Five years ago, I posted a review of the book Full Service, the as-told-to story of Scotty Bowers, a Hollywood gas station owner who claims to have become a procurer for some of Hollywood's biggest names from the '40s onward, including Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, George Cukor, Rock Hudson and many more.
Along with hooking them up with sex partners, he also claims to have had sex with many of them himself, including Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon and both Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.
The comments on my review were largely critical, blowing him off as a liar in spite of the support of Gore Vidal and other serious people who wanted us to know Scotty was the real deal.
I prefer this take:
Now, director Matt Tyrnauer has shot a compelling documentary on the man of 1,000 facials, and I think Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood far surpasses the book as both art and documentation that Bowers was probably every bit as busy as he boasts ...
Premiering in the U.S. this weekend as part of DOC NYC, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood presents Scotty as an affable character, so alarmingly virile at 90 and 91 (when the film was shot; he's now a more enfeebled 94) that he does odd jobs for $20 a day just to stay busy, and never hesitates to climb a ladder to scramble around a roof. Every time he's shown, save for one emotional moment, he's smiling — or at least his big, blue eyes are.
He is a pathological optimist, even when it comes to making a living. According to Scotty, he never really asked for money for his pimping, but he did accept large cash gifts from some of the stars, which seems to have formed the foundation of his motto that the money will take care of itself — even if celebrities didn't want to take care of themselves.
The film repeats Scotty's origin story — it is that, as he seems to be a supersexual superhero — and it is even more alarming to hear Scotty recount his exploits as a self-made child hooker than it was to read about that period of his life in his book. Scotty claims he turned tricks with the farmer who lived next door to his family, with a coterie of priests and many other adults while a pre-teen. Though almost any viewer will want to correct him and tell him he wasn't having sex (or doing “business, baby!” as he cheerfully says) but was being abused, Bowers is unfllinching in his assertion that he enjoyed sex with adults as a child, and that he had no compunction about setting up a lesbian teacher with a female friend when he and she were south of puberty.
Next, after serving in WWII (which claimed his brother), Scotty was running a Hollywood gas station in the '40s when he encountered his first A-list star who wanted sex, Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon, not widely known to have been gay, allegedly asked Scotty back to his place for a swim and began a sexual relationship with him, one that caused Pidgeon's grandson to tell Scotty at a booksigning one time (video here) that he was surprised to find out his grandpa liked men since he'd never asked to fellate his grandson.
Soon, many other movie stars, starlets and studio technicians were frequenting Scotty's gas station, having sex with WWII vets and goodtime girls in a trailer that had two mattresses inside, in the bathroom, or off-site.
Scotty's stories have turned many off because they are anti-glamour. To this day, many older movie fans are entranced by the fictional romance between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, so they recoil from Scotty's version, which includes Tracy taking rolls in the hay with Scotty that he pretended never happened the next day, and Hepburn soliciting at least 150 women from Scotty over the course of 40 years.
But if Scotty's book stretched credulity, Tyrnauer's film goes a long way toward backing him up. First, the film interviews two men who say they were among Scotty's hustlers (including one shirtless older man who mocks himself as the worst hooker in Scotty's harem), one of whom laughs nervously while acknowledging the sex he traded for money back in the day — and who has a signed photo from regular customer Charles Laughton which states in the inscription that the man balled Laughton until he agreed to sign. Another man interviewed, a retired costume designer, provides footage of an orgy at his house at which a young and hung Scotty was in demand — all the unused footage from that should be on the DVD.
Moreover, Tyrnauer has pushed Scotty to dig into his storage units, producing never-seen photos of Scotty and his boys and girls that seem to corroborate the general scene. (Hundreds more, not in the film, were unearthed last week.) And as Tyrnauer mentioned during the post-screening Q&A in NYC Saturday, he would often use Google to double-check the facts Scotty would spew out in his detailed stories, coming to the conclusion that the nonagenerian with no computer would not be able to rattle off names, dates and addresses that checked out if he were a bullshit artist.
On hand in the film to back Scotty up are film historians and biographers William J. Mann and Robert Hofler, among others.
The film functions as a much deeper look at Bowers than was provided in his sometimes frustratingly basic autobio, and yet still leaves aspects of his life in the shadows. Like all the great stars whose sexual appetites Bowers proudly boasts of having sated, perhaps director Tyrnauer understands the power of prereserving a little mystique — even in a film that is frankly blowing the lid off some of Tinseltown's most enduring myths. For example, precious little is said about Scotty's daughter, who died after a botched abortion in her early twenties, and while we are visually confronted with Scotty's hoarding disorder (his homes are so choked with garbage his long-suffering wife Lois — who never knew he'd been a hooker until his book came out! — feels her safety is at risk), the director chooses not to dwell on it.
For every item shortchanged, there is something explored, such as Scotty's confounding relationship with his wife of over 30 years, a woman so far removed from his world she gets the heebie-jeebies in a gay bar! Even more interesting is Scotty's long relationship with his male partner, cult-movie actor Beach Dickerson, who died in 2005. Dickerson willed Scotty property, and seems to be chiefly responsible for the fact that Scotty has enough assets to live as he pleases.
Tyrnauer manages to pull out so much about Scotty's pre-“gay” take on sexuality, the film works as well or better as the story of sex in the 20th century than as the story of a pimp whose little black book is IMDb. In that vein, a foray into Scotty's work on the Taschen book My Buddy, all about homoerotic WWII images, and his remembrances of being studied by — and procuring for the scientific eye of — Kinsey are gripping, while occasionally cutesy film clips underscoring some of the big names Scotty is outing are less so. (The choice of seeing Cary Grant exclaiming he's suddenly gone gay in That Touch of Mink feels easy, but is a good example of how readily digestible the film would be for any viewer in spite of the horsepills of reality it's blowing down our throats.)
A handsome film about a sexually alluring, aggressive, unapologetic man, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is entertaining, smart and radical viewing.
I will post about its official release when that is announced.
Check Out the Post-Screening Q&A: