Bowers then and today at 88 [right courtesy of People (March 5, 2012)]
For years, Hollywood insiders have known about Scotty Bowers, an ex-Marine and close confidante of Gore Vidal's who was said to have provided free and/or paid sex to some of the industry's biggest names. Over the years, Bowers has apparently been an anonymous source for film bios, but only in a limited way; he had said he would never tell his full story for fear of hurting people.
Don't judge it by its hideous cover
As he approaches his eighty-ninth birthday and with most of the people he helped achieve orgasm dead and buried, he's changed his mind and collaborated with Lionel Friedberg on a tell-all that would make Shelley Winters blush—Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove Press, $25). It came out on Valentine's Day, but there's very little romance involved. Instead, the resourceful Bowers, who supported himself as a bartender and handyman all through the years he was tricking and dry-pimping, handily serves up hardcore sex with a cheerful lack of shame and not a little humor.
I say "dry-pimping" because, as Bowers stresses several times throughout the book, while he took money for sex countless times throughout his life, he never got paid for arranging what sounds like it could be tens of thousands of liaisons for men and women of all sexual persuasions. He's either the coolest dude ever or the stupidest; imagine the fortune he could have made considering so many of his clients were millionaires or better?
If you don't believe Katharine Hepburn loved the ladies, this book isn't for you. However, points off for misspelling her name in chapter five.
You might have read something about this book already—likely something dismissive as to its veracity, as to the probability that Bowers really and truly could have set up Katharine Hepburn with over 150 women—but the book has more to offer than just Scotty's Hollywood hijinks. One aspect of the memoir that is left out of most of the coverage is that Bowers, born into poverty in Illinois, has been turning tricks since his pre-teens. His stories of life as a shoe shine boy willing to polish the knobs of various priests and businessmen are just as compelling as his later tales of cornholing people you grew up thinking of as untouchable icons.
As Fred Sanford would say, "Look at all the dummies!"
Yet another installment of The Hollywood Show has come and gone, just like so many careers. This one was one of my least memorable; the star list was not popping for me.
However, it was also by far the most successful for the owners—it was supercrowded when I arrived mid-day on Saturday. Who was the big draw, you ask? Believe it or not, Paul Michael Glaser and the original Chris Brown, David Soul. Unbelievable that Starsky & Hutch have such a loyal following—they even sold out a 60-seat dinner with the actors for $150 a head after the show!
I was really scattered this show, having just landed and attended that cystic fibrosis event, so I don't have as many indelible memories as usual. But here goes:
With Piper Laurie—thank G-d I wasn't showing my dirty pillows
Upon arrival, I had to show up at the pro photography gallery for an appointment with the great Piper Laurie, who just turned 80 this year. She looks good and did a very stately photo with me.
Rhoda & Marrrry
Fresh off the gallery, I went for the biggest star there (IMHO) first, Valerie Harper. Valerie is 72 and looking good, as vivacious as ever. I wish Bethenny Frankel would stop stealing her act! I opened by telling her that although I was having her sign a great Rhoda image, I was more recently impressed by her performance in Looped. She was excited that I'd seen it on Broadway and pointed that out to her husband, almost like I must've been one of the few. Great show, by the way—as I told her, she's not the first, second or third person I would think of when casting someone to play Tallulah Bankhead, which made her performance all the more incredible.
On the Rhoda: Valerie was supersweet
Unfortunately, Shelley Berman was milling around (he seems to haunt these things while never actually doing them himself) and he stole away some of Valerie's attentions during my encounter. Not that there wasn't time to spare—Valerie's husband was so taken with the picture I presented her with (an original publicity still) that he dashed off to have it scanned before she signed it.
Val wanted to be sure her bangs were bangin'—they were!
She was such a good sport she even agreed to accompany me over to the pro photography gallery so we could get a posed shot even though she had not signed up for that in advance. It cost me another $25 donation, but since she was donating all proceeds to "hunger and poverty people" as well as a charity devoted to Holocaust survivors who are really old and "digging potatoes in fields" out in the middle of nowhere, I figured it was a steal. Another guy tried to get her to do a pic for free and he was politely but firmly told no dice. Holocaust survivors gotta eat, my man.
How can you not love anyone named Lainie?
Next up, I went for Lainie Kazan, 71, the voluptuous chanteuse who became an ample and amply gifted comic actress. I know her best for things like The Nanny, which my sidekick Chexy engaged her with his appreciation for My Favorite Year (1982).
Tonight, I went to a screening of the notorious stinker Myra Breckinridge (1970) at the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the Walter Reade. I went partly to see this bizarre film—simultaneously plodding and surreal—and partly to see its star, Raquel Welch, Q&Aed by Simon Doonan.
The book, along with The City and the Pillar, played a big part of my coming out process; I had copies in my room when a potential college roomie spotted them. "Gore Vidal...are you a fan of his work...or his life?" In truth, I was excited by Vidal's brash Myra and probably let it influence my own novel Boy Culture. I was also extremely interested in gender at that time, having spent late high school drawing men with breasts and women with penises in art class.
We got there 30 minutes early only to find a huge crowd. "How are we doing on tickets?" the organizer asked at the window. The reply? "We only have 10 tickets left."
