldn’t work either.
With those words, she broke off her memoir and never resumed.
For Dorothy to call for help, the sexual pressure must have been intense. She needed an outlet for the guilt and outrage caused by the encounter in the Jacuzzi, and she no doubt poured out her heart to Snider, telling him everything that had happened. He was probably paternal and understanding that weekend, and encouraged her to stay at Patrick’s if she felt safer there. He would soon wrap things up in Vancouver and fly down to stay with her permanently and make sure no one ever bothered her again. He would also tell her not to alienate Hefner. No matter what he had done, he was still their bread and butter. Eventually, Dorothy moved in with Curtis, and Patrick became the platonic watchdog.
By the end of October, Dorothy and I had been introduced, and Snider had moved permanently to Los Angeles. He took Dorothy to Playboy’sHalloween costume party. Hefner and Curtis, and everyone else at the mansion, hated him on sight, though they spoke pleasantly enough to his face. The dress and manner of the street pimp conflicted harshly with the mansion’s classier-looking clientele. Snider was as out of place as a carnival barker at the ballet. In the photographs taken that night, posed between Stratten and Snider, Hefner looked older than I had ever seen, and more dispirited. His efforts had failed. He had given her his best shot, and lost Dorothy to a sleazy pimp from Canada—his dreamgirl preferred a petty racketeer from the streets. The mansion’s sex orgies continued, along with Hefner’s requests for more naked footage of Stratten. Hefner customarily projected this material on the giant TV screens of his bedroom.
When Molly Bashler met Dorothy, soon after Snider’s arrival, she could tell almost immediately that Dorothy was not happy in the relationship. While Dorothy worked long and exhausting hours at the Playboy Club, and still rose for an exercise class with Molly (she had moved in by December 1978), Snider slept late and stayed around the tiny Westwood apartment watching television all day. Soon Molly noticed that Dorothy would look for excuses to get away from the apartment and Snider. She had been reticent at first to tell Molly that she had posed for Playboy: Molly had made her position on me magazine clear—she had little more than contempt for it. Later, Molly and Snider would have several heated arguments on the subject. He wanted Molly to pose too.
Eventually, Dorothy told Molly how Snider had pressured her into the Playboy business. Though Dorothy rarely complained, Molly would remember how angry with herself Dorothy had been on a number of occasions for having done the Playboy photos. She had tried to get straight modeling jobs and was turned down repeatedly because she had posed nude.
When Molly asked why she stayed with Paul if she wasn’t happy, Dorothy had difficulty expressing herself. She felt she owed Paul something, though Molly didn’t agree: Snider clearly was living off her. But Molly didn’t know what had happened with Hefner, or of Snider’s solicitude at that time, though eventually he would begin to use the information over Dorothy in order to make her feel guilty, responsible for the encounter. It was just something else he could tell her she owed him: If the Hefner incident had only sickened and humiliated Dorothy, as she claimed, didn’t she owe it to Snider to prove her abiding gratitude for his help and guidance? to return the love and attention he had showered on her?
Yet Dorothy found excuses to be away from him and the apartment. She would take Molly with her to the mansion for a few pinball games or dinner and a movie, an afternoon swim or lunch. Dorothy never went alone and they always left early. Also, they usually kept their visits a secret from Snider, who would have insisted on going along. With Molly now as guardian and friend, Dorothy used the mansion’s facilities to get away from the watchdog she had married to protect her from the mansion’s men. It didn’t take her very long to realize she was caught in a vicious cycle that seemed to have no escape, except in men who were not much of an improvement on Paul Snider.
Though Dorothy never mentioned to Molly the pressures she had suffered from men at Playboy, Dorothy did tell her that a number of women at the mansion had made passes at her. It was another reason why she never went there alone.
After nearly a year with Dorothy and Paul, Molly moved out. She was fed up with Snider and the situation, from her viewpoint and Dorothy’s. It was during this period that Dorothy called out to me in the mansion foyer and we met a second time.
Hefner’s pressure on Dorothy continued. Beginning with her, Playboy made color movies of all Playmates for their cable and videocassette operations. So Hefner asked his photographers and cameramen for more shots and footage of more explicit poses. Dorothy would break down and cry, and Mario Casilli would feel badly, she later told me, but he was just doing his job. Hefner continued to admonish his staff to get ‘sexier’ stuff from Stratten—more raunchy, indecent poses. Maybe he thought she would eventually come to him for help. The secretaries and assistants spoke repeatedly of how much Hef cared about her and how he even wanted her to be his ‘new lady.’ But then Dorothy had seen photos of a spread-eagled Sondra Theodore. The magazine’s contest staff confided that her lack of cooperation could lose her both the Twenty-fifth Anniversary prize and the chance for Playmate of the Year. And the insiders kept whispering kindly: Speak to Hef.
When he discovered that Dorothy had moved into Patrick Curtis’s house, one of Hefner’s personal secretaries, Mary O’Connor, was dispatched to express the boss’s dismay. Curtis was summoned to the mansion and asked of his intentions toward Dorothy.
She and Patrick were just friends, he explained. Then why was she staying at Patrick’s house? Because she had no money and needed a place to stay. But she was welcome at the mansion. She didn’t want to stay at the mansion, Curtis told Mary. Would Hef prefer Dorothy to stay at a cheap motel? Yes, he was told, if she didn’t want to stay at the mansion, Hef would prefer she live in a cheap motel.
Like many aspiring models and actresses who arrive in Los Angeles courtesy of Playboy, Dorothy’s own resources and contacts were few. This was even more apparent in her case because, being an alien, she was only allowed to work in the U.S. for Playboy, and required their assistance in contracting for any other employment. She had lost her job at the Canadian phone company and had been advised to stay in Los Angeles to pursue modeling and film possibilities. As if to emphasize her lack of cooperation with Hefner and his photographers, and the degree of her dependence onPlayboy, Dorothy was given a morale-breaking job at the L. A. Playboy Club. Here she could wait on tables in six-inch heels and a humiliating costume, breasts and buttocks halfexposed, bunny ears flopping with every painful step. And endure with a smile the endless passes. She met Dr. Steve Cushner there—he had won a night at the club on TV’s Dating Game—and he made the usual moves. Later, Cushner was to become a lodger at the house Dorothy shared with Snider, and a confidant of Snider’s.
Two months after Dorothy’s arrival at the mansion, shortly before the Halloween party, she and I met for the first time. I had returned from Singapore and, after the breakup of my eight-year relationship with Cybill Shepherd, had embarked on a series of brief, meaningless affairs. By that Sunday at the mansion, at age thirty-nine, I had become fair game for nearly anything. But I was profoundly unhappy, all the more so because I loathed the cynicism I began to feel for almost everything I had once held sacred. It was this world-weariness that stopped me from following my instincts when I saw Dorothy that first time, and immediately realized she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. I was just leaving the mansion when one of Hefner’s live-in pals introduced us. He said she was from Vancouver, and I could tell by her quick, strikingly open smile that she was quite young, though I would have guessed twenty rather than eighteen. The woman with her was Candy Loving, and though she was a rangy, attractive brunette, I glanced at her only occasionally so as not to stare at the blond beauty.
Obvious attention to any woman at the mansion, I knew by then, was carefully monitored and reported to the chief. Clearly, both Dorothy and Candy were physically too stunning not to be deeply enmeshed in the Playboy machinery. Hefner’s buddy mentioned that Candy had won the magazine’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary Contest, and that Dorothy was the only runner-up and would be a centerfold next year. My choice would have been different, I thought, as we chatted amiably for a few moments. I was trying to figure out how best to signal my interest in Dorothy without appearing ridiculous. After two years of dropping by, I had learned that the most beautiful women either were spoken for or soon would be, unless considerable time off the grounds could be devoted to the pursuit. And time was something I didn’t have much of in those days. Nor did Dorothy. Events were crowding in on top of us without a moment to pause for reflection. We were too busy trying to survive.
Only the most routine signal seemed a good idea under the circumstances, so I wrote my name and phone number on a piece of Playboy note paper and handed it to her. I said we were casting a picture—no doubt the oldest line in the business. Candy’s smile was far more knowing than Dorothy’s, and I could sense that Candy hadn’t been insulted by my obvious preference for Dorothy. If anything, she seemed relieved, even pleased—as though she agreed that Dorothy was lovely—which made me like her immediately. Dorothy’s own smile was so radiant at that moment that I couldn’t look at her for more than a few seconds. Her freshness gave me, ironically, a certain respect for Playboy: If such an obviously charming, intelligent woman could work with them, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.
Long after Dorothy was killed, I heard that she had asked about me. When Laura Bernstein interviewed Molly Bashler after the murder, Molly remembered telling Dorothy that night a version of the Cybill/Peter story. Anyone around the mansion could have reiterated. a similar version of the tale: He broke up his marriage with a loyal wife and two kids; made a couple of flop pictures with Shepherd and ruined both their careers; she left him for a hometown man younger than she; he hadn’t had a hit in five years, his new movie was a cheapie shot in Singapore. Dorothy decided she wouldn’t call me (though she made note of the number). When Molly had finished talking, Dorothy said: ‘I bet he’s a fake.’ And I thought she was taken. We were both half-right.
At the same time Dorothy was dealing with the deadly trap into which she had fallen, and trying to find a way out, I was looking for something too. We were searching for each other, it would turn out, but the year we lost could never be recaptured, nor did the wounds we suffered during those months heal sufficiently not to affect our time together. Though I had a series of affairs, I was not using the women as a form of revenge against the one who had caused me pain. I understood why Cybill had left. Going from one woman to another, having concurrent affairs and trying to remain friends by giving them all a good time with no strings attached, was in truth a search for one woman, played out with the constant ache of loneliness and the overriding desire to find both true love and continuity. With two women, Colleen Camp and Patti Hansen, I had tried for a permanent relationship but failed miserably.
Although my nature is essentially monogamous, I nevertheless found myself on the kind of sexual merry-go-round that very much caught the beat of the time: The commitmentless, shallow gratification of profound needs and desires. But I genuinely felt sympathetic with each woman, and found it impossible to be completely casual. There were perhaps a score of women in that year, only two of whom I met at the mansion. The women’s situations touched and troubled me; the majority of them, I discovered, rarely experienced much pleasure from their lovers. Yet wasn’t the Playboymansion the most elaborate temple of sexual promiscuity in the western world? Why would anyone go there in search of a love that could last forever? The terrible irony was that not only did I find her there, but that I found her almost immediately and was too muddled to realize it until a year later.
Even then, Dorothy recognized the truth before I did—though, long afterward I would learn that in ancient courting customs, it was the woman who pursued the man. Hadn’t the Hefners of the world reversed the natural order of things to such a degree that our roles and impulses were confused?
Why else did I go to the mansion? Curiosity, information, and a certain undeniable fascination with its popular and expensive bad taste. Hefner,Playboy, the mansion, the Bunnies, the Clubs, the whole setup, were grotesque fifties kitsch. This cultural phenomenon was part of a world I knew I could never belong to or be comfortable in, but one I wanted to understand more than superficially.
Rather quickly, however, the boys’ camp atmosphere began to bore me. There was more beneath the surface, I knew. But to discover the layers meant joining in sexually, and group sex held a special repugnance for me. Once, I was tricked into a compromising situation at the mansion Jacuzzi by a Hefner buddy using a young woman as bait; the incident sickened and estranged me further. I had also come to realize that the men of Playboypursued women only for sex and rarely even had conversations with them. My visits to the mansion became briefer and more infrequent. By the time I first met Dorothy, I had already tired of the routine. Ironically, my disenchantment helped to keep us apart for a year.
Dorothy’s diminishing feelings for Snider frightened her, even as his presence gave her a sense of protection. But she felt caged, exhausted, lost: She collapsed and lost twenty pounds. Her body would never recover its youthful bloom. Hefner saw the results in subsequent photo sessions and became anxious: What had happened to Dorothy?
It took her several months to regain her strength. Playboy had decided she didn’t have enough experience with the press to be the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Playmate, and scheduled her instead for the August ‘79 centerfold. The Playmate of 1980 was a possibility, but she would have to be more cooperative in the photo sessions and pay more attention to Hefner; he could help her in so many ways.
Soon after Dorothy’s illness, an offer came from Winnipeg to star in the leading role of a small Canadian film to be called Autumn Born. The story’s basic theme is a metaphor for her own emotional state at the time: A strong-willed young woman is kidnapped by an institution practicing mind control. Brainwashed for hours, she is alternately beaten, humiliated, starved, and raped by men and women. When she finally submits, she is fondled, then beaten and tortured again. Dorothy, worried about the many scenes requiring nudity, asked Curtis to read the script for her. He suggested she do the picture; she would be able to control the nudity, and it would be easier and more gratifying than Playboy. At least it was a lead role in a movie—how bad could it be?
I didn’t see the picture until four years after she made it, nearly three years after she was killed. I once asked her if it was any good, and she said: ‘I wouldn’t think so. We spent most of the time in a big house. None of the people involved behaved as though they had ever made a movie before.’ She was right: The picture is hopelessly amateurish on every level. Yet Dorothy is considerably more than believable, and lovely beyond measure. Her hair had already been destroyed by a Playboy-recommended hairdresser; it was now bleached nearly white, just the way Hefner had wanted it. When she had cried and threatened to sue, she was told it was an accident. She was much thinner than she was when we met the first two times, with her ribs protruding from her chest and back. Filmed six months after her nineteenth birthday, Dorothy’s skinny body makes her look years younger.
Her performance is never off-key; it is clear she could identify with the situation. Though the scenes of her torture are meant to be titillating, the intensity of her feelings makes them touching, even heartbreaking. When she plays happily with the toy rat her jailers send her, her behavior is extraordinarily realistic. The other players seem to treat her with a deference that veers from the plot—they can get past neither her star quality nor her innocence. The sex scenes are shot as though she is a visiting celebrity. Yet Dorothy’s acting is so pure and clean that the suffering of the character merges with her own.
When Dorothy was chosen to be the August centerfold, Snider began to pressure her to marry him—before the issue appeared. Other movie and TV offers came in and Snider started talking of grandiose plans for posters and books and for a cosmetics and perfume company named after her. She was to be his main business. It did not take Dorothy long to see that Snider didn’t fit into the Hollywood scene. For her he had lost his charm and become just another guy on the make. Dorothy often found ram pathetic. But he had gotten her into the movies, as he had said he would. How could she turn against him now?
In L.A., after a heated argument with Snider, she wrote him:
‘Shall gentle love succeed?’ was the question, or perhaps ‘Love is the question’ itself. Still the optimism was there, the feeling that no matter how bad the ‘storms’ might be, Paul would eventually see the light, a hope not much rekindled by their first year in Los Angeles. Snider made obvious passes at other women behind Dorothy’s back and in front of her. He made several moves on Molly Bashler, a particularly strong one in the kitchen at a time when Dorothy was away. He held the back of Molly’s head and stared deeply into her eyes. Molly asked if he was trying to hypnotize her or something and Snider said yes. Was that what he had done with Dorothy? Molly asked, and Snider smiled. Molly continued to look into his eyes and said he was evil. She laughed: Was he an agent of the Devil?
On June 1, in Las Vegas, where he had pimped in past years, Paul Leslie Snider married Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten. She knew how unhappy her family would be, and had expressed her dilemma to Molly— should she marry Paul? If Dorothy had any doubts, Molly advised, why do it? But Snider persuaded her. She felt sorry for him by then. And yet, Dorothy would tell Molly, she did not let Paul touch her for more than two weeks after the marriage. His touch revolted her, Dorothy said, she didn’t know why. The watchdog had extorted his reward: marriage, fifty/ fifty till death do us part. At the seedy wedding service in Las Vegas, Snider’s best man was Jake, his main drug connection. Another Snider friend gave away the bride. Dorothy didn’t tell her family until several weeks later.
If Dorothy thought of the marriage as an act of self-protection, there was an undeniable sense of having given up. Despite the TV and movie offers that came in, she felt her life was hopeless. By the end of August 1979, a year before her death, she wrote:
When Snider gave her a small, live white rat, she adopted it as a sign of love, forgetting for the moment the meaning of the toy rat she had played with in the Canadian film: Wasn’t it sent by her captors only to torture her further? She had told Snider the plot, and didn’t want to think about the ominous implication of his gift. She called the rat Bebe, like the little dog she had loved and left behind with her family. Love Snider, love his rat; perhaps in return he wouldn’t insist on much sex. Before Dorothy and I met the second time, her romantic feelings for Snider had ceased entirely, and three or four weeks would pass before Snider insisted on making love. But he could tell she felt nothing.
Dorothy mistook Snider’s devotion during her illness for love, though he simply nursed his investment back to health so that she could continue her lucrative career. He knew this was only the beginning. The marriage gave him not only 50 percent of her income, but the right to stay in the U.S. as long as she did. When any or his other grand schemes didn’t pan out—the motorcycle jump by Evel Knievel, the male strip joint—his failure only made Dorothy feel sorrier for him. She couldn’t seem to find a way off the treadmill: the agent, recommended by a Playboy associate, who made passes; the lawyer, recommended by another Playboy associate, who tried to assault her in his office; the continuing daily pressures from Hefner’s organization. Maybe, she often thought, that was it. She was lost, she had lost— there was nothing to be done.
In the summer of 1979 I had begun a script called They All Laughed, with a character based on myself which I originally intended to play, although John Ritter would ultimately be cast in the role. In every draft until I met Dorothy again that October, the character went through the picture pining for the girl he had loved and lost because he wouldn’t commit himself to marriage and children. The Ritter character was as melancholy at the end as he had been at the beginning. A deal was struck with Time-Life Film Productions to finance this version, with shooting to start in New York after the first of the year. Cost: $7.5 million. But the script was weak, I decided—no better than my life. I didn’t like being sad, or melancholy. Like Dorothy, I was lost. All the women I had had affairs with couldn’t take the place of loving one woman and sharing a life with her. I was ready for the second meeting with Dorothy.
III - A Walk by the Ocean
A woman’s voice called out my first name. I turned and saw the unfamiliar bleached hair before I saw anything else. Then I noticed how tall she was: In high heels she was almost eye level with me. She quickly moved the last few steps, asking if I remembered that we had been introduced about a year ago. Up close her almond-shaped blue eyes were dreamy and sad, even though she was smiling. I remembered her, but didn’t recall her hair, the bright-red fingernails, and glossy lipstick. She told me her name again, and I asked immediately whether her hair had been different when we first met. Her face clouded over and she nodded. Then 9he turned casually to check the surroundings—we were in the entrance hall of the mansion. I followed her look: A few people were in the dining room and several more in the glassed-in room next door. But Hefner wasn’t in sight, and there was a kind of lull in the air. Dorothy led the way to the long, curving staircase that ended at Hefner’s private second floor, and we sat down on the third step, where she told me what had happened to her hair.
She wasn’t simply beautiful, I thought as I watched her talk—she was unbelievably exquisite, despite the gaudy makeup and dyed hair. Her eyes were gentle and soft, vulnerable and enchanting. Her lips were generously full, with the top lip protruding slightly over the bottom; in repose it made Dorothy look pensive. She was perfect from smile to body. ‘Translucent,’ Audrey Hepburn would later describe her: ‘Dorothy looked the way they used to paint an angel.’
She told me she had made a movie in her native Canada—’not a very good one,’ she said, called Autumn Born. There had been bit parts in a couple of Hollywood features: Skatetown, U.S.A. and Americathon, with John Ritter. She had done an episode for TV’s Fantasy Island, and would soon do a Buck Rogers show. She had an agent named David Wilder—aid I know him? Otherwise, the volume of fan mail had chosen her Playmate of the Year, but the decision wouldn’t be announced officially for another six months. She would soon begin another layout for Hefner, a history of blond movie goddesses—Dietrich, Harlow, Monroe, Bardot, Veronica Lake, and others—with herself made up as each of them, posing naked.
Just after she asked me to stay and have dinner with her, Hugh Hefner appeared with Sondra Theodore, his ‘special lady.’ He was in one of his countless pairs of silk pajamas, small Pepsi bottle in one hand, pipe in the other, as usual. Sondra had been a Sunday School teacher before herPlayboy career. Her blond hair had also been bleached nearly white, and though she had done a few walk-ons in pictures and TV mainly she helped to run the private orgies for Hef, participating at whatever cost, to keep him happy. When I had seen her lately, she looked very sad, and would soon be eased out of the mansion. Because I had failed to make an appearance for that weekend’s Playboy TV-special tapings, Hefner nodded coolly to me, peremptorily took Dorothy’s arm, and swept toward the dining room with her and Sondra. I phoned my house to say I would be staying longer than the twenty minutes I had planned to touch base with Hefner, and went back to find Dorothy.
She was waiting midway in the buffet line next to Rosanne Katon, a fine black actress who had posed for Playboy. Rosanne later would tell Colleen Camp that she had noticed immediately the strong vibrations between Dorothy and me. Dorothy’s look now was playful as she said: ‘Changed your mind?’ We grinned at each other and our eyes held for a moment. When I asked if she was staying for the movie, Dorothy said she would call home and if her husband wasn’t there, she would stay. Oh, I said, she was married?
By the time I had my plate filled, Dorothy was seated at Hef s table—next to Jim Brown at the far end from Hefner and James Caan—but there were no vacant chairs in the room and I had to eat in an adjoining alcove. I finished quickly and went back to the foyer, where Dorothy joined me. After we resumed. our places on the staircase, I asked if she was happily married and, for an instant, Dorothy gave me a very direct look, then turned away and said that she was having a few problems but these were not her husband’s fault. Had she had many boyfriends before she was married? Dorothy shook her head. There had been only one—Steve. After nearly a year with him, she had seen a ring she was sure he would like and began to save up the earnings from her Dairy Queen job. She told no one of her plans (and did not mention to me the fifteen weekly visits she made to the store to pay off the gift). For Christmas 1977, she presented the ring to Steve, but little more than a week later—jealous of other men’s attentions to Dorothy—he stopped the car one night, got a wrench from the trunk, took off the ring, violently bent it out of shape, and smashed the stone. It was the end of their relationship.
Dorothy told the story dispassionately, and with such innocence that I was stunned. My heart went out to her: The ring seemed to represent a great deal more than one boy’s boorishness or brutality. How could her charm and beauty, I thought, be capable of evoking such violence? Why, in our first conversation, had she told me such a savage story? I immediately associated the incident with her marriage. But her answers were so bland and evasive, I could only sense that she wasn’t happily married. Some hidden turmoil was unmistakable.
I was doing a movie in New York, I told her before we parted, and maybe she would read for me. She said she would love to, and when I told her I had very much enjoyed talking with her, I was amazed to see her eyebrows go up and her face suddenly redden. She smiled softly and said she had enjoyed herself too. We shook hands, her grasp gentle but strong, her skin smooth and moist as a flower. We moved apart, and I glanced back to watch her disappear into the living room. She waved.
Through the rest of October, through November, December, and most of January, 1980, neither Dorothy nor I suspected that we felt the same way about each other, that we thought of each other all the time and wondered how we could become closer. Finally, one Sunday early in the new year, we walked by the ocean and it was no longer possible to hold back our feelings; we clung to each other as two people might who find themselves the only couple left on earth. ‘One day since yesterday,’ she would call those magical hours, a phrase which came to represent so much more than I could possibly have imagined.
She arrived that special Sunday around one in the afternoon, wearing high-heeled shoes and a white cotton dress with a tight skirt that clung to her body. She was a little nervous, I could see, but the tension didn’t make her any less beautiful or kind. While the water for tea was heating in the kitchen, Dorothy sat on a wooden stool near a doll that was suspended from the chandelier: an ugly witch in green, riding a wooden broom. Dorothy blew on the string, swung it to make the witch fly in a tiny half-moon arc, jerked the string to make her hop around. She laughed, petted the witch sympathetically, and looked at me.
I leaned over and kissed her quickly and lightly on the lips for the first time, and then backed away, apologizing. Dorothy reddened but she didn’t say anything. Suddenly I decided we should take a ride down to the beach. There would be no people at this time of the year and we could take a walk. We could have our tea later. Dorothy jumped off the stool, delighted at the idea.
It was January 20—only the sixth visit we had since our talk on the mansion stairs: One was on New Year’s, the first day of the eighties and a fresh beginning for both of us—our decade. Every time I saw her I thought in tens of years, but all we had had until then were hours. Yet the closer we became, the more it seemed as though we had known each other all our lives.
The first thing I had done was to call Dorothy’s agent, trying to set up a meeting for the three of us. David Wilder was an ambitious, hustling young man who seemed anxious to please, perhaps to the disadvantage of his clients. Although Playboy had pointed several young Playmates toward Wilder’s agency, both companies discouraged talk of any official connection between them and often appeared to disagree, but it seemed as though Wilder’s allegiance at the time was to his main source of talent and entertainment. He and Hefner had a pretty believable good-guy/bad-guy routine going, not exactly unusual in show business, where ultrapersonal pressure tactics are a fine art.
As a go-getter, Wilder knew at least one thing about my career: I had been most successful discovering or directing women, among them Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Tatum O’Neal, and Cybill Shepherd. Cybill was tall, blond, blue-eyed, and no longer in my life. Could similar lightning strike again? Wasn’t Dorothy tall, blond, blue-eyed, and almost twenty? Nearly the same age as Shepherd when I had met her. On the phone the first time, Wilder was not even subtle. What Dorothy needed, he said, was someone to take her under his wing and guide her on the right path. She had a lot of talent, but she was new, shy, and not yet a professional actress. Hefner, added Wilder, thought she definitely had something unique; he quoted Hef: ‘A very special lady.’
When I mentioned that Dorothy seemed extremely sensitive, Wilder exploded: Sensitive!? She was too sensitive! What I had meant, I said, was that somehow I would hate to make her cry. Wilder dropped his voice and said he knew exactly what I was saying, because he had seen her cry. ‘It goddamn breaks your heart,’ he said. I asked, a touch sarcastically, what she had been crying about, and Wilder reacted with a guilty-sounding ‘Huh?’ followed by a quick laugh devoid of humor. Dorothy later told me that, except on one occasion (when she had cried), Wilder had behaved himself with her.
Wilder spoke of Snider with unconcealed hostility: He was ‘a pain in the ass... a real creep,’ who stuck his nose in everything, Wilder said. Snider would call up and yell over the phone. Dorothy never said anything bad about this guy, but Wilder knew she wasn’t happy. ‘Don’t say I said anything, but that marriage is not going to last. I don’t know how she can stand him.’ I wondered why Wilder had decided to reveal so much of Dorothy’s situation. What were his real motives? And Hefner’s?
Dorothy was often naive about people’s intentions.
She believed the things people said, and although I warned her several times not to judge another’s motives by her own, it was difficult for her to learn. She always presumed that everyone’s intentions were as pure as hers, and even if they were not, perhaps they were not as bad as they seemed. She looked tor the positive qualities in even the most obvious villain. It’s no coincidence that Beauty and the Beast was written by a woman.
Although ten days passed between the talk on the stairs and Dorothy’s first visit to my house, I saw her twice more, briefly, at the mansion. I had gone there hoping to speak with her, but that proved impossible. Hefner had called personally to ask if I would appear in some additional shots for the pajama-party section of their TV special, which meant being photographed dancing in pajamas and robe. A year before, I had gone to one of these and pretended to have a great time, though resolving never to go again. But Dorothy had changed everything, and I arrived that night in sleeping attire as the party was winding down.
Hefner was marching Dorothy into the television/Monopoly room, along with a large group of serious-looking network people. He snapped a cassette of the previous week’s party footage into the video player and everybody watched it. As the tape rolled, Dorothy sat studiously on the edge of a chair, her hands folded in her lap. Hefner hovered directly beside her, occasionally explaining things, seemingly to the room but mainly to Dorothy. I wondered if they were having an affair. Certainly Hefner was indicating a proprietary interest in her. She nodded once or twice and appeared to be absorbed in the footage. But she neither smiled nor frowned; her expression remained set.
It was the first time I had seen any kind of photographic image of Dorothy Stratten. She might be one out of hundreds dancing, but when the camera caught sight of her, whether far away or close up, it seemed to be photographing only Dorothy. Her presence cast an almost hypnotic spell. Most uncanny was how subtly different she looked every second. Each time I looked at Dorothy during the months I knew her, she looked different from the way she had looked the moment before. I would keep trying to decide which Dorothy she really was, but she turned out to be all of them, flickering the way the moon does on the sea. Even on Hefner’s monitor that night, in passable documentary footage, this shimmering, intangible quality was unmistakable.
A kind of hygienically raunchy singing group called The Village People was doing a song called ‘Ready for the ‘80s,’ and Dorothy was onstage with them, weaving smoothly at the rhythm and improvising her moves around the musicians. She made the promise of the coming decade inherent in the lyrics a breathtaking reality. When she swayed or bowed a couple of times, there was an audible reaction from the crowd in the TV room. I looked over at Dorothy watching herself, still deadpan. When the tape ended, Hefner ejected the cassette, took it and Dorothy under his arm, and left the room quickly, followed by the same busy group with whom he had entered. I followed at a distance.
By the time I saw Hefner in the entrance hall accepting congratulations, Dorothy had left for home. I told Hefner the stuff looked good and he nodded agreement, took the pipe from his mouth, and sipped his Pepsi. ‘It swings,’ he said, and smacked his lips several times reflectively. Trying to sound detached and objective, I made a remark about ‘the blond girl’ who ‘seemed interesting,’ and Hefner again nodded, also with restrained enthusiasm. His tone was patronizing: There was something special there, he agreed, though he wasn’t sure exactly how much she could do. She would need a lot of help, he thought, but certainly there was something there. I brought up the possibility of a part for her in the new picture we were preparing, and Hefner pursed his lips, nodded again, and said he had heard about that. I had figured he might have been told. To not mention it would have made him think I was trying to do something behind his back, and therefore interested in Dorothy for other than professional reasons.
Of course I was, and so was he, but I knew the rules and understood that not even a breath of this could pass between us, no matter how strongly it was felt. So we stood on the marble floor and tried to sound like a couple of professionals discussing business. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I said, to have Dorothy play an extremely efficient secretary? One who could do five things at once—talk on two phones, file, write shorthand, and type? (She had told me of her secretarial skills.) ‘Like Rosalind Russell—,’ I started, and Hefner quickly jumped in with the title of the film I had been about to cite: His Girl Friday. We both grinned, and Hefner’s victorious look required a little flattery on the speed with which he had identified the reference. He said he saw what I meant: It ‘might be a good idea to play against Dorothy’s obvious physical beauty and...’ he nodded three times, thinking. I finished the sentence: “.... and emphasize her intelligence and ability.’
The next afternoon at Hefner’s I saw Dorothy several times, though I wasn’t certain she had seen me until one tense moment when we exchanged little more than two sentences. It was a warm Sunday and near the tennis courts a roller-skating rink had been improvised for the TV cameras. Loud music played through many speakers; soft drinks, beer, hot dogs, hamburgers, Eskimo Pies, and popcorn were available. There were several film and TV actors around; Hefner and Jim Brown were conspicuous among the skaters; columnist Max Lerner stood on the sidelines watching. The scene was dominated, of course, by a great many very attractive women in all sorts of summery, revealing outfits. But for me no one could begin to compare with Dorothy Stratten. There she was, over six feet tall in her orange roller skates, wearing a lime-green one-piece bathing suit and green leg warmers, gliding through the air, her expression as enigmatic as the Sphinx. Occasionally she smiled, but with no trace of girlishness. More often she appeared serenely unaware of the surroundings, as though her private world was somewhere far away.
At the edge of the rink, I stood next to Lerner and watched Dorothy. Hefner skated holding her hands; so did Brown. Max was telling me at some length about the brand-new young girlfriend who had changed his life. At one point, Hefner started a ‘Bunny line,’ placing Dorothy directly behind him. Brown latched on next, and then a score of others. The cameras caught it all.
