Peter Bogdanovich,
The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980
(Morrow, 1984; Bantam, 1985)

In The Killing of the Unicorn, the life of Dorothy Stratten is told extraordinarily subjectively by her one-time lover, Peter Bogdanovich.

Bogdanovich published this tribute to the young, beautiful Stratten in 1984, four years after her murder, and then promptly married Stratten's younger sister Louise, who is 29 years his junior. The prose is colored by Bogdanovich's blind, revisionist devotion to the deceased model/actress and his extreme anger at Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner.

The central thesis is Bogdanovich's animosity towards Hefner, whom Bogdanovich holds responsible for ruining Stratten's career and causing her death. Bogdanovich and Hefner tangled early on when Playboy published nude photos of Bogdanovich's wife and Last Picture Show star Cybill Shepherd. Bogdanovich was paranoid at the Playboy mansion that everyone was mocking his divorce from Shepherd and celebrating Hefner's victory. He outright blamed Hefner for his divorce. When he met Stratten, he was convinced she and the other Playmates were virtual prisoners to Hefner's whims, dyeing their hair and changing their appearance to suit him. He is convinced she looks miserable in her Playmate of the Year pictorial because she was under the control of both Hefner and her husband, Paul Snider.

Stratten began an affair with Bogdanovich on a New York movie set while she was married to Snider. Opinion on Snider is unanimous: he was a hustler who used Stratten as his meal ticket out of Canada into Hollywood. Snider became obsessively controlling as Stratten's career took off, ultimately kidnapping, torturing and murdering his wife when she announced she was leaving him.

What Bogdanovich fails to see, in his rosy re-casting of Stratten as his one true love and an angel on Earth, is that he, too, contributed to her demise. Bogdanovich writes that their meeting was destined and claims to have had a vision of her death. He excuses his other dalliances at the Playboy Mansion and casts himself as a pure being who tested Stratten to make sure she was leaving Snider for the right reasons. He fails to realize that he, too, was another man, like Snider and Hefner, controlling Stratten's life. He fails to notice that his book is not about Dorothy, but about him, and his vision of who he wanted her to be. When he published in 1984, one would think that a man this heartbroken might never remarry or look at another woman, but -- surprise! -- he married his lover's sister just a few years later.

This book is not a good biography of Dorothy Stratten, but it is an excellent primary source on a twisted love triangle of obsession and death. Read this as a companion to the impartial Village Voice article about Stratten, and to the lawsuits Hefner has brought against both Bogdanovich and the makers of the movie Star 80 for their portrayals of him.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

8 December 2007

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