My friend Tim and I went in and I was able to convince him to sit in the second row (it's not a huge screen) so I could video the Q&A. The weirdos were out in force, everyone from obnoxious, self-styled paparazzi (one yelling over us to friends, "How do you spell her name? Just W-E-L-C-H? What other movies was she in? I'm only here to take pictures, not to see the movie!") to a some women who don't realize they're more in drag than drag queens are. Actually, I didn't spot any drag queens or transfolk, the latter of which are represented in the film by Welch, whose titular character was Myron (impossibly, played by future film critic Rex Reed) before she was Myra.
You won't look this good over 70
Welch sauntered out from the side of the stage followed by Doonan. She's so outrageously curvaceous at this point it's a wonder she can keep her balance. Every comment I make about her appearance, please read into it as complimentary, because even though she has more magic hair than Eva Gabor ever dreamed of and even though she's starting to weirdly resemble Tina Turner, the woman is in her early seventies and looks so hot I bet a majority of men in their thirties would be only to happy to hop on that.
Doonan was shot down from the get-go—his cute introductory remarks about remembering seeing her in a TV special on a motorcycle was countered by Welch, who claimed he must be thinking of Ann-Margret. "She was always on a motorcycle!" She literally argued him down about it and throughout his non-confrontational questioning, Welch responded almost as if she were in the middle of a hostile interview. I feel like she wasn't hearing him well, but she for sure wasn't understanding him or getting his not-terribly-hard-to-get humor.
Myra's victim Roger Herren, who quit acting after getting balled by Raquel Welch
But in spite of that alien prickliness, she clearly had a set of stories to tell about this movie and was determined to tell them. She made several harsh statements about her co-star in the film, Mae West, who was in her mid-seventies at the time of filming and who was making her technicolor debut, starting with the revelation that Welch suspected West was actually a man based on her hands. She also referred to the fact that West called her a "pretty young thing" and therefore refused to do any two-shots with her in the film and, as we all know, famously tried to keep Welch from wearing white-and-black when West was wearing black-and-white. "Miss West has approval over costumes and doesn't want anything else wearing non-colors."
Welch also treated us to a pretty spot-on West impersonation, standing and shifting her weight as she mimicked her old nemesis, a woman who refused to work before 5PM. "It took time," she theorized, referring to West's elaborate get-ups, something Welch generously copped to understanding now that she herself is no spring chicken.
Welch was candid in her assessment of the film as a bomb, unable to really think of a single joyous moment during filming since as soon as she received the script she divined that she was in trouble. Any fun at all making it, Doonan wondered? "It was fun, but it was sad fun," Welch said unironically. She knew her big starring role was destined for not-so-greatness, and co-star John Huston's cackling to her that "it's just a picture" did anything but console her.
As articulate as Welch is when speaking of herself (her ego is as radiant as her visage, in stark contrast to her disappointingly deteriorated id)—as she did when she said she'd decided to ask for the role of Myra because what man becoming a woman wouldn't wanna look like her?—she did misspeak a few times, pronouncing the word "enamored" as "en-amour'd" and "erudite" as "airy-uh-dight." As game as she is, it has a terseness behind it, like she knows we want her to be camp and she is willing to dish some up, but the effort is not invisible.
That's something I find fascinating about her—she is STUNNING, yet she is flat on screen, almost asexual alongside a very young, very kittenish Farrah Fawcett. Welch looks like a hot number, but she has a square quality that is deliciously obvious in her famous TV interview from 1970 with Dick Cavett and Janis Joplin; Welch has said she was a fan of Joplin's but that Joplin sat there staring at her like she was "from the moon."
Unfortunately, the Q&A ended rather soon and Welch didn't take any questions from the audience, nor did she exit past us (wisely avoiding anyone asking for autographs or pic-withs by disappearing backstage). I would have asked her if she'd ever envisioned transgender issues becoming so mainstream, who she would cast as Myra if she were cast as Leticia in a remake today and if she'd ever heard directly from any of the old Hollywood stars whose classic clips appeared in the movie. (I just kept thinking, "What did Alice Faye think of this mess???")
I would love to know how Doonan thought this went.
The movie itself is something I remember watching in college and being stupefied that it had been made. I mean, somehow, over 40 years ago, Mike Sarne, a former pop singer and confirmed heterosexual, adapted Gore Vidal's high-concept literary sensation about a malicious, movie-obsessed transsexual into a film that mixes scenes such as a young stud being ass-raped by then-reigning sex queen Welch with clips from Hollywood films of the '30s and '40s. The proceedings feel like they want to be Felliniesque (and might've been dynamite in the hands of a Kubrick) but instead are just plain strange.
I actually would love for Myra to be remade using Sarne's idea to intercut movie clips with the action; I just would like for it to be remade with more dialogue, more of a linear narrative and far better clip choices. How many times do Laurel and Hardy need to show up?
Welch is so perfectly cast but simply couldn't act at that point. West is highly entertaining when first seen interviewing studs (including Tom Selleck) and quite funny, but her line readings are pretty abysmal later on, as are her beyond-the-beyond vampy songs. There is something indelible about West standing there patting herself down while crooning about what a sexpot she is that one can never quite forget.
A lot of fun was had; my main regret is I'll be in L.A. so can't be there tomorrow to see Welch interviewed live by Dick Cavett!
P.S. I would love to upload some video but my computer at home won't upload large files suddenly. Any advice? I have a Mac, using iPhoto, tried ImageBrowser and Image Capture...