I walked up the paved hill above the rink and watched the goings-on from there. After several minutes, Dorothy skated away from the others and spun to a stop directly below me. She faced away from me, her hand on her hip, chewing gum with her lips closed firmly. She stayed there for a few moments surrounded by the noisy music, looking off into the distance, independent, lovely, and strangely forlorn. Her face remained expressionless.
In mid-afternoon, out on the back lawn near the Jacuzzi grotto and pool, Dorothy and I had a brief exchange that would turn out to be the last words we ever shared at the mansion. I would make only one more visit there: nearly ten months later, two days before the murder. The television crew had moved on to a bathing-suit sequence. Dorothy and several of the other Playmates cavorted in arid out of the water, inside the grotto, and under the sun. The Chuck Mangione Band played while the guests lounged on huge, brightly-colored cushions that the houseboys had tossed all over the lawn.
Dorothy was standing alone between the band and the pool. I had been looking for an opportunity to approach her, but she had been constantly occupied. Coming up behind her, I said that if she felt like talking I would be over on the cushions with a couple of friends. Dorothy turned only halfway toward me; she seemed anxious and apprehensive. She was working, she said, and they really had her going, but she would try. I could now see dimly into the grotto, realized they were shooting and began to apologize, but the assistant director called out irritably for Dorothy, and she moved off quickly into the darkening waters.
One of Hefner’s closer pals, Nicky Blair, came over to where I stood. ‘She’s quite something, isn’t she?’ I turned and nodded agreement. She was very sweet, Blair went on, asking if I had spoken with her. A little bit, I said, and asked if she went with Hefner; I had been wanting to put the question to someone, and it came out almost before I realized it. Nicky shook his head slowly and said: ‘Nah.’ I looked at him closely to see if he was on the level and he grinned—a surprisingly soft, yet cynical look in his eye: ‘Once in a while,’ Blair said, ‘one gets by him.’
I felt relieved as I looked back at Dorothy. They were telling her to pose higher up in the water, the better to see her torso, while Nicky said: ‘But she’s married to a real prick.’ I was beginning to wonder why all of a sudden Nicky Blair was volunteering this information to me. We had never discussed any other women, or Hefner. We never had more than a few pleasant, brief business conversations. He continued about Dorothy’s husband, how he came around the mansion in tank tops, flexing his muscles. ‘I don’t know how she can stand him—she’s such a sweet person, a real sweetheart. Hef can’t stand the guy. He puts up with him because of Dorothy, but otherwise, no way. The guy is horrible.’ I mentioned the possible role for Dorothy and explained that the script was still being rewritten. Blair said he would talk to her about me and ‘put in a good word.’ He phoned a day or so later and told me he had had a long talk with Dorothy: She was very much looking forward to meeting with me.
On the first of November, Dorothy walked into my house for the first time. She wore a frilly white cotton dress and a large, floppy straw hat. If the dress was almost transparent, the heels too high for anyone to walk smoothly, and the red nail polish inappropriate with the dress and hat, Dorothy nevertheless looked as though she had stepped out of the nineteenth century.
We took tea in my office, where she sat up in the tan leather armchair. I sat on the blue couch and we talked about the film. I explained to her the part of Amy, the efficient secretary who is secretly in love with her boss. The character, and the relationship, ended up considerably different by the time we started snooting (Linda MacEwen played it), but at this point I was planning to tailor the part for Dorothy. Later, I would rewrite the entire script, creating instead a major role for her that rivaled Audrey Hepburn’s in size and importance.
As we read Amy’s few scenes together, Dorothy asked questions and was extremely quick to catch on. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for me to realize she was a natural actress with a fine ear for nuance and a wry, simple delivery that always rang true. She also seemed to absorb thoroughly whatever she heard. I would find that, unlike most people, she never forgot what was said. Perhaps because she herself never said anything superficially, she never listened superficially either.
We discussed her stage name: The Screen Actors Guild had another actress registered under the name Dorothy Stratton. Therefore, Dave Wilder had said, she would have to use her middle initial for billing— Dorothy R. Stratten; R. for Ruth. Her husband had suggested that she use a name he made up for her: Kristen Shields. (For a time, Snider had insisted that everyone, even Dorothy’s family, call her Kristen, and grew livid if her real name was used.) I suggested the possibility of D. R. Stratten, and later, when I called her by that nickname for the first time, her eyebrows rose in surprise, her eyes brightened, and she blushed and smiled.
I glanced down at the coffee table and noticed a paperback acting edition of Noel Coward’s Private Lives; I picked it up and began describing the play to Dorothy: A man and a woman who have been divorced from each other for five years turn up at the same hotel on the Riviera, both on honeymoons with new spouses. Their suites adjoin, of course, with their terraces side-by-side. After a while, inevitably, the two old lovers find themselves alone together, sharing a drink in the moonlight. The orchestra below plays the same old popular song, which naturally was their song:
After a breathless silence, the woman looks out to sea and speaks tremulously: ‘Extraordinary,’ she says, ‘how potent cheap music is.’ Dorothy’s smile warmed the room, and I read her a couple of pages from the love scene in the second act:
Our tea long since finished, we had a couple of cigarettes. Her husband didn’t allow her to smoke, Dorothy said, but she sneaked them when he wasn’t around. I knew how she felt, I said. Officially, I wasn’t smoking either.
She had to leave for the Playboy studio, so I walked her to the olive-green ‘67 Cougar she drove. We shook hands and I said I would like to see her again to read over some other scenes. There were no other scenes yet, but I didn’t tell her that. We were both stalling. She drove away, and I went back into the house knowing I was hopelessly smitten by her.
We were both busy professionally, and nearly six weeks passed before we saw each other again. But I thought about her all the time, and we began talking on the phone. I called Dorothy one night in Dallas from New York. She told me about the Playboy fans, how sorry she felt for them. Although she was exhausted at the end of a long autographing session, she didn’t like to let any of them leave disappointed. She told me daily what had happened to her: She was getting another cold, she felt very run-down, her husband was rarely home so they kept missing each other’s calls, she was lonely, she had read Private Lives and loved it and was going to read it again.
Years later, I would near of the time in a Dallas nightclub when a fat, unattractive man asked each of the five Playmates on the tour to dance with him. Disgusted, they had all refused, except Dorothy. She took him as her partner and he turned out to be as good a dancer as she was; he had been a dance instructor. Dorothy and the fat man danced together most of the evening, making quite a hit, and she thanked him for a wonderful time.
Dorothy arrived at my house on the afternoon of Friday, December 7. I didn’t know her husband was watching outside my gates throughout the meeting. Eight months later he would be waiting again, but then he would be carrying a loaded .38 revolver. Although Dorothy would know, I would not.
That day we leafed through a curious book a friend had given me explaining an ancient occult science that related playing cards to one’s birthday. Born July 30, for example, I was a Jack of Hearts, the symbol for certain personality traits and life patterns developed from astrology, numerology, and metaphysics. It is a complicated procedure that I didn’t understand very well, I told Dorothy, but several things I had read had been amazingly accurate. Written by Arne Lein and privately printed in 1978, it is called What’s Your Card? As Dorothy looked over my shoulder, we looked up her birth date: February 28. She was a Ten of Clubs.
Flipping to the yearly charts at the back of the book, I held it open as Dorothy moved closer. In theory, the ‘Life Spreads’ could tell you, year by year, which people would most influence your life. I knew that the cards found on the same line as one’s own card represented important persons in one’s life. Looking up age forty, I explained that my card, the Jack of Hearts, never moved; the others revolved around it. Did she remember her card? The Ten of Clubs, Dorothy said. I looked at the chart and pointed in amazement. Her card was next to mine, on the left.
Where was Paul? asked Dorothy excitedly. His birthday was April 15: an Aries (like Hefner). Snider was a Six of Diamonds. I flipped back to the age forty chart and discovered that his card was also directly next to mine, on the right. Our three cards were all in a row on the same line, with mine in the middle. The revelation astonished me. Dorothy seemed delighted, so I continued and jumped to the age forty-one chart, where both Dorothy’s card and her husband’s suddenly were not next to mine. Feeling vaguely uneasy, I slammed the book shut.
As I walked D.R. to the front door, I took a quick look at her palm, which was dry and crisscrossed with a remarkable number of lines, an indication that she had been here before, I said. She had an old soul. Dorothy smiled as though she had heard that before. At this point she mentioned that her husband was waiting for her in the car. She thanked me and left hurriedly.
Five days later, Dorothy came over alone. She wore a gymsuit and sneakers that late afternoon, and made little attempt to cover the fact that she was exhausted, worried, and very unhappy. The sky had turned gray as we took our tea to the living room. Dorothy had asked me to look at a script that Snider, Wilder, and Playboy were all trying to get her to do: the title role in Galaxina, a science-fiction comedy. She did not think much of it, she said, but maybe she was wrong. Since it seemed to be her main concern, I started leafing through her scenes, and Dorothy turned away toward the window. I glanced over and asked if she was OK. She nodded silently, without turning, but I leaned forward and saw that she was crying. I said her name softly, but it startled her.
She shook her head, wiped her face, and said she was sorry. What was it? I asked. Could I help? Dorothy tried to hold back a sob, but it came out anyway. She turned her face into my chest and cried quietly. After a moment, I put my arms around her. If I had known then how close to my own feelings Dorothy’s were, I would have done as I wanted— tilted her face up to mine and kissed her so there would be no doubt about how much she meant to me, how much I wanted to help her never to cry again.
When her tears had stopped, Dorothy laughed: ‘It’s OK, don’t worry—I cry all the time....’ I was falling madly in love with her, I knew, but why should she believe me? And D.R. was thinking (she later would tell me): Because I hadn’t made even a little pass, maybe I only liked her as a friend.
We discussed Galaxina, and then Dorothy told me about the Buck Rogers episode she had done, playing Miss Cosmos, the most physically perfect woman in the galaxy. The producers had said her voice was too soft and her line readings inadequate; they wanted her to redo all of them. I offered to help and wasn’t surprised she had had difficulty; I said it was dialogue for robots. Later Dorothy would tell me that the producers insisted on dubbing her voice with another actress.
She then talked of her problems with Snider. He was demanding papers that would give him 50 percent of her services for life. Playboy, as well as Dorothy’s agents, lawyers, and business managers were all dead set against any sort of deal giving Snider half interest in Dorothy. But he was her manager. Managers normally got 15 percent maximum, everyone had told her. Wilder had mentioned to me that Snider was trying to bulldoze Dorothy into a company they would control jointly. D.R. said she felt caught in the middle. She wasn’t sure what to do because, after all, Paul had discovered her, hadn’t he? If it hadn’t been for him, she never would have appeared in Playboy.
Maybe that would have been better, I said to her for the first time. Certainly she could have been equally successful with Vogue or Glamour. Her face, hands, feet, height, and shape were perfect for the fashion and commercial world; and there was her great potential as an actress. The Ford Model agency, D.R. said, had asked to send her out, and she was surprised because that kind of agency didn’t normally hire girls who had posed for Playboy. Had she signed with Ford? No, said Dorothy, because Mr. Hefner had been upset about the idea, wanting her to sign instead with Playboy’s model agency, which she did. So Hefner wouldn’t let her go, I thought, naked or dressed, not if it didn’t help him or his empire. As though Playboy’s new agency—the old Chicago-based agency, I would learn, had been disbanded because of numerous incidents of prostitution—could do the same for its clients in the international fashion world as the long-established and highly regarded Ford’s. This had been the chance for a Playmate to alter her image—but of course Hefner wouldn’t look at it that way.
Based on what I knew of models’ fees, Playboy didn’t pay its own very well. The five-hundred-dollar daily fee covered days that often went to twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours, longer still on deadlines, with no overtime pay. Playboy only recently had given the girls a raise to the five hundred dollars, D.R. said, which meant they were now being slightly less than thrice underpaid. A high-class call girl could earn twice that much in one hour, and the Playboy girls often had to throw in the sex for nothing. The magazine that paid extravagant sums to its writers paid, relatively, a pittance to the women for whose pictures it was bought. The writers brought the magazine respectability; the women were a dime a dozen.
Snider wanted Dorothy for life. Between him and the Playboy machine, she had been maneuvered into a net, and she was beginning to realize how tight it was. I tried to sound reasonable and said I thought her husband’s request for 50 percent was uncalled-for. Under most laws, he was already entitled to half of any earnings she might have during their marriage. But that was how she felt anyway, D.R. said. It wasn’t her money, it was theirs. She felt strange: It was as though Paul didn’t trust her, as though he thought she didn’t love him. That was certainly how it sounded, I said. A look of deep resentment came into her eyes, like a dark cloud over the sun. There was rage in it too, and bitterness, and a profound contempt that was chilling, as though I had confirmed her worst suspicions: that Snider was interested in her only for the money she could make, the power she gave him, that love never had been a real consideration.
When I suggested she visit her family for Christmas, despite her husband’s objections, she said she couldn’t because ‘he would be so angry.’ But I didn’t really know what Dorothy meant by ‘angry,’ and she never elaborated on the word, nor did she allow me ever to meet Snider, so that I could better understand. I hadn’t had much exposure to men who consistently browbeat women, much less terrorized them. But Dorothy had seen little else from men all her life. Snider was like most of them. And when they got angry, they could be dangerous. Molly Bashler said Dorothy often acted as though Snider was not much different from most men—that this was simply the way life was.
If Dorothy wanted to visit her family for Christmas, she ought to be able to—if he wanted to stay here, she wouldn’t mind, would she? Dorothy said, ‘No,’ and tried to make it sound as conventional as possible— how could she tell me the whole story? ‘Paul says we can’t afford it. He hates his family and he doesn’t like my family, and my Mum doesn’t like him/’ She looked sad. ‘I’d like to go home, though,’ Dorothy said, and changed the subject again.
D.R. left for a couple of hours to attend an acting class. When she returned she was elated: Her teacher, Richard Brander, had said in class that she was doing very well indeed. Had she done a lot of scenes? No, mainly monologues. She had done Emily from Our Town—did I know it? Taking several speeches from the ending in the graveyard, Dorothy had put them together into a monologue. Several people told her she had made them cry.
Eleven days later, on the night before Christmas Eve, D.R. came over again. A few days earlier, she had sent me the biggest Christmas card I had ever received. Its cover featured a drunken reindeer too pickled to care about tomorrow; the greeting inside read ‘Bingle Jells.’ Above this, Dorothy had written ‘Dear Peter,’ and below, ‘Forever my love, Dorothy,’ exaggerating, for my benefit, the loops of both y’s: I had told her that in graphology large lower loops indicated a healthy sensuality. Reading it over, she wondered, perhaps, if her husband might ever see the card and then quickly, after ‘Dear Peter,’ she added ‘& Blaine.’ I put the card near my desk so that I could see it every day.
I responded to her card with a serenade, the earliest form of courtship I had learned. Since my first girlfriend, I had always sung to the women I liked. I started with an old Sinatra standard, and looked at Dorothy as I sang:
You’re just too marvelous,
Too marvelous for words...
Dorothy knelt on the couch and beamed at me, looking both giddy and embarrassed; her face was flushed, making her teeth even whiter, and her eyes looked merry. She rose quietly and moved slowly until she was behind me. Now she could listen without my seeing her. It was the sweetest reaction I had ever seen, and only increased the feeling of the lyric.
... Looking for the light
Of a new love
To brighten up the night...
She had her elbows on the piano, her chin resting on cupped hands. The look between us meant only one thing. It was hard to believe that the vibrations I was getting from Dorothy’s side of the room were as strong as the ones I was sending. Then she was back on the couch, curled up as attentively as a cat, and when she recognized the words of the Love Story song, I could see in her eyes that she understood the gesture:
... How long does it last?
Can love be measured
By the hours in a day... ?
We slowly walked out to her car. I had so wanted to kiss her, to take her in my arms and hold her close. When we stepped onto the driveway, Dorothy pointed upward suddenly. There was a full moon, dimmed by the mist or smog. The air was damp but pleasant, and there were small white clouds against the dark sky As we looked at the moon, a soft rainbow slowly appeared around it. A sign meant especially for us, it seemed: Didn’t lovers always take the weather personally? I said she ought to write a poem (not knowing that she often wrote poems), and Dorothy just smiled. We hoped to get together again ‘about the movie,’ we said. My daughters were staying with me, I told her, and since the three of them had barely done more than say hello in the entrance hall, I suggested she drop by while they were here. I wanted the girls to get to know her. On New Year’s Day, Dorothy came by for a short while with her eleven-and-a-half-year-old sister, Louise, but my kids had already gone home to their mother.
When we saw each other on January 20, Dorothy already had a bad start to the new year: Every day Snider became a bigger problem, and the Playboy sessions were exhausting her once more. On top of that, she had been bulldozed into Galaxina. When she protested to Wilder that she had decided against doing the picture, she was told that she was already committed to it. There was no other way—backing out would ruin her name in the business. But she had not agreed to it, Dorothy argued; how could he commit her? Well, he had. Besides, it was a good part; she would be crazy to turn it down.
For Dorothy, the decision forced on her was just another in a long line of compromises she had made for the sake of others. She didn’t complain much; she was tired. It made her sad, she told me over the phone, the way people smiled but didn’t mean it. Sometimes there was hate behind the smile, and sometimes there was only sadness.
She didn’t say anything more, and it wasn’t until two years later that several people in the crew and cast of Galaxina would tell me what a terrible time Snider had given Dorothy during the shooting of the picture. Almost every morning when she arrived, the makeup women told me, Dorothy would be crying. Several times Snider had strutted around the set behaving obnoxiously toward everyone. The producers had no trouble understanding why Dorothy was upset every day, or why she looked for excuses to stay late on the job. Without a request from her, they started sending a car to pick her up so that Snider would not drive her to work. But there were other times, later in the picture, in her dressing room and near the set, when Dorothy shouted angrily at Snider. She had a strangely deep, resonant voice when angry. I would hear it myself, and see her eyes flash darkly.
An actor on Galaxina, James David Hinton, who became very fond of Dorothy, tried to encourage Snider to go to work. Since Snider was very good at building exercise tables, Hinton said, why didn’t he sell them? But Snider’s interest never lasted very long. There were no friendly signs between Dorothy, and her husband, Hinton recalled. One time Snider leafed through his wife’s new Playboy spread with Hinton and commented: ‘Didn’t she have great tits’?
A key sequence in Galaxina called for Dorothy to be spread-eagled against a cold water tower. The producers insisted she remain bound there for several hours, day and night. In one shot of the completed film, the tears she cried are real.
Before we saw each other again on that Sunday in January, Dorothy had written and mailed the suggested rainbow poem to me in New York. But I did not receive it until after our walk by the ocean, and its obvious hints were no longer necessary. She had wanted me to kiss her that night:
The poem was signed: ‘D.R.’
That Sunday afternoon the kids had called to say they were ice-skating. Why didn’t I bring Dorothy by so they could meet her again? We drove around Santa Monica looking for the rink, and despite our equally laughable senses of direction, the rink finally turned up. As we moved down the cement walk to the entrance, we held hands for the first time. Her hand was long and narrow and delicate.
Inside, the rink was dark, cold, and damp. Dorothy wobbled precariously on the high heels. Antonia, age twelve, saw us and yelled out; then nine-year-old Sashy waved and they skated over, followed by several friends. It was a sunken rink with a metal fence around the top; I had to squat to get a kiss. Dorothy couldn’t even do that because her skirt was too tight—another of those dresses insisted on by Snider, guaranteed to immobilize her.
D.R. smiled anxiously at the girls as I gave them each a quick kiss. Toni whispered: ‘She’s very beautiful, Daddy.’ Sashy echoed the sentiment, for which she received a withering glance from Antonia. The two of them gazed at Dorothy; they had seen me with many women over the past two years. Torn whispered: ‘She’s the best one, Daddy, I can tell. She looks really nice.’
We then drove to the ocean and parked near a deserted beach. Dorothy took off her shoes and we stepped down the incline onto the sand. The sun was still high and very bright. I took her hand again and we walked for a time in silence. We moved closer to each other. I tucked my left arm around her back, and she rested her right hand lightly at my waist. We walked that way for a while, both looking down. I glanced at Dorothy. She was snuggled against me, gazing straight ahead. Each step became more difficult as the sand got deeper, and we sank down further and further. The sunlight poured over us for all the world to see, yet it was as though we were protected by an invisible, shrinking cocoon that both shielded us and brought us closer every moment. Finally my legs were too heavy to move another step. As I turned to Dorothy and gathered her in my arms, she was trembling. Then I realized that I was too.
For several moments we embraced, neither of us moving. I could feel her everywhere. Our bodies seemed to absorb one another right through our clothes. We looked at each other, and she brought her arms up in front of her, hands below her chin. Her face was in shadow, her hair rimmed in gold by the sun. I held her close, her arms pressing against my chest, and I moved closer and kissed her. She drew her eyebrows tightly together, closed her eyes, and kissed me back. I don’t know how long the kiss went on; I had never experienced anything like it. Love, it is said, is like an addiction, and nothing had ever seemed more true. Her mouth was so sweet, it would be impossible to ever get enough. Then we locked arms and continued to walk along the beach in silence. We didn’t have to speak. We both knew that what had happened hadn’t happened to either of us before.
The world came slowly back into view, and I noticed that in the distance someone was taking pictures of us. I stopped and turned us away sharply. When I glanced back, the photographer had veered toward the ocean, as though he were snapping the beach or the waves. How long had he been there? He now moved casually toward a woman trailing behind him. Amateur photographers? Another pair of lovers? Someone from Playboy? How could they have known we would be on the beach? For some reason it didn’t occur to me that Dorothy might easily have been followed to my house, and then to the beach. At that moment, I dismissed the thought.
We sat down on a piece of driftwood and I put my arms around Dorothy. The man with the camera was even farther away. He probably recognized you, Dorothy said. He had probably recognized her, I said. But I wondered then if there was a chance we had been followed, if someone had been instructed to snap pictures of us, someone who thought they might be useful. Maybe Playboy or Snider was already on to us. But then I told myself I was being paranoid and melodramatic. We kissed again; with the sun hot on our faces, our lips burned together. It felt as though we were drifting slowly down a peaceful river, with everything serene and in place, on the first day of the world.
That evening I caught a plane back to New York, and next morning, with my L. A. street number as the return address, Dorothy mailed to me at the Plaza a greeting card with a color photo of an ocean beach at sunset. Against sky and sea was the dark silhouette of a woman leaping for joy. Inside she had written:
On Saturday, February 2, Dorothy was able to get away, and I flew back to Los Angeles for the weekend. That evening I started a fire in the living room and turned on the music. Lying on cushions by the hearth, we kissed and clasped each other, each embrace more intense than the last. Dorothy was tender, but careful. When my hand rested lightly on her breast for a moment, she removed it, and we continued to kiss. She was right: The kisses were enough. After a half hour, the kissing had reached such a peak that I felt we had made love to climax three or four times.
Dorothy was sitting up, the fire reflected in her eyes. The light flickered, and her beauty was like an extraordinary mirage, too glorious to be real. She reminded me of a unicorn, I told her, as the image flashed into my mind. She was unique, certainty, with the purity and grace symbolic of a unicorn. Dorothy asked what it was, and I remembered that the kids and I had bought little plastic pins on the boardwalk in Venice and among them was a white unicorn head. I got it from the desk drawer and gave it to D.R. She looked at the pin curiously: So this was a unicorn. She had seen them around, but hadn’t known what they were. Had they ever existed? I didn’t know for certain, I said, though it seemed to me that nothing was ever really made lip.
D.R. was delighted with the pin and made it hop through the air, as a child might. She looked like one just then, and I realized how young she was, not twenty until the end of the month. She couldn’t pin the unicorn to her blouse, she said, because her husband would wonder where it had come from, so she put the pin carefully into her purse. I never would see it again. We talked and kissed again, but soon she had to leave. It seemed as though she had just arrived.
The next day Blaine Novak and I had an argument about Dorothy, about her role in the picture and in my personal life. He was convinced that Playboy had maneuvered Dorothy into the movie, that I was being set up romantically: It was no secret that I had a weakness for blondes, and no secret that Hefner wanted a movie star for Playboy. Nicky Blair, David Wilder, and Hefner himself were all putting down Dorothy’s husband, and bending over backward to throw her and me together. Novak was afraid I was going to get hurt. Here I was necking with the girl for a couple of hours and then she went home to her husband. Did he have to draw me a picture?
If there was a plot of some kind, I said angrily, Dorothy certainly was not involved in it. Novak couldn’t be sure, but he doubted that too—although from the way he said it, I knew he didn’t trust Dorothy at all. Hefner was no dope, he went on. If old Hef himself, he conjectured, was interested in Dorothy—and why would he not be?—there was obviously a better chance if her marriage was over. I might have her in the picture, but Hefner had her under contract for another couple of years. ‘And don’t forget,’ Novak concluded, ‘Hef can be pretty vindictive.’
I was in turmoil. The intention had been not to become romantically involved until Dorothy left her husband, but she gave little indication of any such plan. Novak had worked on my own worst fears. Although I knew he trusted women much less than I did, his worries about the film were justified. Anyway I looked at it, the circumstances were very tricky.
So when D.R. called that Sunday, I was feeling desperate. She was at the Playboy studio shooting with Casilli and had no time off. I couldn’t handle the situation, I told her; I was going crazy. It was important for her to be in the picture and I didn’t want our personal relationship to jeopardize that. She was married; there was no getting around it, and she would have to decide what she wanted. Until she did, we would have to keep things between us strictly professional. Dorothy was flustered. She wasn’t sure what I was really saying: My tone was anguished, but the words were terse. I would be working all day, I said, and flying back to New York the next day. I would call her from there. It was not my finest hour.
Much later, D.R. told me she had cried after we hung up. Casilli assumed Snider had upset her again and was furious: She had cried often over the last three months. After my call, she had not been able to work any more that day. She thought it was over between us.
Our first argument (we had only two) had been sparked by Novak’s ostensible concern, and when I called Dorothy from New York, I apologized for my outburst. I had been confused and frustrated and had taken it out on her. No, Dorothy said, I was right: The situation wasn’t fair to me. But it was difficult for both of us, I said, and I told her Novak’s theory: that it was possible Playboy and Wilder had tried to manipulate us into a relationship to get her a better part and a better deal (I didn’t mention specifically Hefner’s possible involvement or ulterior motives). She agreed. But did I think she herself was involved in any such plot? No, I did not, I thought that she and I had fooled them: We had fallen in love. Dorothy asked if Blaine had said that he thought she was involved in a conspiracy. I told her he was suspicious by nature and very worried about the picture. Dorothy understood that his attitude would, of course, make our situation even more difficult.
Several times in the past few weeks D.R. had not been sure she was going to make it at all, especially during the incident with the puppy that Playboy gave her in Hefner’s name—quite literally: They named it Marston, the boss’s middle name. Dorothy was so excited that she phoned me in New York the day she received the present. Marilyn Grabowski had told her Hef picked it out himself, and D.R. played with the puppy during photography sessions. A few days later, Dorothy called in tears: The puppy had died. She hadn’t even had a chance to take the dog home, she told me. The people at the Playboy studio said they would take care of it, but they hadn’t: ‘They didn’t even feed it,’ she said. That was not the true story, however. For reasons I wouldn’t know until two years later, Dorothy had lied so as not to alarm me about her personal safety. She gave false accounts to others for the same reason, confiding the truth only to a makeup woman on Galaxina. Because Paul Snider had been responsible for the death of the puppy. He had poisoned it.
Soon after, for Valentine’s Day, D.R. sent me another poem:
On February 15, I flew back to Los Angeles. D.R. and I had a date the next afternoon—Saturday. I gave her a copy of The Arabian Nights for Valentine’s Day and inscribed several pages in a code that spelled: EB. loves D.R. We went upstairs to play some tapes and I wanted to show Dorothy the master suite: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two dressing rooms. Cybill and I lived there together for five years, but I had never asked anyone else to share the place with me. I realized how much I wanted Dorothy there, anywhere, all the time. As the tape played, we sat on the edge of the bed and kissed; soon we were lying on the bed and it became difficult for us to stop kissing. Then D.R. stood up and walked out onto the balcony overlooking the fountain and courtyard. The sun was going down. I followed her, and we looked at each other for a long time.
We were thinking the same thing, and I could tell from the look in her eyes that she was afraid going any further would be wrong. I knew it myself, but the temptation was too strong to deny. She shook her head ever so slightly, and after a moment I nodded and said, ‘I know.’ The tension left her face. It would simply be too difficult, she said, to go back to her husband afterward; it was already difficult enough. We kissed and held each other. We had better get the tea now, I said, and D.R. smiled as she took my hand and we went down to the kitchen.
After dark, we lay by the fire in the living room. We wouldn’t see each other for more than a month, not until she came to New York for rehearsals toward the end of March. It was going to be a long month, we both knew. I told her it would be very difficult for us until she decided whether or not she was going to leave her husband, but that I didn’t want her to leave him for me: I wanted her to leave for her own sake, if she wasn’t happy with him. Dorothy said: ‘But I wouldn’t leave my husband for anyone except you.’ I looked at her closely. How could she say that? She couldn’t be that certain. She might meet someone next year. Dorothy shook her head slightly: ‘No, I would leave only for you.’ She was so determined it made me smile.
The room was dark, but I could still see her eyes, soft and sharp at once. Before she had met me, I said, she must have known there were problems in the marriage. ‘I knew before we got married,’ D.R. said. ‘It was already different six months after we started going together.’ Why had she married him? I asked. ‘I didn’t want to have an argument.’ That was a hell of a reason to get married, I said. But Paul had wanted to very badly, D.R. told me. ‘My Playboy issue was coming out and I guess maybe he was getting insecure. I felt sorry for him and I loved him. I still love him. But it isn’t the same anymore. I don’t know what’s wrong....’ I told her it sounded as though she wasn’t in love with him anymore. ‘But why? He’s good to me. He cooks. I come home, I’m exhausted, I’m cranky; I just go to bed. Most times, I don’t let him touch me. I just don’t like to do it with him anymore. Every so often I have to—every two or three weeks, when I run out of excuses.’ How long had it been like that? A long time, but since last summer it had been worse: ‘I feel so bad—I don’t know what’s wrong.’ They had only been married early last summer, I remembered.
There wasn’t anything she could do about it, I said. When the feelings left, they were gone. That was what I’d meant before: If she had not met me, she would have met someone else. She certainly wasn’t happy. She looked at me. ‘There would never be anyone but you.’ The words were almost chilling in their sureness; for a moment she sounded like an oracle. She sat erect, with a bitter look: ‘I can turn off my emotions, you know,’ she said. ‘I can be very hard. You wouldn’t believe how hard I can be. I can be indifferent. I can stay with Paul and that will be my life.’ But why would she settle for so much less than she could have? I didn’t understand. ‘Because I already had Steve, now Paul is my husband and then I get divorced and then it’s you and me, and after you someone else and then someone else.’ She shook her head. ‘No, I’m not going to go through that—I’ve seen what my mother’s gone through like that, and I’m not going to.’
She looked deep into my eyes: ‘Peter, if this isn’t very important to you, please let’s not pursue it any further. Because it’s going to be difficult for me now, but it would be even more difficult later.’ Every word struck clearly. It was very important, I said, it was the most important thing in my life.
Dorothy asked me to make a promise. ‘If you ever get tired of being with me, please don’t stay because you feel sorry for me. I wouldn’t want you to feel about being with me the way I feel about being with Paul.’ I promised and said I hoped the same went for her feelings about me. She nodded. ‘But I never would,’ she said. We were saying our vows, I realized, as I hugged her close to me and said I never would either.
In the early hours of that morning, Dorothy wrote me a poem:
Around midnight, long after Dorothy left, I had a strange vision. It was so sharp I felt as though I had actually seen across the city and into her bedroom. Something terrible had happened to her. I could see Dorothy quite clearly, lying on her back, a dark male shape above her. Only her face was illuminated, the rest of her in blackness. She was staring directly into my eyes as the man moved on her, and the look on her face was one of pure horror. I blinked, but the picture stayed there. The horror in her eyes increased. It was as vivid as a nightmare, but I was wide awake. To make certain, I glanced around the room. And then looked back. Dorothy was gone.
