By Todd McCarthy
Scotty Bowers finally gets his close-up in Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, an engaging look at a man whose role as Hollywood’s “pimp to the stars” was known only to an inner circle until the publication of his book, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, five years ago. What could have been a merely sensationalistic exposé of the private lives of then-closeted screen luminaries instead emerges, in the hands of documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City), as a nicely filled-out look at different eras, one secrecy-ridden and dedicated to the preservation of illusion, the other wide open and blasé about personal predilections. Gay movie fans may be first in line, but the film succeeds on enough levels that a wider audience is a distinct possibility.
It’s fair to say that Bowers, now 94 and sporting a mop of white hair and a generally genial attitude, has led a life like no other. After returning from Marine Corps combat in the Pacific during World War II, this good-looking Midwesterner with a wide smile arrived in Los Angeles and started pumping gas at 5777 Hollywood Blvd. As Bowers tells it, an overture from a seemingly unlikely customer, the tweedy gentlemanly actor Walter Pidgeon, led to more Hollywood connections, some of Scotty’s pals joined the act and pretty soon the Richfield station was flooded with customers looking for a quick trick.
For his part, the ever-affable Bowers quickly became known for fulfilling any desire, male or female, solo or group, that his customers might request. The sensational revelations of his book, which were many, involved clandestine liaisons Bowers facilitated (usually beginning with his own participation) involving Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Cole Porter, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and, perhaps most startlingly, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, whom he insists were not physical with each other.
“Just what are you?,” Bowers is asked at one point. “I’m everything,” he answers, and it does seem that his eager-to-please permeability enabled him to be anything his clients wanted. On the one hand, by 1947 he had met George (“The Salivator”) Cukor and was sending new talent to the director’s famous all-male Sunday parties by the pool, while on the other he was involved in a three-way with two of the most alluring actresses in Hollywood, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. “I was 100 percent reliable,” he allows, adding that he was bisexual but preferred women. “I made so many people happy.” Actor Stephen Fry wittily remarks that, “Scotty himself was pre-gay.”
At a certain point, anyone who reads Bowers’ book or sees this film has to decide whether to believe him or not. At this stage, there is no reason not to; Scotty does not seem remotely like a braggart or someone desperate for a sliver of late-in-life fame. He was always ultra-discreet and, incredibly, says he was never paid for sex by the stars he serviced; he made his money as a bartender at the private parties where he would then arrange liaisons. As he politely puts it, he ran “an introduction service.”
A particularly fascinating section has Scotty recalling how times got especially tough during the 1950s, when the vice squad got busy and the muckraking Confidential magazine made a specialty of splashing lurid innuendos about certain Hollywood “bachelors” and could and did ruin careers. Remarkably, Scotty navigated through this period unscathed and kept going until the 1980s, when AIDS effectively shut down the sort of casual “tricking” of which he was the master.
Tyrnauer devotes considerable time to showing Bowers puttering around his impossibly cluttered main house in the Hollywood Hills that he shares with his wife Lois, who seems disgusted by the mess but powerless to do anything about it. The film also follows him to book signings, conferences with Taschen Books and meetings with his few surviving old pals who deliver their own fawning testimonials to how Scotty enhanced their lives, as well as to the hospital for some treatment.
There have been some down moments in Scotty’s life, especially the death of his only child, a daughter, after a botched abortion when she was in her early 20s. The film doesn’t go into detail about revelations the book contains about his childhood sexual abuse, which clearly influenced his attitude toward sex, but Scotty doesn’t like to dwell on such things. When Scotty says he likes to make people happy, he clearly includes himself, and that he seems to have done in spades.
Production companies: Altimeter Films, Wavelength Productions, Huntsman Films, Water’s End Productions
With: Scotty Bowers, Lois Bowers, William Mann, David Kuhn, Stephen Fry, Peter Bart, Paul Teetor, Michael Childers, Lee Shook, Robert Hofler, Dian Hanson, Bob Mizen, Tony Charmoli, Paul ‘Al’ Lemastra, Liz Smith
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Producers: Matt Tyrnauer, Corey Reeser, Josh Braun
Executive producers: Jenifer Westphal, Pierre Lagrange, Lynn Pincus, Tom Dolby, Alice Bamford, Miles Benickes, Joni Benickes, Elliot Sernel, Lionel Friedberg, David Kuhn
Director of photography: Chris J. Dapkins
Editor: Bob Eisenhardt Music: Jane Antonia Cornish
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Docs)