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.
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?
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.
Whether or not you decide his stories of the rich and famous are true, false or something in-between, his remembrances of trading sex for a few coins to support his family inarguably set the tone for this alarmingly, disarmingly entertaining read. Instead of what we're used to, and what is the norm when it comes to children and sex—namely, scarring experiences that haunt victims for a lifetime—Bowers seems to have decided early on that because he witnessed so much sex between the animals on his family farm, it was just a completely natural function. So even though adult men are using him at a dizzying pace almost from the beginning of his life, Scotty's memory of it is that it was all in good fun. (As a sidebar, his belief that the prostitutes of Chicago would swap a "fuck for a buck" and could be haggled down to half that or less is an eye-opening lesson on economics.)
Describing how he used to jack off a priest, he says:
"I found none of the priest's likes or preferences in any way abhorrent. I never questioned them. They seemed perfectly normal to me. I figured that if it felt good and provided pleasure, why not enjoy it? That only seemed logical. Do you get what I mean?"
We get what you mean.
After defending his country in World War II and experiencing the trauma of surviving a battle in which his brother died, Bowers settled down with a woman and had a daughter, but it wasn't long before his job at a gas station near Tinseltown helped transform him into the go-to guy for getting off. His very first famous fuck was, of all people, Walter Pidgeon! I'd never read about him liking men and hadn't expected to read so graphically that he loved to suck Scotty off while masturbating, but I definitely didn't turn away in horror. Soon, many who worked behind the camera in the motion picture industry were coming to Scotty for sexual release, either with him or with one of his hard-up Marine buddies, and they were often using a trailer parked behind the station. To hear Scotty tell it, these liaisons were happening one after the other all day long, and involved every possible permutation.
But because homosexuality was such a taboo in the '40s and '50s, it was only natural that the handsome, well-built and apparently sexually insatiable Marine attracted many more gay clients than straight ones, including lesbians. (Lesbians became such a specialty he later allegedly provided many for Kinsey to watch and film in action.) Reading about the furtive actions of closeted creative types in the hair and makeup and scenery departments of the studios is one of the most interesting parts of the book.
One thing that might make the book feel slightly inauthentic is that Bowers's outlook on sex appears to be matched in kind by just about everyone he encounters. After a while, it seems like he fucks everyone he meets, whether it's the Duke of Windsor ("He sucked me off like a pro.") or Spencer Tracy, and it seems as if absolutely everyone who's anyone has no hang-ups about approaching him to set them up with young flesh. You think the sexual revolution began in the '60s? Not to hear Bowers tell it—at times, this book reads as a sort of argument that it started a few decades earlier, possibly with Scotty himself.
He fucks people so easily that when telling some non-sexual gossip about Rita Hayworth, Scotty actually says, and I quote, "we never had the chance to go to bed together," as if their lack of physical intimacy was dictated only by scheduling.
As for the big names mentioned in the book, many of them are people we now know for sure were gay or, as lots of them preferred to insist during their lifetimes, bisexual. These include Cary Grant and Randolph Scott (Bowers confirms they were live-in lovers and that he had three-ways with them many times), Tyrone Power (he had group sex with Bowers, who confirms the actor was a "doo doo queen"), Charles Laughton (when you read what he had in store for one young stud, you'll realize he might've asked Octavia Spencer for seconds had he been cast in The Help), Raymond Burr, Tony Perkins, Tab Hunter, Ramon Navarro (a cumwhore who guzzled the stuff five to 15 men at a pop in order to "retain his vigor, his strength, his good looks"), Rock Hudson, George Cukor ("Anal sex was out of the question...George just wanted to suck dick."), James Dean (an annoying little queen, apparently) and many more.
But speaking of bisexuality, Bowers identifies as bi. He has no inhibitions at all about fucking with men of all ages, but he claims to much prefer women. He says he had an affair with Vivien Leigh during the making of A Streetcar Named Desire, ending his stories of their passionate screwing by saying, "You seldom get a roll in the hay the way you did with Vivien Leigh," one of many hilariously point-blank statements in these pages.
Keep in mind that while all of this was happening, Bowers had a child with Betty, a woman he loved but never married. Reading his glib memories of hooking up with multiple people a day and never really having any time at home with his family is uncomfortable because Bowers is so likable, yet his behavior—as he himself admits—is so neglectful. Tragically, his daughter died young after a botched abortion, which raises the question of why, if he was such a libertine in his personal conduct, he didn't have any sort of dialogue with his daughter about sexuality. If he had, he might have been able to arrange for a safer abortionist. In the same way, it's thought-provoking how sexually free-wheeling he is, never making excuses, yet how much he is still involved in secrecy—sneaking back and forth between two men's homes to help each cheat on the other, illicitly bedding men's wives, cheating on the two women he loved most in his life (which do not include his current wife!) with each other. But is it cheating if nobody cares?