IV - The Serpentine Laugh
By the exit gate at Kennedy, I stood watching nervously as the passengers began to come out. We had flown Dorothy first class, so I expected her among the earliest arrivals. But she was not. Nor was she among the second wave, the third, or the fourth. A 747 carries a lot of people and this one was full. I watched them all come out, but Dorothy was nowhere to be seen. The last few passengers straggled out, the stewardess and the pilots already long gone. No Dorothy. I felt terrible; she must have missed the plane. But why didn’t she call? She had at least four hours to reach me. It didn’t make sense.
I backed away from the exit, turning to ask the whereabouts of Information, and fumbled for the typed piece of paper: American Flight 32 from L.A., arriving 9:02 p.m., Saturday, March 22. I started off along the corridor, walked twenty or thirty paces, and then, for some reason, thought better of it and headed back to weird the gate and the plane. As I turned the comer, a woman was just coming through the doors at the far end. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I knew: It was Dorothy, all right, and she was a mess.
As I think of her now, she looked adorable coming toward me, high heels clomping along, the skirt too tight, shortening her steps. She was trying to walk quickly, carrying two suitcases, a purse, and a shopping bag, her hair going every which way. She looked most of all like a teenaged kid who had just run away from home carrying everything she owned. I was so relieved to see her, I started laughing and she laughed with me.
I grabbed the suitcases, both heavy, and we bumped down the escalator to the baggage carousels, where we eventually picked up another four bags. She had brought virtually all of her clothes and books. It was funny, she said, it felt as though she was moving out; even Paul had commented on it.
She was very talkative and bright and excited. I spent the time trying to look busy with the luggage, just to avoid staring at her dumbly. She chatted on about the last few weeks at Playboy. The only thing that had kept her going was knowing each day brought her closer to New York. Although Dorothy hadn’t really told me that before, she said it matter-of-factly. But it was difficult sometimes to keep up with the importance of what she appeared to say so lightly. D.R. veiled the truth to protect the listener. Yet when she trusted someone, she spoke frankly. She wasn’t coy and she wasn’t a flirt. But she was often shy, which made her quiet. Dorothy believed everyone else’s life and opinions were more important than her own. When she was hurt, it usually went unspoken. She understood and was quick to forgive.
I would never know exactly what Dorothy had gone through to prevent Snider from coming to New York. The Galaxina experience, among many others, would have already made D.R. fully aware of how much more difficult her work would always be if Snider was nearby, and both of us knew his presence in Manhattan would make things impossible for our relationship, yet we never spoke of this except by implication. A couple of times she mentioned that her husband wanted to accompany her for the shooting and asked my position. I told her it would be a closed set and no visitors were permitted. Later she said she had explained this to Snider, but that he still wanted to come with her. I said this was a difficult role for her and that the picture would suffer if she was upset emotionally. Knowing his nature far better now than I did then, I realize what an extraordinary accomplishment it was keeping Paul Snider out of New York. She had made her choice, and this was the first victory she had won for us.
We stopped at the Wyndham Hotel on Fifty-eighth Street. It was better for her to check in alone and get settled, so I went back to my room at the Plaza to wait for her. Not very much later, bathed and changed, she was at my door. She walked in and we kissed for a long time. Then we toured the suite. She loved it. We could see all of Central Park up to Harlem, bordered by Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. We could watch the sun rise and set. It was like living on the most extraordinary set with perfect lighting. The truly beautiful days of spring, just after the equinox, coincided with Dorothy’s arrival.
On our first evening together, as a kind of romantic farewell to winter in Manhattan, it snowed, just enough to make a pretty picture: a gentle snowfall for Dorothy, who had never been to New York and was delighted. At Nicola’s restaurant uptown we sat at a small, round table between the main rooms. Everyone who went by, without exception, looked at Dorothy. It was either terrifying or funny. But D.R. wasn’t amused, though she said they were looking at me. Dorothy could be both polite and naive.
After dinner we went back to the Plaza, and then took a ride through the park in a horse-drawn carriage. Dorothy picked a particularly sweet-looking palomino. The driver asked if we wanted the short tour or the long tour, and I looked at D.R. She mouthed, ‘the long one.’ It was like a ride on a magic carpet; the horse seemed to float. When Dorothy got cold I gave her my jacket, but we warmed quickly in each other’s arms, riding along the winding roads of the park, a light snow still falling. When we reached the Wyndham, her suite was warm and flowery. She showed me where she had put all her things, gracing the most ordinary acts with enchantment. As I leaned out the window to show her the Plaza entrance again, Dorothy squeezed my arm and told me once more how very happy she was that it had snowed. Didn’t everything look beautiful?
D.R. was going to sleep in her own room tonight. She was clear on that point. But she liked the idea of having a late drink at my place, so we walked up the wet street. It had stopped snowing. On the bed in my room, we kissed for a long time. The overwhelming force was almost impossible to resist. Late in the evening, I played her a rough tape that pianist-composer Earl Poole Ball and I had made of a new song we had written. Earl didn’t know until much later where the idea had come from, nor that the title, One Day Since Yesterday, had not been mine at all. Only D.R. knew the meaning behind the lyric about a clandestine meeting on a sunlit beach:
When Dorothy realized what the song was about— somewhere in the middle of the first stanza—she smiled a private smile. She was lying on her back, with her head propped up slightly on a pillow, her hands folded on her stomach and her feet crossed. She would often lie that way, and she seemed the most relaxed at those moments: Her energy was suspended like a profound calm on the sea.
Early Sunday afternoon the weather was beyond compare, so Dorothy and I, like a lot of other people, took a stroll through Central Park. The only difference between us and everybody else was that no one looked like Dorothy, which was why everyone looked at her. She was carrying a white stuffed unicorn that I had just bought for her at Rumpelmayer’s. The unicorn pin had been lost, she told me. Since it was uncharacteristic of D.R. to lose things, and since (I would discover much later) a unicorn figurine Mario Casilli gave her for her birthday—Dorothy had told a makeup girl at Playboy that she ‘loved unicorns’— also was never found, it is reasonable to assume that Snider uncovered both gifts, figured them to be special love tokens from me, and disposed of them both in anger.
Dorothy moved briskly and stared ahead most of the time. I kept up with her and tried to look both formidable and oblivious. Men would stop in their tracks, turn, and stare. Women looked too, but without hostility. No one knew who she was. D.R. just kept moving, and eventually we cut into a side lane and managed to remain fairly secluded after that. But since both of us were nearsighted, we had no idea how conspicuous we really were: Soon afterward a William Morris agent asked Dorothy if she and I were having an affair—he had seen us mooning around in Central Park.
On that afternoon, in the park and back at my suite, when Dorothy and I finally made love, we found what we had been searching for all our lives. We truly made love: creating it again for each other, discovering it together for the first time. We floated dreamlike through the night. The lights were always off and the shades drawn when we made love, because Dorothy wanted it that way. She was extremely modest. Every moment it became clearer that we seemed to fit each other’s forms, like two halves of a finely broken shell. It was the purest experience I had ever had, and as natural as breathing.
It was the brightest time of our lives. I would wake up and watch her lying asleep beside me, and I could hardly believe she was there, that she really existed, that she wasn’t a dream. There was something miraculous about Dorothy Stratten, something not altogether of this world. I knew it even then.
She had to leave early on Monday morning; too quickly, she was dressed and gone. About an hour later, I got up and looked out at the park. The trees were growing green again. The sun was behind Fifth Avenue, bathing Central Park West in gold. I walked into the bathroom and found a message from Dorothy. Using a bar of soap, she had drawn on the mirror a huge heart with an arrow up through the center. The drawing stayed there for well over two months.
David Susskind, originally the executive producer on They All Laughed, had suffered sleepless nights worrying about the wisdom of my casting mainly unknown players. What made me think any of these people could act? Weren’t they all just friends of mine? To make Susskind feel less pessimistic, we gave a party for him to get to know the cast. I got there late. Audrey Hepburn hadn’t come to New York yet, Gazzara was late, and so were John and Nancy Ritter. When Susskind arrived with his wife, therefore, he was confronted with a sea of unknown faces and, having had a couple of drinks on the way over, David was not in a tactful mood: He let the kids have it, both barrels. He had been saving it for me, but gave it to them.
When I arrived, Dorothy whispered to me that Susskind had said terrible things to everyone. He had made Colleen Camp cry. Could she sing? he had demanded. Could she act? Dorothy was particularly indignant about that, considering all the pictures Colleen had done. I moved quickly over to Susskind and tried to salvage the situation, but there was no hope. Later Ritter said, accurately: ‘Susskind pulled us all together. Before that party, we were just a bunch of actors, but after the party, we had something in common—we all hated Susskind.’
David sat between Patti Hansen and Mrs. Susskind, who looked beautiful but pained. She kept glancing nervously at David’s drink, which he kept refilling. Patti flirted with him mercilessly, but ne seemed to like that. Then she would turn toward me and make faces.
After Patti slipped away there was an empty seat next to Susskind and, late in the evening, Dorothy went over and chatted briefly with Mrs. Susskind— trapped the whole night between her husband and Ben Gazzara, who looked like a caged animal all the while, smoking cigars and cigarettes in a chain, downing one drink after another.
Then, Dorothy squatted next to Susskind. He looked down at her, struck at close hand by her beauty, perhaps even slightly chastened by it. Dorothy looked up at him and said: ‘You know, Mr. Susskind, I don’t think you’re half as mean a person as you pretend to be.’
David gazed down at her dimly, not sure where she was going, but he tried to smile, his eyes mellowing a bit. ‘Oh, really?’ he said. ‘Why is that?’
Dorothy answered with great warmth: ‘Because you couldn’t be and have such a very lovely wife as Mrs. Susskind.’
Mrs. Susskind became flushed and tried to smile, her eyelids fluttering helplessly. Susskind never moved his eyes from Dorothy—his smile frozen in a kind of sad glaze, more forlorn than I would have thought possible. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he said after a while, ‘I’m pretty mean.’
If They All Laughed was going to be the way I wanted it to be, its characters would behave with politeness and good humor, there would be grace in their sadness, and stoicism in their dealings with life. Yet there would be a hope to better their own destinies. Against all odds, they would keep trying. And there would be little time for envy, jealousy, or hate. Earl Ball and Jo-El Sonnier had written a line in a song Colleen Camp was going to sing, and as the shooting went on, I realized that if the movie had a single point to make, their lyric said it:
Making a picture is a drug of sorts: You check out of the real world for several months, with no time to think about life’s problems. The world you are creating becomes reality, as well as both mission and obsession—at once the ultimate escape and the ultimate trap. And D.R. and I were surrounded by that fantasy world, and the problems of maintaining it, twenty-four hours a day.
Barely four weeks later, as we sat in the limousine taking Dorothy to the airport, a cassette played songs we had selected for the picture. Dorothy would be gone almost a month, to Canada and then to L. A., on a publicity tour for the forthcoming June issue of Playboy, in which she would be displayed over numerous pages as the Playmate of the Year. There would be a press conference with Hefner, interviews everywhere, on local and national TV and radio, including the Johnny Carson show. Dorothy would see her family and friends in Vancouver and attend her mother’s wedding. And she would see Paul. She still hoped she wouldn’t have to see him until Los Angeles, but he had said he was going to meet her in Vancouver, and she dreaded the encounter.
Dorothy’s shoulder rested against my chest, and our heads were together, leaning back against the seat. How little time we had really had. How much had happened! It seemed that only a day ago she had arrived. Then a few days later, my daughters had flown in. Then we had started filming, and for good luck I had made certain Dorothy was in the first shot.
D.R. had cast an extraordinary spell over my two daughters. Barely a week after they had arrived, the three acted as if they had known each other for years. What made the girls most fond of Dorothy, I think, was her ability to enter their world without patronizing them by acting either too childlike or too parental. She behaved as an equal. Without calculation, guile, or effort, she became one of them.
All the phones in the suite could ring at once, with the typewriter and doorbell going full blast, and fifteen people running in and out of the place, but if I could glance over at these three women on the floor by the windows, coloring a magic dragon together, I would know that nothing was wrong with the world, that everything would be all right. If I had to choose five moments in my life when I was most serenely happy and knew it, one of them would include those brief times I sat in the midst of a whirlwind of production and knew that, with the slightest movement of my head, I could see the three people dearest to me on earth.
The girls and Dorothy established a bond that proved very strong. Antonia was just at the age when she wanted to be older by eight years, and D.R. had a way of making her feel older, which gave her an air of maturity. But Dorothy made Toni laugh too, which was not that easy. She made us all laugh—her own had such joy, it was irresistible. Her face would flush, her eyes tear, and she would bring her hands to her cheeks with delight, like a small child. Or she’d throw back her head and laugh with such abandon, you were swept along and realized with surprise that you were laughing yourself.
Dorothy’s acting was like that too. She couldn’t make a wrong move. Most of the time she looked unruffled, and this apparent casualness gave her amazing power. She learned faster than anyone I had known, absorbed everything instantly, and never slipped backward. She was a born star, the epitome of the blond beauty. True picture stars are not only unique, but a dream of perfection. Movie stars can be manufactured through staging tricks and photography; but Dorothy was, on every level, the real thing. It was impossible to take your eyes off her.
D.R. had an extraordinary ability in dealing with people’s temperamental side, especially mine. She usually managed to make me laugh at myself. Once, during a production meeting, when she sensed the beginning of an unnecessary upset, Dorothy leaned over to me and whispered, ‘Your heart, darling, your heart,’ with a tiny smile in her eyes and a grave note of concern in her voice. It made me laugh out loud the first time, and D.R. used the line at equally appropriate moments ever after. She never failed to get at least a grin from me.
The ‘director’s girlfriend’ is a difficult role to play in the picture community—a glass house with all the lights on. Dorothy was married; we were adulterers. We tried to be discreet when the cars dropped us off at the end of the day; Dorothy went to the Wyndham and I to the Plaza. She would come over to my suite within the hour, usually as soon as the production people had gone and we could be alone. Since we had to be up by 6:00, we couldn’t go to sleep too late; though of course we did, all the time, and never felt tired. There is nothing like being in love to make you feel alive; you know the beginning and end of all things and times—it can’t be spoken in words, but it can be seen in the farthest depth of your lover’s eyes.
She wrote me a poem and left it by the bed one morning when she went out:
A midnight walk to Doubleday’s bookstore was dear to us, we knew then; and dinner at Nicola’s, or at Lenge’s Japanese place on Columbus Avenue, or room service at the Plaza, or breakfast in the Edwardian Room. On weekends I would cut the picture in the suite while D.R. went to a play or a movie. When she came back—I always stayed at the cutting table longer than I said I would—she brought me plates of cookies, and never made me feel pressured.
On her third night in the city, we went to the bookshop together for the first time. Dorothy was like an enthusiastic college student, picking out paperbacks for the new year. I kept forgetting she was just college age. By nature D.R. was scholarly, so I wasn’t surprised to learn she had been a whiz at school, finishing in the top third of her class. She had done a high-school essay once, she told me, on homosexuality. I asked why she had chosen that subject. She was just interested, she said, didn’t know anything about it and thought she would find out a little. Had she? Yes—it was OK, but it wasn’t for her. More than once she mentioned that she had thought of studying law. For a week she worked as a court stenographer in Vancouver, but the evidence and photographs she had to see had shocked her. Robbery, rape, murder— those were things on TV or in the movies, she said, but seeing them almost firsthand was too terrifying.
The kids and I had the best Easter of our lives. Dorothy staged an elaborate Easter egg hunt in the living room of our suite. She hid candies and chocolates all over the place, and as soon as one of the girls got close, Dorothy shouted: ‘Nothing near there!’ When the kids found them, she would scream. The three were laughing so much it took quite a while to find all the sweets. Toni found most of them, but Dorothy made sure that Sashy found the one real egg and won the prize: a beanbag dog. The girls had picked out a large, disgruntled stuffed rabbit to represent me, and a small white rabbit as Dorothy.
The first professional stage production Dorothy ever saw was the Broadway version of The Elephant Man, a drama about the nineteenth-century ‘freak,’ John Merrick; she went alone to a matinee one afternoon while I was working. She had been fascinated by the story, and a few days later near midnight in Doubleday’s, she picked up a factual study of Merrick and began leafing through it avidly. She didn’t blanch at the naked photographs of Merrick’s grotesquely shaped body. Five paces away, my eye couldn’t stay on the pages she was studying so closely. D.R. bought the book and read it with keen interest.
One month after her death, I would see the play I realized then the reason D.R. had felt such empathy with ‘elephant man’ John Merrick. Her outward appearance, like his, concealed and distracted from her true identity. His grotesque form masked a pure and loving spirit. For most people it was equally impossible to see beyond the dazzle of Dorothy s beauty.
D.R. took the kids places; she took Antonia to the park, where they sat on a large rock and Dorothy read while Toni colored for hours. It was unusual for Antonia to be so easily amused, but she loved being with D.R.—she felt privileged. Several of the drawings in the coloring book were marked ‘By Antonia and Dorothy’ or ‘By Dorothy and Antonia,’ and one D.R. signed and dated ‘ANTONIA & DOROTHY MARCH 31, 1980.’ The funny thing was that Toni had little regard for possessions. She lost everything, including watches, clothes, jewelry. But she managed to keep the Tales of Great Dragons, with its multicolored murders of ancient dragons by horsebacked knights of old for the honor of queens and maidens fair.
In the midst of those idyllic days, the shadow of Snider was always with us. He phoned her constantly, and daily left messages at the Wyndham: ‘Say that her husband called.’ D.R. would phone him back, with increasingly strange looks from the desk clerks and elevator men, who knew she never slept there. I could see the suppressed smiles when I went upstairs with her once or twice. By the end of shooting, she had come to associate Snider with the room at the Wyndham, and told me several times that she couldn’t bear to go there anymore.
After one long phone conversation with him, Dorothy told me: ‘Paul wants to move into a house so we can start having children.’ She made a face and shook her head. ‘I’ll buy him a house,’ she said, ‘but I’m not going to have children with him.’ At the time, it was almost funny to me: the code of the eighties. I thought I knew what she meant. Certainly the house was a way of repaying whatever she thought she owed him, but everyone she knew advised her against buying it. Her business managers, lawyers, and agents, her Playboy associates, and her mother thought it was foolish. They told Dorothy that Snider was just trying to get his hands on some American property before there were any more problems in their marriage—as he knew there were. A divorce might not yield enough cash after the fifty/ fifty split to pay for a new house. But now, with the 100 percent still intact, Snider could use all of his wife s money. But it was their money, Dorothy said, even though she had earned it; they were married— just as it had been ‘their’ Mercedes, though only Snider drove it.
For the weekend of May 2, Dorothy planned an elaborate surprise for me that she pulled off splendidly— at considerable cost, inconvenience, and risk. She flew down from Montreal on Friday, landed at Newark, took a cab to the Plaza, and just before midnight pushed the doorbell of Suite 1001. She had enlisted the help of Audrey Hepburn’s nineteen-year-old son, Sean Ferrer, and asked him not to tell me, but Sean unwittingly told Blaine Novak, who spoiled the surprise by revealing her plans to me. Yet I fell asleep that evening, and when the bell awakened me and I opened the door to find Dorothy standing there, she seemed to have appeared like the vision of a long-remembered dream of Paradise. She looked so beautiful that it took my breath away. I forgot that I was pretending to be surprised, and I was. She was so happy, she said later. She wasn’t used to happiness.
She had come to New York to confirm that we were very much in love with each other and that to pretend anything else was useless. She was going to have to do something about her marriage because—neither of us said it, but it was implicit—we wanted to be together, live together, travel together, have children together.
She had brought along an advance copy of the Playmate of the Year issue, with her photo on the cover. It was terrible. The contrast between the first layout she had done and this one was striking. In these pictures she looked profoundly unhappy. A fixed smile was on the cover, with her eyes masking any emotion: There was something cow-like in the pose they had told her to assume in the low-cut dress, so the boys could see a sufficient amount of breast. One of the most strikingly beautiful faces of our time wasn’t enough. But D.R. had managed to remove any eroticism from her expression—there was a desperation behind her eyes. Masquerading as a mannequin, she became a human wax figure for the kiddies. The photos inside the magazine were all like that, but the one on the cover was the most frightening. It didn’t even look like the Dorothy I knew.
‘My body looks so much older too,’ she said objectively, with only a trace of regret for the youth she had seen so briefly and enjoyed so little. I didn’t want to look at the pictures too closely, but Dorothy insisted on going over each page carefully. She wanted my opinion. She had been worried about several of the photos, about how her breasts appeared, and about the awful one with the dog who had died.
In March, the first time we slept together, I noticed that her left breast was smaller than her right. The change had occurred early in 1979, right after the first few Playboy jobs. ‘I just got worn out and I got really sick. I had to go to bed for two weeks and I lost a lot of weight. My left breast got smaller than my right. There always was a little difference, but after I lost all that weight it became much more noticeable—-one full bra-size different.’ She looked very unhappy. Maybe, I thought for a moment, the change was her body’s way of trying to disqualify itself from the job that made her so sick; but I didn’t say anything.
As we looked at the pictures, I saw the editors had managed to conceal the difference, but I knew the fuss required to take even the simplest pictures, and thought again what a terrible strain the whole thing must have been on her. I said only that it must have been difficult, and D.R. said: ‘It was—you know?’ The last word rose plaintively, still a note of surprise that the world could be so cruel.
We stopped at the photo of Dorothy and the little dog they had given her with Hefner’s middle name. She had already told me about this picture: They had caught her unaware, her legs in such a position that Casuli could snap a good view of her vagina. Knowing Dorothy’s stand about that kind of shot, and with continued pressure from Hefner, someone had suggested a dog to distract her. ‘It’s not even a good picture,’ she said. The photo was over-lighted and in incredibly bad taste. Dorothy’s face was lit up like a joyful ten-year-old with a new puppy on Christmas, her guard down just long enough to flash her genitals to the waiting multitudes. I tried to make as little of the picture as possible, but there was no question that it depressed me.
Afterward, there was always amusement in her face when she told people, Peter doesn’t like my layout.’ She looked pleased about that, and I asked her if she liked it. ‘I’m not a hypocrite,’ Dorothy said. ‘I did it, didn’t I?’ But under what pressure? ‘I still did it. I’m not going to go around saying I don’t like what they’ve done to me in Playboy.’ That didn’t mean she had to go on endorsing the magazine and promoting it. ‘But I do. That’s what it says in my contract; it’s a three-year contract, with more than a year to go: nude pictures, nude movies, and promotions—anytime they want.’ What would happen if she refused? Well, she had said no to a lot of promotions and pictures. They weren’t being so bad about that now; things definitely had improved. ‘They could have said they wouldn’t let me do this movie—they could have insisted. I am their Playmate of the Year. They’re giving me $250,000 in gifts.’ Which would be treated as income, I said, so the taxes would be heavy. D.R. nodded, ‘About $80,000.’ She added: ‘I don’t really want any of that stuff—maybe the camera and the watch—that’s about it.’ The ‘gifts’ were highly overpriced and she would have to sell most of them just to pay the taxes.
Many months later it would break my heart to remember the protective way she had described her Jacuzzi encounter with Hugh Hefner—a version she could only wish were true. After everyone on his staff and all his friends had told her repeatedly how impressed he was with her, and how interested in her career, Dorothy said, he had surprised her in the Jacuzzi late one night and made an obvious pass. She told him that she was ‘getting married, and wanted to be a good girl.’ And Hefner said she was a good girl, and left her alone. On that weekend in May, D.R. added only that Hefner had become considerably more insistent after that night in the Jacuzzi. One time he banged on her door until she finally had to open it and tell him to please leave her alone, that she had a boyfriend and planned to be married. He had gotten angry that time, she said. He was even angrier, I later realized when I knew the truth: The rejection had been much stronger. Hefner had miscalculated and moved too fast. His best game hadn’t been good enough to overcome his misjudgment of Dorothy’s character. Of course Hefner would be angry—he had stolen a single round and lost everything to Snider, a local boy just this side of a bum.
D.R. changed the subject to James Caan, the mansion’s resident movie star, who had also been difficult, and another source of pressure. He had asked her into his room for a drink. There she found one of the regular women waiting, and Caan immediately went at it with this girl. ‘Which quite surprised me,’ D.R. said. She got very angry and left the room. ‘I was so mad at Jimmy—that he would . think I’d want to be involved in something like that. He was never very nice to me afterward.’
Then there was the lawyer Playboy recommended, who chased her around his desk and started to take his pants off. Her crying finally made him stop. And then the relative of a top Playboy executive who traveled with her on the early promotions and only booked one suite, then became drunk and abusive when she wouldn’t share his bed. She had lain awake all night on the couch in the living room, too terrified to sleep: He might sneak in and rape her. And there were others she had thought were gentlemen, who disappointed her: TV-star Vince Edwards acted as her friend and then turned on her when she refused his advances. That wasn’t friendship, Dorothy said. Patrick Curtis had been a gentleman, she told me— one of the only gentlemen.
Was Paul faithful to her? No, but she didn’t mind. It was a relief not to have to make love with him. ‘All I think about is getting it over with. He goes to sleep right afterward and then I can read or write or watch a movie on TV.’
I remembered again the first time we had made love, not two months before, how modest she had been and still was—not only about showing her body, but in the way she behaved. When she got out of bed, she always wrapped a large white towel around her; and that lovely night in May, when I made a grab for the towel, she cried out sharply and ran to safety. When she returned and slipped back under the covers, I commented on how modest she was and wondered how on earth she had ever lived through all those photo sessions at Playboy. I asked jokingly, not expecting an answer. Dorothy gave one anyway: ‘Hate.’ I looked at her, my smile disappearing, and asked how she meant that. Dorothy spoke evenly, her eyes cook ‘I mean that I hated all those men so much, and my hatred was so strong, it made a kind of invisible shield between them and me, and then I didn’t feel as naked anymore. The hate was protecting me.’ I didn’t know at the time which affected me more, the remark itself or the lack of anger or self-pity in her manner. She was just giving me facts— answering a simple question.
Her Playboy companion, Elizabeth Norris, couldn’t fail to understand the meaning behind Dorothy’s excitement when she returned to Montreal in buoyant spirits, running along the hotel corridor calling Elizabeth’s name. She was so happy! She was in love! When Dorothy phoned me, she insisted I say hello to Elizabeth, who of course pretended she had no idea who I was. (Much later, long after Dorothy’s death, I would find among her things left at Snider’s house a packet of custom-printed matches from the Montreal hotel that were embossed: ‘Dorothy & Peter.’ Surely D.R. had not ordered these. Had Snider seen them?) I warned Dorothy that Norris’s loyalties might more likely be the source of her paycheck, but there was such exuberance in her voice, I couldn’t press the subject further.
On May 5, from Montreal, Dorothy wrote Snider a long letter asking for the freedom to be herself: ‘I need some time to be me.’ She felt ‘manipulated, controlled, and smothered.... I just want to be my own person.’ She quoted an old saying: ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours—if it doesn’t, it never was in the first place.’ She mentioned the letter to me but never discussed the contents. ‘I hope he understands,’ she said. But Snider was infuriated by the letter and flew to Vancouver to meet Dorothy when she arrived for her mother’s wedding on May 10, turning a happy occasion into an unpleasant one for everybody.
D.R. quickly told me over the phone what had happened. They were in a hotel in Vancouver. Snider was downstairs; she could see him down at the pool. He had bullied her, she said, and threatened to leave, go to Hawaii and never speak to her again. Good, I said, let him go. But Dorothy was frightened, she said, she didn’t know why. She was afraid to let him leave in such anger. She wanted to be his friend; he had been responsible for her success. I said that was a ridiculous way to look at it. ‘If I hadn’t done Playboy,’ Dorothy said, ‘I wouldn’t have met you, Peter. I didn’t say anything. ‘Isn’t that true?’
‘We would have met.’ I spoke quietly. That wasn’t the point anyway; she did not owe him her life. She had done all the work; hadn’t he lived off her labors for two years? Dorothy’s tone changed abruptly: Snider might be coming. Didn’t she nave her own room? No, she said, Paul had moved into hers; he gave her no choice. She sounded confused and sad. Paul was heading for the elevator and she had to go. She didn’t know when we could speak again.
Several months later, Louise told me how sad her sister had been at that unlucky wedding, trying so hard to be gay for her mother, but ashamed of Paul and of what he had insisted she wear. It was the typical Las Vegas hooker’s outfit: gold plunging neckline, gold spike-heel shoes, too much makeup, hair overly curled. Nelly asked her to please wear a shawl over the front of the dress, at least for the ceremony. Dorothy was glad to wear it all the time; she hated the dress.
Snider made a practice of dressing her as lewdly as she would tolerate and taking her down to the nightclub district. Wherever they went, Snider had arranged to be paid by the club for bringing in the Playboy Playmate. He would march her in and parade her around for the boys to ogle, have a couple of drinks, talk loudly of his accomplishments with her, get his cash, and move on to the next spot. Now that D.R. was Playmate of the Year and starring in two forthcoming movies, one with Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter, and Ben Gazzara, Snider could demand more cash for her appearance. He neither gave Dorothy a dollar of this money nor declared it legally. It was like hooker money—why give the dame any of it? Hadn’t he made her?
Wasn’t he entitled to the tips? Dorothy went along with it one last time. She thought maybe it would help to pacify Snider enough so that she could get back to New York without him and finish the picture. She couldn’t think beyond that right now. Maybe if she gave in to Snider, ne would leave her alone for the remainder of our time in New York—to have that, she would sacrifice almost everything—but again she would tell me nothing.
She wrote a poem expressing her terrors and showed it only to Nelly, who knew nothing about our love, but was worried by the anxious, confused words. Since Dorothy had asked for it back, Nelly copied the poem for herself. The original has never been found!:
The pressure on D.R. constantly increased from Vancouver to Los Angeles. The naked Playboy sessions began again with more promotional appearances; worries about me in New York and about her family in Vancouver; and Snider every morning and night. Dorothy had not liked or trusted her mother’s new husband, which only helped to increase her tensions.
Antonia had left behind in New York a shopping bag full of her things. Back in L.A., Dorothy made a date to take her out one afternoon and return the stuff. They stopped at Snider’s on the way to a movie and Dorothy introduced Toni to Paul as ‘the director’s daughter.’ Snider was sitting in the dining room wearing only a shirt and jockey shorts, rolling joints with a buddy. There were numerous exercise tables around that Snider had built, and Toni noticed that none of Dorothy’s suitcases had been unpacked. With a smirk, Snider offered Toni a joint and laughed when Dorothy gave him an angry look. She took Toni’s arm and they left. In the shopping bag, Antonia noticed an eight-by-ten photo of me that I had inscribed to Dorothy; didn’t she want to keep it? D.R. asked Toni to hang on to the picture for her until they were both back in New York.
Snider insisted on coming along to the Carson show and made a nuisance of himself backstage, but D.R. managed not to allow him to affect her poise in front of the camera. Months later I heard that at her request, Snider and his friends had been banished from the NBC dressing room. John Ritter called and raved about her performance with Carson. She had even managed to score off Johnny—unheard of for a newcomer. And she had been so sweet, Ritter felt, and so charming. When Carson asked her which part of a man’s body she liked best, Dorothy paused one beat, and then said: ‘Stand up.’ It got a good laugh and caught Johnny by surprise, but he liked her for it. He’d stood up; then she picked the chest as her favorite, and Carson said he was insecure about his chest. Later I asked D.R. what prompted her to tell Johnny Carson to stand up. She said his question had made her angry. She thought he was leading her into one of those vulgar areas for cheap laughs, and the words just came out. Actually, she said, Johnny was very nice to her, very polite and funny.
