Born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten on February 28, 1960, in a cow town outside of Vancouver, Canada, Dorothy (along with two siblings) was abandoned by her working-class father at an early age, leaving her mother, Nelly, to raise the children. Dorothy was, by all accounts, a sweet-natured teenager with a gift for writing poetry and a lyrical and innocent view of life. In her mid-late teens, she took a job at a local Dairy Queen and ultimately met Paul Snider, a Vancouver-based pusher, con artist, and pimp who idolized Hugh Hefner, exuded intense chauvinism, and craved public recognition and celebrity. Cajoling Dorothy with flattery, gifts and romantic attention, Snider began dating her, then convinced her to begin posing nude for a series of sleazy photographers, and eventually pressured her into marriage; he also changed her surname from Hoogstraten to the Americanized Stratten.
Snider sent erotic photographs of Stratten to Hefner. In Stratten Playboy found not only its next hot property, but -- eventually -- its playmate of the year for 1980. Stratten and Snider moved to Los Angeles upon receiving the initial interest from Playboy, with Stratten wheedled by her husband into disrobing for a series of spreads in the men's magazine. Stratten also began accepting acting roles in B-grade productions. She often drew the sole critical praise in reviews of C-grade movies like Autumn Born (1979) and Galaxina (1980), and became one of the few actresses to escape from the Playboy stigma and land increasingly respectable roles. Snider, meanwhile, severely abused Stratten on multiple levels, driving her increasingly away from him; he also sank into cocaine-induced behavior not simply tasteless and ignorant, but insane and violent. As an embarrassed Playboy distanced itself from Snider, Dorothy Stratten understandably did her best to escape from her husband's shadow, but repeatedly demonstrated, through comments and generalized behavior, the extent of her husband's mental control over her. She also reportedly longed to end her work for Playboy, but had to deal with contractual obligations.
At about the same time, Stratten met and then fell in love with A-list director Peter Bogdanovich, who signed her to appear in his 1981 romantic comedy They All Laughed, co-starring John Ritter, Ben Gazzara, and Audrey Hepburn. In the summer of 1980, Stratten and Bogdanovich -- having wrapped the production of the film in New York City -- spent a romantic vacation in Europe together, and made plans to marry upon returning to Los Angeles, after the finalization of Dorothy's divorce from Snider. Tragically, that did not occur. Upon returning to her home to collect her things, on August 14, 1980, Stratten found an enraged, drug-addled Snider waiting for her with a loaded shotgun; he brutally assaulted her and killed her, then turned the gun on himself. Dorothy's body was interred in the cemetery next to Marilyn Monroe. Her story was chronicled in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Village Voice article by Teresa Carpenter, 'The Death of a Playmate,' then in the 1981 telemovie Death of a Centerfold (starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Bruce Weitz) and the 1983 theatrical biopic Star 80 (with Mariel Hemingway as Stratten, Eric Roberts as Snider, and Cliff Robertson as Hefner).
They All Laughed appeared in 1981 with an opening dedication to Stratten and received mixed reviews. Bogdanovich worked through his grief by writing and publishing a 1984 memoir about Dorothy entitled The Killing of the Unicorn) (which includes extracts of poems by Stratten). Bogdanovich returned to directing with 1985's acclaimed Mask and, in 1988, married Dorothy's younger sister, Louise. The two divorced after 13 years.