By Gary Goldstein
When Scotty Bowers, the subject of Matt Tyrnauer’s fun, dishy, uniquely nostalgic documentary “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” says, “I’m up for anything, anytime,” you’d best believe him. The guy has lived a life.
Bowers, now 95, is the author (with Lionel Friedberg) of the 2012 tell-all memoir “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” upon which this film is based. A sex procurer and confidant for Tinseltown’s most famous — and famously closeted — gay men and women (as well as some straight stars) from the 1940s to the early ’80s, Bowers may have been a pimp by definition but, as one contributor here notes, was simply “a friend doing another friend a service.”
Director Tyrnauer mixes a wealth of vintage Hollywood footage and photos; chats with Bowers’ friends and former patrons and employees, plus several industry observers; and extensive interviews and cinéma vérité-type coverage of the frank, energetic Bowers as he tracks his path from Illinois farm boy to World War II Marine to longtime Los Angeles denizen.
And it was here, while working his first local job at a Hollywood Boulevard gas station, that the game, attractive young Bowers inadvertently began both dallying with and “fixing up” his celebrity customers, at a time when being exposed as gay could summarily ruin lives and careers.
Bowers’ many illustrious pals and alleged clients engagingly recalled here include Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Tyrone Power, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson, George Cukor, Cole Porter, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and perhaps most surprisingly, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Although the details offered are gossipy, the approach rarely feels lurid or gratuitous.
How true is it all? The casually bisexual Bowers, who somehow managed to elude vice cops and other law enforcers, appears so genial and guileless (plus he was reportedly the epitome of discretion in his heyday) that his anything-goes tales of the sex he had, arranged and/or witnessed come off as authentic. In addition, it’s not as if these famed folks’ sexual proclivities haven’t long been discussed or documented elsewhere. (For the record, “Full Service” was assessed by a libel lawyer before it was published.)
The movie runs on a bit, especially when visiting with Bowers and Lois, his modest wife of 34 years, in their impossibly cluttered Hollywood Hills home. (The quirky Bowers, who was bequeathed several houses in the area by an ex-lover, clearly has hoarding issues.)
But as a candid and involving socio-sexual time capsule of postwar to pre-AIDS Hollywood and how one free-thinking pioneer made a secret society of legendary artists and performers undeniably happy, “Scotty” definitely succeeds.