She looked beautiful in her white dress, so excited. She handled herself with both the natural ingenuousness of a newcomer and the self-assurance of a trouper. She even managed, in the most extraordinary way, to tell the truth, but in such an offhand, guileless manner that only a close inspection would reveal its significance—like evidence after a murder. Even as she was carefully alert to Playboy’s image, Dorothy nevertheless backed directly into an admission of her real feelings. Johnny got her to reveal herself by first asking what reaction she thought women had to seeing pictures of naked men. Dorothy answered:
Speaking for myself, I think a male is sexier showing a little bit or some—in a bikini or trunks—rather than fully nude.
The studio audience applauded and Dorothy smiled. Carson closed in:
JOHNNY: I suppose that’s true with men really, you know—the imagination plays a great part.
DOROTHY: I think so.
JOHNNY: And yet you appear here sans everything, right?
Dorothy realized she had been caught off guard, and stumbled for the only moment on the show:
Well, um—there’s a difference, I think—other magazines leave definitely nothing to the imagination.
At the close of the program, Dorothy mentioned the picture she was shooting in New York, and when she said my name, her eyes sparkled. D.R. told Johnny she had just graduated from high school when she was approached by Playboy—she had been working for the telephone company as a clerk-typist. Carson was visibly taken aback. She was putting him on, he said. ‘No,’ said D.R., ‘I worked there just six weeks before they carried me away....’
More than two years later, I saw a videotape of an edited version of the Playboy press conference that officially announced Dorothy as Playmate of 1980; Hefner did the honors. He himself told me on the phone in New York that she had been trembling during the proceedings, and Dorothy confirmed her nervousness and tension. To me, Hefner dismissed her anxieties as youthful stage fright, and Dorothy seemed to echo that interpretation, but a great deal was left unspoken on both sides. Neither of them mentioned their recent blowup when Dorothy refused to strike a Hefner-demanded pose for one of the pictures in his Screen Goddess pictorial. The photo was to be an imitation of Marlene Dietrich straddling a kitchen chair in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Marlene, however, was fully dressed. Dorothy would be naked, and the pose would be explicit. She exploded into angry tears and refused to make the shot. She never told Mario any of the truth about Hefner. Casilli later said to me that Dorothy was the least talkative, most close-mouthed woman he had photographed in twenty years of girly shots; she never revealed much about her personal life.
At the videotaped press conference, Snider was on the sidelines scowling at Dorothy—while Hefner stood beside her and tried to appear as familiar as possible while still being respectful. He looked a bit anxious and ill at ease, but years of experience helped to conceal his awkwardness. Dorothy was clearly not at ease. Her smiles looked forced, the several glances she threw at her boss were politically friendly, but not genuine: There was an edge of fear in her eyes. Hadn’t D.R. told me as much as she could when she said Hefner always made her feel uncomfortable?
Dorothy returned to New York the third week of May. On the first night, I told her there had been several times while she was gone that I thought she might have changed her mind about us. She started to cry and said that if that was how I felt, she really didn’t know what to do. She was terribly hurt. She had told me how she felt. She had come all the way back from Canada to tell me. She then described how abusive Paul had been, how he tried to make love to her, and how her flesh crawled, she said, whenever he touched her. She particularly couldn’t bear for him to touch her breasts. Dorothy’s eyes filled with a kind of sad terror: ‘I had to do it a couple of times, but I’ll never do it again. I felt the way a prostitute must feel.’ I took her in my arms and said it was my own insecurities, not a lack of trust.
As the days went by, Dorothy became certain that she was being observed and followed. One day, a man drove alongside her in his car and asked her to meet him later because he needed to talk to her, but Dorothy refused to speak to him. Over several nights of location shooting, I felt a cold gloom on the streets—an angry/dangerous atmosphere I could not pin down. There was the chilly feeling that we were being watched with hostility.
D.R.’s business managers and the new lawyers I had recommended advised her to allow them to send an official letter of separation to Snider, but she preferred something less cold. Wasn’t there another way to make it legal? Attorney Wayne Alexander told her that all she really had to do was to write Snider a letter specifically stating her intention to get a separate place to stay upon her return to Los Angeles. That fact in writing was sufficient under the law to effect a legal separation. She wrote and mailed the letter, her last to Snider, on June 26: ‘Don’t make me afraid of you.... A sickness only gets worse if it’s not discovered and treated in time.’
A short while after he received the letter, Snider went to their bank with another woman and tried to convince the officers that she was his wife, Dorothy Stratten. He wanted to get into her personal account, having already cleaned out nearly $15,000 from their joint account. The bank refused. What was he buying with all the money? Clothes and jewelry for himself, Dorothy was told, but there was more to it that none of us knew. Wasn’t Snider heavily into cocaine, which was very expensive? Weren’t friendly doctors helpful, for good money, in obtaining the best grade of coke— and many other drugs? Didn’t Snider have a regular drug connection? Snider tried to get Patti Laurman, his new, blond, seventeen-year-old Stratten look-alike, to take a joint and some cocaine, but she refused. Although their relationship remained platonic, Snider held her hand in public so people would believe otherwise. Hadn’t Snider also used Dorothy’s earnings to hire detectives in L.A. and in New York to keep an eye on his wife? The plot was almost identical to the one I had written for the picture. The irony was horrifying.
I suggested to Dorothy that perhaps I should offer her husband $50,000 or $100,000 to start his own talent agency since he seemed to want to run a business. D.R. said that was a possibility, but after hearing of the attempted theft and of how much he had already taken—-all the money she had been planning to put down on a house for him—she told me she would ask her lawyers to go forward with plans for a divorce. Snider would get half of everything she still had left, everything she made from Playboy or any other deal concluded during their marriage, but Dorothy was satisfied. She just wanted to be nee, whatever the cost.
In June, with another six weeks of shooting left, Dorothy and I started talking about a trip together, as soon as the filming was completed: A four-to-six-week vacation all over Europe. I wanted to take her to Paris and London and Rome and Venice, to see everything again for the first time with Dorothy, to whom the world was new. Her immigration status would come up for renewal on August 1. Officially she was working exclusively for Playboy; and required their full cooperation to be employed and to remain in the United States.
One night we went over to the Colony record store on Broadway, where a young salesclerk recognized Dorothy and asked if she was indeed the Playmate of the Year. D.R. was looking at some tapes, a light blush and smile on her face. There was barely a pause before she answered with a definite ‘Nooooo-wah...’as though she were politely tired of being asked the question. Afterward she said: ‘Wasn’t that embarrassing?’ She would be relieved, she said, when her Playboy issue was off the stands.
Dorothy revealed herself more and more as an expert picture actress. She understood lighting, timing, and the nuances of expression. She always made things look natural and easy. And she worked so quickly that sometimes I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I would ask for a second take. The first was often perfect and the second nearly as good. She was never less than believable, with an honest simplicity that was artless. Everybody who saw the rushes (overnight prints of each day’s filming) was impressed by her beauty and her skill. And her behavior on the set was letter perfect: little rehearsal, few takes, no temperament problems, always early and prepared.
At the start, there had been a minor accident with a propman over a pair of glasses D.R. wanted to wear off the set. He refused to give them to her and she complained to me, causing friction between the crewman and myself. I knew situations like that were dangerous and was trying to find a moment to explain, but she brought it up the very next evening. She was sorry, she said, for coming to me that way. ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ She had arrived at a conclusion that had taken me many years to figure out. Dorothy never did this again throughout the shooting. I would come to wish that she had troubled me more with her problems.
When she wasn’t in a shot, Dorothy spent most of the time either watching quietly or reading a book. I could sense some of the crew’s silent contempt for a blond Playmate showing off her supposed studiousness. If D.R. felt anything, she ignored it and went through several novels and books of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction during her four months in New York. She particularly liked Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment, and A Farewell to Arms. By the middle of August, she was halfway through The Idiot and said it was her favorite.
Life was busy for D.R. Besides the shooting, there were business meetings, phone calls, and then, when a serious illness appeared, a long series of doctors’ appointments. Dorothy met with the editors of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and both magazines wanted fashion layouts of her to be timed with the release of the picture. There was even talk of putting her on a cover. Neither magazine had ever been willing to feature a model who had worked for Playboy, but they were going to break a precedent for Dorothy Stratten. She had overcome all the obstacles.
As shooting continued, several picture and TV roles were promoted by various agents, each of whom was interested in representing her. She wanted to sign with William Morris, but to be politic, she called Hefner for his opinion. He solemnly recommended that she not rush into anything, that he would look into matters himself upon her return to Los Angeles. It was apparent to us that Hefner wanted to keep control or Dorothy. What ultimately concerned him, we agreed, was that the William Morris Agency had too much clout, that Hefner could not easily move it into deals favorable to Playboy. To appease him momentarily, Dorothy decided to wait until she returned to L.A. before signing, but she told the agents she would before the end of August.
Her Playboy Models deal was almost finished, and it didn’t take long for word to get around that D.R. was making a big splash in New York. Johnny Casablancas’s agency, Elite, had just signed Patti Hansen, who was the top model in the country at the time. And Casablancas wanted Dorothy as well. The one time we met, Johnny told me how impressed he was with her. She could work all over Europe, he said, just as soon as she was free. D.R. told Casablancas that her term with Playboy was nearly over and that as soon as it was, she would sign with Elite. They shook hands on it. Because I didn’t know these agents except by reputation, her choices helped avoid any accusations of my manipulating her.
Patti Hansen didn’t like D.R. very much. Already involved at the time with Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones (they would marry late in 1983), Patti nevertheless seemed to resent Dorothy on sight. I asked her once why she didn’t give D.R. a chance. ‘I don’t like blondes,’ she said. On Patti’s last day of shooting, she turned to Dorothy in front of a group of the cast and crew and said: ‘Jesus, you got big tits.’ D.R. blushed and looked down; she didn’t say anything. There was a hushed, awkward laugh, and Patti looked embarrassed. She left a few moments later. It was the last thing Patti ever said to Dorothy.
Colleen Camp was also dubious at first, and distrustful, but as she came to know Dorothy, she became a close friend. They made lunch dates and went shopping on Madison Avenue or down in Greenwich Village. When filming went on late into the night, they curled up together on a single cot in an improvised dressing room. Dorothy constantly encouraged Colleen, told her how good her acting was, and how much she liked her singing. She thought Colleen deserved an Oscar for her performance. For Colleen’s birthday in June, Dorothy bought her a silk blouse and insisted we throw a party at Nicola’s. Colleen loved the blouse: ‘You don’t understand, D.R., this is silk! Do you know what this costs?’ Dorothy laughed and snapped her Kodak. They were delightful together. The most fun we had shooting was during their scenes together: along Fifth, in Soho, in the Village, on Wall Street. Dorothy with John Ritter, Colleen with Sean Ferrer, or the other way around. They were well matched, and all four shared friendship and high spirits.
During my favorite sequence, with the four of them at a Fifth Avenue shoe store, Colleen sat on the sidelines with Rosarine Katon, the black actress I had last seen on the buffet line at the mansion with Dorothy. D.R. and I were at the far end of the store while the lights were being prepared. I was lounging on a couch and she was sitting on the floor. Rosanne looked over at us and asked Colleen if she had ever met Dorothy’s husband. No, Colleen hadn’t. Why? Rosanne saw him all the time around the mansion, coming on to everybody, talking big. He was a real creep, Rosanne said. She wouldn’t put anything past him. Colleen turned to her: What did she mean by that? He was dangerous, Rosanne said. He was the kind of guy that might kill Dorothy and Peter and himself. Colleen was outraged: What was Rosanne talking about!? Rosanne shook her head. Colleen had never met him, she couldn’t understand. Colleen thought Rosanne was exaggerating, but asked D.R. if she thought Snider would ever harm her. No, Dorothy said, that was not a danger. Colleen did not mention the incident to me. But Dorothy did say later: ‘Paul doesn’t think much of people.’ She had worried that Paul might kill himself. She thought he was capable of that, she said. ‘He doesn’t have a very high opinion of life.’
Outside the Roxy skating rink, we were setting up a shot that involved several of the principals, but as I look through the camera’s eye in preparation, there was a blond double for D.R. Dorothy would not be able to participate in that night’s shooting: She had to be up at 6:00 a.m. to check into a hospital for a biopsy that would determine the nature of two growths that had appeared on either side of her face. Each was on the jawline just below her ear, but the one on her left had become particularly noticeable. Progressively, more care had had to be taken to hide the swelling from the camera. When she first returned to New York toward the end of May, I immediately noticed the problem. Although seven different doctors had examined her, not one was able to make a diagnosis.
The word cancer was so carefully avoided that naturally it became uppermost in our minds. Were the hard and growing tumors benign or malignant?
Even if they were benign, their increasing size had to be checked or they would become impossible to conceal on the screen. If they were malignant, an operation would have to be performed instantly, and the scars from this would show. Plastic surgery would take months, and what would happen to Dorothy’s role in the picture? There would be no way to finish it. More important, what would happen to Dorothy? Disfigurement. Would it, honestly, or would it not, affect my love for her? Was love irretrievably bound to outward appearances? Or did it finally have to do with feelings and spirits, both invisible and indefinable? I never asked myself this question then but I think I knew that my passion for Dorothy and my empathy with her was far too strong to be lessened by a change in her physical appearance.
Yet these were questions we both tried to avoid, though we became increasingly anxious as one doctor after another concluded that only a biopsy could identify the disease. There were two biopsy choices: needle or surgical knife. Only the latter required anesthesia and, whatever the ultimate result, would leave at least a half-inch scar. Her hair could conceal this, however. The needle biopsy was preferable, but it carried a risk: If the tumor turned out to be malignant, the needle might spread the disease more quickly. It could also fail to pull out enough of the growth for analysis, and the knife biopsy would then be required anyway. D.R. and I nevertheless agreed the needle was worth chancing, and the office operation was performed one afternoon. But it proved insufficient, so the hospital was booked. Because of the filming schedule I was unable to accompany D.R. to her medical appointments, but my assistant Linda MacEwen proved to be a good friend by going with her.
Setting up the shots without D.R. (which required keeping her double a good distance from the camera) gave me a sense of what the film would be like if Dorothy could not rejoin us. There was a dark, foreboding cloud over the whole night that no amount of effort could shake. The sequence called for physical comedy and required a good mood from me to help the actors, so I tried not to allow my preoccupation to show, but I knew the work was suffering. I kept wishing I had insisted on canceling the call and letting the film’s medical insurance cover the cost of the delay. Novak had argued that the picture was in enough hot water with Time-Life. We should press on, work around Dorothy. He had little patience on the subject of D.R.’s health and only seemed annoyed about whatever harm it might cause the movie. Sean, on the other hand, helped us find a doctor, his uncle Jose Ferrer, whom Dorothy trusted.
Because of the late-night shooting, I was still asleep when the phone rang the next morning. Dorothy sounded groggy but cheerful: It was OK, she said, it wasn’t malignant. I began to cry, not only because of the weight that had suddenly been lifted, but for the confirmation that no matter how much we were risking, everything would be all right. She had a sarcoidosis, or sarcoid granuloma, an extremely rare inflammation that could be cured with small amounts of cortisone steroid if the swellings didn’t subside on their own. Dr. Ferrer suggested she do nothing until her return to California in August. From the hospital, Dorothy called her mother in Vancouver and, for the first time, told Nelly of her condition. If anything had happened to her, Dorothy said: ‘It should all be yours, Mum.’ She had mentioned nothing to Snider of the problem, for fear he would use her illness as an excuse to come to New York, and she was, therefore, all the more surprised the next day when he wanted to know what she had been doing in a hospital. When she asked how he had found out, Snider chuckled smugly and said he had his ways.
Not long before D.R.’s hospitalization, Dr. Cushner had visited New York and spent an afternoon pleading Snider’s case; that she should return to him. He seemed totally disinterested, she told me, in her point of view. When Dorothy came down a short while after Cushner left, she noticed him sitting in a car with another man. She went over and chatted briefly and, feeling as she walked away that they were watching to see where she went, she took a circuitous route to the Plaza. Even then she realized that Cushner had joined forces with Snider against her. The Wyndham experience soured her on Cushner. She had bought him the gift of a record album but never presented it.
One morning, there was a knock on the door of the suite. D.R. went to answer, thinking it was room service. She didn’t check the peephole, so the door of 1001 opened onto a pair of photographers Snider had sent to find her. I heard Dorothy talk with them at the door; then, from the sound, I could tell that she moved them into the corridor, but I couldn’t hear what was said. I paced irritably, wondering who the hell would crash in here like that.
After a while, D.R. came back with proof sheets of the photos the couple had taken, and explained under her breath that they had flown in from L.A. to see her and get permission to use one shot for a poster. They were working with Paul. I was livid.
How had they known the suite number? How had they known she was here? Dorothy hadn’t asked. What did I think she should do about the photos? They were waiting for a decision^ She held out the proofs and I looked over her shoulder. They were nothing special: imitation Playboy Bunny outfit with roller skates and garish lighting. The shots made her look cheap and ordinary, with none of her innocence or wit, and I said as much. D.R. turned them down diplomatically.
Snider had undoubtedly used Dorothy’s money to pay for plane tickets for the photographer and his wife to come to New York and hustle her into the deal by making her feel sorry for them. Although they said the Wyndham staff had told them to try Bogdanovich’s suite at the Plaza, it was far more likely the information had come through detectives Snider had retained. I didn’t realize it, but this was the first conclusive evidence Snider had that Dorothy and I were living together.
Soon we would hear that Snider was going around the mansion telling everyone who would listen that Dorothy had run off with Bogdanovich, and they were shacked up together at the Plaza. ‘I think that’s awful,’ D.R. said, ‘it’s none of people’s business.’ And yet she denied it to Paul, said she and I were good friends, that she helped out with my children. And all of that was true.
While we naively thought we were being discreet and inconspicuous, the word was out around the Hollywood community. Patrick Curtis heard the rumor a number of times at the mansion. Dorothy had confirmed the truth to him, but everyone who mentioned it seemed to be quite certain as well. Mario Casilli had heard something back in May, though neither he nor Dorothy brought up the topic. Hugh Hefner, though he had heard the rumors early, probably preferred not to believe anything until it was substantiated by either of the two principals.
Since neither Dorothy nor I had said a word to him on the subject, perhaps he thought it was because the affair wasn’t happening. What might have worried him privately, however, was that perhaps it was, and that Dorothy had told me the truth about him and his company, that we were now united, in our contempt for him.
There were only two weeks of shooting left. July 4 fell on a Friday, giving everybody a long weekend, and no one could have appreciated it more than D.R. and me. There would be fireworks over the Hudson on Friday evening, and to watch them we rode across town to Riverside Drive. A lot of people were out that night, so I kept the limousine with us all the time, whether we walked along the river or into the park. Dorothy was amused at the way the car trailed along behind, and we wrote a scene like that into the movie for Colleen and Sean.
We tried to get a view of the river from Seventy-second Street, but it was much too crowded, so we bought a couple of Eskimo Pies and rode up to Ninetieth, the street my parents had moved to when I was thirteen. I had lived there with them and my sister (her arrival had prompted the move) for nearly a decade, right across the street from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. As we prowled around on that lovely hot evening while the country celebrated its freedom, we went openly together among the crowds. We held hands and didn’t care who noticed. We walked across the spray-painted monument, down several paths, into the grass and over rocks, looking for the best place to see the fireworks. Dorothy was like a child who had never seen fireworks. She made me feel the same way and we stayed there until the last starburst faded.
D.R. and I tried not to worry about anything those last weeks in New York. I eased up on the cutting and we spent more time together on weekends, in the park or at the movies. I had been through Central Park so many times as a child but not once in the past twenty years, except with Dorothy. And I felt like a boy again. It was as though D.R. had given me back the childhood I tried to forget. Even in choosing locations, I had unconsciously avoided the old neighborhoods. But Dorothy made me feel like remembering those days again—from one to thirteen, the innocent years. She was the perfect companion; it was like taking her home to my mother and father, who had died, and who I know would have loved her.
The early morning we finished shooting, there was a sad little wrap party at a luncheon cafe around the comer from the Tenth Street apartment where we’d filmed the last few shots of the picture. The second to last was Dorothy’s final close-up. She and I sat in one of the little booths at the back of the harshly lighted cafe while a lot of people came over to say good-bye. Dorothy was gracious to everyone. She was sorry to see them all go, she said. After the last person left, Dorothy began to cry quietly. But the picture wasn’t really over, I said. After we returned from our vacation, there would be more cutting, sound mixing and previews, publicity and openings. I wasn’t finished with the picture, and neither was she, because I wanted her with me all the way through. As it turned out, I was wrong. The picture was over for Dorothy the night we shot her last close-up. She would be alive for only four more weeks.
One of the last times Dorothy spoke on the phone to Snider, he had said he wanted to meet her at LAX, but she put him off by saying that she was going over to London with several girlfriends, Colleen among them, and wasn’t certain when she would return. In truth, Colleen was in London at the same time we were, but didn’t want to disturb us. The wrap party was the last time she would see Dorothy. All month long, Snider had been sending various messages: an album of all the greeting cards he had ever given to Dorothy, along with a poem (she hid these from me), and a paperback self-help manual explaining What Men Need. D.R. had looked at the book, but left it behind when she packed. What about what women need? she had said. As usual, Paul was thinking only of himself—that wasn’t love. Why didn’t he ever understand what she needed?
Yet most of the questions that had troubled Dorothy so terribly in May seemed to have settled themselves by early July. A couple of weeks before we finished shooting, D.R. wrote the most contented poem of her life. It was her last:
That final weekend in New York, Dorothy brought out a medium-sized box, gift wrapped, a present for me. The box was much heavier than it looked, and, to indicate my surprise, I pretended to stumble. Dorothy grinned, her eyes sparkling. I smiled at her manner, like a kid who can’t wait for you to open a present. I felt as though I had outgrown presents. Maybe I was embarrassed too; she had given me so many gifts. But I never expected what was inside: a unicorn made of solid brass, nearly a foot high. Did I like it? she asked as I gingerly lifted the present out of its wrapping. The unicorn stood rearing up on its hind legs, attached to an irregularly shaped base of brass, like a tiny island, on which I saw that Dorothy had had an inscription engraved. In simple block lettering, it read:
There was a shy smile on her face. She had found something so forthright and lovely. It was no small ornament, but an extraordinary prize, and it would mean more than a dozen Oscars.
We spent ten shimmering days and ten magical nights in London. In the distance dark clouds were forming, warnings we tried to ignore. Dorothy’s awareness of doom was far greater than mine. I would not understand until much later—long after the most tragic possibilities forecast in the signs had become horrible fact. We gave a reward to ourselves—the honeymoon we had both wanted. And it did become that in a way: a very brief and very beautiful period of borrowed time, in which we tried to let the world fall away.
I wanted to share with her a city I had come to know and a culture in which I sensed she would thrive, and she did. It was her first trip to Europe since she was four. We went to the theater almost every night, from plays by Pinter to Dario Fo, caught Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, visited Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, and Trafalgar Square, and dined in restaurants all over town. Dorothy had never been to a museum, nor had she ever seen a performance of a play she had read. So we went to see Private Lives. That it was playing was a good omen, we both thought. Everything was going our way after all. But the name of the chauffeur who met us at Heathrow with a new Daimler froze our smiles: The pleasant-looking man introduced himself as Paul. D.R. and I avoided looking at each other. To her the name was a reminder of everything she wanted to forget.
We settled into a lovely kind of wedded life. D.R. was still modest with me, but less so. She allowed a dim light in the room when we made love; and when I showered, she sometimes stood at the bathroom mirror wrapped in a towel so that we could talk.
Late one night, in the middle of our stay, D.R. was curled up on the couch in the living room leafing through a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald stories she had just finished. She preferred his to Hemingway’s, she had decided: The writing seemed more natural, less self-conscious. She turned to the last page of ‘Winter Dreams,’ and recalled for me that Dexter’s friend, Devlin, is talking about the love of Dexter’s life: ‘Lots of women fade just like that.’ After Devlin leaves, Dexter looks out the window at the New York sunset and is overcome with a sense of loss. Dorothy began reading, without hesitation, and with all the understanding in the world:
The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him. In a sort of panic he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes and tried to bring up a picture of the waters lapping on Sherry Island and the moonlit veranda, and gingham on the golf-links and the dry sun and the gold color of her neck’s soft down. And her mouth damp to his kisses and her eyes plaintive with melancholy and her freshness like new fine linen in the morning. Why, these things were no longer in the world. They had existed and they existed no longer....
I suddenly realized I was crying. There were usually warning signs and I could control myself, but not this time. Dorothy continued:
For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face. But they were for himself now. He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands. He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished....
D.R. looked over—she had read the words of the title with such soft eloquence—and saw now that I was crying. She seemed a little surprised and smiled tenderly, moved closer, and put her arms around me.
We spent more than 240 hours together and the passing of each one made me yearn for another thousand to follow right away. When we saw Private Lives, we held each other’s hands tightly during the second act. Tears came to our eyes as the performers spoke the lines I had read to Dorothy in my office nearly eight months before. Suddenly they seemed to mean so much more:
AMANDA: What happens if one of us dies? Does the one that’s left still laugh?
ELYOT: Yes, yes, with all his might.
AMANDA: (wistfully clutching his hand): That’s serious enough, isn’t it?
ELYOT: No, no, it isn’t. Death’s very laughable, such a cunning little mystery. All done with mirrors.
There was a strange moment when we left the National Theater after seeing Amadeus. We had been very moved by the production and play: the dreadful tale of how Mozart had been poisoned by the envy and hatred of the rival composer and pretended friend, Antonio Salieri. Paul Scofield’s performance as Salieri captured the essential meanness in mediocrity; the terrible pettiness and suppressed venom behind a polite, courtly manner was chilling. The drama had frightening implications and disturbed us both because the play was a love story too: Mozart and Constanze, his lusty wife and muse, were very much in love, and had an innocence and honesty unique among the play’s characters. Mozart’s downfall, then, caused partially by his irreverent, often tactless habit of telling the truth, was also the destruction of an inspiring and passionate love. As Dorothy and I left the theater, our eyes met. We suddenly glimpsed the death of each other. I clutched her hand tightly and we ran to the car. Only after we were riding along the wet streets did we dare to look at one another again.
One afternoon while we were shopping, Dorothy excused herself to go up the block and find some water. She was delayed and after a while, I went searching and couldn’t find her. I reacted as though she had been kidnapped. My heart was pounding by the time I finally spotted her on the crowded street. She shook her head when she saw that I was alarmed, and we embraced in the safety of the car as she said: ‘Poor baby.’ I didn’t ever want her out of my sight again, I said, and she grinned. Did she know now truly I meant what I’d said? Or realize that I would have been most content if we could have been together every hour of every day for the rest of our lives?
A few days later, Dorothy was lying on the bed while I sat beside her. Her mother, she said, was worried that Paul might try to harm her physically. I looked at Dorothy sharply, but she was smiling faintly. Did she agree with her mother? She shook her head no, and smiled again. ‘I don’t think Paul would ever harm me.’ Nelly later would tell me her own exact words: ‘He could cut your face,’ she had said, ‘he could ruin your face.’ But D.R. only smiled at my worried expression and repeated her belief that Paul would never hurt her. I thought then perhaps she had mentioned it because of my safety. Didn’t jealous husbands often go after the lover? Somehow for the first time, the idea seemed possible. But it didn’t worry me: I was certain that Snider could eventually be bought off. I also believed that he would never harm D.R. since the thought was inconceivable to me.
During one of our last days in London, Dorothy spoke about Hefner’s pursuit of two of her friends from Playboy, both of whom were actively disinterested. D.R. said that, despite her reluctance, one friend had been maneuvered into sex with Hefner. When I expressed dismay, Dorothy was quick to defend her: I had no idea, she said, now difficult the pressures at Playboy were. The other friend, a future Playmate of the Year, had done everything she could to avoid Hefner, and Dorothy was saddened to have heard recently that she too had been forced through circumstances to capitulate to him. I didn’t realize at the time that D.R. was circling around the secret she most wanted to unburden to me, watching for my reactions to her friends’ misfortunes, the better to gauge my ability to deal with her own. But she was right, I had no idea. I only shook my head and said something about the women not having been as smart as she had been in avoiding the traps. Dorothy did not mention the subject again.
There were other warnings I did not understand. She walked out in the middle of the first act of Doctor Faustus, Marlowe’s play about the man who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for fortune, fame, and power. It was the last play she would see. Dorothy listened more and more intensely as the story unfolded. The student Faust, bored, cynical, and self-interested, reminded her all too well of the men she had just escaped. She had felt uneasy from the beginning, and sat forward. By the end of the fourth scene, it was clear that catastrophe was imminent. D.R. felt irrevocably implicated, and terrified.
The next scene began with a frenzied rape staged behind a scrim, and accompanied by the screaming sound track from the shower murder in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The young actress—the first woman in the play thus far—arched her torso and threw back her head in agony. As Faust and Mephisto had their way with her, the piercing, horrifying cries from the sound track seemed to come from the woman’s silent open mouth. The walls of the theater closed in on D.R. The actress’s silent scream became a shriek in Dorothy’s mind, her own muffled cry of pain.
As the rape went on, the flashbacks continued: perhaps the dark, gloomy scent of the Playboy studio, the men sweating from behind their cameras as she walked around naked for them to fondle or rape in their imaginations. She had sinned as much as they, hadn’t she, in the eyes of God? Wasn’t that what this play was saying to her? That people still sold their souls to the Devil for fame and fortune, and that others could be thrown into the bargain?
D.R. moved slightly in her chair. I thought she was going to close her eyes or put her hands to her face, but instead she leaned over and said, flatly: ‘I’m not going to watch this.’ She was past me and up the aisle and through the door before I could even figure out what she had said. I got up and left as quietly as possible.
It was drizzling slightly, but D.R. was pacing up and down the wet sidewalk in front of the theater. She looked lovely, resolute, and a little angry. It was a relief to be out of the theater. She hated the play, she said. The idea that a man would actually sell his soul to the Devil! She spoke as though she had been personally insulted. But wasn’t it a metaphor? I asked. Didn’t a lot of people sell themselves for money or power? But not consciously to the Devil, Dorothy said seriously. That was absurd. I could stay and see the rest of the play if I wanted, but she would prefer not to speak of it any further.
Back in the suite, I pressed for answers on why the show had bothered her. She began to cry, and there was a touch of hysteria in her voice that I had never heard before. Please! she pleaded, sitting on the bed in her room, all the new clothes I had bought her packed neatly in suitcases, ready to go home. Tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘Please don’t make me talk about it anymore! I have a right not to talk about something, don’t I!?’
The real problem was that Dorothy understood me far better than I ever understood her until it was too late. She knew certain things would be difficult to tell me, and she wanted to protect our relationship above all, to shield me from the unpleasantness in her own life. She felt it was not my problem, that I had enough troubles with my career and family. In many ways I didn’t really understand D.R. until after she was killed—some things were not clear until almost two years later, and I continued to find out horrors she had never told me about. I had believed that she was revealing all of her innermost secrets because I told her most of mine and would have told them all if we had had the time. There was so little time. D.R. and I had just begun to live, but there were fears and terrors locked in her heart that I never suspected.
I felt so sorry that I had pressed her, that I hadn’t been quick enough to tread carefully. But Dorothy could put on a mask that was absolutely blank, that couldn’t be penetrated. She had learned to deal with men, and a deadpan expression was a hint for a man to disappear. She had learned that to smile shyly only encouraged men. So many didn’t know the difference between politeness and invitation; they were arrogant enough to believe that if a woman smiled or looked kind, she wanted to bed them. But why would Dorothy, I thought, feel akin to a fallen angel?
On our last morning in England, two weeks before she was murdered, when Dorothy asked me if I had ever wanted to make a sad love story, it never entered my mind that she was thinking of us. I knew a little of the sadness she had been through, but I couldn’t even guess how worried she was that our life together might be destroyed. The hell into which she had fallen was known to her in ways I never suspected, and when we fell in love, to Dorothy I became her only way out—the one hope she had to be free of the nightmare world she had been lured into while still a child. It was that same morning she asked again if I had read Our Town.
During that week we had wanted to go somewhere romantic, away from people, someplace outside in the rare London sun. The Serpentine, we were told, an area on the far side of the Thames River, where people just liked to walk, would fit the bill perfectly. As we rode toward the river, Dorothy asked the driver about the Serpentine like an excited child on an outing who wants to know everything that’s going to happen. After the car pulled into a parking area down near the riverside, we took each other’s hands and walked up onto the paved road that ran along the shore as far as we could see. There were rowboats and children, women in hats and dresses, men in suits or sporting clothes, and lots of dogs. It was wonderfully fresh and unspoiled: open fields of grass, large trees, and the quiet waters of the ancient river. Every moment was special during those two brief hours on the Thames. There was magic in the country air.
For time to time Dorothy had a faraway look that I didn’t understand, and when I asked, she would say: Nothing, she hadn’t been thinking of anything special. Perhaps she felt as I did that we had touched the heavens, and she was afraid to speak lest the holy thing we had together be taken away from us. Perhaps there was something wrong with her: Hadn’t every joy been followed by the darkest fall? Hadn’t she sensed and seen danger from men since her youngest days? The stem father who deserted her, the boys who chased her, spit at her, knocked her down, kicked her, exposed themselves to her, her first lover’s fury toward her, her husband’s violent tirades against her, and the traumatic mansion incident. Dorothy’s tentative look masked a kind of watchfulness. Yet only moments before, we had acknowledged the strength of our devotion to each other.
D.R. had found a spot in the sun a few yards off the walkway and she sat on the grass. I joined her as she leaned back on her arm and we looked at each other, smiling. It seemed as though we had been transported into one of those vivid but tranquil landscapes we had seen at the National Gallery. A rare moment when two people were indescribably happy at the same time, in the same place, together on a cloud of perfect understanding. Dorothy started to laugh. I didn’t know why, but her laughter was so infectious that I laughed too. I asked what was funny, but she was laughing so hard, it took a few seconds for her to get the answer out. She shrugged her shoulders slightly and said: ‘Nothing!’ Then she laughed even louder. Now I had trouble speaking myself. Finally, I repeated the word: ‘Nothing?’ Dorothy nodded, and then shrieked with laughter, so strong and full it echoed off the skies. I had never heard anyone laugh that way—with total abandon. I joined her in body-shaking silent laughter, my sides aching. Tears streamed down our cheeks as she pointed at me and laughed even more. We were convulsed with laughter and there wasn’t any way to stop it. We would simmer down for a moment, trying to speak, and then one of us would be off again, with the other following. What we must have looked like under those trees, howling, we didn’t think or care about. Dorothy’s laughter that day had the joy of the ages, and I felt that it would ring through time forever.
V - The Ninth Moon
Aren’t there always hunters in pursuit of the unicorn, and others who stand by and watch or weep? The most brilliant detective in the world, who might solve to the tiniest detail each possible aspect of the crime, could not give back to Dorothy one second more of life; nor could he give to the ones who loved her an extra moment of her radiance. Hefner, the master of the chase, set in motion the frenzy of Snider’s egomania by banning him from the mansion. Five days after Snider found out, Dorothy’s future was gone.
The killer, by committing suicide, made the most humane gesture of his life. Hefner tried to hide his own culpability, to cover up the trail of clues in public statements and at length in his own magazine.
On July 30, my forty-first birthday, Dorothy and I had our longest day together, gaining back the nine hours we had lost flying to New York and Europe. At London’s Heathrow Airport, we had just begun to look through the bookstalls in the waiting area when she said, ‘I want to show you something,’ and walked over to the men’s magazines. She pulled down one of the Playboy’s special all-photo editions, The Playboy Girls of This or That, and came back, flipping quickly through the pictures. She held the magazine open for me and I moved behind her slightly to take a better look. It was a full-page color shot of Dorothy sitting on a rug, stark naked, legs brought up under her, smiling at someone at the right, and clearly unaware of what was visible from the left angle of Playboy’s ever-vigilant cameras. Someone had perhaps made a funny remark, and while she was off guard they caught what they wanted.
The photo and her obvious distaste for it was heightened by the setting: Here we were, thousands of miles from L. A. or New York or Vancouver, in one of the busiest international airports, and there were the most intimate parts of her body available to all the travelers of the globe. This was hardly the photographic art of the nude that she had been promised. This was plain old pornography. ‘Isn’t that awful?’ she said and flipped the magazine shut with contempt and returned it to the rack. It was the first time she had been blunt on the subject.
In New York the wait at the airport was anxious and unpleasant. The Playboy immigration lawyers had done nothing to get D.R.’s work permit extension stamped, so here at the end of July their Playmate Queen was trying to reenter the United States with a visa that expired August 1 in the year of her reign. The fellows from Customs had given her a rough going-over, delighting in the harassment of a beautiful woman. I saw them making a scene with Dorothy and went over to ask what the problem was. The two men looked up as though startled, and both gave me a look that said they were doing their all-American duty to make sure nobody gets into the United States illegally. But Snider, his visitor’s visa having expired, had managed to stay illegally in the country for some time.
‘It’s OK, Peter,’ Dorothy said. I backed off, forced to watch from a distance as they instructed D.R. to go through each of her suitcases, and made a big deal about the expiring visa in her passport. She placed a long-distance call to Playboy’s immigration lawyer, but did not have enough change and charged the call to Snider’s number in L.A. Flustered and upset by the Customs officials, she hadn’t thought of the consequences, but now Snider would know she was back in America. The lawyer, of course, would report her precise whereabouts to the world of Playboy.
When the phone company called Snider for approval of the charges, he knew she was flying back without letting him know. Snider had already been in touch with a lawyer in Vancouver on an alienation-of-affections suit against me. It was not difficult to track us down. If we were missed at the airport, we could be caught entering the gates to my place. Snider had also borrowed a gun.
That same afternoon, Hefner’s people told him that Dorothy had cleared Customs in New York, and was headed for Los Angeles. That meant his Playmate of the Year could be videotaped attending his Annual Midsummer Night’s Dream Party. But D.R. and I had agreed in London that neither of us would go this year. Would Hefner take her absence personally? Probably he reasoned as well as Snider did that Dorothy and I were having an affair. If he wasn’t certain, it would be difficult to keep the truth from him for very long. She herself would have to tell Paul, Dorothy said, but she couldn’t face telling Hefner. I agreed to do that. She was committed to Playboy for a week of various promotions in Texas, the Mojave Desert, and then, a week later, in New York. And they were talking about sending her to Chile.
On the plane west, Dorothy became anxious about her phone call, but said nothing to me. Paul could behave violently. What if he came to the airport? She started visualizing scenes—an argument, a fight. The children were going to be there. Peter’s friends, Blaine and Doug, might help, but they were no match for Paul if he was angry or had a gun. She felt certain that someone had been following her in New York, but then it could have been Playboy.
When the last plane we would ever fly together began its long descent into Los Angeles, Dorothy took my arm and said she was scared. She began to cry. I held her hands and moved closer. She shook her head and said it again: ‘I’m scared, I don’t know why.’ Both of us would have preferred, if we had had any choice, to stay in Europe or to have the jet fly right on to the Orient, to anywhere but Los Angeles, the center of all of our responsibilities and problems. At the airport, where the kids met us with Novak and Dilge, Dorothy acted strangely quiet and apprehensive. She seemed to slouch into herself, and her eyes were dark.
Once in the house, in her new room, there was an odd desperation in her efforts to open one of the new suitcases. The lock had jammed, and D.R. knelt on the floor of her room upstairs and tugged at the lock and battered the case as though her life depended on opening it. She seemed frantic. I tried to calm her down and took over for a few moments before she insisted on resuming the struggle herself. Finally the lock sprang loose. We were relieved. The suitcase had suddenly become a bad omen we had to vanquish.
That first evening, she stood at the upstairs doorway, crying again. She was sorry, she said, it was just difficult. We had been alone together and now there were so many people. I took her in my arms and tried to console her. It would be easier soon. We just had to make it through August, I said, quoting a previous conversation, and D.R. smiled slightly.
When Hefner was told Dorothy was arriving from London, he instructed his people to make certain Paul Snider was not to come to the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party, unless he came with Dorothy. The call went out. They were terribly sorry, but understood there were problems in the marriage, and since Dorothy was Playmate of the Year, it was important for her to feel free to attend this important event.
That night, under a large waning moon, Snider parked his Mercedes across Sunset from Bel Air and walked quickly the two or three short blocks to the gates of my house. The loaded .38 pressed into him. He found a place in the bushes from where he could see both the entrance and exit. Hiding there, he waited for Dorothy or me to come out. He would show us how he dealt with betrayal. No one went in or came out for several hours. Finally Snider walked back to his car, drove up to Mulholland Drive, and thought about killing himself, he later told a girlfriend. He held the borrowed revolver up to the sky and fired twice. Then he returned to the house on Clarkson.
In most Hollywood circles of the late seventies and early eighties, someone who didn’t take cocaine regularly was the exception rather than the rule. Snider had been using it more and more. Dorothy didn’t know how much, or what effect it was having on him. Cocaine gives an icy-cold high that freezes your heart and makes you believe you are all-powerful, invincible, and righteously correct in all of your appetites and impulses. It is the most self-deceiving of drugs, and the most insidious, quietly turning every frequent user into a Mr. Hyde. It grass is the drug of peace, cocaine is the drug of war. [Propaganda succeeded.]
By late evening, Dorothy had calmed down considerably. Her new lawyer, Wayne Alexander, had left a message assuring her that he had checked on the Immigration business personally and that everything would be all right. The permit would be renewed for another six months. That gave them plenty of time to work on a permanent visa. Once she was divorced and could marry me, these problems would disappear.
At my house we were being pulled in several directions at once: The kids and the production people all wanted time with me; Linda and a new woman accountant, who were working in the pool-house offices, needed questions answered; Playboy was pressing about whether I was going to be at the Dream Party, but I put off an answer.
When Dorothy and I were finally alone for the night, she took my hand and led me into the octagonally shaped room she had adopted. It had French windows at one end and French doors at the other, opening out onto a small balcony overlooking the front yard. There were six built-in closets around the walls, three with full-length mirrors, a wicker desk, a table and two chairs, and a white wall-to-wall carpet with a large Persian rug over it. Dorothy had unpacked and she took great delight in showing me where she put everything, as she had at the Wyndham.
That night, she wore one of the nightgowns we had bought in London: brushed white cotton. She moved swiftly across the room, got into bed, leaned over, and kissed me for a long time. She pressed hard against my lips; hers were so full they could cover mine. After what seemed like hours, D.R. leaned on her arm and, a slight twinkle in her eye, looked at me with an aura of mock-masculinity. She leaned in close and kissed me again. A Mozart concerto played in the background. She undid the buttons on my pajama top while her lips kissed mine. Then she leaned back, and with one flick of her wrist, flung open the top. I smiled faintly. She flicked the other side of the shirt off my chest, rubbed her hand in its hair, and looked at me. Then she stuck out her jaw and clenched her teeth slightly, which mean that I was about to be in a lot of trouble. We laughed, she fell on top of me, and we kissed for a long time. She continued her seduction, having decided to take the lead tonight. No woman ever had a more willing victim.
When D.R. made love to me that way—though it was a parody of the usual male role—her manner was light, and she was extraordinarily sexy. She had stopped being so troubled about the difference in the size of her breasts because I had told her honestly that they suited the two sides of her face: The right side, which matched the larger breast, was slightly older, more sensual, wittier. The more delicate, virginal left breast was appropriate to the softer, more innocent side. Fifteen days later, Paul Snider would blast away that side of Dorothy’s face and finally destroy what he had never been able to possess.
Dorothy was born under the sign of Pisces, the Fish, and this was never more evident than when I saw her for the first time in my pool, swimming around with the playful, natural ease of a dolphin, combined with the magical beauty of a mermaid come to life. The water was clearly her domain. At one point she began to laugh—that wonderful laugh of exhilaration I had heard barely a week before on the grass of the Serpentine. Just as had happened then, her laughter in the pool came without warning or provocation. The girls were amazed and reacted the way I had— they started laughing too. What was she laughing at? Toni asked, and I said: Nothing. D.R. nodded and laughed even more, splashing down to the side as she did.
Antonia and Sashy and I howled together. I had never seen them laugh with greater abandon or with fewer defenses. It was the finest laughter of children: a celebration of being alive. Could we be heard laughing on the side street nearby? Would Snider be told?
The next afternoon, Dorothy and I saw one of the first Galaxina ads in the trade papers. Her billing read:
DOROTHY R. STRATTEN
PLAYBOY PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR
I asked D.R. if she had known they would run the Playboy logo along with her name, but she just looked at the page intently. There was another plug for Playboy in the ad copy. After several minutes, Dorothy said in a low voice: ‘The bastards.’ Then she shook her head and repeated the words more quietly.
That same evening, Goldstein wandered the grounds of the mansion during the grand 1980 Midsummer Night’s Dream Party. Goldstein had met Hefner—he had been to the mansion before. And nobody went to Hefner’s unless the boss had personally approved the name. The security was tight as a drum. Hefner didn’t like surprises.
Snider’s latest find, seventeen-year-old Patti Laurman, moved into the Clarkson house that evening. She brought her waterbed, her saddle shoes, records, and her cheerleader outfit. Snider would have liked to see her in those high-school clothes. Later, Patti told me that Paul would insinuate more intimacy with her in public than she would have liked, but otherwise he treated her pretty well. If Snider heard from Goldstein that neither Dorothy nor I had shown up that night, he would have thought: At least we weren’t at the mansion making a fool out of him.
We spent the night at home together. We had only seven more nights to sleep in each other’s arms.
The next morning, Saturday, August 2, Dorothy and the kids and I had breakfast in the kitchen. D.R. suggested we send away to the Kellogg Company for the cup and dish advertised on the back of the Raisin Bran box. She cut out the coupon, filled it in, enclosed the cash, and put the envelope in the mailbox outside. The plastic prizes didn’t arrive until nearly two months after she was killed. Painted on each was a sun with ten starlike rays.
After breakfast, she went to Patrick Curtis’s house to pick up her things. She still had the key Curtis had given her two years before, just after the Jacuzzi incident at the mansion. Their final hour together wasn’t anything remarkable, Patrick would remember later—just two friends talking. They sat around the kitchen, as in the old days. Patrick was her only real friend in Los Angeles. She could tell him the truth. In April, Dorothy called Curtis from New York and told him what had happened between us. And later, in May, they had lunch together at a restaurant in Beverly Hills and she told Patrick that it was over with Paul, but that she was trying to end it as kindly as possible. After that, she called him again from Manhattan to say how well the picture was going and what a great time she was having.
Patrick remembered the first day he had met her, two years before. How he had hoped she might fall in love with him. Yet she had done the next best thing— she had come to trust him as a friend. He remembered the way she had taken him into the kitchen once while she was living at his home, and told him he did not have to tell all his friends that there was nothing going on between the two of them. It was nobody’s business. If some people wanted to believe they were having an affair, let them. They would probably think it no matter what either of them said.
Curtis carried the box out to the trunk of her car. Must be books, he thought, because it was quite heavy. He kissed her; Dorothy thanked him again for everything and waved as she drove off. Patrick waved and walked back inside. He grinned, thinking of Hefner’s reaction to the news of our affair. Hefner had blown his chances that first time; he had never understood Dorothy. She hadn’t gone to the Dream Party last night; yet she had time to drop in on Patrick.
Snider must have known from Goldstein of Dorothy’s visit to Curtis. Maybe for these past two years she had been playing him for a patsy, when all the time Snider thought he had been manipulating her. She was smart, Snider knew, smarter than he was. But he was cunning, and he could fool her easily by playing on her sympathies. And she was frightened of yelling, of any kind of violence. If he could just get to her, he could always break her down.
Later that afternoon, D.R. asked me if I thought she should call her husband right away. I said it was up to her. She said she was dreading the call and preferred to wait a little longer.
My daughters prevailed on D.R. and me to drive them down to an ice cream parlor for cones. As we arrived, Antonia noticed that the side street opposite entrance was called Dorothy Street. Dorothy’s joyful shriek was mixed with relief at spotting a lucky omen. Her reaction was so spontaneous that the kids and I roared with laughter, and then Dorothy did too.
Was anyone watching us as we piled out of the car, still laughing? And as Dorothy ran over to look at the street sign? The kids dashed after her, and the three of them gazed at the sign and laughed. They walked back toward me, one on either side of Dorothy, holding her hands. Was Snider told how happy the four of us looked as we crossed the street and went into the shop? How evil did we seem in his eyes? And how sinful would it appear in photographs, Stratten and Bogdanovich and his two daughters having ice cream cones on a bright sunny afternoon?
That evening, D.R. and the girls and I were in the kitchen when a large dog suddenly trotted in. His reddish-tan coat was long, and he looked like a cross between a collie and a German shepherd. As he came through the door the children saw him first. They cried out in surprise and tried to catch the dog by the collar. Wagging his tail excitedly, and with a definite sense of purpose, the dog moved directly toward Dorothy. She spoke to him as though they were old friends: ‘Hello there, boy.’ He came right up to her and put his front paws onto her chest. She grabbed the paws, lifted them to her shoulders, and moved her face up to him. As the dog licked her nose, Dorothy laughed and so did the girls. I hadn’t moved. Was he safe? I asked. Dorothy said: ‘Oh, sure, he’s a good boy,’ and squeezed his nose. Then she patted back his ears.
It was almost as though the dog wanted to tell her something—his paws on her shoulders, mouth open, panting, making sounds between a cry and a bark. ‘What is it, Bebe?’ D.R. said, and the children laughed merrily. The dog became more excited than ever and barked twice. Dorothy petted him and put his paws down to check the name tag on the collar. His name was Prince and there was a phone number. ‘He loves Dorothy,’ Sashy said. Why had he run away? Antonia wondered, and Sashy said, ‘Because he wanted to see Dorothy.’
The owners of the dog were called, and we were all sorry when they answered. The girls petted Prince and talked to him. He was pleasant to them, but he had eyes only for Dorothy. Wherever she went he followed.
The gate bell rang; the dog’s owners arrived. Antonia buzzed the gates open and the three women took Prince out to the driveway while I waited in the kitchen. They all returned looking unhappy. The owners had been awful. There were three people in the car and they had pulled Prince in roughly. As the car drove off, the dog was being beaten. D.R. went over to the sink and the girls followed. No wonder he ran away, Antonia said. People could be so awful, Said Dorothy.
Just before midnight, D.R. and I finished getting the kids to sleep, went upstairs, and got under the covers. Before we noticed the time again, it was three in the morning. A limousine was arriving at eleven-thirty to take her to the airport for her trip to Houston. She curled into my arms in the dark, her head on my shoulder, and I hugged her warm body close to mine, trying not to think about her going. Maybe a miracle would happen and she wouldn’t have to leave.
The next four days were a blur of phone calls and business meetings. The cutting had yet to be completed on They All Laughed. On Monday morning, August 4, Dorothy drove over to her new apartment on Spalding in Beverly Hills, where she was sharing the rent, though not the space, with Linda MacEwen. She needed a separate mailing address and we both knew that having a place where one can be alone was important. The limousine took her to LAX, where a non-stop flight brought her to the Houston airport. She was greeted with open arms by Elizabeth Norris, and then scooted off to a series of interviews, photo sessions, and personal appearances—all the while extolling the glories of the Playboy world.
Snider was probably informed of Dorothy’s trip to the airport. That same morning, Wayne Alexander had called my house to get a final answer on the Snider-sponsored roller-skate poster; Dorothy had left word, with my encouragement, to pass on the deal. Later, of course, I would desperately wish that I had told her to let Snider have his damned poster; perhaps the gesture would have somewhat abated his mounting fury. Alexander called Mike Kelly and said Dorothy did not want to go forward; he would be sending a letter to that effect along with the poster, but wanted Kelly to know immediately where they stood. Kelly called Snider, who phoned Alexander sounding angry and sullen: Where was his wife? Alexander said he could not give out that information. He never spoke with Snider again.
Later in the day, the phone rang and when Snider answered, it was Dorothy calling him long-distance. She was in Houston, she said, and she hoped he was all right. Snider was so surprised by the call, he wasn’t sure how to play it. He asked when she would be back, when he could see her. D.R. told the truth. She wouldn’t be back until late Thursday, or Friday morning. Why didn’t they have lunch together on Friday, August 8? She would come by around two. Snider said he loved her and Dorothy said she loved him, but that he had to understand she had not changed her mind about wanting her freedom. Snider must have hung up the phone feeling elated. She was coming back after all.
Earlier that afternoon, I had placed a call to Hugh Hefner. When he was told I was calling, Hefner barely hesitated before he told his secretary to say that he was in a meeting. It was five days since we had returned from London, and Dorothy was off in Houston. Hefner did not return the call.
Also, Hefner was hearing reports about Dorothy in Texas. She had changed her hair to a simpler style and was wearing almost no makeup. Once the Playboy models had lost their ‘innocence,’ their image changed: the Sunday School girl-next-door became the Vegas showgirl-in-the-next-motel. It was part of a standard male fantasy: the innocent Madonna turned into the wanton harlot. These were the only two sides of a woman worth mentioning. Of course, sex was more fun with the prostitute because she knew what to do. But the special thrill was in the memory of her innocence: That defiled Virginity could sustain many an erection. D.R. was not behaving in the approved Playboy tradition. After all, she was Playmate of the Year.
On Wednesday, August 6, D.R. and Elizabeth flew to Dallas. Dorothy had talked as much as possible about They All Laughed, without a hint of our involvement, and she gave the usual party line about Playboy whenever necessary. There was nothing wrong with posing nude, and Hefner really did love and respect women. He was ‘nothing like his reputation,’ it amused her to say because it wasn’t a lie. Elizabeth told Dorothy she ought to talk more about Playboy and put on more makeup. Dorothy didn’t want to look like an albino, did she?
That night, Dorothy called me from Dallas in tears. At a banquet for Playboy distributors who had flown in from all over the country, one of them had come up and grabbed her right breast in his hand, and turned to one of his pals to take a photograph. I had never heard her so upset: She felt humiliated and dirtied; raped. She couldn’t wait to come home. She had arranged to take the evening flight Thursday rather than stay overnight again in Dallas.
After I had phoned Hefner for three days in a row, with no success, on August 7, he finally returned my calls, apologizing for the delay. I asked if I could drop by for a chat the following week. Anytime, Hefner said coolly. I felt the iciness in his tone, and tried to warm things up by telling him how well the movie had gone and how good Dorothy was in it. The part had been greatly enlarged, I said, and I felt confident that it would have a tremendous impact on her career. Hefner said he had heard some rumors that Dorothy and I were... Yes, I said, it was true. We were in love.
There was a brief pause, followed by a sort of hollow chuckle, and then Hefner said: ‘Well, heh-heh, you always did have a weakness for blondes.’ I laughed much too loudly, and felt more and more uneasy: I had been hoping to put off the facts until I could see Hefner next week, but clearly he did not care to wait. I said that no matter what he might have heard, it was serious between Dorothy and me, that we loved each other, that she was the first woman who had ever really made me want to settle down. He said he was glad to hear it.
I said I did not want anyone but him and some other dose friends to know the truth because it could only hurt Dorothy and me and our relationship. ‘That’s going to be a pretty difficult thing to keep quiet,’ Hefner said. Not necessarily, I said, if none of us confirmed it for a while. But Heftier told me he had already heard rumors.
Then he said: ‘Look, if you’re worried about that husband, I’ll just make sure he’s not allowed in here without Dorothy.’ He had taken care of that last week for the Dream Party, Hefner said, but we hadn’t come by. He was going to make certain that creep never got in there again, and then Dorothy and I could feel free to drop by any time of the day or night. I tried to make him understand that her husband was by no means the only issue. Hefner repeated that keeping it a secret was going to be impossible.
Soon after he put down the phone, Hefner told one of his assistants to make certain that Paul Snider did not get into the mansion anymore unless he was accompanied by Dorothy Stratten.
Less than two hours later, at 4:48 p.m., the Delta flight from Dallas touched down at LAX, and the limousine brought Dorothy to the apartment on Spalding, where she got into her own car and quickly drove the few minutes to Copa de Oro. She was in my arms by 6:30.
Snider had told Goldstein of their impending rendezvous the next day for lunch, sounding optimistic about a reconciliation.
While unpacking her bags, D.R. casually showed me a Playboy test slide of herself made up to look like Brigitte Bardot. It was part of Hefner’s marathon Screen Goddess pictorial for Playboy’s cable, videocassette, and stag-movie plans. The whole thing was a modem version of the old Hollywood whorehouses that used to feature look-alikes for the most popular current screen actresses. For a price, you could fuck your favorite movie star. The best of both worlds for the Playboy readers and the magazine which had made everybody’s girl-next-door into a hooker, and was now preparing to do the same with the great women of the screen.
I held the slide up to the light. It was a head shot of D.R. in a red wig, with several thick and shiny coats of pancake on her face, heavy on the lipstick, rouge, mascara, and eye shadow. The photo looked about as appetizing as one of the figures in the Hollywood Wax Museum. From the center, Dorothy’s eyes looked out sadly, like those of someone trapped in a cave. The picture depressed me, but I didn’t want to make her feel worse: She had to do the job.
I told Dorothy I had spoken with Hefner, but didn’t mention the threatened barring of Snider, feeling vaguely guilty. She was having lunch with Paul tomorrow, which was going to be difficult enough. I didn’t want to worry her about Hefner’s manner on the phone.
During dinner that night, I suggested that Blaine and Doug follow Dorothy over to Snider’s the next day. He would recognize me. They agreed, and Novak said they could follow at a discreet distance, go into the restaurant, and sit several tables away to keep an eye on things. But D.R. said no, she really didn’t need anyone to follow her over, and she thanked the fellows for offering. Blaine asked if she was sure of that, and Dorothy nodded: Yes, it was all right, there was nothing to worry about. She had spoken with Paul and he had sounded fine. She would make sure they went to a restaurant.
Playboy was talking about sending D.R. to New York to do the Merv Griffin show. The Krofft brothers wanted her to costar in a Western with Bruce Dern (eventually released as Harry Tracy). They were offering $100,000 and the script wasn’t bad. If anything could bring Westerns back, I thought, Dorothy could. She had the wit and elegance of a nineteenth-century aristocrat, as well as the innocence of a country girl in chaps, wrestling the cattle as well as any man. One way or the other, it looked as if Dorothy was going to do a lot of traveling, and she and I would often be separated. We fell asleep in each other’s arms early on the morning of Friday, August 8.
That day was the first time Dorothy and Paul saw each other since the beginning of May. She had written the legal statement of separation in June. Now, a month and a half later, Dorothy was driving over to the house on Clarkson. She was not looking forward to the meeting, and the closer she got, the more she wanted to turn around and run. But it had to be gotten over with, she thought—there was nothing else to do.
Snider, dressed in a suit, welcomed her warmly. There were roses and champagne set out, but she didn’t even take a sip. Nor did she pay much attention to the flowers or the note he had written. She wanted to go to a restaurant. They did, and then came back and had a loud argument. It was the first time Dorothy admitted to Snider her love for me.
Snider had done a lot of checking and collected a considerable storehouse about me to tell Dorothy, strewn across a litter of fifteen years in the public and private wars of Hollywood. I had destroyed Cybill Shepherd’s career—was that how Dorothy wanted to end up? Bogdanovich had paid a girl five thousand dollars to sleep with himself and another man—what did she have to say about that? It had happened at the mansion, he said, and a lot of people knew about the incident. Dorothy didn’t believe it, and said she didn’t want to hear about it. In the Jacuzzi, Snider went on, Bogdanovich had paid this girl, Lee, five grand to fuck him and his friend Bob. That was the kind of guy she was in love with, he said. But maybe she hadn’t minded that night with Hefner in the Jacuzzi. Maybe that was the kind of stuff she really liked. Dorothy got angry. She had only done the Playboy stuff for Snider in the first place! Hadn’t he told her that she might have to sleep with Hefner? He hadn’t even cared. He had been using her from the beginning. Snider began to scream at her and Cuslvner’s dog began to bark. Soon after, Dr. Cushner had come in on them, and they quieted down. He had stopped by to get his German shepherd who was locked up outside, barking and crying because of the shouting. The neighbors could hear nothing beyond the constant roar of the freeway. After the doctor went upstairs, there was no further shouting.
The interruption turned Snider around. He realized his ace had been played and she hadn’t batted an eyelash. Brainwashed, she definitely had been brainwashed. He realized that he had lost Dorothy, and he began to cry. He sang her a song and became more depressed. Did she really mean it when she told him she wanted to be friends even though she was in love with someone else? Dorothy seemed to be sincere as she spoke, and he cried even harder. What a fool he had been!
Eventually Dorothy was able to cheer him up, and by the time Patti Laurman arrived, the two of them seemed quite friendly. Was she staying? Patti asked since both of them were smiling when she walked in. No, damn it, Paul said lightly, she’s got to leave. Dorothy looked over a closetful of her remaining clothes, took one or two items, and told Patti she could have everything else. Dorothy and Paul seemed to have reached an understanding. Patti left them alone again.
The phone rang. It was Linda MacEwen, Snider said, and he tried not to sound too hostile. D.R. took the call and said she would be leaving soon for their meeting at the apartment. It was the story Linda and I had cooked up as an excuse for her to call. I had been worried and asked Linda to see if everything was OK. Of course Dorothy couldn’t talk, Linda would tell me, but her voice sounded all right. She would be coming back shortly. Dorothy left Clarkson soon after the call. Everything would be OK, she told Paul. She would call him on Sunday just to see how he was.
Dorothy felt sorry for Paul, she told me. He had cried, and at one point he tried to kiss her and take her in his arms. His touch had made her skin crawl. His eyes looked so sad, Dorothy said, making no mention of the seedy accusations. Two years later, John Riley would tell me that during the summer of 1980, Snider had learned his version of the Lee/Bob story from Lee’s former husband and that the two men had cursed me and agreed that I deserved to be punished severely, maybe even shot. Certainly Snider would have used the story on D.R. as an example of my true nature. But Dorothy said only that Snider had delivered a diatribe against me, quoting the usual inaccurate Cybill Shepherd stories. If she had brought up the Lee/Bob incident, I would have told her its true origin: how Bob had lured me into a compromising position with Lee at the mansion’s Jacuzzi. Six months afterward, I had tried to help Lee, who had had a haunted childhood compounded by humiliating experiences in the men’s magazine business. She stayed at my house a few days. I had then given her a cashmere sweater and five thousand dollars to rent an apartment and have her car fixed. Though D.R. said nothing of this story, it must have given her pause. Could she trust me fully?
Late that afternoon, Dorothy and my sister Anna met for the first and only time. Anna had come over to bring me a belated birthday present—a bow and arrow. The gift puzzled me, but she gave me no reason for selecting it, and so I was not alarmed.
That same evening, while D.R. and the kids and I made dinner in the kitchen, Prince the dog suddenly returned. We couldn’t figure out how he had gotten in, since the front door was closed. He again went immediately over to Dorothy, barking and yelping, and seemed even more insistent than ever on telling her something. We thought perhaps he was simply overjoyed to see her, but Prince acted as though he had run away only to be with Dorothy. His paws were on her shoulders and he was licking her face, his tail wagging furiously.
Saturday didn’t go well for Snider. He phoned the mansion to get his name and Patti’s cleared for the next night, and was told he was barred. He was livid; it was the worst day of his life. He had lost his wife and his second father. Well, he would show them! He would show all of them! They would be very sorry for excluding him from their happy threesome, the starmakers and their star. The world had not heard the last of Paul Leslie Snider!
Soon after, his actor-friend Chip came by and took back the gun he had lent Snider. He was leaving town and needed to have it with him. Coming from the house, with the giant curve of the freeway behind, Snider pointed the .38 up toward the sky and fired. Goldstein was there and noticed how the sound was washed out by the noise of the freeway, but Cushner’s dog started to bark. Chip saw that his gun had been fired before, but didn’t mention it. They all shook hands and Chip drove off feeling relieved. He had never felt quite right at the idea of Paul having his gun.
