Death of a Playmate
February 8, 2014 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Here is a 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning article about the death of Playboy Playmate and rising star Dorothy Stratten.
posted by reenum (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The article was adapted into a film, Star 80, directed by Bob Fosse. Mariel Hemingway played Stratten, and Eric Roberts played Snider. (There was also a TV movie with Jamie Lee Curtis and Bruce Weitz.) Star 80 is difficult to find now; it isn't available even on Netflix (but you can rent it via iTunes or Amazon). It was critically praised (Ebert gave it four stars) but won no major awards. It was released a year before The Burning Bed, which really elevated the awareness of domestic violence as an issue and broke through the taboos about discussing it (there was a teledrama in the 1970s, and an All in the Family episode as well, but it was very much a fraction of the discussion the issue gets today).
posted by dhartung at 12:15 PM on February 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Can someone explain the Marilyn Monroe sentence? "She gave rise to extravagant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, although unlike Monroe, she was no cripple."
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:28 PM on February 8, 2014

Can someone explain the Marilyn Monroe sentence? "She gave rise to extravagant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, although unlike Monroe, she was no cripple."

I assumed it was a pot-shot at Monroe's emotional fragility and seeming inner conflict with her "sex pot" performative identity. The subject of the article is portrayed as joyful and confident and a very willing partner in her own career.

Nice article regardless. Thanks for the background placing it in the context of a growing awareness about domestic violence, dhartung. Would love to get more comments like that.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2014

Star 80 features a fantastic turn by Eric Roberts as Paul Snider.
posted by jokeefe at 1:48 PM on February 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is the context here that I'm one old MFer because I remember this article and Star 80?
posted by humboldt32 at 1:50 PM on February 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

The story was huge news in Vancouver, of course. And there was, of course, the odd aftermath.
posted by jokeefe at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2014

humboldt32: "Is the context here that I'm one old MFer because I remember this article and Star 80?"

I, too, remember this article. And Star 80.

And I, too, am old.
posted by chavenet at 2:22 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Star 80 was a dark movie, and seemed almost an apologetic for Fosse's own sexual behaviour. It was the closest he came to admitting his own complacency. There is a brilliant book by the Canadian Poet, called Dorthy L'Amour that re-frames this tale as a kind of epic poem, worth reading.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:48 PM on February 8, 2014


You mean how he kissed her little sister and forgot his Clementine?
posted by The Confessor at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2014

PinkMoose: you refer of course to Lynn Crosbie, who also wrote the astonishing Paul's Case: The Kingston Letters.
posted by jokeefe at 4:31 PM on February 8, 2014

When I was going for my journalism degree, my feature-writing professor made the class read this article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by drezdn at 4:42 PM on February 8, 2014

sorry, yes i did. here is a great review
posted by PinkMoose at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2014

it isn't available even on Netflix

Netflix isn't the gold standard for finding films.
posted by pashdown at 5:34 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ah, but do you remember Galaxina?
posted by jquinby at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sadly, this is the first thing that I thought of.
posted by octothorpe at 6:41 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

True, pashdown, and that's why I gave streaming alternatives. But Netflix subscribership is high and I thought I would save people a search. It's been on my Saved queue for nearly three years, and while some of the stuff there (and I mean generically, i.e. stuff they don't have at all) is obviously obscure, this was a big news story at the time, involved a porn mogul and a famous movie director, and was itself directed by a decently large name with a decently big star (at least, Roberts is still kicking around), and received decent reviews. The Netflix omission is at least partly explained by it being on Amazon at $50, which is atypical for DVDs nowadays, and indicates either third-party vendors' low stocks ("only 1 left in stock", indeed), or a remnant of the rental-market-price-vs.-sell-through-price tiers of quite some years ago. Indeed, I rented it on VHS from the mom-and-pop up the street back in the 80s, and they were not exactly a font of obscurities. From reading the article again, I would like to see the movie again, and it looks like my only not-a-bundle-of-money option is going through interlibrary loan. I hope this answer indicates that I was trying for brevity rather than failing to have thought this through.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on February 8, 2014

dhartung, be aware that some libraries don't allow for audio/video materials to be borrowed via Interlibrary loan.
posted by blueberry at 4:53 AM on February 9, 2014

I probably saw They All Laughed 8 times, as it came onto HBO the month we got HBO, and there weren't that many choices. Poor girl, she was a decent actress. Plucked out of a Dairy Queen.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2014

Star 80 is a powerful movie. Fosse totally knows that you've come in knowing the story and he just keeps tightening the noose.

