This article contains spoilers for Welcome to Chippendales episodes 1 and 2.
Fans of Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens will likely find themselves unsettled by his role in Hulu’s new true crime drama, Welcome to Chippendales. Although Stevens has certainly played villains before, and none so iconic as his murdering psychopath David in 2014’s The Guest, in the new limited series from the creator of Pam & Tommy he stars as real life creep Paul Snider, who murdered his wife Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham) in 1980 and took his own life soon after.
Welcome to Chippendales shows us how Snider first became involved with Chippendales owner Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) as the legendary male stripping club first evolved in late-70s Los Angeles, but it also reshapes and glosses over the grim true story of Snider and Stratten’s relationship, and uses a brief and shocking moment in one episode to show viewers what happened to the couple before swiftly moving on.
Snider first met Stratten, then called Dorothy Hoogstraten, when she was still in high school, working at Dairy Queen to help her family make ends meet. At the time, Snider had eked out a decent living in Vancouver as a promoter for automobile and cycling shows, but reportedly had champagne taste on a Bud Light budget, and began selling drugs and picking up young girls in the area, acting as their pimp to fund his lifestyle. He set about grooming Hoogstraten, buying her trinkets and taking her to her high school prom when he was in his mid-20s, and eventually convinced her to do a nude photoshoot for Playboy’s Great Playmate Hunt contest in 1978.
Though Stratten didn’t win the contest, Playboy owner Hugh Hefner took a shine to her, naming her Miss August 1979 and giving her a job as a Playboy Bunny. Those in the industry simply said the beautiful 18-year-old had a “naïve” quality that people found appealing. Stratten was very popular but seemed devoted to Snider, and he began attending parties at the Playboy mansion where he would hit on other girls. Stratten thought Snider was instrumental in her burgeoning success despite his behavior, and even though Hefner and others disapproved, she married him in 1979.
Hefner began taking a bigger lead in furthering Stratten’s career, pushing Snider out of the picture, and she was soon snagging small TV and movie parts. In 1980, she was finally named Playmate of the Year. Welcome to Chippendales certainly makes it clear that Snider’s narcissism, rage and possessive behavior were spiralling out of control at the time, but doesn’t fully detail Stratten’s efforts to separate from him after she outgrew the relationship.
In the show, Snider is convinced that a reading Stratten wants to do for The Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich for his new film will lead to her sleeping with him, which she rebuffs, but in real life she did begin an affair with Bogdanovich and starred in that film, They All Laughed, and eventually moved into his mansion in Bel Air after separating from Snider, with whom she had been arguing constantly as he became less and less involved in her rise to stardom.
With the knowledge that separating from Stratten meant that he could no longer benefit from her income, Snider began selling her Playmate of the Year prizes, including a Jaguar sportscar. He began stalking Stratten, procuring guns and lingering outside Bogdanovich’s house, regularly ranting to friends about her attitude towards him. On August 14, 1980, having ignored warnings from both Hefner and Bogdanovich not to speak with Snider alone, Stratten went to Snider’s apartment to try and amicably reason with him over their divorce. Later that day, Snider’s housemates returned home and eventually found their naked bodies in his bedroom. Snider had raped Stratten and then shot her in the face before killing himself with the same shotgun.
Devastated by the murder, Hefner and Bogdanovich both blamed each other for contributing to Stratten’s death, but Bogdanovich went on to look after Stratten’s family in the years following it, and ultimately married her sister Louise until they divorced in 2001. He sank his entire net worth, five million dollars, into securing a proper theatrical release for They All Laughed to rescue Stratten’s film legacy, and later had to file for bankruptcy. Stratten’s horrifying murder also sent ripples through the culture at Playboy, leading to both Playmates and employees telling their own disturbing stories of life in Hefner’s circle.
Stratten was cremated, and her remains interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery in Los Angeles. Her death inspired two films, 1981’s Death of a Centerfold with Jamie Lee Curtis, and Bob Fosse’s Star 80, featuring Mariel Hemingway as Stratten and Eric Roberts as Snider, as well as the hit song ‘Californication’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 1984, Bogdanovich released a book about his relationship with Stratten, called Killing of the Unicorn.
The first two episodes of Welcome to Chippendales premiere Tuesday, Nov. 22 on Hulu. A new episode premieres each Tuesday through Jan. 3. In the UK, Welcome To Chippendales will premiere exclusively on Disney+ on Wednesday 11 January, 2023.