Snider then put the heat on Goldstein to help him get a weapon, ‘for protection,’ Goldstein later would recount: Snider said that maybe Hefner or Bogdanovich was going to try to have him deported or killed. They were shutting him out of everything— maybe they would try to finish him off for good.
Goldstein went with Snider to a gun shop. Snider wanted a small machine gun, and the shop had just what he wanted. Goldstein refused to buy it in his name. Snider had the money to pay, but was not a U.S. citizen and his visa had expired. He could probably pick up something through the personal ads in the Recycler, a weekly paper that featured personal ads of all sorts, including weapons. Owner sales required no registrations or paperwork.
Before long, Snider had found the item that appealed to him. It was an eight-shot shotgun. He called the owner, a man named Tuck, who agreed to come over and show him the weapon the next morning. In the meantime, Snider didn’t need the Playboy mansion. He would have his own goddamn parties. He got Lynn, his main girlfriend at the time, and Patti together and invited everybody they could think of to a barbecue. He didn’t want anyone to think he was depressed. And he would tell Dorothy what he was going to do when she called tomorrow. He would scare the bitch to death.
Dorothy’s sister, Louise, had arrived from Vancouver that morning at ten, and Dorothy met her at the airport gate. On the way home from the airport, Dorothy told Louise that they wouldn’t be staying at Paul’s anymore. Dorothy was getting an apartment with Linda, Peter’s secretary, she said, but it wasn’t quite ready yet, so they would be staying at Peter’s house in the meantime. She had not yet told Louise that we were lovers. Louise was a sweet, shy girl with a wild sense of humor when her introspective nature let it out. She had a critical, watchful eye, and looked out for her big sister’s welfare.
When they got to the house, and after everyone had been introduced, the two sisters called to tell their mother that Louise had arrived safely. D.R. had warned her not to say where they were staying, not to mention Peter’s place at all, or to give out any numbers. She didn’t want to worry their mother. Nelly was happy speaking to her daughters together, and she was especially relieved to hear Dorothy’s voice. She had been terribly worried about her. Had Dorothy received her letter? Nelly had sent a letter to New York early in July. No, Dorothy said, it must have missed her, but the hotel would forward it. She had left her business manager’s address. Nelly asked about Paul, and Dorothy said everything was all right, she had seen him yesterday and they had agreed to be friends. ‘But he was very sad, Mum,’ Dorothy said. ‘He cried.’ Nelly told her not to see Paul again. She knew what men were like. Dorothy should try to get out of the city for six to eight months, to let things cool down.
Playboy wanted to send her to Chile, Dorothy said, but there was ‘unrest’ there. Nelly told her to go anyway. It would be safer than being anywhere near Paul. She would get her new husband to call Immigration again about that rat Snider, get him out of the United States and away from Dorothy. When Louise was finished, Dorothy grabbed the phone to say good-bye again. It would be the last time that Nelly would hear the voice of her first child. Good-bye again, Mum, she had said, don’t worry, see you soon.
Later, Louise asked which house was better, this one or Hefner’s? ‘This one,’ D.R. said. ‘This one is much better.’
At 9:00 A.M. on Sunday, August 10, Mr. Tuck, the owner of the shotgun that would be used to kill Dorothy Stratten, arrived at the Clarkson house to show the weapon to Paul Snider. Dr. Cushner answered the door and checked, but Snider was out. Tuck was annoyed. He had driven all the way from the San Fernando Valley because Snider had said he would be there in the morning. It was about a shotgun he had for sale.
Less than half of the people who had been invited to the barbecue at Clarkson that afternoon showed up. To maintain his bravado, Snider had cocaine in the bathroom. Dorothy had said she would call him, but as the hours went by and she didn’t call, he believed her less, taking more coke to keep his cool. Every hour increased the rage inside him; every minute clicked off another imagined lie, one more moment of deceit. They were all against him. At one point he told a friend: ‘Maybe this deal has just got too big—maybe I just ought to go back to Vancouver for a while.’ No, he mustn’t give up, he must fight for his rights.
There had been barely a moment’s peace for Dorothy from the time she had awakened. When the Playboy limousine arrived at Spalding, the driver loaded the sisters’ bags in the trunk, they piled into the back, and started off on the three-hour drive to the Mojave Desert.
Paul Snider had ended the night in a fury because Dorothy had not called him as promised. But he would show her. He would have his gun tomorrow.
At the mansion, the staff had been making jokes about the fact that the Playmate of the Year hadn’t been there in nearly three months. Otherwise, it had been just the end of another typical weekend for Hefner, nothing very unusual. But it would be Dorothy Stratten’s last weekend alive.
Her final Monday, August 11, began very early in the desert. They were shooting by six; the heat meant they’d have to quit by eleven. The shoot would start again at 3:00 and then continue until the sunlight was gone. The result would be a print advertisement for an eyeglass-frame company owned by Playboy. No naked pictures were involved. The money was the usual five hundred dollars a day, no matter how many hours. For a normal eight-hour day, a top model of the time, such as Patti or Shawn Casey, would have made close to four times that amount, and neither of them was starred in two forthcoming features, nor had the media attention Dorothy had generated in less than a year. But Playboy Models kept it all in the family. Why pay Dorothy more just because she had earned it?
The first thing Paul Snider did that morning was to call Mr. Tuck about the shotgun. He would drive out to the Valley in the late afternoon and they could exchange cash for weapon. Tuck filled out a purchase-order, dating it 8/11/80.
When they broke from shooting, Dorothy and Louise went swimming in the small pool at the motel and the Playboy crew joined them. Everyone must have noticed how happy Dorothy seemed, despite lack of sleep and five hours of hard work in the sweltering heat. She and her kid sister were like two seals. Three times in less than a month Dorothy had been deliriously happy. Louise could never remember seeing Dorothy laugh the way she did that day.
She had reason to laugh: Peter loved her, Hefner wasn’t going to hold it against her, and Paul understood. In a year she would be free of Playboy forever, and maybe Paul and Patti would get married and they would be happy. Life and love were possible, after all. Dorothy could have children and be happy with the father. She had always wanted a big family, and already there were two prospective stepchildren she loved. The money she would make in movies would give her mother freedom too, a freedom Nelly had never known. She was sure that Nelly and Peter would get along, and Peter and John. Finally they could both have their families in order.
But what would become of this happiness? Would the love and fulfillment of New York, London, Bel Air, and now Mojave bring something equally terrible? If her joy was this great, would the punishment be, as well?
Dorothy excused herself to place a long-distance call to Clarkson Street in Los Angeles. She had promised to phone yesterday. When Snider answered, the first thing Dorothy said was how sorry she was not to have called; she had had to go to Mojave for Playboy... But Snider cut her off with a storm of abuse on a level so fierce it made her tremble. It is safe to assume, based on what I now know about Snider’s previous behavior, that he used the harshest words he could conceive of to frighten Dorothy into coming back to see him again. Why would she have been so upset unless he had called her every name imaginable, and told of the night he had waited with the .38, of the gun he had ordered to blow her brains out? And Hefner’s, and Bogdanovich’s, and his two children’s, and her sister’s, and then he was going to blow out his own brains. She was a lying, scheming, conniving cunt and he was going to blow everybody off the face of the earth. Dorothy began to cry. She begged him to calm down and explain what had made him so angry. Surely it could not be only because she had been twelve hours late in calling. And Snider started to scream again, so viciously she had to hold the phone away from her ear: She could stop playing dumb! He knew what she was doing! He was on to her! She was a lying, scheming bitch!
Out by the pool, Louise was becoming concerned: Why had Dorothy gone away so suddenly? And been away so long? Maybe she was sick in the bathroom. Louise walked to their room. As she raised her hand to the doorknob, she could hear Dorothy’s voice. It sounded as though she were crying. Her tone was pleading. Louise moved close to the door. The sun was hot and the asphalt burned her bare feet. Now she could understand the words quite clearly: ‘Please, please, Paul!’ Dorothy cried: ‘Don’t be like that! Don’t do this to me!’
Louise felt both afraid for Dorothy and guilty for eavesdropping, though she hadn’t really been able to help it. Anybody walking by would have heard through the thin walls (and several among the Playboy crew did). She put her hand on the knob but didn’t turn it. Dorothy’s voice rose again, half sobbing, half angry: ‘I will come to see you! But please! Please don’t say those things!’ Louise tried to turn the knob but it was locked, which somehow frightened her more. She called out Dorothy’s name and knocked on the door. There was quiet for a moment, and then she heard, ‘Just a second,’ and when the door opened, she could tell Dorothy had been crying. Her eyes were bloodshot. Louise felt tears come to her own eyes and she asked what the matter was, but Dorothy said it was nothing. She returned to the floor between the two beds, where she had been sitting with the phone. She told Snider her sister was waiting and she would have to go now, but Louise could hear the angry sound of Paul’s voice, though the words were not clear and she tried not to listen. Dorothy attempted to cut the conversation short. She would be back in a few days and she would definitely come to see him, she promised, but only if he did not talk that way anymore. She would call him soon from L.A.
Louise had been with her sister through marital arguments before, and Dorothy always had been able to put away the miseries afterward, but this time was different. D.R. threw some water on her face, put on her new sunglasses again, and took Louise back to the pool. Everyone noticed how different her mood was. A couple of guests had overheard some of the conversation, and Dorothy volunteered to several of the crew that she had had a difficult phone call. She would tell me over the phone that night that she had had ‘a very unpleasant conversation with Paul.’
The obviously potent effect Snider’s anger had on Dorothy only encouraged him further. Now she was begging him; wait till she saw his gun! With Patti, he drove out to Richard Brander’s acting studio in the Valley, ranting about Hefner and Bogdanovich and Dorothy, his duplicitous wife. But he would show them. The drugs he took only increased the fever pitch. On the way out to Tuck’s however, Snider got lost, which made him angrier and more lost. Eventually he gave up and furiously drove back to Clarkson. Why should he have to drive around anyway? Let the shotgun be brought to him. He wouldn’t be needing it until later in the week—maybe not until Thursday. Let Tuck meet him someplace tomorrow or the day after; that would be soon enough. Snider and Tuck made an appointment at a construction site for Wednesday afternoon, August 13.
On Monday afternoon, I left another message at the mansion. Would it be OK if I dropped by to see Hefner on Tuesday afternoon?
Louise had a bad dream that night, and then woke up to find she hadn’t been dreaming: Dorothy was in the next bed crying quietly into her pillow. Sad and frightened at once, Louise said: ‘Dorothy?’ The crying stopped immediately and there was silence. Louise said her sister’s name again but received no response. Eventually Louise decided it must have been a dream after all, and soon fell asleep again.
By the time I got up on Tuesday, August 12, D.R. and Louise were already off in the desert shooting. I was anxiously looking forward to seeing Dorothy, and had a surprise for her: We were preparing another movie to shoot very soon, and she had the leading female role.
That afternoon, driving out of the parking lot of the Cafe Rodeo in Beverly Hills, Patrick Curtis stopped at the curb and pointed out to his passengers the young man on roller skates coming toward them. It was Paul Snider, and quite obviously he was zonked out on something: coke, Quaaludes—probably Quaaludes, Curtis guessed. (Journalists Riley and Bernstein would later report that at Dorothy’s wedding reception, Dr. Cushner had handed out Quaaludes, which he kept in the glove compartment of his Rolls-Royce.) Snider skated up to the car but didn’t seem to recognize Patrick. He put his hands on the car for a moment, barely taking in Curtis, his friend Richard Johnson in the passenger seat, or the two young women in the back. After a moment, Snider skated around the car and continued on his way up toward Santa Monica Boulevard.
Curtis would remember thinking: What a coincidence. The last time he had taken Dorothy to lunch, back in May, they had been to the Cafe Rodeo, and now, coming out of the same place, he had nearly driven into her husband. Did it mean something? Snider certainly looked out of it. Maybe Curtis had better call Dorothy tomorrow to see how she was. But Patrick would never again see or speak with either of the two people about whom he had been troubled on that warm Tuesday afternoon.
Later the same day, I drove over to the mansion for the last time. I had no idea as I drove east on Sunset to Charing Cross Road that almost exactly two years before, the man I was going to visit had traumatized the woman I loved.
By the end of that Tuesday meeting, I realized things were not right between Hefner and me. There was a chill and stiffness in his manner I had not experienced before. I had told him at length about the glories of his Playmate of the Year—how extraordinary she was in the picture, how conscientious and cooperative she had been. How much more Hefner thought I knew! And the more I talked, the more irritated he appeared. The room turned frosty as I went on to explain how difficult the professional and personal circumstances on the movie had been: the New York streets, the producers, the two other women on the picture with whom I had once been involved, and how well Dorothy had handled everything.
The mentions of Patti Hansen and Colleen Camp might have been the coup de grace. Colleen had given Playboy a hard time about naked pictures; and hadn’t Hefner called me in New York to ask if Patti would pose nude for Playboy? When I had asked her, she replied: ‘Only if the rest of the cast does it with me.’ Hadn’t I repeated those words with a laugh to Hefner less than two months before? Heftier had covered his irritation at the time by offering a big layout on the movie if I could indeed arrange a shot of all the girls nude. While I had thought he was kidding, he had probably thought what the hell was I laughing at? Was I laughing at Hefner?
Now, in his living room on August 12, it seemed I was secretly laughing at him again as I extolled my fond association with women who had rejected him. Not realizing how guilelessly I spoke, he became more affronted when I asked if he would like to come up the block to my place in a couple of weeks and see a rough cut of the picture D.R. and I had made. To his way of thinking, it seemed a gross insult even to suggest he leave the ‘Vatican West’ to see his very own Playmate of the Year, especially this one. Hefner stood up abruptly. ‘I doubt I’ll have the time right now,’ he said with an air of dismissal.
Did I care to take a look at the remodeling work Hefner had had done to the private rooms upstairs? He made the invitation as though it were merely a formality; he didn’t really expect me to accept, but his mood seemed to brighten after I agreed. I was surprised at what a difference this appeared to make to Hefner. It was a privileged tour of his Wonderland Paradise—not to be taken lightly.
He showed off the brass pulls that had been specially made for his built-in clothing drawers: small reclining nude nymphs for him to admire as he dressed himself for the day or evening revels. I smiled as much as possible in admiration. But Hefner wasn’t kidding. There were brass naked women on every one of the many drawers, and three desk areas to work on his scrapbook. He wasn’t kidding about his scrapbook either: He conscientiously updated it. I had never seen it, but it had to be many tomes by now. Evidently every little thing about Hefner or Playboy from the very beginning was in there, nearly thirty years—a record reportedly more thorough than a Pharaoh’s.
The upstairs looked quite a bit fancier than it had the one other time I had been there, more than four years earlier, just after Playboy’s whatever-feels-good philosophy had curdled Hefner’s relationship with Barbi Benton. The notorious Hefner bed was as large as ever, low to the ground, with two giant television screens at the foot, and numerous shelves stocked with video cassettes built into the surrounding walls.
Although Hefner still had a certain boyish charm, he was beginning to look more sinister that afternoon than I had noticed before. I knew what this second tour of the inner sanctum meant: Dorothy and I were welcome there anytime. Didn’t the opulence of its appointments tempt me for a moment? Hefner began to sense my discomfort, though I tried to be enthusiastic about all his new belongings. The tour had begun with an almost deliberate slowness, but I felt Hefner could see past my feigned expressions of admiration, especially since he now considered me a possible enemy. The speed of the tour accelerated as e seemed to read my attitude.
Hefner brought up Dorothy’s husband. He had sent word that Snider wasn’t to be admitted without Dorothy, so she and I could feel free to come over there anytime we liked, separately or together. Of course we would, I said, but, as I had told him over the phone, we didn’t want to be seen together in public. This wasn’t public, Hefner said, this was private. I laughed and said that if we were seen here together, it would be all over town the next day. That was exactly what we wanted to avoid. I told him the truth: Dorothy had a lot of traveling to do; in fact, she was coming back in just a few hours and, with my daughters and her sister staying with us, the two of us had little free time.
Hefner’s attitude became one of brisk formality, and we were soon downstairs at the main entrance. I tried to keep the spirit friendly and not appear anxious to leave, but Hefner by now had turned even chillier than he had been earlier. He didn’t bother to mince words: He didn’t have any more time to chat, he said, and put his hand out. We shook and I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. Perhaps I was mistaken, I thought as I drove away; perhaps he was simply busy.
The more he thought about it, the more Hefner’s sense of indignation must have become aroused. Hadn’t he tolerated Stratten’s husband for two years and given her the top prize in his kingdom? Hadn’t she resisted him and his philosophy, and turned her new boyfriend against Playboy as well? Hadn’t Dorothy betrayed him, just as his wife had done thirty years before? Perhaps he smiled inwardly at the problems Snider was going to give us: Bogdanovich would now have to handle the phone calls and threats and attempted deals. It was a fair assumption that there would be plenty of other chances at Dorothy Stratten.
D.R. spent most of the last Tuesday of her life having her picture taken in various eyeglass frames and costumes in the midst of the Mojave. There were cowboy clothes and guns, and a small airplane. Louise hung around and watched. Back at the hotel during the break, they swam in the pool for a while; but it wasn’t the same as yesterday, Louise thought. Dorothy looked unhappy all day, and there didn’t seem to be anything to bring her out of it. She laughed once or twice, but Louise could tell her heart wasn’t in it, though she had been sweet to her kid sister, anxious that the time shouldn’t be unpleasant for her. Yet Louise had seen Dorothy’s red eyes that morning, the skin around them puffy; they remained very sad for the rest of the day.
Riding back to Los Angeles in the limousine that night, D.R. kept the inside light on and looked through a stack of fan mail that a Playboy associate had given her. She read the letters of admiration, requests for autographed photos from her Playboy fans, and then she tore them up. One fan, Dorothy showed Louise, had written three different letters; she destroyed all of them. A few times she made a noise that sounded like a cross between a grunt and a laugh, but it was so cold that Louise wasn’t prompted to ask if something was funny. Her behavior frightened Louise. She had never seen Dorothy like that.
The sisters didn’t arrive at Copa de Oro until after nine. I could see that D.R. was tired, but at first I didn’t notice anything else was wrong; I was too happy to see her. Later, I perceived a slight distance from me and couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps she was annoyed because I had been short on the phone the previous night. I tried to compensate by being oversolicitous.
At one point Dorothy was starting up the staircase to her room as I was starting down to deal with the kids; I stopped halfway to tell her I had been over to Hefner’s. She slowed her steps but continued upward and passed me just as I said Hefner told me he had barred Paul from the mansion unless he was accompanied by her. Dorothy hesitated momentarily, did not change expression, and continued slowly up the stairs. I stood watching her, feeling slightly relieved that the news hadn’t appeared to upset her. Certainly no one could better gauge her husband’s reactions than Dorothy, and she appeared unconcerned as she reached the top of the tile staircase. I told her that Hefner wanted us to come over there together, but that I had put him off. Without a word, Dorothy continued on through the door into her room, so that I had to raise my voice slightly to say that I still did not want to go there—did she? D.R. called back: ‘No, I don’t.’
That night, after the three kids had been tucked in, Dorothy lay down on the bed, still fully dressed, ready to hear about the new picture I was preparing. I began to elaborate on what was actually my own way of expressing my love for her. The story of an orchestra conductor and a Dutch girl was transparently about us, but made into a farce. The marriage in the plot was another way of proposing. But as it became clearer to Dorothy where the story was heading, her expression darkened and her eyes grew sad. I was too involved to think it was anything but concentration until I got to the main point. She would play the leading woman. A tremor went through Dorothy’s body, her eyes welled with tears, and a wail escaped her lips: ‘No-o-o...’
I said her name in surprise. Why had she responded like that? Didn’t she like the story? She nodded. Didn’t she like the part? Did she think she couldn’t play it? She shook her head lightly and asked me to go on with the story, she liked it very much. But her outcry had stopped me. It had frightened me. D.R. pressed me again to go on with the story. She was smiling now and seemed interested, her hands and feet still crossed, so I continued. I didn’t tell the rest very well. As the hour struck the beginning of Wednesday, August 13, we began to kiss. Outside, there was a thin crescent moon.
After a while, D.R. asked if I minded her taking a shower. She hadn’t had a chance. Would I join her? And so, in the early hours of Dorothy’s last Wednesday, we took our first and only shower together. We kissed passionately under the hot spray and made love. I again sensed a resistance, a certain reserve, despite the open circumstances, that had not been there since we had started sleeping together five months before. Was she doing this just to please me?
At around 7:30 that morning, I awakened to find that D.R. was already up and out of bed, and my mood sank. She had said something about a lot of appointments that day, but I had hoped she would cancel a couple at the last minute and stay close to the house and me. I called out her name, and she walked back from her room into the bedroom. She was wearing a terry-cloth robe we had gotten at the Ritz. I asked if she couldn’t come back to bed for a little while, and she said it was getting late if we were going to have our morning swim. Hadn’t I been saying we should both swim every morning? She leaned down over the bed and kissed me, but it was clear that she was in no mood for romance. I got up and we went down for the swim.
Louise came out by the pool in her nightgown and called Dorothy, who stopped swimming and went over to talk to her. We continued our laps and then she got out and lay in the sun for a while. After a hurried breakfast and several phone calls, Dorothy and Louise left for the day. I tried not to think about my anxieties. She was just busy.
Before they left, Dorothy and I had another brief conversation on the staircase. She mentioned that her period was late. Her look into my eyes was penetrating. I asked how late she was. A little over two weeks, she said, and continued to look at me. I didn’t look away. That wasn’t very long, I said. She nodded and said, ‘We’ll worry about it in a couple of weeks.’ I agreed and we went our separate ways. As I turned the comer I wished I had said how much I wanted children with her, how much I loved her.
When Dorothy and Louise saw Marilyn Grabowski at the Playboy offices in the early afternoon of August 13, it had been exactly two years since the day they had met. Their second anniversary, Marilyn joked., perhaps remembering for a moment the frightened, shaking teenager who had stepped out of the limousine in an elegant jumpsuit, and had tried to act so much older than her years. Marilyn couldn’t help noticing how tanned Dorothy was, but she didn’t mention it. This was a political meeting for both of them, and they knew it. It was an anniversary for Hefner too. Wasn’t he sentimental about dates? Didn’t he keep track of them through his scrapbook? Hadn’t it been two years since he had been in the Jacuzzi with Dorothy?
Goldstein would have been happy to report Stratten’s first and second stops today: the Playboy offices, and then lunch at Le Dome with senior V.P. (and close Hefner associate) ‘Mo’ Grabowski. Marilyn had been an extremely loyal Hefner employee for years.
At one point during the lunch, Louise began to talk about the new house they were staying at, but a cold glance from D.R. stopped her. Dorothy explained about the apartment she was sharing with Linda. A short while later, Grabowski had to excuse herself to use the powder room, and Dorothy leaned over and reminded Louise of her warning not to say anything to Marilyn about Peter. Louise said she was sorry, she had forgotten. If Marilyn asked her about Paul, Dorothy said, Louise was to say only that everything was fine; Paul was fine; he and Dorothy were good friends. It was the same story Dorothy had earlier told Marilyn. Toward the end of the meal, when Dorothy went to the powder room, Marilyn brought the conversation around to Peter, but Louise only looked at her dumbly. When Marilyn asked about Paul, Louise said Paul was fine. Even though he and Dorothy weren’t living together, they were still good friends.
Paul Snider had spent an hour or so that day with his lawyer, Mike Kelly. They spoke of the legalities involved in his divorce from Dorothy Stratten, his alienation-of-affections suit against me, and his anger at Playboy for barring him from the mansion without his wife, his own discovery. And what was their next move? Would they try to deport him? Try to kill him?
Wouldn’t he have to buy a gun to protect himself? Kelly* tried to calm him down, but it would have been difficult to miss the contained frenzy in Snider’s manner, the anger under the legal talk. Kelly knew Snider wasn’t going to get much more than half of Stratten’s current worth, if that. He drew up a legal letter from Snider to Stratten, as well as a personal management agreement, which Snider was to get Dorothy to sign if he could.
Snider would have figured, accurately or not, that Kelly had easy access to Hefner, Kelly being married to a former Playmate. Maybe Kelly would mention Snider’s frame of mind to Hefner and the chief would reconsider his ban. Snider was looking for all the options. Hadn’t he always?
Before the end of the day, Hefner or one of his personal assistants might well have spoken with Kelly and Valerie Cragin, the head of Playboy’s model agency, and with Marilyn Grabowski, and would have heard from them: Monday, a fight with her husband overheard by the crew; Tuesday, her new boyfriend tells Hefner they’re on cloud nine; Wednesday, the lady herself denies anything but friendship with both men. Had there been any word of Dorothy’s going to see her husband or anything like that? Wouldn’t Kelly have repeated Snider’s bragging that Dorothy had agreed to see him when she returned from Mojave? Perhaps they all tried to figure out a way to reach Dorothy without Hefner himself having to make the call. Valerie Cragin would have been the obvious choice since the overheard argument—the only hard evidence they could discuss with Dorothy—had happened while she was under the model agency’s aegis. Calling my house would have been to betray my confidences to Hefner.
For whatever reason, on the doorstep of the apartment at Spalding that early evening of the thirteenth of August, a messenger left a note from Playboy. It asked only that Dorothy please call Valerie immediately. The word ‘Important’ had been underlined.
After the lunch with Marilyn, Dorothy took Louise to the offices of Pollock, Bloom and Dekom, where she met her new lawyer for the first time (I had recommended him for his integrity). The two sisters sat with Wayne Alexander in his office for almost an hour. Dorothy wanted a clearer idea of her financial situation: What did she have? How much would Paul receive when they divorced? Alexander asked her how long it had been since the two of them had lived together as man and wife. Since long before January, Dorothy replied, but they had been Jiving apart only since March.
Alexander said that legally she might take the position that they had actually been separated at least since January, which might make it possible for Dorothy not to be forced to split her monies from They All Laughed. No, Dorothy said, she didn’t want to cut Paul out of that. Alexander tried at length to dissuade her. Hadn’t Snider stolen from her during the summer, after the official separation letter? Dorothy maintained her position: No, she did not want to exclude him from half of They All Laughed. Alexander eventually decided to bring it up again at another time. Did she wish to go ahead now with the formal divorce proceedings? ‘Not yet,’ Dorothy said. ‘Give him a little time....’ Alexander would never see Dorothy again.
It was in the late afternoon of August 13 that Snider had his rendezvous at a construction site with the owner of the shotgun. They haggled over price and Snider paid with cash. When he requested a demonstration of how the weapon was to be loaded and fired, the owner instructed him carefully. It had cost Snider less than two hundred dollars. He was quite pleased with the purchase.
Dorothy took her sister into a drugstore to buy her a new hairbrush. Next they drove to a shoe store, where she bought Louise a pair of Capezios. Then she drove back to Copa de Oro. Did Dorothy notice a familiar car or driver in her rearview mirror?
A short while later, at 6:30 that evening, a second note from Playboy was left for Dorothy at the door of the apartment on Spalding. It too requested her to call Valerie as soon as possible. The word ‘Urgent’ was underlined.
At Copa de Oro, Linda was staying late because I had asked the whole troupe out for a Japanese dinner. D.R. and I had barely had a chance to speak since she and Louise had returned, but when I walked into the kitchen to join the others, I noticed that Dorothy seemed nervous. Her eyes looked frightened as she placed a pie on the table and told me the kids had made it.
The last thing in the world Dorothy would have wanted that night, of course, was for the whole family to go out to a restaurant. The three children and Peter would be exposed, and Linda, and the boys, and their girlfriends. Any or all of them could get hurt if Paul really meant what he had been screaming over the phone two days before. She had been nervous all afternoon with Louise, especially when they were in the car or walking the streets. But she had tried to hide her feelings so as not to upset her sister or anyone else. Paul was her problem.
We piled into three cars and the caravan drove through the gates, past U.C.L.A. to Westwood, and over to Pico Blvd. Dorothy kept to herself any thoughts about the easy target we presented. And we were so easy to follow. It was the last third of another sixteen-hour day for Mark Goldstein. He would have parked to watch us cross the boulevard and enter a large Japanese restaurant. During the meal Dorothy was extremely anxious and distracted. Several times I saw her glance nervously at the front of the restaurant, but when I followed her look, I saw nothing suspicious. Was something wrong? I asked her. No, she answered coolly.
That same evening, Paul Snider talked to his two photographer friends, Bill and Susan, about the shotgun he had purchased that afternoon. He spoke of Playmates who had died or been killed, actresses who had died before their films came out.
The ride back to Bel Air was endless to Dorothy. Paul’s vicious words echoed in her mind. Back home, she relaxed somewhat. The kids wanted to go swimming and Dorothy joined them.
Linda usually checked the Spalding apartment before going to sleep at Sean’s place (they had fallen in love on the film, but he was out of town). However, Sean’s apartment was closer and since she was tired, Linda drove straight there. The two urgent messages from Playboy remained unread that night.
As she came out of the pool, D.R. still seemed agitated. It was a warm night and there was a moon in the sky. I motioned toward it and Dorothy looked up. It was the fourth night of the ninth moon of the year—the last one Dorothy would see.
We kissed. D.R. asked if I would like to take a Jacuzzi with her tonight—just in case, she thought, things did not end happily tomorrow with Paul. She knew she would have to see him or he might kill somebody, possibly himself. She would never forgive herself for not trying to save him one last time. Paul was not much worse than a lot of men, Dorothy knew. He was simply not as good at concealing his worst characteristics.
Certainly if she didn’t go to see him, something terrible would happen, and Peter or the children might get hurt. Hefner was unlikely to be injured, with all his fortification and security. Could she jeopardize the people she loved for another day? Anything was better than the one she’d just gone through. If she went to the police, Paul would be deported immediately to Vancouver, especially if he was found with a gun. He would believe even more strongly that she had deceived him. Would he hurt her mother, or Louise when she went back, or John? Would he ever rest before exacting his vengeance?
That night in the upstairs bathroom, I ran the water into the large, almost square sunken bathtub, tiled in blue and white. It had been equipped with Jacuzzi jets, and against the back wall was a large mirror surrounded by tile. There were four or five red glasses with candles inside, which I lit. A far cry from Hefner’s artificial lake and grotto, it was big enough for two.
I gave D.R. one of my undershirts to make her feel less self-conscious. Maybe it was the glib way I offered it that prompted Dorothy to say, very lightly—with only, I thought, the slightest edge: ‘Oh, you’ve done this before, have you?’ I told her the truth, and said I thought it took away some of the romance to just get naked into a tub. But now I felt certain that Dorothy did not really want to take a Jacuzzi and was only doing it for me. We changed in different rooms and I called out to ask if she still wanted to do this; she answered, sure, and said she was already going to climb in. I joined her a few minutes later in a pair of boxer shorts. She smiled at me as I stepped in. She was sitting crosswise in the tub, next to the faucet. The water beat down beside her. She had pulled the undershirt down to her knees. I had put some bubble-bath gel in and there was a thin layer of white foam. The Jacuzzi jets couldn’t be turned on until the water level was much higher. I sat down beside Dorothy and kissed her.
I could tell that something was wrong: She was not comfortable and her eyes seemed oddly dark. I turned the water up faster and asked if she was all right. She nodded. If we turned on the Jacuzzi for more than three or four minutes, I said, it would exhaust us. D.R. said she felt tired now. She suggested we make love on the carpets beside the tub and then get back in. I agreed, and stepped out to get the bathrobes. Dorothy took off the wet undershirt and stood up into the white robe I was holding and pulled it around herself; I put on a robe. The water ran while we lay down on bathmats and carpet, our robes half-opened, and began to make love. When Dorothy looked up at me, I caught in her eyes a sad desperation that frightened me. I suggested we get up and turn off the water and go to bed; she agreed immediately.
