Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider are central characters in the first episode of Welcome to Chippendales, the new Hulu limited series starring Kumail Nanjiani as Chippendale’s founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee. But those who were there in the club’s earliest days — and even the book that inspired Welcome to Chippendale’s — suggest Paul Snider deserves footnote status, at best.
Readers who know the name Paul Snider from press accounts or films like Star 80 likely consider him a repugnant figure, an aspiring club promoter and suitcase pimp who, as Welcome to Chippendale’s shows — a spoiler warning for those who have not yet seen the show and have never heard of Paul Snider — murdered Dorothy Stratten, a rising actress and 1980 Playboy Playmate, as she tried to leave him. The show presents Stratten (played by Nicola Peltz Beckham) as a lovely, kind and creative person, and Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) as a sleazy hanger-on, insecure that Stratten would leave him. All of which is accurate, by all reasonable accounts.
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Welcome to Chippendale’s crunches and distorts the timeline, however, for dramatic effect — and to make Banerjee more likable. The first episode of the series ends with the brilliant choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) firing Paul Snider as Chippendale’s first emcee, and then launching a new, revamped, wildly successful version of the sleazy show previously led by Snider. Amid this drama, Dorothy suggests that Chippendale’s dancers, like Playboy Bunnies, should wear cuffs on their wrists and bow-tie collars. (“You are a genius,” Banerjee tells her.) A charismatic new emcee introduces De Noia’s new routine, which is received rapturously by everyone except bitter, angry Paul, who grabs Dorothy and drags her out of the club. After lots of celebration over the success of the new routine, a concerned Banerjee calls his friend Paul, but there’s no answer — because Paul has murdered Dorothy, and committed suicide.
It didn’t really happen that way. In truth, Paul Snider murdered Dorothy Stratten on August 14, 1980, and didn’t hire Nick De Noia until late 1981, according to Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders, the book that “inspired” Welcome to Chippendales, according to the show’s credits. The disparity between the date of the deaths and the hiring of Nick De Noia means that many moments portrayed on the show — including Dorothy Stratten sitting in on De Noia’s choreography instruction, and De Noia dramatically firing Snider — didn’t really happen.
Additionally, Snider and Stratten were not still a couple at the time he murdered her. She was months into a relationship with director Peter Bogdanovich, who appears briefly in Welcome to Chippendales, and had appeared in his film They All Laughed. After months apart from Snider, she agreed to meet with him to work out what she hoped would be an amicable divorce — and instead shot her to death. Despite the show’s portrayal, the meeting did not, needless to say, take place after a night out at Chippendales.
Attorney and film producer Bruce Nahin, who invested in Chippendales early on and was involved in the founding, creation, development and expansion of the business, said in an interview with MovieMaker that it was indeed Dorothy Stratten who came up with the idea for Playboy Bunny-style collars and cuffs.
Nahin also said Paul Snider was the first to suggest to Banerjee that he open a male strip club catering to women. And Nahin confirmed that Snider was the first emcee at the club. The show is also accurate in showing that Snider’s ideas for what the club should be were out of sync with what customers wanted, Nahin said.
“A lot of what Paul was doing was falling flat. With Paul it was almost like a male titty bar show, and girls just don’t want to see men’s junk and tear off velcro jock straps and things,” Nahin told MovieMaker.
Nahin — who is not portrayed in the show — says the club’s fortunes took a turn when a female acquaintance showed him and Steve a romance novel.
“In the middle was heavy pornography, but they build up to that,” he said. “There’s a cowboy and some cowgirl and they go around being cowboy and cowgirl for a hundred pages before they f—.”
Nahin said he and Banerjee realized their female customers wanted more setup and story before things turned steamy — “so that’s when dancers got costumed.” That also led to the hiring of De Noia, who added theatricality and elegance to the club.
For all of his terrible deeds in real life, Snider does serve a useful dramatic purpose in Welcome to Chippendales. First, he and Stratten bring some name recognition to what may be, for many viewers, a totally unfamiliar story. Snider’s infamous murder of his wife was previously portrayed onscreen in the 1981 TV movie Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis as Stratten and Bruce Weitz as Snider, and in the 1983 Bob Fosse film Star 80, in which Mariel Hemingway played Stratten and Eric Roberts portrayed Snider.
The sniveling Snider of Welcome to Chippendales also makes Banerjee seem more sympathetic by comparison, and this sympathy keeps viewers engaged with show and perhaps rooting for Banerjee — if they don’t know where the story is going.
As played by Nanjiani, Steve Banerjee seems truly saddened by Dorothy’s death. But it wasn’t so in real life, says Nahin, who remembers Banerjee as “nonchalant” about the tragic news. His main concern after the murder-suicide, Nahin said, was: “How it would affect the club?
“He basically went about trying to cancel Paul, as the woke people say now. Whitewash. Eliminate Paul’s involvement in the club.”
That tracks with another account in the Welcome to Your Fantasy, a terrific deep-dive investigative podcast that Natalia Petrzela released last year about the history of Chippendales. It includes an interview with Paul Barsh, the Chippendales emcee who replaced Snider. He recalls Banerjee’s coldness when police asked him about Snider and Stratten.
“There was a day that the police came down to the club and I was there and Steve was there,” Barsh said in the podcast. “They started asking questions. They asked where Steve was, and they asked me, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ I said, ‘Well, I know Dorothy and I knew Paul Snider… but I said I haven’t seen them for months. So I don’t know the situation.’ And they went to talk to Steve, and I heard Steve say he knew nothing about it, he didn’t know them.”
Later, Barsh said, he confronted Banerjee about the lie. “I said ‘Steve, you know who he is.’ And he goes, ‘I’m not talking to anybody about anything,’ and that was it. But that was Steve. Steve didn’t want to get involved with anything. He didn’t want to be part of anything that would cause him any headaches.”
Petrzela adds a bit of narration: “Snider is such a footnote in Chippendales history that he almost doesn’t bear mentioning. Except in my mind, he’s kind of a cautionary tale — an early red flag, a symbol of the sordidness that was baked into Chippendales DNA from the very beginning.”
That sordidness will be revealed later in Welcome to Chippendales, and here — after another spoiler warning: Banerjee had De Noia murdered in a dispute over influence and money, and pleaded guilty to murder for hire and other charges before committing suicide in 1994.
Welcome to Chippendales airs Tuesdays on Hulu.
Main image: Nicola Peltz Beckham as Dorothy Stratten in Welcome to Chippendales.