Based on Scotty Bowers’ 2012 memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, the new documentary by director Matt Tyrnauer (Studio 54) delivers an intimate portrait of a colourful character with a fascinating past.
After serving as a Marine in World War II, Bowers moved to Los Angeles in 1946 where he soon found himself connecting his friends with Hollywood stars for sexual encounters at the service station he worked at on Hollywood Boulevard. This was at a time when movie studios were heavily involved in creating and sustaining the public personas of their stars, projecting their relationships as wholesome and monogamous, arranging dates and even marriages for them. Bowers catered to the desires of many of those stars, both straight and gay, who feared losing their status and career if the truth about them became public.
As with the book before it, the documentary sees Bowers divulge some astonishing anecdotes about the sex lives of many leading lights of Hollywood’s Golden Age such as Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and director George Cukor. He also claims to have arranged sex for members of the British Royal Family when they were visiting LA and describes details of the private lives of figures such as Cole Porter and Gore Vidal (to whom the documentary is dedicated). Scotty talks about his own sexual experiences with various stars and turning down financial offers from Confidential magazine (a celebrity gossip title of the 1950s-70s) to confirm the details of stories they were publishing. Instead he chose to share his stories publicly only once the majority of the stars had died.
The film allows space for a debate as to whether Bowers was right to share his tales about some of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars. Even in 2018 there are fans who would rather read a sanitised, straight washed version of the lives of their favourite actors than get to know them as they really were. Bowers contends that anyone who knew these people well would have already known details such as their true sexualities and he’s only enlightening the public. Writer and actor Stephen Fry argues that all Bowers has done is show that these stars were “real people”, “flesh and blood like us”.
Refusing to label his own sexuality but always frank in discussing his sexual activity even in the 1940s and ‘50s, Bowers recalls being interviewed several times by zoologist Dr Kinsey for his groundbreaking report Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and inviting Kinsey to attend parties as part of his research.
It was the death of Scotty’s friend of forty years actor Rock Hudson in 1985 to an AIDS-related illness that saw Bowers end his days as a Hollywood fixer.
What makes Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood such a satisfying and captivating watch is the openness of its subject. Bowers, now 95 and seemingly indefatigable, doesn’t shy away from any of Tyrnauer’s questions. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of Bowers’ work for so many years he talks freely and unashamedly about sex. His wife of thirty four years Lois says she knew nothing of her husband’s past when they married and when they share the screen, often talking with different agendas, it makes for a compelling dynamic.
As we gain a deeper knowledge of Bowers’ life, there are some particularly poignant moments such as him talking about the death of his adult daughter and losing his brother in battle during the final year of World War II.
Following Scotty’s daily life, Tyrnauer includes some enjoyable footage of skunks feasting on leftovers including cat food and birthday cake that Bowers leaves out in his backyard for them. Be sure to stay until after the end credits for some bonus skunk footage!
Having survived many of his old Hollywood friends Scotty Bowers provides a link between the closeted Golden age of Hollywood and a world where same sex marriage has been legalised in the US and many parts of the world. Towards the end of documentary we see Bowers walk down West Hollywood’s strip of gay bars on Santa Monica Boulevard with men openly kissing behind, something that would have been unimaginable in public at the time when he was busiest arranging meetings for his celebrity friends and clients.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is currently playing at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles and opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday 3rd August. At IFC Center there will be Q&As with director Matt Tyrnauer on Friday 3rd August at select showtimes and Tyrnauer will be joined by Bowers himself for Q&As or extended introductions at various showtimes on 4th and 5th August, for more details and to book tickets go to the IFC Center website. For details on screenings in other US cities visit the official Scotty website.