MOVIE REVIEW: “Star 80” (1983) and “Death of a Centerfold” (1981) by Gregory Hilton

Both of these movies are almost two decades old but they have a lasting message regarding anger management and clinical depression. “Death of a Centerfold” (1981) starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was an NBC made for TV movie, while “Star 80” (1983) went to the big screen with Mariel Hemingway (as centerfold Dorothy Stratten), Cliff Robertson (as Hugh Hefner), and Eric Roberts (Julia’s brother) in a critically acclaimed role as Dorothy’s ex-husband, Paul Snider. Gene Siskel placed “Star 80” in the number 6 position on his top ten list of the best films of 1983, while Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars.
Both movies are true accounts of the life of 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten. She was murdered by her ex-husband on August 14, 1980. “Star 80” was filmed on location in Vancouver, and the Los Angeles death scene was filmed in the apartment in which the murder actually took place. Dorothy first appeared in Playboy at age 19, and was murdered when she was 20.
“Star 80” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Village Voice article “Death of a Playmate” by Teresa Carpenter. The film’s title was taken from the vanity license plates of Paul Snider. “Death of a Centerfold” was based on Peter Bogdanovich’s book “The Killing of the Unicorn.” Bogdanovich, the producer of “The Last Picture Show” (8 Academy Award nominations), “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon,” was Stratten’s real-life lover.
Paul Snider was a bisexual professional narcissist who was consumed by his own appearance. Today we would call him a metrosexual and he spent hours on his wardrobe, hairstyle and manicures. He was a clean freak who could not leave the house unless everything about him was perfect. His other obsession was ice hockey in his native Canada
Paul Snider met Dorothy Stratten when she was 16 years old and working at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver. Dorothy’s parents and sisters immediately disliked Snider’s attitude and condescending remarks. Snider wanted to control everything about Dorothy from the outset, and this included throwing out her entire wardrobe and trying to cut off contacts with her school friends.
He was intensely jealous, and this became worse as he drank. Snider himself had no friends because of his difficult personality, and this is also the reason he could not keep a job. He believed superficial things such as clothes and cars were the key to popularity, and he failed to recognize that it was his destructive behavior which turned people off. Dorothy does pick up some of his shallow attitudes.
Many nice young boys were interested in the beautiful Dorothy. She was very picky but for some strange reason she was attracted to the egotistical Snyder who constantly told her what to do. A psychiatrist later said her feelings for Snyder were primarily due to the lack of affection she felt from her own family. Dorothy never could confide in her religious and eccentric mother (Carroll Baker of “The Carpetbaggers” and “Giant”), and claimed her parents never hugged her as a child. Her father was also emotionally distant.
To the disgust of her family, Paul and Dorothy eloped after her high school graduation and moved to Los Angeles. Paul’s next step was to submit her photos to Playboy magazine. In LA, Dorothy soon realizes she made a big mistake in marrying Snider and starts to seek a way out of the marriage. She becomes a Playboy bunny at the LA club, and then appears in the magazine as a centerfold. As all of this happens, Snider gets more and more marginalized.
She tells other women at the Playboy Club that she has to get away from Snider, but is afraid to leave because of his violent tendencies. “I know he will hurt me if I leave,” Dorothy says. When she is selected as the 1980 Playmate of the Year she receives $250,000 in cash and a Jaguar sports car.
With the help of other women, Dorothy files for divorce. Publisher Hugh Hefner is aware of the situation and says Dorothy can move into the locked and gated Playboy mansion for her protection. There was later a law suit about “Star 80.” Bogdanovich said Hefner was not being nice, and Dorothy was paying rent at the mansion through sex with friends of the publisher.
Snider immediately became a stalker when Dorothy left. A maid would later discover him hiding in the closet of Dorothy’s room. There were constant parties at the mansion and soon Dorothy had a new boyfriend who was over 20 years her senior, prominent film director Peter Bogdanovich.
Photos of Dorothy and Bogdanovich at numerous elite parties appeared in the tabloids. As he loses control of her, Snider grows more unstable. His behavior was very erratic and he made a variety of threats. Dorothy obtains a protective order to keep Snider away from her. At the same time she lands the lead role in the science fiction thriller Galaxina.
Eric Roberts does a great job in portraying the hollowness at the center of Snider’s psychological core, and his all-consuming narcissism. His behavior was always perplexing. He was married to a highly desirable woman but was constantly yelling and picking fights for minor reasons. One of the many problems is that Snider was conflicted by his bisexual nature.
Snider’s identity was built around Dorothy and her success was the one thing he had to brag about. When she left him, Snider realizes he is no longer seen as a hot stud with access to the Playboy Mansion and a Playmate wife.
I will not ruin the ending by revealing all the details. Simply put, Dorothy was tricked into returning to Snider’s apartment to pick up things. He murdered her and then turned the gun on himself.
Paul Snider had all of the classic signs and symptoms of depression in men including anger, aggression, violence, reckless behavior, and substance abuse. Depression is not just the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, and is not simply cured with medication.
Snider was a “hothead.” He would get angry easily and more intensely than the average person. As a teenager he was chronically irritable and grumpy. People who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration. They greatly resent being subjected to any frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications.
Finally, an interesting aside to both of these movies is that on December 30, 1988, 49-year-old Peter Bogdanovich married then 20-year-old Louise Stratten, Dorothy’s younger sister. Unfortunately the couple divorced in 2001.

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