In the wake of Hugh Hefner’s death on Wednesday at the age of 91, critics and readers alike are grappling with the complicated legacy of the man who launched Playboy magazine and, at least in part, the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
In this Village Voice cover story from November 1980 — which won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing — Teresa Carpenter, a former senior editor at the paper, dives into the tragic story of Dorothy Stratten. A Playboy playmate originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Stratten came to Hollywood at the urging of her boyfriend and, later, husband, Paul Snider; on August 14, 1980, she and Snider were found dead on his bedroom floor. The police determined that Snider shot Stratton in the head before turning the gun on himself.
Carpenter’s story is an illuminating look at how Playboy managed the relationship between Stratten, its newest and brightest star, and her domineering husband. Stratten was particularly important to Hef’s empire because she was seen not just as another buxom centerfold, but as a potential movie star. “The irony that Hefner does not perceive or at least fails to acknowledge is that Stratten was destroyed not by random particulars, but by a germ breeding within the ethic,” Carpenter writes. “One of the tacit tenets of Playboy philosophy — that women can be possessed — had found a fervent adherent in Paul Snider.”