Fosse's one of those guys you feel went too soon. Like there was a lot more to come.

And I really thought Eric Roberts was going to be huge.
posted by Trochanter at 4:29 PM on February 9, 2014

Well he might not be an A-list star but he's like the busiest guy in Hollywood, he's got 238 film credits and another 82 television credits. He seems to have 50 films coming out this year, the man must work 24/7. I realize that most of those are bit parts but that's still an astounding number of credits.
posted by octothorpe at 6:40 PM on February 9, 2014

Yeah, you really have to feel that he peaked in terms of acclaim with his Oscar nom for Runaway Train in '85, but he's never stopped working, and that counts for a lot (though his drug abuse issues seem to have torpedoed his relationship with his sister and his son). But then, you know, Sharktopus, which seems to have missed a cultural moment by three years. As for Fosse, the only feature of his I haven't yet seen is Sweet Charity, which I really should get around to having spent my formative years trying to understand the parody cartoon [NSFW] in the back of Penthouse. Heck, I even saw Liza with a Z when it was broadcast....

blueberry: Not a problem where I live (which isn't to say that the one library in Wisconsin that has a copy will let it be loaned). We actually have a countywide library borrowing setup with one integrated online catalog, so there's quite a bit that's available that way. Getting off topic, though. I would have done this sooner except I didn't want the extra hassle last year while my dad was dying, and I just hoped the problem would be solved by Netflix picking up a copy or a streaming contract somewhere along the way. Hopefully I'll be able to report back here within the month.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on February 9, 2014

Whew! I got the ILL loan today and watched the film (oddly it was marked as the property of a public library that might be in MI, OH, or CO, rather than the college I requested it from, so I guess the system helped me out behind the scenes). I would call it a disappointment -- it's both understandable why it was ignored at the Oscars (despite Roberts winning a Golden Globe, the material smacks of exploitation) and why it's forgotten today (the storyline has been rehashed in a gazillion Lifetime movies). Roberts gives an anguished performance, but of a character you can neither identify nor sympathize with. He's too obvious the threat from the beginning (even if this is what the real story seems to suggest people thought). Hemingway's Stratten is lovely enough (though even with silicone enhancement, her body is too coltish to be a centerfold, let alone Playmate of the Year), but mostly a quiet cipher who only understands herself through men. We're never given any indication of real acting ability that the real Stratten supposedly exhibited.

The real target of the story seems to be a blurring of the responsibility Snider carried by "blaming society", to wit, our celebrity obsession and how Playboy models, in particular, were groomed for the image and profit of the enterprise. Cliff Robertson's Hef is a far-too-sympathetic avuncular presence and we're given only sporadic hints that the well-being of his stable of models is subordinate to corporate requirements. Roger Rees, as the Peter Bogdanovich stand-in, also gets a vaguely mechanical position in the story rather than a real characterization.

There is a stand-out secondary performance by David Clennon as the housemate of Stratten and Snider, an oily but unnecessary turn by Josh Mostel as a private detective, and a very brief appearance by Robert Picardo as a journalist in a press scrum. I guess it was notable that the death scene was filmed in the house where it had taken place, but it enhanced nothing that it was.

There is an occasional documentary-style interlude where someone is being asked about Dorothy (or sometimes Paul) off screen, but as far as I can tell these are all actors, and the idea is dropped by the final act.

In the end, Snider's actions look like the all-too-familiar family annihilator model of murder-suicide, with the twist being that Snider wants to take Dorothy away from everyone else -- her own family, Hef, and the public -- rather than lose her. Given the story's woman-in-jeopardy core idea I suppose it's commendable that Fosse avoids (or didn't even consider, more likely) any sort of horror/thriller framing. But it does seem to lack urgency, as in the end it indicts a creepy weirdo rather than an exploitative industry (either of them).
posted by dhartung at 12:04 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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