As one-time pimp to the stars, Scotty Bowers has lived a fascinating life, which he talks about candidly in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” — which is as entertaining for its look at Bowers’ present as it is of his past.
After World War II, Bowers came home from the Pacific Theater, where he served as a Marine and survived Guadalcanal and other battles, and settled in Los Angeles. He got a job running a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, a location that he soon transformed into a hotspot for illicit sexual encounters.
Bowers, who turned 91 during the course of filming (he’s 95 now), enthusiastically recalls the action he oversaw at the Richfield station, and later as a private bartender to the stars. He had a stable of young hustlers ready to perform oral sex for $20. He had a trailer behind the station, split into two makeshift bedrooms, for fast and anonymous encounters — as well as a bathroom with a peephole for those with voyeuristic tendencies.
But what Bowers loves to talk about, first in his tell-all memoir “Full Service” and to Tyrnauer’s camera, are the boldface names who were his friends and clients. He found guys to perform oral sex on Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, who were roommates. He delivered young men to Rock Hudson, Cole Porter and director George Cukor, and simultaneously brought men to Spencer Tracy and women to Katharine Hepburn.
Bowers also claims to have bedded Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner (at the same time), and J. Edgar Hoover, and had a long loving relationship with B-movie actor Beech Dickerson, who left him three houses when he died. Bowers’ sexual proclivity was so numerous that he was a major subject, and provider of interviewees, for sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s famous studies.
Some devotees of old Hollywood criticized Bowers for betraying confidences of these stars (all conveniently deceased and unable to sue). But others Tyrnauer interviews — former Variety editor Peter Bart and British actor/writer Stephen Fry among them — champion Bowers as a hero for Hollywood’s deeply closeted gay community, giving gay and lesbian stars a few stolen moments where they could be their honest selves, away from their studio-controlled images of middle-American moral rectitude.
Those halcyon memories are a marked contrast to Bowers’ life now, living with his wife Lois, whom he met when his gigolo days were done in the early ‘80s. (AIDS is mentioned, briefly and a bit conveniently, as the reason for that career’s end.) The houses Bowers inherited from Dickerson are filling with papers, memories and junk, with Bowers now something of a hoarder.
Tyrnauer — whose past documentaries include profiles of the fashion designer Valentino and urban activist Jane Jacobs — seems to have checked over Bowers’ tall tales, and seems to have omitted the ones that he couldn’t corroborate. He also tries, in vain, to get Bowers to psychoanalyze himself — he was sexually abused as a child, but claims he wanted it to happen — and find a deeper context for Bowers’ long sexual track record.
Coming away from “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” a viewer may feel there are a lot of stories left to be told. But the ones Bowers tell her, to borrow a word Tracy used to describe Hepburn, are cherce.
‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’
Opened July 27 in select cities; opens Friday, August 17, at the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but probably R for images of full male nudity and sexual descriptions. Running time: 98 minutes.