HE was a famous Hollywood director and she was Playboy’s brightest star – “the next Marilyn Monroe” according to some.
It should have been a classic romance, but the story of late Sopranos star Peter Bogdanovich’s love for Playboy model Dorothy Stratten ended like something from a horror movie.
Bogdanovich – who died yesterday of natural causes at his California home, aged 82 – was an undisputed titan of Hollywood.
He was best known for his work on films like Paper Moon and Oscar-nominated The Last Picture Show, and for starring in The Sopranos as the therapist Dr Elliot Kupferberg.
But his legacy will forever be linked to tragic Dorothy, the woman who became his muse and his obsession.
This was one area of Bogdanovich’s life in which nothing stuck to the script, when a grisly murder-suicide pushed the late director into the arms of his girlfriend’s sister to get over his heartbreak.
Playboy dreams and hustler husband
It’s a true story with an opening scene in 1978, when Dorothy Stratten was just a teenager in Vancouver – a sweet girl from a poor background who dreamed of becoming a star.
Dorothy was then going out with an older man named Paul Snider, a small-time photographer and hustler desperate to make a name for himself.
Snider bullied Dorothy, then 18 and working at an ice cream shop, into posing for a nude photoshoot, and took the photos to Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner.
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Hefner loved the shots, and planned to make Dorothy famous. Suddenly the dreariness of her life in Vancouver was replaced with the bright lights of Los Angeles.
Dorothy’s modelling career took off almost overnight, and before long she was a staple on TV and between the covers of Playboy magazine.
In 1979, Dorothy married Snider, who had been acting as her agent.
In the August of that year she was named Playmate of the Month, and in 1980 things picked up even more as Dorothy earned the accolade Playmate of the Year.
It was around this time that director Bogdanovich ran into Dorothy at the Playboy Mansion, and the clapboard snapped on a tragedy which would one day shock the world.
Bogdanovich fell instantly for Dorothy, a blonde starlet at the height of her Playboy fame.
Bogdanovich was known for blurring his work life and his love life. In short, he was a man who loved his stars and gave starring roles to his lovers.
He had already been married for over seven years to film producer and screenwriter Polly Platt, the mother of his two children, Antonia and Sashy.
In 1978, he left Polly for the actress Cybill Shepherd, now 72, the leading lady in his film The Last Picture Show. But this relationship didn’t last either.
When he met Dorothy, Bogdanovich was so smitten that he pledged to cast her in his upcoming film, They All Laughed.
Bogdanovich became infatuated and before long he and Dorothy were living together in LA. It seemed like a real-life Hollywood fairytale… at first.
Paul Snider, driven mad by jealousy, never truly disappeared from Dorothy’s life. On August 14, 1980, he demanded a meeting to discuss their separation and divorce.
The sick photographer, who was known to the police and rumoured to be a pimp, invited Dorothy over to his house.
When they were alone, he raped her.
He then blasted her in the face with a shotgun at point-blank range, before turning the gun on himself an hour or so later.
It was like a staged horror movie… They were both naked. They’d been dead for at least eight hours
Snider’s housemate, Patti Laurman, had gone out to give Dorothy and Snider some space. But when she returned that evening, there was no sign of anyone in the house.
Patti, who was just 17, recalls seeing Dorothy’s handbag, which contained $1,100 in cash – money Dorothy had intended to give her ex as part of the divorce settlement.
But Patti knew something was wrong and, sure enough, when she pushed open Snider’s bedroom door, she was confronted with a crime scene beyond her nightmares.
“It was like a staged horror movie,” she said. The ex-lovers were sprawled on the bed, with blood splattered on the sheets and the curtains.
Police also reported finding a homemade bondage rack in the bedroom and bloody handprints on Dorothy’s body.
“They were both dead,” Patti said. “They were both naked. They’d been dead for at least eight hours.”
Not long after midnight on the morning of August 15, a private detective phoned the Playboy Mansion to tell Hugh Hefner that Dorothy Stratten had been murdered.
Hefner called Bogdanovich, who collapsed at the news. The director went into shock and had to be sedated.
“I screamed,” he wrote, years later. “On the floor I curled into a ball.”
Dorothy had a much younger sister, Louise Stratten, who had been staying in Hollywood at the time, visiting Dorothy and Bogdanovich.
Bogdanovich couldn’t face telling Louise, then just 12 years old, that her sister had been murdered. Louise was sent back home to Canada and Bogdanovich was left alone with his grief.
I screamed… on the floor I curled into a ball
However, Bogdanovich soon made contact with Dorothy’s mother, Nelly, inviting her and Louise to live with him in Hollywood as he worked on a book about Dorothy.
Nelly accepted, and soon Bogdanovich and Louise were back under the same roof.
Bogdanovich lavished Nelly and Louise with money, taking care of them like he had always taken care of Dorothy.
The pair were furnished with new wardrobes, their bills were all paid, and they shared their grief with Bogdanovich, whom Louise had always looked up to.
Bogdanovich spent most of his time working on his book, The Killing Of A Unicorn, but he made sure he was always there for Louise. He reportedly even had a phone installed in her room so she could call him at night.
Louise and Nelly returned to Canada in 1982, but Bogdanovich never left their lives. He joined the family on vacations, and in time grew closer to Louise.
Eventually, a relationship blossomed.
In 1987, Louise appeared in Bogdanovich’s film Illegally Yours – her first acting role.
What followed, on December 30, 1988, was a quiet ceremony at which 48-year-old Bogdanovich and 20-year-old Louise married – with none of her family invited.
“We were shocked,” one relative told People magazine at the time. “However… Peter was so in love with Dorothy that the only person he really even associated with was that little baby sister.
“Perhaps he’s trying to capture what he had with her.”
The wedding set people talking, and the relationship was initially frowned upon. It didn’t help that Louise was roughly the same age as Bogdanovich’s children from his first marriage.
Louise’s mother, Nelly, voiced concerns at the time, reportedly saying: “I feel he wants her because of a guilt trip.
“This happened to my other daughter, who got her head shot off, and it’s gonna happen to this one.
“He didn’t do it, but he was involved. If he is in love with one daughter, how can he be in love with the other daughter?”
Peter was so in love with Dorothy that the only person he really even associated with was that little baby sister
But Bogdanovich and Louise stayed together for over a decade, with the famous director steering his new love into a career in Hollywood – just like he had with the other leading ladies in his life.
Bogdanovich’s ex-wife, Polly Platt, even defended the director’s decision to shack up with the sister of his murdered girlfriend.
Polly, who died in 2011, described their relationship as “genuine.”
She told People: “I like Louise very much. She’s a lovely person, and she’s very close to my children.”
Louise, now 53, became an actress and a producer, starring in She's Funny That Way, Django Unchained, and It Chapter Two.
After 12 years of marriage, she and Bogdanovich divorced in 2001. They kept their private lives private, and Louise has since lived under the radar.
As Polly said at the time: “Louise is a victim of all this, not a perpetrator in any way.
“We were all victims of the murder.”
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