Honesty is an issue in this book in that Scotty is admittedly betraying confidences (albeit post-mortem), in one case confessing he point-blank lied to Tyrone Power's biographer. He also engaged in peeping on copulating couples, and some reviewers have suggested his version of the facts don't square with many other documented versions, whether it be a question of dates or the personal habits of the stars he apparently rubbed shoulders and gonads with.
But Gore Vidal's endorsement of Bowers reads:
"I have known Scotty Bowers for the better part of a century. I'm so pleased that he has finally decided to tell his story to the world. His startling memoir includes great figures like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Scotty doesn't lie—the stars sometimes do—and he knows everybody."
Bowers's involvement in prostitution ended with AIDS. He says he would insist that people use protection but couldn't be sure they did, and was spooked when John Holmes died of AIDS. (George Cukor apparently got to sample Holmes's wares, as well as those of Steve Reeves.)
In the end, I found Full Service—while poorly or at least inartfully written (too bad Tennessee Williams tore up his version)—weirdly charming, about 75% believable and almost unique among tell-alls in its utter lack of embarrassment or judgment. This guy loves sex and got off on helping people. It's impossible to read this and not want to meet this dude (if only to ask him about the few people he doesn't mention, like the still living Lizabeth Scott!), and it will make you reconsider the carved-in-stone reputations of some of Hollywood's indisputable icons.
People Scotty Bowers Says He Fucked With (I'm trying to avoid others he never specifically claims but may have had sex with, like Rock Hudson and Ramon Navarro):
Walter Pidgeon; Pidgeon's friend Jacques Potts; his live-in girlfriend Betty Keller; adult neighbor Joe Peterson at age nine; any "man or...woman who was attractive and who wanted to make whoopee with me, just as long as it didn't interfere with my working hours"; Sydney Guilaroff (MGM's chief hairstylist); Edwin B. Willis (MGM set decorator); Cole Porter; priest at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chicago; "nearly every Catholic man of the cloth in [Chicago]"; childhood neighbor/confirmed bachelor Frank Risnick (Buell Horn Co. worker); George Cukor; Tyrone Power; groups of up to 15 blue collar workers at a time in Chicago; roomfuls of "fat, middle-aged men" playing poker in Chicago; an unspecified large number of bisexual or gay married men from Chicago at the same time with their wives; the twentysomething brother of one of his middle-school teachers; Orry-Kelly; all of those lucky enough to be invited to "innumerable expensive, classy [Hollywood] orgies where the participants were all wealthy, famous, and sophisticated"; William Haines and his lover Jimmie (not sure...sex was implied); Frank Horn (Cary Grant's private secretary); Cary Grant and his lover Randolph Scott; "a pretty sixteen-year-old girl I had met in...El Cajon"; enough men and women in Chicago while on furlough that "I needed an ice pack to soothe my overworked dick"; a "few girls" while in the Marines; a group of friends at a private home in Westwood; Alex Tiers (who sucked him off while he was asleep in a park); Spencer Tracy; Errol Flynn (only heterosexual sex with a woman next to Flynn while he was passed out); three "gorgeous young girls" for some porn pictures; a young lesbian seeking to become a mom; the wife of a Stanford professor seeking to become a mom (while the husband touched her in the same bed); Vincent Price; Vincent's friend/socialite Arthur Brown; actor Peter Bull; writer/director Brian Desmond Hurst; Cecil Beaton; the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; "an extremely good-looking, well-groomed fellow who loved to take it in the 'back door'"; singer John Walsh; Vivien Leigh; a married cop from Covina who pulled him over after working a party at Franklin Pangborn's house; William Somerset Maugham and his lover Alan Searle (possibly just voyeurism); the manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel; Noel Coward; Edith Piaf; Rupert Allan (publicist) and his lover Frank McCarthy (producer); Charles Laughton; John Carradine (only sharing women); Roddy McDowall; "Fred" (a friend of artist Dave Damon's who introduced Bowers to J. Edgar Hoover); J. Edgar Hoover and his young driver (apparently, that couple had sex in the same room with Bowers and "Fred," but they didn't necessarily all have sexual contact together); Brian Epstein; Sheila Mack (Jerry Herman's assistant); various "gorgeous young girls" in three-ways with Sheila Mack; Wisconsin socialite Judith Moore; various male/female couples and solo women in three-ways and four-ways with Judith Moore; Tennesse Williams; Raymond Burr; Harold Lloyd's wife Mildred (at the base of a Christmas tree in their home); and Lois Broad—his current wife of nearly 30 years.