I got into bed beside her, her warm skin next to mine. We embraced gently and began to kiss again. Even here, in the dimmest light, under the covers, she was not enjoying the lovemaking as she always had before. This was the second day in a row that things did not seem right, and tonight they seemed worse. When Dorothy’s eyes opened, she looked sad. I stopped moving, kissed her quietly for a long while, rolled slowly to the side, and lay close to her.
After a few minutes, D.R. rolled me over and moved easily on top of me. She sat up straight, eyes pressed shut. She looked so beautiful and sad, in such inner turmoil. Was she torn between her love for me and her love for Paul? I wondered. Had his words destroyed something between us? Did she now believe I was less than she had thought? Yet hadn’t she been all right after seeing him last week? What had happened in Mojave? Or was it me? Did she feel sorry for Paul and me?
Her eyes were still closed. She would have had to concentrate very hard to block out the terrible fear that we might never be able to do this again. She looked at me lying on the pillow, submitting to what I knew she liked, and she would have known that I was worried
As the clock turned toward midnight, there was a kind of desperation in Dorothy’s movement above me. She leaned over and moved her breasts from side to side on my chest, and I had to press my eyes closed for a few moments. When she bent down against me for a minute, I could feel her heart beating rapidly. I held her tightly and kissed her cheeks, her lips, her eyelids. After a few moments, she sat up straight and looked at me, her eyes soft, but unhappy. Then she continued to move and I closed my eyes.
When I looked again, Dorothy’s eyes were tightly shut and I could tell that she was about to reach a climax. She moved more and more slowly until at last, eyes still closed, a sound of both relief and woe escaped her throat. I let myself go and Dorothy fell forward, clasped me tightly, and I held her. Both our hearts were beating fast and our breathing was heavy. Neither of us moved for a long time.
She fell asleep on my chest and I rolled her over slightly and went to sleep in that position. By the time we moved again, it was two hours into Thursday morning. From the last kiss we shared that night, Dorothy had less than eleven hours to live. After we awakened the next morning, she had less than six.
When Doug Dilge, came in the kitchen door at Copa de Oro early Thursday, August 14, he was surprised to find Dorothy seated there, leaning forward over the telephone on the desk. She heard him, looked up, and signaled quickly, finger to mouth, for him to be quiet. As Doug crossed the room on tiptoe and went out the door toward the living room, he glanced once more at D.R. She nodded, smiled slightly, and again put her finger to her lips. Dilge later said he took the gesture to mean that the phone call should not be mentioned to Peter. Obviously, she wanted it private or she wouldn’t have used the kitchen. Dilge figured Dorothy had placed the call to a man—probably her husband.
My mood was good when I got up, but as soon as Dorothy reminded me that she had a couple of early appointments, it turned gloomy. There was no time to lie around in bed for even half an hour, she said, because we had planned a daily swim and she wanted to sunbathe for a while. It was like a repetition of the day before, except that when I complained, Dorothy’s response was more desperate: Hadn’t I said I wanted to swim every morning?
Yes, I said, but why didn’t she postpone the appointments so that we could have time at least to talk? One was her business manager, she said, the other was a Playboy sitting. She couldn’t really postpone either of them now. We took our last swim together, and the kids came out to watch. D.R. stretched out on a towel on the grass to sunbathe. I went to take a shower.
Louise couldn’t decide whether she wanted to go along with Dorothy to her appointments or stay with Antonia and Alexandra. Dorothy had told her sister that she was going to see her business manager, and then to see Paul, and then to a Playboy sitting, but Louise wasn’t to tell anyone about the meeting with Paul—especially not Peter, she emphasized, and Louise nodded.
Dorothy knew Louise had been bored at yesterday’s meetings, so the business manager wouldn’t sound very interesting, nor would the Playboy visit. And since Louise had never liked Paul, a rendezvous with him would hold little hope of fun. D.R. knew her sister too well to forbid her to go to Paul’s— Louise was bound to be worried or suspicious: Why shouldn’t she go? Better simply to paint a bleak and boring picture of the prospects of accompanying Dorothy, and highlight some of the virtues of staying here. Dorothy said she would be back before 2:30; Louise asked her to promise to return by then, and Dorothy promised. Louise said she would stay home.
In Vancouver that morning, Nelly awakened with a premonition about Dorothy. She felt more than a little frustrated at her inability to reach either of her daughters in Los Angeles. Her new husband didn’t seem very interested in her worries. When the phone rang and it was Louise, Nelly was relieved. Where was Dorothy? She was out swimming, Louise said. Her mother asked for the number. Louise lied and said it wasn’t written on the phone, and when her mother pressed her to find someone who knew it, Louise said there was no one else around. Dorothy had instructed her not to give out the number, or to mention Peter. They were staying at a friend’s until Dorothy’s new apartment was ready. Nelly told Louise to ask Dorothy please to call her back as soon as she could, and Louise said she would. When she hung up, Nelly felt anxious again. She stayed home a good part of the day waiting for Dorothy’s call. Louise reported the conversation to Dorothy, who said she would call back that afternoon, as soon as she returned.
Dorothy hoped that by the time she got back, her mind and heart would be a good deal lighter because she would have finished dealing with Paul. Or she would not come back. That thought echoed in her mind every so often, and she felt her knees weaken and her heart tighten. She would talk to herself then, to get back her courage, tell herself to be brave and remember the hardships and troubles with men that her mother had survived, and that her maternal grandmother had survived. She would make it too. Yet, as she looked at the children and Peter, she realized she might never see any of them again. She had to fight back the tears, fight back even the thought of tears—because if she cried to Peter now, he could make her reveal everything. By the time she said good-bye to him in the kitchen, she had steeled herself against her worst fears. She would simply close off her eyes and mask her feelings. Wasn’t that a practice at which she had come to excel?
When Dorothy came in to say good-bye that morning, I had just fixed myself cottage cheese with yogurt. We spoke for a moment or two, and D.R. told me quite coolly not to talk with my mouth full; it wasn’t very attractive. She was right, of course, but the force with which she spoke and the darkness in her eyes shocked me. She was sitting on the high stool where seven months earlier I had first kissed her. I reacted as though she had slapped my face: ‘OK,’ I said and turned away to get a napkin. I had been planning things to do with the kids when she came back in the afternoon, and walked over to her as she stood to go, held her arms, and said everything would be all right. I was sorry to have been grumpy. I understood it was difficult for both of us, but when she returned in the afternoon, we could sit down and talk out the problem, anything that was bothering her. I loved her, I said. Everything really would be all right.
The expression on Dorothy’s face didn’t change, however, nor did her eyes brighten even slightly. Her teeth seemed to be clenched. This was so uncharacteristic of her that it baffled and frightened me.
I moved closer, still holding her arms, and tried to look deeply into her eyes. ‘Baby,’ I said, ‘what’s the matter?’ Dorothy just shook her head and said nothing was the matter, she would talk to me later. The severity of her manner, together with the deep tan she had acquired, made her look much older than her twenty-and-a-half years. There was a strain in her face. I shrugged slightly and said OK, and then for a third time I said that everything would be all right—I emphasized each word and Dorothy nodded again. We kissed one more time briefly, and she turned and walked quickly out of the kitchen toward the front door. I never again saw Dorothy alive.
She left the kitchen fighting not to show emotion and knew she still had to say good-bye to the kids. They were playing by the fountain with Blaine and his girlfriend, and Dorothy threw a quick kiss and said she would see everybody soon. Louise, however, followed her to the door and asked again what time she would be back, and made Dorothy promise once more that she would not be home later than 2:30. They hugged each other tightly Louise wondered why Dorothy had almost pushed her from their embrace. As D.R. stopped her Cougar by the gate to check traffic before turning left toward Sunset, Louise noticed that her sister was crying. It was the last view Louise had of Dorothy alive.
Linda was late for work that morning. She had stopped by at Spalding first and picked up the two urgent messages for Dorothy from Playboy. By the time she arrived at my house, Dorothy had been gone less than fifteen minutes. Linda was told that D.R. had several appointments and was expected back around 2:30. Linda put the two notes on her desk along with a couple of other things for Dorothy.
In business manager Bob Houston’s office, the phone rang while Dorothy was there: It was Snider. Houston took the call in the next room. Yes, Dorothy was there with him now. Snider asked if she had told Houston about the house yet. What house? Houston asked, and would remember thinking how especially cheerful Snider sounded. It smelled phony to Houston. Eventually Snider asked to speak to Dorothy. Houston brought her to the phone and went back to his office. The call lasted barely three minutes, and when she returned, Houston told her that she didn’t have to put up with those calls and that she most certainly didn’t need to go down and see him. No, it was all right, Dorothy said, they had an understanding now. He had been upset. Houston shook his head. All Snider wanted was money and the green work card, Bob said. Dorothy nodded. Houston asked if there was something about a new house, and D.R. said she didn’t know of one.
Houston told her again that he really didn’t think she had to see Paul. Bob Houston believed that Dorothy owed Snider exactly zero, since every idea he had ever heard Snider express had been terrible. When he first met both of them nine months ago, Houston had known the marriage was crumbling. Everybody did—including Paul. Houston also knew Dorothy was going with Bogdanovich, though she never mentioned it. He and the rest of the firm had known since late spring. All the more reason why, Bob felt, Dorothy’s husband was now solely a business and legal problem, and certainly should not concern her emotionally. It was costing her enough financially. Smiling sadly, Dorothy kissed Bob on the cheek when she left.
All day, whenever he thought of Dorothy, Houston felt strange. He did not realize he would be the last friend to warn her about Paul Snider. When she left Houston’s office that morning, Dorothy had less than ninety minutes to live, less time than the length of an average movie.
At nearly the same moment, Playboy put out another urgent call for Dorothy Stratten. The two messages at Spalding had been picked up, but Dorothy still had not returned the call to the head of Playboy’s model agency. Linda was out of the office when Playboy phoned, and our new accountant, who knew nothing of the politics involved, answered the phone. When the Playboy secretary asked for Dorothy Stratten, the young accountant told the truth: Dorothy had gone out about an hour and a half ago and wasn’t expected back until midafternoon. Did anyone know where Dorothy was at the moment? No. Did Playboy care to leave a specific message? Yes. Please ask Dorothy to call Valerie Cragin at Playboy Models as soon as possible—it was extremely important— mark it urgent. When Linda was told of the call, she became uneasy: Playboy calling here for Dorothy? She knew that both D.R. and I were officially denying our relationship, as well as Dorothy’s living at my house. What could be so important that it would make Playboy obviously blow our cover? Late that afternoon, on the call sheet Linda left for D.R., she made special note of the Playboy messages and the call. She put quote marks around the word: ‘Urgent.’
By the time Playboy had finally phoned Copa de Oro, Dorothy was already on her way to Clarkson.
She stopped at her bank on the way and cashed a check for one thousand dollars. Maybe Paul would be happy with not only the gesture but the cash, since he was usually broke.
At Clarkson, Snider was waiting impatiently for Dorothy’s arrival. She had said 11:30 but by 11:45 she still wasn’t there. Patti and Snider’s main girlfriend, Lynn, had cleaned up the place in the morning, vacuumed and tidied up in readiness for the grand confrontation Snider had been planning. Dr. Cushner had gone to his office at the usual time, leaving his dog penned in the back. At around 11:00, Patti and Lynn had gone out shopping. Snider said that if he didn’t meet them downtown by 2:30, they should call—he would certainly be finished by then.
Goldstein might have been following Dorothy since she had left Copa de Oro, but he would later admit only to having seen her park her car and walk into the house. She wore slacks and shirt and flats and carried a large zippered purse. Once she was inside, Goldstein claimed to have driven off and called the house at 12:30, at which time Snider told him breathlessly that everything was going well. Goldstein then drove by at 2:00 and, seeing the cars still there, drove off again and didn’t return until much later.
At the Playboy studio, Mario Casilli and the staff were waiting impatiently for Dorothy’s arrival. She was already a half hour overdue and had never been late for a session before. Well, Mario said, maybe Dorothy had finally gone Hollywood.
Dorothy would certainly have been frightened walking up to the house on Clarkson, the last place in the world she could have wanted to be. But there was nothing to be done now. Though her heart would have been beating hard, she would have taken a deep breath, and gone up to the bell and rung it. Whatever would happen, she could handle it—but she wasn’t going to give in to his bullying and his tantrums. She had a right to her own life. They could be friends, and he could have half her money, and she would help get him a green card, and do whatever she could about Playboy. But she wasn’t about to ask Hefner for a favor, and Paul knew why only too well. Didn’t her presence, after all his threats, show him how much she cared for him? Why couldn’t he trust her? They didn’t have to sleep with each other to be friends.
What exactly happened between the time Dorothy Stratten entered the house at noon on August 14 and the time, hours later, when she and Paul Snider were found, both naked, both of their faces blasted by a shotgun? The cause and times of their deaths would turn out to be among the few facts that could be definitely established: Dorothy was dead by 1:00 p.m., and her killer was dead by 2:00.
What occurred in that last hour of Dorothy’s life— and the last two hours of Snider’s? There was enough evidence to prove without doubt that Snider used the bondage machine to strap down his estranged wife and rape her, and that he also sodomized her so forcibly and with such brutality that it literally tore her body apart. The pain that the sodomy caused her would have been the most excruciating torture. After shooting away the left side of her face, Snider apparently moved the body a number of times, holding her head up by the hair. He had rear-entry intercourse to orgasm with the corpse before scrawling a terse note that blamed Mike Kelly and Lynn for not keeping a better eye on him. Then he turned the shotgun on himself and blew his face away.
Outside, the only sound the neighbors recalled was the doctor’s German shepherd. He barked and howled and whined throughout the afternoon.
VI - Tower Struck by Lightning
Louise was the first to tell us Dorothy had gone over to see Paul that morning. She let it slip around six in the evening. We were sitting in the kitchen and she must have read the worry in my eyes. She could not hold it back any longer. I was trying to be casual, but when I heard the words, an icy chill went through me.
‘She said she was going over to Paul’s, but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.’ And then Louise was afraid her sister would be angry with her, she said, for telling. She had been especially insistent that Louise not say anything to me.
The first thing I thought was that I had lost her to Paul. The second thought was that the first thought was ridiculous. Dorothy may have been irritated with me this morning, but there was too much between us for her to believe I had changed my mind. I had once or twice been slightly apprehensive that she might go to Snider out of compassion. She had a self-sacrificing nature. But in recent months she had certainly seen what kind of man he was.
I didn’t want Louise to worry. Dorothy hadn’t told her yet that she and I were lovers. I asked Louise to tell me what D.R. had said exactly, and she repeated go over and see Paul for a while,’ but would return by 2:00 in the afternoon, 2:30 at the latest. ‘Don’t say anything about the meeting with Paul,’ especially, she said it a couple of times, to Peter.
That whole day I had a nagging, sickly feeling. The hours inched past, one second at a time, no call, no call, no call. Every minute the thought was there: Where was Dorothy? Was she all right? Was she unhappy? Why didn’t she call? There were phones everywhere—it wasn’t like D.R. not to call. Every minute the only thing I wanted in the world was for the phone to ring and to hear Dorothy’s voice. I heard it several times, in the back of my head: She was sorry, she had got stuck and couldn’t call—she’d be right home.
At the pool table I worried out loud. Blaine Novak was playing a round of eight ball with the girls. Our friendship had cooled since I had met Dorothy, but both of us were on our best behavior, hoping to have a pleasant summer. Novak was staying at the house with his new girlfriend, and his buddy Doug Dilge had moved to Los Angeles with his wife and child. He was usually at Copa de Oro too. It was before Louise had let her secret out that Blaine looked up from a pool shot, grinning: ‘What’s the matter,’ he said, ‘you worried you’re never gonna see her again?’
Antonia picked up quickly on his note, ‘Yeah, Dad—she’s not dead. I nodded quickly. I didn’t like her saying that, though I behaved as casually as I could. By then, Dorothy had been dead for more than four hours.
Later, at the kitchen sink, I asked Dilge if he had any idea where Dorothy might be. Doug had worked on the movie too, and although that morning he had surprised Dorothy on the kitchen phone, he would not tell me about it for another couple of hours. He figured she was talking to Snider. But, at the sink, he leaned over and the only thing he said was: ‘Any girl I ever knew that didn’t show up when she said she would was out getting laid.’
I nodded vaguely and moved away. I had begun to think Dorothy had been so upset by our minor argument in the morning that perhaps she had had an accident in her car, or maybe she was driving around reconsidering her decision to live with me.
When Louise first told me about Dorothy’s secret appointment, I asked Linda to call Paul’s house, and if he answered, just politely give her name and say she was looking for Dorothy.
There was no answer at Snider’s. I thought at first they were out driving around, talking late at a restaurant—I had been through enough emotional scenes to know they were sometimes difficult to cut short. But then Dorothy had been to see him less than a week earlier—and she had told me about that appointment long before she went. She had felt sorry for him. Maybe that was it—she felt sorrier for him now. Was she leaving me? The question was in Novak’s eye, and Dilge’s. Had she gone back? It didn’t make sense.
At around 7:00 in the evening, Novak offered to drive over to Snider’s house with Dilge to check out the situation. No, I said, that might make it more difficult for her at the moment. I saw the three girls to bed around 9:30. For the first time, my kids asked Louise to sleep with them in their room, and Toni even volunteered to take the floor. Perhaps everyone thought that if they behaved properly, Dorothy would be back by the time they woke up. Louise said she was really angry at Dorothy. She had promised to be home by 2:30 and she didn’t break her promises. She should have called. I kissed each of them several times—it was a nightly ritual—but I held on a little longer tonight.
Novak, Dilge, and I went to the other side of the house and watched television, trying to pretend nothing was wrong. I kept telling myself we would hear from her any minute, but the phone didn’t ring. Sometime after 11:30, it finally did. My heart jumped and I smirked, reaching for the receiver. Novak nodded smugly, while Duge grinned and turned the TV down. But it was a man’s voice on the phone— Hefner’s. I recognized it immediately. When they heard he was calling, Novak and Dilge looked at each other.
I was still grinning. My tone was light when I asked how he was. His voice stayed quiet: ‘Haven’t you heard?’
Hefner said: ‘Oh, God...’I asked, still casual, what was the matter. There was a short pause, and then I heard Hefner say: ‘Dorothy’s dead.’
The phone receiver slipped out of my hand and clattered to the floor. Novak asked what had happened and Dilge stood up. I rose, but couldn’t make more than two or three steps before I fell on my knees near the closet. I cried out loudly. Dilge asked what it was. I mumbled: ‘She’s dead.’ Novak said: ‘What?’ And I screamed it: ‘She’s dead!’ On the floor I curled into a ball and clawed at the door of the closet.
That night, in Vancouver, when Nelly went to bed, still worried because she hadn’t heard from Dorothy, she noticed something that later would haunt her: Dorothy’s pugnacious little dog, whom she called Bebe, missed her so much that he always slept at the foot of the bed in Dorothy’s old room, whether Dorothy was there or not. He never spent the night anywhere else. And yet, that Thursday night, he had come into Nelly’s room and curled up on her bed instead, whining sadly. Nelly couldn’t understand what was the matter with him. He whined again as though he were sick. She wondered if Dorothy had received her last letter yet, the one she had sent to New York on July 10. No doubt Dorothy would call tomorrow and Nellv could ask.
But her daughter never received the letter. It was forwarded by the hotel to Bob Houston, and by the time he received it, Dorothy was dead and he didn’t know what to do with it. Nelly had written in ink on two sides of a piece of white paper, and even along the margins. The salutation was in Dutch; it meant Dearest Sweetheart.
Thank you for your nice letter, Dorothy. I love you. I hope Paul leaves you with some money. Please Dorothy, if you are broke, I send you money. We will always be here to help you. You know, don’t you?
Listen good to your lawyer. Ask him questions. Because Paul has nothing to lose anymore. I know you are getting a lot more surprises, darling, and hurt feelings. He is going to ask you to support him yet. Ask your lawyer your rights, OK?
And also ask the lawyer what to expect from Paul, and how to stop him from draining you completely. Be strong darling, and I know you will come through with flying colours.
I told Louise that she could, come around the 10th of August. She is happy. I wished, darling, I could have stopped you from all that hurt. But I could not. God knows why. All I know is we all love you, and be here to help.
The following morning at 9:00, Nelly was in the kitchen when the Canadian Mountie came to her door. The murder had been reported in the early hours, but the Mounties had decided to wait until after breakfast to tell the mother. She was at the sink and saw the young man step out of his car and walk toward the house. She wondered if maybe Johnny had been up to something again. When she opened the door, the Mountie told her there had been an accident. To her son? Nelly asked. No, the Mountie said, to her daughter. Nelly wanted to eliminate the worst possibility, and asked in disbelief: Is she dead? The man nodded and said: Yes, her husband killed her yesterday afternoon. Dazed, Nelly asked the young man to come in. The Mountie entered and helped her dry the dishes. He told her in more detail what had happened. Nelly heard the words, but didn’t really believe any of it.
That same morning, my friends and the Playboy staff arranged to fly Louise back to Vancouver. Goldstein had called Polly in the middle of the night and told her what had happened. She called Antonia. I was upstairs under sedation. Nelly’s new husband took command and said that Louise must be with her own family when she heard the news. It was decided to tell her that Dorothy had had to go to New York, and that Louise would have to fly back to Vancouver, accompanied by a lady from Playboy. Linda spotted the story on the front page of the morning newspaper that was lying in the limousine, and asked the driver to hide it. The Playboy woman took the same precaution on the plane. Louise kept asking about Dorothy, and said she was very angry at her for not calling. After Louise had gone, Sashy was told the truth. She made no sound, but tears began to run from her eyes.
At the Vancouver airport, Nelly and the new husband met Louise, who chattered on about Dorothy and the unexpected trip to New York. Back at their house, when John came in and found several friends there, he was told about Dorothy and began to cry. When Louise arrived and handed him a couple of greeting cards he had asked Dorothy to buy for him, John threw them savagely into the fire. Louise was shocked. Nelly told her then, but Louise laughed and refused to believe it. She knew that Dorothy was in New York! Nelly pointed upward and said Dorothy’s New York was now in heaven. Louise shook her head: ‘Oh, no, Mummy...’
On that terrible night we learned of her death, Sean Ferrer drove through the darkness to L.A. in the Lincoln convertible that Dorothy had ridden in on the day of its purchase in New York, and—though the doors were secure and the wiring intact—the inside light kept going on and off. It never did that again.
A couple of days later, the three lights in my office blinked on and off twice while I was reading to John Ritter from Private Lives. The first time followed the line: ‘Death’s very laughable, such a cunning little mystery. All done with mirrors.’ Just as I closed the book it happened again. Five minutes later, after I made a remark to the effect that women are essentially superior to men, the lights went off and on a third time. They never did that again.
I made several trips to New York and to London, to return to places where Dorothy and I had been. I flew to Vancouver, and to Amsterdam to meet her maternal grandmother. I came to understand that a major part of me had died—that the only hope for survival was through knowledge. Perhaps there had once been a time when the good did not die young.
At the London Ritz, in the same suite D.R. and I had shared, the middle-aged chambermaid remembered me and asked happily: ‘The lady come with you?’ Not this time, I said. On the table was a new hotel ashtray—with a drawing of a unicorn and a lion.
Recalling D.R.’s last reference in London to Our Town, I bought a paperback copy and read again of eighteen-year-old Emily, who dies in childbirth, but whose spirit attends her own funeral—where she watches her weeping parents and the young husband who falls sobbing at the foot of her grave. Helpless, Emily begs to return—just for a single day! She is warned not to try: Knowing the future as she lives the past is too painful. But Emily pleads for just one unimportant day—her twelfth birthday. The magic of the theater takes her back, but not for long. It is agonizing: Even the smallest detail breaks her heart, for in that day as they had all lived it, none of them had realized how truly precious the time was: ‘I can’t,’ Emily cries, ‘I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.’ She sobs, knowing she can never return again. ‘Good-bye. Good-bye, world,’ she says, and asks the Stage Manager: ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?’ ‘No,’ he answers: ‘The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.’
Sean accompanied me, and Audrey met us in London, to record some replacement lines of dialogue for the movie. She asked if I didn’t find it distressing to stay in the same rooms I had shared with Dorothy. No, it brought her presence closer, I said, and the memories were all happy. There were tears in Audrey’s eyes as she looked at me and said: ‘It’s strange, I never really knew Dorothy, but it’s as though she just came down long enough to make this picture, and then she was gone.’
On the morning of my last day in the hotel, the wind blew the pages of a book of Coward’s plays past my mark, and I noticed that the two pages at which it had stopped contained references to the Serpentine. I went back to the river. There were very few people now, the weather cloudy and cold. The band was gone and there were no rowboats. I lay down in the same place near the old tree where we had laughed so deliriously. Could it have been only six weeks ago? Forty-two days? The sun broke through the clouds for the first time, and the sudden warmth brought Dorothy back.
At Heathrow, the airline’s computer screen malfunctioned. Although I had an aisle seat, on their TV diagram a light appeared indicating someone seated to my right. Yet the plane had no seat there. The attendant was puzzled and asked his supervisor to take a look. They agreed that nothing like this had ever happened before. Both scrutinized the tiny light, then punched several buttons, reprogrammed the computer, tried again, and found the light still there. Eventually I was told there was nothing to worry about. My seat was on the aisle and, no matter what the screen said, nobody could be seated in the aisle. It was comforting to know that the little dot of light stayed on throughout my trip home.
I remembered the book of cards D.R. and I had read together, and how Dorothy’s card, which was next to mine for 1980, had suddenly vanished from the row. Had it truly been ‘in the cards’? When I returned to the book, however, and studied its formulas more carefully, I found that I had been mistaken. Our cards were closely aligned, one way or another, for the rest of my life.
More than a year after Dorothy’s death, my sister Anna finally explained to me the reason for her bizarre present of a bow and arrow on my forty-first birthday. It had been inspired by a strangely frightening experience Anna had had in late July, a little more than two weeks before the killing. A friend of hers had done a tarot-card reading on Anna and on me, and the key card that turned up for me had scared them both: The Tower Struck by Lightning. The card meant that something was going to happen to her brother, Anna’s friend told her, that would shake him to his roots, rock his foundation. He would survive, the woman said, and perhaps be stronger as a result, but the event would leave him profoundly changed. And so, fearing some unknown violence, Anna had unconsciously bought for me the only weapon she could afford or tolerate: a bow and arrow.
Wherever I went, memories of Dorothy flashed through my mind: the way she looked in the early morning light, after we had finished a long night of shooting and she had taken a short nap. I remembered her coming out of the brownstone on Tenth Street, wearing a white cotton shirt, blue jeans, and no makeup, her hair down. She was most beautiful then, at her most natural. Even with drowsiness in her eyes, she had the freshness of summer flowers and seemed to meld with the wind as she walked. We would grin foolishly at each other and climb into the station wagon for the ride back to the hotel, the sun appearing over the horizon before us. Or the time we sat on the bench by an old baseball diamond in Central Park and watched a woman trying to get her dog to return to her; the dog was off with a female in heat. D.R. smiled, sympathetic to both the woman and the dog, each of them equally desperate. My arm was around Dorothy, holding her shoulder tightly. We smiled at each other when the woman and her dog were finally reunited. How unbelievably peaceful and lovely the world had seemed.
I listened repeatedly to the tape of a Mozart clarinet concerto that Dorothy and I had bought in London. The key refrain suggested to me a profound yearning for the kind of transcendent romantic passion we had experienced together. It moved me to tears long before I discovered that the concerto was one of the last works Mozart completed before his death at the age of thirty-five, the death over which D.R. and I had cried in London.
I often recalled the moment Dorothy had noticed a framed French cartoon hanging near our bedroom at the house. It was a nineteenth-century drawing by Daumier of the Hapsburgs, the then-current Austrian royal family: King, Queen, Princess, and Crown Prince—-all four sketched as overgrown, retarded children playing house and war. Most people had appreciated the cartoon’s icy satiric brilliance and its artistic genius, but nobody I knew had reacted as Daumier would have wished—no one had ever laughed out loud, as Dorothy did. How much experience she had had with immature, adolescent behavior to have recognized the caricature so swiftly. Most of the men she had met had never left their teens emotionally.
On a visit to Nicola’s I went to the men’s room, the walls of which featured color photos of naked women. Glancing down to my left, I noticed a color picture of Dorothy: naked, half-reclining, her eyes sad beyond words. I looked deeply into them and saw how she had felt at that moment. I glanced up. Above the urinals were other naked pictures of Dorothy; I had never noticed them, but now I saw four. In each, she looks trapped, forlorn. The door opened, and Nicola walked in. When I told him he ought to take down all the pictures, his tone was apologetic. Yes, he knew. I remembered the photo in one of Dorothy’s layouts— she stood naked in the sun, a horse behind her, hands straight down by her side: There! the look had said, she was naked, but she could stand it—this would soon be over.
Had Dorothy been pregnant with our child when she was killed? A discarded sanitary napkin had been found on the floor of the murder room, but indications were that it contained no menstrual blood. Had D.R. put it on the morning of August 14, fearing that Snider might try something and hoping to use her period as an excuse? She said nothing to me of its having arrived. The coroner’s autopsy gave no indication of menstruation or pregnancy. There was no way to be certain then, one way or the other, and I feel confident Dorothy herself didn’t know when Snider murdered her.
Nine months after the killing, Earl Ball was up visiting from Nashville. At the piano one afternoon, we composed the music for a song called ‘Unicom,’ in which, though all the unicorns are killed (‘The prettier the prize, the shorter is its life’), their spirits live on for those whose dreams are pure, and ‘love their only care.’ While we were working on the tune, a calico cat came in off the street. She was spotted white, reddish, and black, and she lounged around listening to the music. There was an odd-shaped marking by the right side of her nose, and I kept thinking she looked familiar. Then I realized why: For Easter 1980, Dorothy had given me a greeting card with a photo of a calico kitten. I looked at it more closely and saw that it was spotted white, reddish, and black, with an identical marking by the right side of its nose. Our visitor never left.
If Dorothy’s life had ended, the exploitation of her had not. Her fame and notoriety had just begun. The law allows ‘public figures’ to be portrayed in any medium. Dead public figures, unless they have made legal arrangements about their ‘right of publicity,’ have no rights whatsoever, nor do their heirs have much recourse to fight the exploitation. After the murder, private detective Mark L. Goldstein would try to peddle what he knew or had access to. Goldstein possessed personal letters, the aborted memoir, and Dorothy’s poems and letters. The police, Playboy, and New West (now California) magazines would have copies of this material several weeks before the Stratten Estate or her family were even informed of its existence.
Two months after the murder, Teresa Carpenter of the Village Voice, the first journalist to write a major news article on the tragedy, sent me a short list of questions, which I ignored. Being in no shape to conduct a personal inquiry at the time, I hired a former F.B.L-man-turned-private-detective, H. Frank Angell, to investigate Dorothy’s death for me. New West assigned a major article on the story to be written by John Riley and Laura Bernstein. Playboy made plans to publish a mammoth Stratten Memorial Tribute.
Elizabeth Norris, from Playboy, called Nelly in Canada and told her a journalist named Richard Rhodes who, she said, wrote for Quest magazine, had requested an interview. She asked if Nelly would, as a favor to Elizabeth, break her silence and see Rhodes. Remembering Norris only as a friend of Dorothy’s, Nelly agreed. Rhodes arrived, had several long sessions, and eventually told Nelly that his article would be appearing not in Quest magazine, but in Playboy. Mr. Hefner himself was supervising, and only ‘nice’ photographs would be used. There would be a single rose across the first page. Playboy, through personal calls from Hefner and several of his staff, was also able to solicit family photos before Nelly realized that by cooperating with the Playboy article, she appeared to endorse and support Hefner’s magazine and life-style, though in fact this was not true: Nelly had never set eyes on a single page of Playboy.
Richard Rhodes called me to request an interview. I asked if it was true that the Playboy article would carry no naked pictures of Dorothy. Rhodes said this was not his department, but understood that only ‘tasteful shots’ were being used, probably just ‘breasts shots.’ I refused the interview.
