7 November 2010 | JamesHitchcock
And the Special Award for "least convincing impersonation of a real individual" goes to.....
Dorothy Stratten (nee Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten) was a working-class girl from Vancouver, British Columbia who became a model and, at the age of nineteen, was chosen as the Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979. She became Playmate of the Year the following year. Most Playmates tend to disappear from sight after their month in the spotlight, but Dorothy was widely regarded as being far more than just a pretty face. She was also regarded as a promising up-and-coming actress and had appeared in three films when, in August 1980, she was murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider who was jealous of her relationship with the film director Peter Bogdanovich. (Snider committed suicide immediately after killing Dorothy).
The television movie "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" was one of two films from the early eighties about Dorothy's life, the other being the feature film "Star 80" from two years later. (It is a long time since I saw "Star 80", so I will not attempt a comparison of the merits of the two films). "Death of a Centerfold", as often happens with TV movies based on real events, appears to have been rushed quickly out to take advantage of the publicity resulting from the case. It changes some of the details of the case. The actual killing is not shown directly, presumably out of respect for the feelings of Dorothy's family and friends. Dorothy's parents are not mentioned; in the early scenes she is shown living with an aunt. The actor playing Paul Snider, Bruce Weitz, is considerably older than the real Snider, who was still in his twenties when he died. Bogdanovich is referred to in the film, possibly for legal reasons, as "David Palmer".
The leading role is played here by Jamie Lee Curtis, which has always struck me as miscasting, given that she does not bear the slightest resemblance to Dorothy Stratten. (Mariel Hemingway, who was to play her in "Star 80", resembles her much more closely). If they ever institute a special Razzie for "least convincing impersonation of a real individual" they should name it the Jamie Lee Curtis Award. Indeed, Jamie Lee does not really look like the sort of girl who gets chosen as a "Playboy" playmate. That does not mean that she is unattractive; indeed, after she appeared scantily dressed in a number of her films, especially "Perfect", she became something of a sex symbol. With her slim figure, sharply defined features and slightly androgynous looks, however, she has never been the "Playboy" type; Hugh Hefner's tastes have always run towards beauty of the voluptuous, the baby-faced and the unambiguously feminine variety- the sort of beauty, in fact, which Dorothy Stratten possessed in spades.
Quite apart from her looks, Jamie Lee was never very convincing as a naive, innocent and confused young girl. Bruce Weitz was able to convey the villainous side of Snider's nature, but he never really suggested that there might be any other side. The real Snider must have possessed a certain plausible charm in order to persuade a gullible young woman to fall in love with him, but we do not see anything of this in the film.
"Death of a Centerfold" is in many ways a typical "true story" TV movie, a plain, straightforward narrative without too much in the way of cinematic tricks and trying to tell a shocking story without actually upsetting anyone. Apart from the obvious villain Snider everyone comes out smelling of roses; there is nothing here that might provoke a libel suit and no attempt to explore the potentially interesting question of whether Hefner and "Palmer" were in fact exploiting Dorothy as much as Snider was. 5/10