BY LEE PFEIFFER
“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” is an acclaimed 2017 documentary from director Matt Tyrnauer, which focuses on a Scotty Bowers, who died in 2019 but lived until the film’s release, recounting his adventures rather shivering. in Tinseltown. Who was Scotty Bowers? To the average person, her name won’t mean anything unless you read her autobiography, “Full Service,” which was considered a “must see” among moviegoers who adore stories about the sex lives of actors, actresses, and legendary directors. The film opens with Bowers, then in his 90s but apparently as fit as a fiddle, enthusiastically promoting his book at book signings where he dialogues with grateful admirers. What made Bowers unique enough to merit a feature documentary? He’s always been open about his experiences in Old Hollywood in terms of sexual favors for both men and women, though his preference clearly seems to have been with the former. Bowers should have been classified as bisexual since we see him with his 34-year-old wife, who was apparently unaware of his past as a rental stallion for most of their time together. When we meet the couple, they’re crammed into a once-lovely house in Los Angeles (one of two that had been bequeathed to Bowers by wealthy and grateful lovers). Now, however, Bowers and his long-suffering wife have to deal with mountains of paperwork and clutter that would make for an episode of “Hoarders.” Always affable and optimistic, Bowers candidly recounts his memories of his sexual encounters with the rich and famous when being portrayed as gay would spell career demise. The hypocrisy was staggering, of course, because Hollywood was populated by big names that everyone in the industry knew were gay or lesbian, even though the studios’ carefully crafted publicity machines managed to keep their fans in the limelight. ignoring.
Those looking for salacious anecdotes won’t be disappointed as Bowers tells the story of his life. He grew up in rural Illinois and joined the Marines in World War II, seeing life-changing combat during his time there. When he returned to the United States after the war, he got a nondescript job pumping gas at a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard. He worked long hours, so he had a small trailer on site where he could sleep a little. According to Bowers, one day actor Walter Pidgeon stopped for gas and ended up inviting the hunky Bowers to his house for nude swimming and other activities. (Ahem…) Thanks to Pidgeon, Bowers was soon paid to provide sexual services to other personalities, often harboring them for cash in his trailer at the gas station. Not one to keep a good thing to himself, Bowers managed to let other gay men use the trailer for clandestine encounters. Before long, the place was seeing more traffic than a Los Angeles freeway, but remarkably, Bowers was never discovered or arrested. His status in the gay community spread, and Bowers earned a lot of money providing his services, although in the documentary he goes to great lengths to deny he was ever a pimp. He maintains that he was never paid to arrange sexual relations between other people, which he claims he did simply as a favor. Many of the legends he cites as being secretly gay or bisexual are hardly shocking (Rock Hudson, George Cukor, Cole Porter, Charles Laughton, and “single housemates” Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.) Others, however, were new for me, including Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, those lifelong lovers who Bowers said weren’t lovers at all. He argues that their “romance” was a sham designed to cover up the fact that Tracy and Hepburn were gay. To add more spice to his stories, he claims they were among many other Hollywood legends he had sex with. But wait, it doesn’t stop there! He also claims that the Duke of Windsor (and former King) and his wife (more commonly known as Edward and Mrs Simpson) were both bisexual and that he had threesomes with them.
Director Tyrnauer provides plenty of vintage film clips throughout the documentary, including brief hardcore home movie clips of Scotty and his male buddies. The stories are certainly sensational and Bowers comes across as sympathetic and unapologetic because he felt he was simply helping members of the downtrodden gay community find some joy in life. But are his stories true? While he certainly tells these stories convincingly, and in some cases is backed up by other talking heads, there’s no real attempt to hold him accountable for providing definitive evidence. There’s only one person at a book signing event chastising him for waiting until all the celebrities he talks about are dead and buried before going public with these sensational claims. Bowers quickly fires him but the point still gnawed at me watching the film, as it does whenever scandal subjects are no longer there to defend themselves. Nonetheless, there’s a lot that’s undeniably true about the experience of being gay in the film industry of yore. However, one should wonder if things are really very different today. Granted, coming out of the closet is ostensibly embraced by the film community, but one seriously doubts that a macho lead actor today would still be employable if he came out of the closet simply because the industry is still so hypocritical.
The film is currently available for streaming rental or purchase on Amazon. Highly recommended, assuming you’re open-minded about Bowers’ penchant for portraying his activities in a jovial yet graphic way.