Hefner called me; it was the first time we had spoken since the funeral. He overrode my objections to the naked pictures of Dorothy: ‘After all, Peter, she was Playmate of the Year.’
Dorothy’s lawyer, Wayne Alexander, informed Playboy by letter that they were not to use any of Dorothy’s writings, all of which had been copyrighted by the Estate of Dorothy Stratten and were now legally controlled and owned by her mother. I eventually acquired the rights to this material. We made arrangements with Dorothy’s first boyfriend and several members of the Snider family. Nelly was given a weekly stipend as consultant for the book. After expenses, the bulk of the royalties would go to the Stratten Estate.
Goldstein was paid a substantial sum for the TV-movie rights to The Life of Dorothy Stratten. Playboy objected to the TV movie at first but, when the magazine and Hefner were treated sympathetically in the script, he gave his approval and support to the production.
A popular Canadian singing group named Prism, whose five members had met Dorothy only once, recorded an emotional rock song about her:
In November, Galaxina opened on the West Coast of the United States and Canada with two large plugs for Playboy in all ads. There was a flurry of letters to editors protesting the exploitation of Stratten’s body in the ads. Except for unanimously glowing comments on Dorothy’s presence and performance, the reviews were resoundingly poor. The film did not reach the East Coast until March, 1981, where it elicited a similar reaction. Business was tepid. In her Village Voice review, Carrie Rickey wrote:
Stratten... radiates an other-worldly presence that makes everything else...look like negative space.... Her radiant remoteness serves as armor against the leering desires of her co-stars. The Stratten aura is generally called star quality.... Dietrich had it, so did Marilyn Monroe.... Part of the quality lies in... the projection of two contradictory effects: invincibility and fragility.
The Village Voice piece by Teresa Carpenter, ‘Death of a Playmate,’ was published in November 1980. It was later syndicated to newspapers all over the world, and helped her win the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. Although Carpenter had to admit grudgingly that Hefner seemed, from her evidence, to have behaved well personally toward Stratten, she concluded nevertheless that his policies and philosophy had been directly responsible for her torture and murder. At the close of the article, Carpenter printed the press statement I had written, which Playboy would also feature toward the end of its piece:
The Voice article terrified Hefner. He phoned to ask if I had read it. I told him I hadn’t. The story’s main point, he reported, was that I had been ‘in too much of a hurry,’ a summation effectively calculated to sting me with his own guilts. He asked for my cooperation on Playboy’s article once more. I refused and we never spoke again.
In December, director Bob Fosse bought the movie rights to the Voice article for $130,000, and wrote his own script. The Ladd Company would produce for distribution by Warner Brothers. Fosse titled the picture after the license plates Snider had specially ordered for the Mercedes that Stratten bought for him: Star 80.
When told by New West reporter John
Riley of the director’s plans, Hefner grinned and, alluding to Fosse’s
reputation as a director of musicals, said: ‘Does that mean I get to dance?’
Riley and Bernstein’s article for New West, called ‘The Girl Next Door Is Dead,’ was paid for, but never published. The authors were told that the Voice had scooped them, even though their piece was more thorough and more detailed, with far more damning documentation on Snider, and the other principals in the drama. After the article was cancelled, negotiations were concluded for Riley’s and Bernstein’s research to be sold to Playboy. The promise of subcredit with Rhodes failed to materialize, and much of their reporting was cut out. Many of the questions they brought up remain unresolved.
The first Playboy article appeared in May 1981, printing without permission several lengthy, if carefully edited, quotes from Stratten’s aborted memoir. In its acknowledgments, the magazine incorrectly listed both the name and date of the copyright. When the Stratten Estate threatened to sue for copyright infringement, Playboy offered $15,000 for retroactive one-time-only rights. Nelly agreed to the settlement. ‘They killed my daughter,’ she said, ‘what more can they do?’
The Playboy article carried family pictures, an in-depth interview with the mother, and excerpts from Dorothy’s seemingly glowing memoir about the Playboy way of life. Hefner, who was known to have personally supervised, edited, and largely written the piece himself, was painted as a concerned father figure, and the barring of Snider from the mansion was stated as occurring months, not days, before the murder. Hefner made a point of prominently quoting a New York gossip columnist’s remark about me, to the effect that Snider had ‘shot the wrong person.’
In November 1981, MGM-TV’s Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story aired over the NBC network with Jamie Lee Curtis as Dorothy. At the family’s insistence, the names and relationships of her mother and sister were altered. My name was also changed. The reviews were negative, the ratings unremarkable—it finished twenty-seventh for the week—but several million people were led to believe that what they were seeing was the true story. The film would be rerun in the summer of 1983 and finish fourth for the week. A credit at the end of the show read: ‘Technical Advisor: Marc Goldstein.’
Toward the end of 1981 and the beginning of 1982, They All Laughed opened to mixed notices in the United States and Europe. I paid $2.8 million to buy back the picture from Time-Life and 20th Century-Fox and to distribute it through my own company. John Ritter had suggested that we dedicate the picture to Dorothy, and a simple card was inserted in each print. If the comedy for us was no longer funny, at least this movie gave people an opportunity to see how Dorothy looked and behaved, how she had dressed and moved and spoken. Despite three top-billed stars—Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, and John Ritter—most newspapers and magazines around the world ran photos of Dorothy to illustrate their articles. In Newsweek, Jack Kroll concluded his review:
... It’s heartbreaking to see the promise of Stratten... whose stunning face ironically evokes Stendhal’s line: ‘Beauty is... a promise of happiness’
In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote:
... Stratten was indeed something special—a funny, irresistible lady who could convince us she hadn’t the slightest idea of how beautiful she really was.
Stephen Schaefer, in Us magazine, seemed to sum up best most audiences’ reactions to Dorothy:
... Stratten’s tragic history makes her every line and appearance an emotionally mixed occasion of helpless joy and sadness....
Although the first Playboy Memorial Tribute ran no naked pictures of Dorothy, subsequent coverage in other issues did. Playboy also sold picture postcards of her naked. They prepared a video-cassette and cable-TV tribute featuring never-before-seen naked footage.
By the spring of 1984, the financial matters of the Stratten Estate were still not settled. Snider’s father, through Snider’s lawyer, Michael Kelly, insisted on a fifty/fifty split, but settled for five thousand dollars and the ‘Star 80’ Mercedes. Nelly asked for a stipulation that the former Mrs. Snider, Paul’s mother, receive half: Nelly said she was the only member of the Snider family who deserved anything. Almost four years after the murder, the killer’s family had received the value of twenty thousand dollars, while the victim’s family would likely receive, at most, five thousand.
In 1982, Novak and Dilge were associated, respectively, as writer-actor and producer with an independently made little picture they told the press was based on observations made during the Stratten-Bogdanovich affair. Though the film actually had nothing at all to do with either of us, the initial publicity helped the production to obtain distribution. A threatened lawsuit from the Stratten Estate and me dissuaded them from further use of such publicity.
To gain the support of Stratten’s family, in February 1982, Bob Fosse wrote her mother a personal letter offering $25,000 of his own money to prove his good intentions. Nelly asked her lawyers to decline and requested that her name and relationship to Dorothy, and the names and relationships of her two surviving children, be altered for the movie, as they had been for the TV film. The names have been changed (though virtually unmentioned), but the familial relationships remain the same. Eventually a financial settlement was made. Although it credits Carpenter’s Voice article, the Fosse script in no way expounds the same message, and therefore the Playboy organization lent its full cooperation.
Mariel Hemingway plays Dorothy in the Fosse picture, despite the fact that her young boy’s body is the opposite of Stratten’s lean voluptuousness. Her face bears little resemblance either, but she is the correct age. Hemingway had her underdeveloped breasts surgically augmented for the picture, though this does not make her body look any more like Dorothy’s. Jamie Lee Curtis’s TV-Stratten, though in no way resembling Dorothy, occasionally comes near to capturing some of her strength and wit. She is also allowed to yell at Snider and fight with him, while Hemingway’s Dorothy simply goes along, cow-like and dim, manipulated first by Snider, then by my surrogate—the quintessential dumb, even listless, blonde.
Choosing to tell his story from Snider’s point of view, Fosse cast a charming, good-looking actor, Eric Roberts, in the role. (The TV film presents him as a cold and unmitigated scoundrel.) Hugh Hefner is played by Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson, well known as a loyal husband and man of integrity. In 1977 Robertson had blown the whistle on the Hollywood/Wall Street scandals involving embezzlements and forgeries at Columbia Pictures. As a result of his honesty, movie politics being what they are, he was blacklisted by producers, and Fosse’s casting gained respect by breaking the blacklist. Robertson had previously played another living figure, John F. Kennedy.
Conversely, the character of ‘Dorothy’s Mother’ is played by Carroll Baker, an actress whose initial screen persona as a sexpot, in Baby Doll, was further emphasized by the title of her autobiography, also Baby Doll, which was published simultaneously with the release of Star 80. Mario Casilli, no longer in the girly-mag business, offered ‘in Dorothy’s memory’ to assist in getting the nude layouts to look right, and was shocked to find Fosse insisting on the sort of poses to which Dorothy had objected so bitterly. Casilli told Fosse that ‘Dorothy didn’t do those kinds of shots,’ but Fosse was undeterred, and Hemingway submitted—though no graphic pubic-area shots remain in the completed film.
While neither the TV movie nor the Fosse film conveys the truth, the TV version (directed by Englishwoman Gabrielle Beaumont) is somewhat more accurate in recounting certain incidents. Neither film deals with Dorothy’s passionate reluctance to pose naked. Though the TV version at least gives her a moment’s firm hesitation on the subject, Fosse’s Stratten leaps into the nude scenes with abandon. His picture, though vastly more expensive, better produced, and far more slickly directed, has less than a handful of moments that ring true. It contains not a flicker of authenticity in its depiction of Dorothy’s relationship with me. Fosse leaves out all the laughter and love—how could he have known?
One glaring misconception in his movie concerns drugs. Although Paul Snider admitted over the phone to Molly Bashler, a month before the killing, that he had been heavily into both drink and drugs over the past few months—cocaine in particular—the only mention of drugs in the entire film (there is no drinking) occurs when the Snider character tells the Dr. Cushner character that he thinks I am giving Dorothy cocaine in New York. The doctor stoutly defends us, but the implication remains. The truth is that D.R. and I tried cocaine together a couple of times, but neither of us liked its effects. Snider had given some to Dorothy previously, but she had never enjoyed it. She would not smoke grass with me and lightly discouraged my using it. She said it reminded her too much of Paul. Every time she had tried it with him she had become depressed.
Another major inaccuracy in Star 80 has my character informed, evidently on the day of the murder, that we have been followed by private detectives. In reality, I knew nothing of Goldstein’s activities until late in October, more than two months after the killing. One of the questions Teresa Carpenter asked me in her letter was when I first learned we were being followed in New York and Los Angeles. Ironically, the question itself was the first I had heard of it. Had I known sooner, even as late as August 14, subsequent events might have been different.
Bits of the murder sequence are flashed throughout the Fosse picture, like subliminal coming attractions for the main event. When it finally arrives, the result is anticlimactic: Fosse has ‘tastefully’ avoided much real violence or even the implication of its true horror. His Snider cries and yells, shoves his Stratten down a couple of times, is going to rape her, but stops himself and cries again instead. When Stratten then tries to console him with a gift of lovemaking, Snider considers it pitying and takes her violently, yet she doesn’t appear terribly upset. The corresponding TV sequence is pure rape, as ugly and brutal as television allows; the murder is quick but savage. Fosse’s Snider seems almost to be committing euthanasia, he is so gentle as he puts the barrel beside her head, and his Stratten barely seems to notice. This is followed by a flash of necrophiliac bondage and intercourse before the Snider suicide.
Bob Fosse’s movie is all rhythm without notes— fancy footwork and weak surmise, based on insufficient research and knowledge, along with a built-in early decision to create an apologia for the killer. The film’s showy mediocrity and repressed misogyny define none of us as much as it does its director and his Playboy collaborators.
When Star 80 opened in November 1983, reactions from the media and the public were widely mixed. Business was good at first in New York, L.A., and one or two other major cities, but fair to poor in more average markets. Some critics raved respectfully, while others savagely denounced the picture. Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who had panned They All Laughed, gave Star 80 an extremely favorable notice. On the other hand, Andrew Sarris of the Voice, who had given our picture an especially glowing review, attacked Star 80. Jack Kroll of Newsweek liked both. None of the press or public, of course, had the faintest idea whether the story being portrayed was moderately accurate, largely true, or mainly false, which left them discussing the merits of the picture’s style and viewpoint. Some called it extremely moral, others extremely exploitative. Some, like Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times, expressed only contempt.
I had been shown the film privately in August, and found myself alternately appalled, disgusted, bored, and bitterly (though often uproariously) amused. It was the blackest of humors that made me laugh: Fosse trying to have it both ways with Hefner’s character, respectable and slightly sinister, at the same time trying to belittle and mock my character, but in such feeble and cowardly terms that only the director emerged pathetic. He had no idea what Dorothy was like, and so portrayed the usual (though more lethargic) dumb blonde of a thousand fictions. The most preposterous and obscene achievement, in light of the known facts, is Fosse’s rendition of the final murderous confrontation. Desperately trying to create moments of sympathy for the killer and irritation with the victim, and thoroughly disregarding the physical evidence in the crime, Fosse reveals his true intentions by softening the circumstances and actions, as one might by altering the church execution of Joan of Arc from burning alive to firing squad.
Did the filmmakers realize at some point that even to suggest the truth would constitute not only the ultimate stag film, but a damning indictment of the fake sexual revolution they and so many others of us have endorsed and exploited? Weren’t Snider’s actions, finally, an imitation of the stag reels and porno magazines he was addicted to? Wasn’t his mind’s eye also photographing himself and the most sensuously proportioned of Playmates as she was forced at gunpoint to strip, then was taped down, raped, sodomized, murdered, and brutalized even after she was dead? The Stratten Extended-Murder reel—ideal for the eighties. But the filmmakers had tidied up Snider’s Act, perhaps to save the face of Man.
After the murder, Hugh Hefner instructed his staff and the other Playmates not to speak to the press about Dorothy. Later, Hefner would not discuss Dorothy in private. He especially wanted no publicity about his relationship with Snider. Although standard mansion policy was to admit as few boyfriends or husbands as possible, Hefner had made a noticeable exception for Snider and allowed him to bring in ‘other Dorothys.’ Didn’t Hefner figure that the only way to get Dorothy back was to remain friendly with her husband? Didn’t Hefner know the kind of man Snider was, and keep him around as part of a master plan to win Dorothy Stratten for himself?
Public Playboy statements emphasized Hefner’s barring of Snider from the mansion months before the killing. For what reason—except to obscure the fact that Snider had been informed only five days before? The question might easily be asked why more discretion and care had not been taken in such a volatile-situation. Particularly curious is the wisdom of antagonizing an already angry husband who was capable of doing malicious injury to one of Playboy’s major assets: the most popular Playmate in nearly three decades, well on her way to film stardom—a goal that had eluded the hundreds of other Playmates.
If Hefner had not been brought up in the strict repressive atmosphere of Puritanism, would he have reacted differently when his girlfriend Mildred broke down from guilt during the Loretta Young movie in the Midwest of the late forties, and the dark stranger made his first appearance to young Hefner? The great resolution of his life had to be never again to allow this brooding shadow to threaten him, and the one certain way was to himself become the dark stranger—in every woman’s life. Thirty years later, in a London theater, he appeared in that form to Dorothy Stratten—but she protected him, as Mildred had not. As he would not protect Dorothy—or any woman.
Wasn’t revenge the grand inspiration for Hefner’s millions of pages of photos and print? Wasn’t he trying to strip every last vestige of secret magic from the one figure in his life who had so humbled him in his own mind? Hadn’t Hefner decided that one way or another he would take every woman he could get, and make all of them show everything to the men of the world? The public image Hefner would strive to uphold was that no woman could keep him long, since he was too much the King of Women for only one to possess. Wasn’t it his goal to prove that he was no pathetic cuckold, but rather the greatest lover who ever lived?
Those close to him speculated that Hefner’s refusal to talk about Dorothy indicated a sudden awareness of his own mortality. But wasn’t it perhaps more a conjecture on his immortal spirit? Hadn’t Shaw and Mozart, like all great artists, damned Don Giovanni/ Don Juan to hell?
In truth, doesn’t Playboy figuratively seduce and rape young women? Live off them? Ridicule their gender? Destroy their lives? And monthly instruct and inspire millions of men to follow the Hefner example? It is no secret that some men surround themselves with women because they love them, some because they use them, and some because they fear and hate them.
Playboy and its kindred porno mills continue to grind up women and spit them out for the masturbatory pleasure of men the world over. But certainly, to a growing number of women, the magazine and what it represents have become a principal target for condemnation. More and more women, as well as a sizable body of men, are finding the Playboy philosophy at the core of many evils in our society. Gloria Steinem once remarked that leafing through Playboy reminded her of a Jew reading a Nazi manual.
D.R. was a small-town girl who tried, against her better instincts, to be a ‘liberal, modem’ woman. Neither she nor I had ever really dealt with the difference between the Old World culture of our parents and the ruthless American way we found outside the home. Yet the even newer world Dorothy grew up in was far more confusing and dangerous man mine, since many of the worst enemies of civilization cloaked themselves in respectability. There are imposters behind every post and lectern, and it is difficult to separate the false from the true. Everybody is pushing his own temple.
One of the last times I ever spoke to Hugh Hefner—when he tried to convince me that it was all right to print naked shots of Dorothy, and I objected—he said perhaps he had been doing the magazine for so long he had ‘become jaded,’ to him nudity was just natural. ‘But this is all a part of the whole problem in the world, of sexual repression and morality,’ he said. ‘It’s a part of our Puritan background. We have to be more open in these matters.’ Yet nudity as revealed in Playboy through the years has become anything but open or natural. It is not our inhibitions that are unnatural and unhealthy, but our obsessions, and the Puritans were obsessed with sex in a way that is not all that dissimilar from Hugh Hefner. Like them, Hefner’s magazine is finally neither respectful nor worshipful of women, but antagonistic to them. And the women themselves, trapped in the half-truths and promises of the sexual revolution as described and depicted by Hefner and his followers, have become its victims. This is evident not only in the myriad cases of manic depression, anorexia, and suicides of women trying to make these visions real, but in the increase of sordid and violent male crimes like the one which destroyed Dorothy. It is evident also in the ways in which these ideas have found general currency: The pervasive exploitation of the female body in a commercial sense—through television, advertisements, and movies—has done more subtle harm. All of this has been the result of Hefner’s great con.
The last time Hefner and I spoke, he made his comment that I had been ‘in too much of a hurry’—a vastly understated way of describing his own behavior toward Dorothy Stratten, and his own barring of Paul Snider, two or the central actions that drove her to marriage and Snider to murder Was it any wonder that Hefner sought so desperately to conceal or disguise these two events? And to pass the blame as self-righteously as possible to others—Snider, Goldstein, Bogdanovich—even Dorothy, for not having ‘come to him sooner’? How many others in the past three decades has the Playboy philosophy driven to an early grave?
On the evening of August 14, exactly three years after her murder, we visited Dorothy’s grave and found seven bouquets, her marble marker adorned all around with cut flowers. There were some notes, one written on a small piece of paper and signed ‘A Faithful Admirer.’ It read:
We looked again at the inscription on the stone—a passage I had once pointed out to Dorothy from A Farewell to Arms:
... If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.... It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
At the bottom were the words: ‘We love you, D.R.’
A year and a half after Dorothy’s death, Louise had a dream. The time was the present: Louise was standing in a large field of grass and Dorothy was with her, looking exactly the way she had in life. No one seemed to recognize her, or even to see her, except Louise. Many of the Playboy people went by— Grabowski, and Casilli, and Hefner among them, but they didn’t see Dorothy. They were all heading for the booths of a vast exhibit. More and more people passed the two sisters until finally Louise asked if they could go down and see what the attraction was. D.R. took her hand and they walked to the most crowded area where they found a giant photograph of Dorothy naked. The other booths advertised other naked women, but Dorothy’s was by far the most popular. Louise began to cry. Dorothy hugged her, crying too, and said: ‘How can they do this?’ Louise looked at all the Playboy people and saw that they had no feelings. She cried out, ‘I miss her so much!’ And Dorothy said, ‘I do too.’ Then she took Louise’s hand and they walked away.
VII - The Spelling God
Dorothy would give me something to live for, but she didn’t live. She didn’t know that she did not have to protect me at the cost of her own life. But Dorothy had for some time lived in fear of her own death or the death of those she loved. She felt trapped in a hopeless situation and saw her own sacrifice as the only way out. This was her mistake— but one that many women have been taught to make.
As friends and lovers, Dorothy and I had only ten months—little more than three hundred days and nights. Yet even before the murder, I had started to think of my life as Before and After Dorothy. Her death, therefore, was either the end of Life, or somehow had to be turned into the most profound kind of comprehension, from which a new beginning might emerge. If only for D.R. Hadn’t her life been sacrificed so that the people she most loved could live? Didn’t we owe her, at the very least, the living out of useful and productive lives?
For me, the conflict between reason and emotion was bitter. And the road from one to the other is desperately long and hazardous. To reach an understanding meant experiencing shock and horror, grief and guilt, rage, sorrow, despair—and nothingness.
Hadn’t D.R. passed bravely through each of these? Her death spun me into areas of investigation far beyond the promises I had made to myself for years, but had never really expected to fulfill. Now, however, the search was for Dorothy. I felt that her life was the key to an understanding that would help me survive her loss.
Was there ever a time when women had not only the respect, but also the supremacy which their better characters and more refined and complicated bodies and minds justified? This was the time in history I had to uncover: Wouldn’t I find Dorothy there? I discovered myself on a path marked by Robert Graves: ‘We must retrace our steps or perish.’
In the mid-seventies, Cybill Shepherd had read Graves’s extraordinary ‘historical collection of poetic myth,’ The White Goddess, along with his collection of The Greek Myths, and one evening mentioned to me the essential premise of both books: that the earliest known civilizations had been matriarchal, that in the original ‘Beginning,’ Goddess, not God, had created Heaven and Earth. I remember laughing with a kind of cynical glee at the time: Having already learned by then that fame, success, money, and love were not as advertised by the established order, I didn’t even find it particularly surprising that the accepted foundations of civilization were originally quite different too, and that God had once been called by a female name.
After Dorothy’s death, I read those Graves books and several others of his, along with the many more I had been saving for some rainy day. All the days had become rainy now, and everything I had once taken for granted had to be weighed and examined. I went looking for clues anywhere and everywhere. I flew to Majorca to meet Robert Graves and his family, and discussed with them the mythological resonances in Dorothy’s story, as they were illuminated by his studies of the White (and the Black) Goddess. I studied works of archaeology and anthropology, of ancient calendar systems and ancient mythology, trying to find clues to the meaning of Dorothy’s life and of her sacrifice. I read Bacon’s essays, and Sophocles, Jung vs. Freud, G. B. Shaw and the Classical Greeks, studies of early Christianity, the Bible, and books on feminism; I read Virginia Woolf and the poetry of the Sumerian Moon-priestess Enheduanna, born circa 2300 B.C. I was searching and am still searching.
Truth has often been pictured as a naked woman, but the Hefners of the world have turned the truth into the ugliest graffiti and the Sniders have tried to kill the truth: that one Dorothy was more precious than ten million Sniders-Hefners-Bogdanoviches, and that if the world must protect anyone, it has to be the Dorothy s. Snider knew the truth—the remarkable power Dorothy had over him—the superiority of her instincts and talent. Why else would he belittle her at every opportunity (as most men will do with women they feel inferior to)? Ridicule her appearance, her sense of direction, her business acumen, and taste in pictures? Keep her out-of-focus (knowing she was nearsighted and never suggesting corrective lenses)? Tell her she was frigid? Immobilize her in high heels and tight skirts? Kill her because she wouldn’t submit? The man had to prevail through whatever means, at whatever cost.
And yet, when the best seller comes out, the TV movie, or film, the sympathy and understanding is rarely with the victims we have created, but with the executioners. In our age of tolerance and popular psychology, even the worst criminal has to be understood, analyzed, and pitied. We identify not with the victim but with the assailant.
If I had seen little of the sort of attitude and behavior toward women which Snider exemplified, I had heard stories from other women, and certainly knew long before D.R. was killed that the picture business had become worse for women than it had ever been. Although American women gained the right to vote at the start of the twenties, and won more and more equality in the succeeding decades, they seemed to have progressively lost power on the screen. In her unique and brilliant study of women in movies, From Reverence to Rape (published in 1974), Molly Haskell wrote:
Women have figured more prominently in film than in any other art, industry or profession (and film is all three) dominated by men.... The women in movies had a mystical, quasi-religious connection with the public.... And women, in the early and middle ages of film, dominated. It is only recently that men have come to monopolize the popularity polls.... Here we are today, with an unparalleled freedom of expression and a record number of women performing, achieving, choosing to fulfill themselves, and we are insulted with the worst—the most abused, neglected, and dehumanized—screen heroines in film history.
Among the central reasons, Ms. Haskell cites:
... The current availability of sex at every street corner and candy store... On the screen, sex has been demystified—the mystery, the ‘goddess,’ has been removed...
Where are we now without our goddesses?
In the winter of 1981, Dorothy’s family and mine were in New York together and we all went to visit the Cloisters for the first time, and to see its famous fifteenth-century French unicorn tapestries. The series traces the hunt, capture, torture, and killing of the unicorn. The tapestries were far too tragic in their implications to keep us there long: For I had learned by then that the first known reference to the unicorn, written in the fifth century B.C. by the Greek historian Ctesias, describes the colors of its horn as white, red, and black, which are also the colors of the earliest known European deity, the many-titled Mother Goddess of the great pagan civilizations (pagan originally meant country): white for innocence, red for death, black for wisdom. The same colors as the calico cat who came to visit while we were composing our unicorn song.
The original unicorn was not zoological, but appears to have been a composite creature used as a calendar symbol for the course of the Sun, still a female power, through the five seasons of the year, each represented by an animal particularly sacred to Mother Earth or Mother Nature: the feet of an elephant for Spring, the tail of a lion for Summer, the horn of a rhinoceros for Autumn, the head of a deer for Winter, the body of a horse for the New Year. The unicorn’s number, five, marks not only the five senses (there is a famous series of unicorn tapestries illustrating this; and the sixth sense, intuition, is still a notably feminine characteristic), but also the four quarters of the earth and the zenith. The V-shaped Roman numeral for five, the upside-down triangle, which distinguishes the female pubic hair, is also the most ancient symbol for Woman. The killing of the unicorn, then, is the symbolic murder of all women.
As a kind of condolence, many people said that Dorothy’s story would always have ended the way it did, that its outcome was somehow inevitable. Others blamed Dorothy’s death on the life-style she had chosen—as though she had chosen it or created the world she found; as though Snider had. And if Hefner had not founded Playboy; perhaps a year or so later someone else would have, because there must be a need in the land—which he discovered the best way to fulfill: porn from a hygienic super-pimp. But what is this need precisely? Is it perhaps a terrible poison eating away at our collective soul?
The grand sexual revolution that began in the fifties was in truth a male uprising against women, under the guise of liberalism and equality: Its true purpose was to make things easier for the men to get laid. The women who have survived have great scars to show. The macho platform of the typical playboy was a promise of unlimited sexual pleasure; but for whom? The women didn’t have a much better time, but the men were in a demi-heaven: If a girl said no he could pull out his liberal/modern flag and wave it, and if she still didn’t bow to his wishes, he could always use a little bit of force to give her what he had been taught, ‘they all want anyway.’ The big male fantasy is that women like to be raped. The several women I’ve known who have been raped were traumatized by the experience, and have had severe problems as a result in dealing with men and life. The truth is that men like to fantasize about raping women, and the fifties’ revolution has been a great boon for that urge. Didn’t they used to say that the ‘sex mags’ were good because they would ‘cut down on rape’? But rapes have increased at an alarming rate—to an all-time high, especially in America. Also: wife abuse, child abuse, drug abuse, and murder of women by men.
In 1983, Harper & Row published an impressive Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets, compiled by Barbara G. Walker; the four-page entry on ‘Rape’ reports:
True rape was not common in the ancient world. Like the males of all other mammalian species, the ancients believed sexual activity should be initiated by the female. The modern conventional description of a rapist as an ‘animal’ is a slur on the animal kingdom; animals do not rape. Only man forces sexual attention on an unwilling female.
... The Romans and Saxons punished rapists by death. Normans cut off a rapist’s testicles and gouged his eyes out. The gypsies’ Oriental heritage demandea the death penalty for a rapist. Hindu law said a rapist must be killed, even if his victim was of the lowest caste, an Untouchable; and his soul should ‘never be pardoned.’ The Byzantine Code decreed that rapists must die and their property must be given to the victim, even if she was no better than a slave woman...
So the world today is an upside-down, backward place, and the only way to deal with it is to emulate what Lewis Carroll’s Alice was told by the White Queen—the one who cried before she hurt herself because she knew what was going to happen. No one told us in school that the Alice books are metaphors for daily life.
What gives Dorothy Stratten’s story a universal meaning is her kinship with all women. Like so many others, she was a tragic casualty of the unequal war between the sexes, born into a world where the holy had become profane, and the profane had become holy; where, finally, a rape was reported every six minutes—and countless more were unreported or unnamed; where the innocent and good would lie brutally killed at the feet of an evil philosophy’s most loyal son. Will the ones who understand tell the ones they love, before it is too late for them? As it was for our beloved Dorothy Ruth—born into a world where all the roles are scrambled, and all of nature confused. The tale of a woman in the Year of Our Lord 1980. Would it have been otherwise if, dating from the first civilizations of the Stone Age, the date had been known as 11,980 in the Year of Our Lady?
There were a few of us who knew that Dorothy’s spirit was with us still, that there would hardly be an hour when she wasn’t on our minds, when we didn’t wonder, before making a decision, what she would think; when we didn’t wish we could see her again, hear her laugh, touch her arm, breathe her freshness, seek her comfort. She was for us the best friend we ever had, and if we achieve anything worthwhile in our lives it will be for her memory, the glow of which can never fade. Dorothy said it best. Less than three months before she was killed, D.R. had written in a poem to me the most eloquent summation of our love story, the sad love story she had asked for in London:
Just before midnight on February 28, 1985—precisely Dorothy’s 25th birthday—her Estate filed a legal brief in support of a new civil rights law. It is an ordinance passed in Indianapolis (after being passed but vetoed in Minneapolis), that would allow women to sue pornographers for maneuvering them into pornography against their will, or for trafficking in materials that make their lives dangerous and their status pervasively second class. Countless other cities, counties, states, the federal government, and several other countries have said they want this law. Legal experts agree that it will reach the U.S. Supreme Court within two years—and many say it will win. It is expected to pass in Los Angeles County this spring.
If the law had existed in 1979-80 when D.R. first began to reveal to me how she really felt about posing for Snider and Playboy, instead of just suggesting she quit, I could have said: sue them. When she replied at she had signed a contract, that she was trapped in it, I could have told her it didn’t matter since she had been tricked and intimidated and pressured. If she worried that it would be her word against Snider’s/Hefner’s, and all the film they extracted would be used against her, I could have encouraged her to be hopeful a court would understand that the photos and footage documented acts of sexual violation and that her word might, finally, count for something. And when she spoke to me in whispers of getting through the photo-sessions on hate, and of all the other injuries and injustices she had suffered and survived in her brief twenty years, we would both have known, as we did not then, that she was not alone. A law of this kind would have made a real difference in Dorothy’s life. Most of all, when eventually it is passed across the land, when the used and the innocent finally have a weapon with which to fight, the new civil rights law will stand for the life D.R. could have had—something better than being taken and sold, with something other to say than the script the pornographers wrote.
For herself, Dorothy had said it most simply in 1978, a few months before we met and shortly before she was made to pose naked for men: