Picks and Pans Review: The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980

by Peter Bogdanovich

Don’t invite Hugh Hefner and director Peter Bogdanovich to the same orgy. Bogdanovich was madly in love with Playboy’s Playmate of 1980, Dorothy Stratten, when she was shot to death that August at age 20 by her husband, who then killed himself. In this sometimes provocative but relentlessly self-serving version of Stratten’s life and death, Bogdanovich, 45, blames Hefner’s hedonistic philosophy for Dorothy’s death and just about all of society’s ills except the size of the federal deficit. Writes Bogdanovich of the “porno mill” of Playboy: “Doesn’t it figuratively seduce and rape young women? Live off them? Destroy their lives?” Ironically, Bogdanovich met Stratten at the Playboy Mansion in 1978, where he hung out in the year following his bust-up with actress Cybill Shepherd. Stratten was starring in his film They All Laughed when she was killed. Hefner is portrayed as an insensitive, petty sexmonger and egomaniac. Bogdanovich insists that a postmidnight interlude in a hot tub between Hef and a reluctant Dorothy irreparably damaged her psyche. Bogdanovich portrays himself as Mr. Sensitive and a goody-goody. After hanging around Hefner’s place as much as he had, he still could find himself being horrified by Stratten’s problems with overzealous suitors, actor James Caan among them. As for Stratten, a captivated (and to all appearances still devastated) Bogdanovich has nothing but superlatives: “She wasn’t simply beautiful, but unbelievably exquisite beauty…Her beauty was like an extraordinary mirage, too glorious to be real.” Except for a short written statement to the media, Bogdanovich has been virtually silent about the Stratten case. But her story has been told and retold—or is it exploited?—including a made-for-TV film and Bob Fosse’s movie Star 80, in which the apparent Bogdanovich character was portrayed as something of a wimp. Maybe it is only fair, after all, that the director gets to tell his side. The book seems hardly necessary though, except perhaps as a catharsis for its author. (Morrow, $12.95)