December 09, 2014
When 20-year-old Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten was raped, murdered, and mutilated by her estranged husband in 1980, she was adopted as a symbol of man’s inhumanity to woman by germinal third wave feminists (who would have cut her dead when she was alive).
Conveniently mute, impossible to libel, and as easy to configure as Barbies, deceased women”from Emily Davison to the Montreal Massacre’s 14 engineering students“make the best feminist icons. (Unless they”re Muslim.) The third wave’s anti-porn wing inflated Stratten into an ideological sex doll, into which they poured their loathing of Hugh Hefner and lesser spank-mag deities.
Had her killer, Paul Snider, survived his same-day suicide, he would have been charged with, among other things, defiling a corpse. (Police found evidence of “necrophilia involving an exercise bench and medical tape“ at the crime scene.)
Too bad nobody else was.
Stratten’s postmortem exploitation continued, as her truncated life inspired two feature films: the now-forgotten Death of a Centerfold (1981), featuring Jamie Lee Curtis in the”pun intended”titular role. (An odd choice, at least from the neck up. Not to mention the waist down, if persistent Tinseltown rumors are true.)
Then came Bob Fosse’s 1983 Star 80, featuring the slightly more believable Mariel Hemingway (and her two newly-acquired-for-the-role breast implants). Film buffs still talk about Eric Roberts” indelible turn as Snider, whom he portrays as the devil spawn of Uriah Heap and Stella Dallas, reeking of futile ambition and Brut.
In both films, as in real life, Hefner advises Stratten to divorce Snider, whom he described”presumably with a straight face”as “a hustler and a pimp.” To Snider’s lethal dismay, Stratten duly took up with director Peter Bogdanovich, who remained so besotted that he titled his book about her The Killing of the Unicorn“and later married Stratten’s 20-year-old sister (when he was 49).
(Surely that high weirdness would make for a much more compelling movie. Which is precisely why”given Hollywood’s reported pedophiliac peccadilloes“we probably won”t ever get one.)
Why such a fuss over a slain pin-up girl? Because Stratten’s death was, to express it with a rhetorical blunt instrument, exquisitely timed. Her “career” straddled that Edenic sweet spot in American sexual history that comedian Adam Carolla calls “pre-AIDS, mid-coke.” At that thin wedge of the Reagan era, Stratten’s fate was seen by some as an early warning sign of trouble in the sexual revolution paradise.
And in show business, as they always say, timing is everything. Maybe that’s why another Playmate’s far more bizarre and theatrical demise six years earlier failed to capture the culture’s imagination.
In reports on Bill Cosby’s alleged assaults on over a dozen complainants, the Daily Mail noticed that a long-dead centerfold named Paige Young (Playmate of the Month, November 1968) figured in some accounts.
Now the Mail claims that Cosby and Young carried on a brief yet intense (and drug-addled) relationship around 1970, after the pair met at the Playboy Club. (Cosby was also a regular at Hefner’s Mansion, site of the infamous “grotto,” where orgies were said to prevail.)
Then came the day when Young realized she was no longer young.