Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cinema's Great Faces: Dorothy Stratten

While she was taken from this world tragically before her 21st birthday, the memory of Dorothy Stratten has never faded. It has, in fact, grown in the 27 years since her murder in August of 1980. This is a tribute to a remarkable young woman whose smile and spirit will continue to live on for many years to come.
Even though she made only a handful of films before her untimely death, it is safe to say that had she lived Dorothy Stratten probably would have become one of the biggest stars of the eighties. Remarkably beautiful and charming, Stratten jumps off the screen in all of her roles, especially in Peter Bogdanovich's remarkable THEY ALL LAUGHED (1981). Whether it was in a silly production like 1979's GALAXINA or in the pages of Playboy, Dorothy Stratten had charisma to burn.
The story of Canadian born Dorothy Stratten is very well known, so I won't spend too much time re-writing her biography. Briefly, she was born in Vancouver in 1960 and she had a relatively happy childhood. Known for her kindness and the poetry which she so much enjoyed writing, her life would be forever changed by a chance meeting with a sleazy young man named Paul Snider just before her 18th birthday. The meeting was the most unfortunate possible for the young and naive Stratten, who was quickly sucked into Snider's manipulative world. Within a couple of years after meeting Snider, the young Stratten would become one of the most memorable Playmate's in Playboy magazines history, a promising young actress, and a victim in one of the most brutal crimes of 1980.
So much has been written about Dorothy's tragic murder, that I won't go into it here. I instead want to celebrate her brief but extremely memorable career. The obvious place to start this discussion is indeed the photographs of her in Playboy that burned themselves into every ones thoughts who first saw them back in 1979.
Her Playboy shoots are what most people remember her for, and they are among the most beautiful Hugh Hefner's once great and groundbreaking magazine ever published. Viewed in our increasingly plastic, and disposable world, the photographs of Dorothy Stratten in Playboy are incredibly alive and work as a joyous celebration of the female form and spirit. Much like the photographs of Marilyn Monroe that started the magazine twenty five years before Dorothy's pictures, the photos of her are erotic, haunting, and finally incredibly resonate. Had she never given us the clue that she could have become a great screen figure, these photos alone would have been a valuable way to remember her.
After being named Playmate Of The Year, Dorothy began getting a flood of television and low budget film offers. Scene stealing small roles quickly began adding up in films like AMERICATHON, SKATETOWN U.S.A. (both 1979) and television shows like FANTASY ISLAND and BUCK RODGERS. She would also appear in starring roles in two films of varying quality. AUTUMN BORN (1979) is a low budget Canadian production that would be completely forgettable if it wasn't for Dorothy. Better, but still no where near great, was the silly (but fun) GALAXINA (1980) a Sci-Fi spoof that again was finally memorable for the striking presence of one Dorothy Stratten.
Everything would begin to change though after Dorothy appeared on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show where she proved herself to be funny, charming and completely irresistible. Carson himself was obviously totally beguiled by her in this interview, and it was the first clear sign since the first Playboy shoot that there was something really remarkable about this young woman.
A chance meeting with legendary director Peter Bogdanovich would put Dorothy on the road to stardom that she was never allowed to get far on. He cast her in his film THEY ALL LAUGHED shortly after meeting her, and the two quickly fell head over heels in love on the set.

THEY ALL LAUGHED is a stunning film, a classic that is among the greatest that Peter Bogdanovich ever shot, and Dorothy Stratten's performance is one of the the best things about it. Simultaneously funny, sexy, and touching, Stratten is perfect in the role of Dolores and her scenes with co-star John Ritter are some of the best that Bogdanovich ever helmed. There is one scene in particular in a shoe store, where Stratten gives an audacious double take to a bemused Ritter that is absolutely incredible. Dorothy Stratten is so good in THEY ALL LAUGHED, that it gives her a proper film legacy in just one picture.
Of course it finally was just that one picture. By the time it opened, Dorothy Stratten would be gone, leaving behind a destroyed Bogdanovich and a heartbroken family and growing fan base. Her memory refused to fade though. There have been movies about her (the weak DEATH OF A CENTERFOLD starring a miscast Jamie Lee Curtis, and the astounding STAR 80 starring a perfect Mariel Hemingway), documentaries (including a Playboy production, an A+E Biography, and an E True Hollywood Story), books (Peter Bogdanovich's bruising DEATH OF A UNICORN is a crushing read written by an obviously very distressed man) and extraordinary fan tributes (check out the links below). Far, from being just a pretty starlet who got murdered, there was something truly special about Dorothy Stratten. Thankfully fairly recent special edition releases of both GALAXINA and THEY ALL LAUGHED have reminded even more and more people of it...this is one legacy that isn't going to fade anytime soon.
My look at one of my favorite films, THEY ALL LAUGHED, will appear in the next day or so.

For more on Dorothy Stratten, please visit the lovely tribute site, which is easily one of the best fan sites on the Internet.
For information on Peter Bogdanovich's strange and sad KILLING OF A UNICORN please visit here.
YouTube has several fan tributes posted, and someone posted this five minute excerpt from Playboy's out of print tribute video, which features clips from her layout shoots, as well as some home movies. Copies of this essential vidio can be bought used here.
Finally to chat with other Dorothy fans, please visit here.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

Hey Jeremy. This is an outstanding blog on a wonderful actress. I first came to know about Dorothy from watching Star 80. After that film (and Hemingway's fantastic performance), I saw Dorothy's great parts in They All Laughed and Galaxina. As a horny boy, I feasted my eyes on her in Playboy. Dorothy was a sexy, talented, and funny actress. It's a shame that her life was cut so short by a monster. I do believe she would have become one of the bigger stars of the 80's. She was on the cusp of greatness. I look forward to your future blogging on her.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith...much appreciated. I really like Star 80 a lot, and hope to write on it as well in the future. Hemingway ddi a remarkable job in the film, and Eric Roberts was truly terrifying.
Hope you enjoy my THEY ALL LAUGHED post...tahnks again...