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Review: Playboy’s 1979 Roller Disco & Pajama Party Captivates and Reminds of Bygone Era and Budding Star Dorothy Stratten - Page 2

 

 

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By the late-1970s, Hefner had moved his life from Chicago to a sprawling mansion estate near Beverly Hills.  This is where he threw the Roller Disco/Pajama Party, which aired on ABC in prime time, pre-cable, pre-Internet network television. 

Television actor and original Family Feud game show host Richard Dawson serves as our guide at the party, replacing Hefner in this role from Hefner's previous series.  Dawson tries to make us feel like another guest at the party as we gawk: “This is your first time here?  You're going to have the time of your life,” he says.  Yes, his jokes are hammy, but in a fun and playful sort of way.  (Early in the show, he makes a joke about feminism by saying that a recent party at the mansion was really going off until singer Helen Reddy showed up and sang her feminist anthem “I Am Woman.”  Given today's political climate, the fact that he could even joke about feminism seems quaint.)

Dawson treats the girls with reverence while occasionally making fun of the intoxicating effect their beauty has on him.  In one segment he interviews a number of them, and they all seem like regular late-teens or early-20s girls that any man would dream of dating.

Let’s talk about the girls.  There’s something different about them.  They are not like the “beautiful” girls we know today (and the ones that Playboy has associated with in the last several decades).  These girls seem healthier, happier and more approachable.  They have a freshness that sets them apart from our modern day reality-show contestants.  And they are natural.  Their chests, noses, lips and other features are their own and unique to them.  None of them have tattoos or odd body piercings.  None of them have developed ripped muscles. 

Granted, the girls are in a walled in environment and must have been conscious of the roving cameras, but one can just tell that even if stopped on the street by a regular person in 1979 these girls would be gracious and unassuming.  In fact, everyone at the event seems sociable and free in a way we don’t see much anymore.  Media heiress Patty Hearst, for example, can be seen multiple times beaming with pleasure taking in the musical acts.  She certainly did not have to be there for the money.

Also, it is this writer's personal opinion that these girls were having the times of their lives and were hardly victims of male hegemony.  Based on unscientific Internet research it seems clear that all the sexual flings at the Mansion (excluding Bill Cosby's predatory assaults) were even and voluntary transactions between the Playmates and the male guests.  In other words, the Playmates were not encouraged to talk with men they did not want to talk to or do anything they did not want to do.  Indeed, no such encouragement should have been necessary to create a party environment.  What attractive, young woman would not want to meet (and sometimes sleep with) famous male celebrities, professional athletes and Hollywood luminaries?  Many of them found husbands at the mansion.  Tennis great Jimmy Connors met and married 1977 Playmate of the Year Patty McGuire.  They had two children together and remain married to this day.

The person making the biggest impact in Roller Disco/Pajama Party is future Playmate of the Year – Dorothy Stratton.  Her genuine sweetness is heart wrenching knowing what happened to her only nine months after the show aired in November 1979. 

Stratten's story is one of Greek tragedy.  It also figures heavily in the significance of the show.  At the opening, in a semi-scripted comedy bit Dawson tries to attract her attention but she passes by him without acknowledging him.  This becomes a running gag in the show, and leads to an appealing ending between the two that Stratten knocks out of the park.     

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