Old Hollywood gossip and underground history are juicier than any Douglas Sirk melodrama, and Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood provides that scandalous sugar high you’re looking for. Its subject, Scotty Bowers, is a former hustler who, during the 1940s and ’50s, provided private space for Hollywood’s straight and gay celebrity hookups at his humble trailer behind a gas station, away from the prying eyes of the tabloids and the dangers of police raids.
Knowledge of Bowers and his sexual exploits (sexploits?) eluded mainstream knowledge for the better part of the 20th century. (How it escaped the wrath of Kenneth Anger for his seminal book Hollywood Babylon is beyond us.) But in 2012, Bowers released a memoir that detailed his experiences catering to the base desires of the Hollywood elite in The New York Times best-selling book, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. The tome not only gives a who’s who of Tinseltown celebs who came calling on Bowers for a secret encounter (Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Lana Turner, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, etc.), but it also serves as an interesting window into the peculiar control studios had over the public images of their stars, repressing them from living their authentic selves, especially those who didn’t identify as straight.
Tyrnauer’s doc gives a comprehensive look at Bowers’ life, and it’s quite compelling. After serving in the Marines during World War II, he headed for Hollywood and landed a job as a gas-station attendant—which is where he met director George Cukor, who invited Bowers to his home for a private, kinky pool party. From there, Bowers enlisted other gas-station attendants, dates and friends to provide all kinds of sexual favors, with Cukor and other closeted peers spreading word of the network and earning Bowers the distinguished reputation as a “pimp to the stars.”
Bowers doesn’t shy away from giving certain lurid details, and his openness about it is quite remarkable. But a question about whether it is right or ethical to reveal these details is raised often within the film, most notably in a scene in which Bowers is confronted by an angry fan at a book signing for Full Service. Bowers’ response to the accusation that he’s outing certain individuals and unfairly detailing their private lives is twofold: One, most of these people he discusses are already well-known for being gay; two, what shame is there to be had in the knowledge that Hollywood types are simply doing what every person on Earth has done at one point or another?
Beyond sexual release, the 94-year-old offered non-sexual companionship and friendships that lasted years, which he never received a dime for; he reveled more in maintaining an “introduction service” for friends—in essence, he was a one-man Tinder app.
However interesting in its scandalous nature, this film would be exceptional if it weren’t so disorganized in its latter half, which seems to have trouble piecing together the various facets of Bowers’ life. But documenting a personality that is this complex and lively can’t be easy. Beyond learning of his sexual adventures, we follow him as he works out book deals or goes to the hospital for dialysis treatments. We also witness his interesting quirks, including a hoarder complex, and learn how difficult it was for him to keep a stable relationship and be a good husband and family man in his first marriage. Bowers recounts the death of his only daughter from a botched abortion and, in an eyebrow-raising scene, recalls how sexual abuse from pedo priests during his days as a Catholic altar boy informed his sexually adventurous nature later in life.
His positive disposition remains unfettered in discussing these darker topics, as they’ve had little effect on his ability to be reliable to his big-screen friends, but the grander takeaway seems to be that he’s not one to waste time dwelling on trauma.
Any old Hollywood film fan would probably delight in learning this hidden dimension to the lives of the stars they thought they knew, and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood satisfies that quest for raunchy knowledge. If you’re truly looking to know which actors or actresses Bowers boinked, dig into the memoir instead. Otherwise, buckle up for a fascinating, albeit unwieldy, doc that is as freewheeling and intricate as its subject.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood was directed by Matt Tyrnauer.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.