Scotty Bowers Reveals Gay Hollywood

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018)
Directed by Matt Tynauer
Greenwich Entertainment, 98 minutes, NR (Strong/graphic sexual content)

It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that the lives of Hollywood celebrities seldom conform to the images crafted by public relations agents. Still, Scotty Bowers’ revelations make The Day of the Locust seem like a children’s tale.

Bowers, 95, expands upon his 2012 memoir Full Service in a tattletale documentary film about closeted gay and lesbian life from the 1940s into the 1980s. The title of Bowers' memoir references becoming pimp to the stars. It began when Walter Pidgeon first performed oral sex on him at his Wiltshire Avenue gas station in 1946. Bowers goes on to claim that he procured for and/or had sex with a dizzying array of glitterati: George Cukor, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, J. Edgar Hoover, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Randolph Scott, Cole Porter, Tyrone Powers—even Bob Hope and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor! He also located female partners for Vivien Leigh and Lauren Bacall, claims to have a three-way with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, and alleges to have supplied Katharine Hepburn with around 150 female partners. In his telling, Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’ famed romance was a sham designed to keep her lesbianism and his homosexuality out of the limelight. (Bowers claims to have had sex with Tracy on several occasions.) 

Numerous individuals appear on screen to claim that Bowers was practically a one-man social worker for gays and lesbians. To talking heads such as Stephen Fry and Peter Bart, he was little short of heroic. For his part, Bowers claims never to have made a dime for his services, which is not quite true as several left him money and houses when they died.

Here’s where things get–pardon the wordplay–tricky. Bowers claims to have waited until his principals were dead to write his book and be in the documentary. That’s either noble or a good way of making sure no one would refute what he said. Whatever else Bowers was or wasn’t, it’s impossible not to notice that he is a name-dropper. It often feels as if he’s trying to one-up himself as he catalogues conquests and services rendered. He claims, for example, to have been initiated into gay sex by a priest when he was barely pubescent and that there was “nothing wrong with” what the priest did. Give Bowers credit; he’s unabashed about sex. He goes on, though, to say that in essence, he did all the priests in the parish.

Did this happen? Damned if I know or care. There is, however, a Scotty-as-Zelig pall over this film. It certainly doesn’t help his credibility that Bowers appears a tad unhinged in the film. He is a hoarder whose various homes and garages are falling apart and stuffed to the gills with trash, treasures, and cats. His properties are so much on the filthy side that he feeds the skunks that come to visit in the evening. Somewhere along the line Scotty acquired a wife, Lois, but we learn almost nothing about her or their relationship.

Was all of Hollywood gay? The film’s most convincing parts are those that remind us of how different the times were. It is fairly well established that actresses such as Tallulah Bankhead, Billie Burke, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo either had same-sex flings or were exclusively lesbian. For the next generation, production codes, decency crusaders, and contract morality clauses practically guaranteed that any sort of sexuality, including marital, was veiled in chastity. Bowers also tells of how men coming back from World War II were used to each other’s companionship, some of which expressed itself sexually. Was all of this a perfect libidinal storm?

Maybe. We know from Justin Spring’s superb study Secret Historian that a thriving subterranean gay subculture was there for the taking by those in the know. Spring’s subject, Samuel Steward (1909-93), led a triple life: as Professor Steward, as tattoo artist/pornographer Phil Sparrow, and as gay pulp fiction writer Phil Andros. Steward also claims to have had sex with more men than Wilt Chamberlain had female conquests (allegedly 20,000!). By the way, both Steward and Bowers were major informants for Alfred Kinsey, whom both portray  as one weird dude.

Far be it from me, a straight guy who has only once been to Hollywood, to say what did or didn’t happen there. Hollywood has long been a world of glitz, glamour, kitsch, and baubles. Recent revelations suggest that it’s also filled with predators, plus those who might best be classified as sexually opportunistic. The Secret History of Hollywood often has the feel of tabloid sensationalism the likes of which is often called “dish.” The thing about dish is that it’s hard to resist!

If you pinned me to the wall and forced me to say how much of The Secret History is true, I’d probably waffle and say half of it. But even if Scotty Bowers is the biggest load of crap since Moo Doo, his tale fascinates. I did, however, wish director Matt Tynauer had researched more thoroughly and probed more deeply. It would have, in my estimation, made Bowers more credible and less like a dotty old hoarder telling dirty stories.

Rob Weir

No comments: