Being gay in Hollywood was not a thing. It was reduced to a smile or a look the other way. What makes the 2017 documentary SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) extraordinary is its scope and genuine sadness.
Director Matt Tynaur weaves a story of Scotty Bowers by following his life today as he reminisces about the days when he was younger and brought male companions to the fabled stars of Hollywood. Scott Bowers was a poor kid, always hustling for money in some form, from a farm in Illinois. He joined the Marines and became part of the landing at Iwo Jima. After the war, Bowers moved on to Hollywood instead of returning to the family farm. Bowers had two assets: he was well hung and had a charming personality. Bowers did not discriminate in his activities. He went anywhere he was told to go and did it all, including research for the Kinsey Report.
In the picture, he describes a chance meeting with Walter Pigeon at the fabled gas station Richfield Oil and Gas located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard where he worked. Pigeon reportedly asked him why he was pumping gas when he should be doing other things. This meeting turned into a lifelong side business that grew, and involved Bowers entertaining people. As his reputation for getting anything one could want grew, lineups at the gas station formed and consisted of Hollywood’s elite and not so elite. Bowers says in the film that ‘everything’ was simply twenty dollars used to feed his family.
Men began frequenting the gas station to be part of the business as Bowers began running others to keep up with demand. The film mentions that opportunities got so plentiful that a trailer was rented at the back of the gas station for people to park unseen. The trailer was outfitted with two beds and a partition between them for privacy. Bowers or other men would go into this unit with their clients. Bowers also went into partnership with a hotel across the road, using four rooms. The front desk staff would phone him and say when rooms where available. Holes were drilled in the walls so he could charge people to watch what was going on in the rooms.
Scotty Bowers became the one man who could get anything in Hollywood. SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) mentions many big names such as Cary Grant and his live in house mate Randolph Scott. The film claims that Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn did not live together as the studio said but in separate apartments. Tracy liked to be introduced to men and Hepburn to women. Director George Cukor, who hosted outlandish parties with tanned young men, also featured Bowers himself by the pool.
Bowers claims to have procured and been with people like Charles Laughton, Lawrence Olivier, Vivian Leigh, Bette Davis, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He mentions sharing a night with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner at Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs home, where they got stoned and swam naked. Somehow, I don’t see that happening as Frank would have killed Bowers or have him roughed up. Ava and Lana were freer spirits, so it is left to conjecture as to whether anything happened with Sinatra not there.
Rock Hudson of course makes an appearance as he was one of Bowers’ clients. The marriage to his PR secretary was a studio setup as Hudson was called out in fan magazines as to why he wasn’t married or being seen in the company of a female.
Why is this story of an opportunistic hustler named Scotty Bowers important to Hollywood? Scotty Bowers sold happiness with his smile and his charms. He allowed these people to be themselves away from the studio, the production codes and the pressures of being a ‘star.’
Hollywood of the bygone age was in many respects the same, if not worse than it is today. It was not a secret spoken of that the casting couch mentality existed, sending many hopeful beauty queens back home on the train or going to the hospital for exhaustion, which was the euphemism for abortion. Gay men and women were worse off (if that is possible) as coming out would be career suicide, often from a studio that invested money in a wholesome image and expected it to translate into box office receipts.
SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) is a fact within the system since the beginning. The picture later depicts Scotty rather sadly going from his various homes and sifting through packed garages of old belongings and junk. The homes he shared with his wife, singer Lois Broad, look like hoarding was underway. We see Bowers with some of his men that are still alive, recounting their exploits in this documentary as well as the book he wrote titled, “Full Service.”
Humanity also comes through as Scotty Bowers breaks down talking of his older brother who was skilled in the war. He tends bar like he did in the past and the film shows him mixing with older past clients and taking selfies with today’s young men, for whom he is a legend.
Bowers recounts how his first marriage to a sweetheart from Illinois disintegrated as he wasn’t home a lot. The deepest sadness is evident when he speaks of the death of his twenty-one year old daughter from a complicated abortion. Scotty Bowers does this with an almost alarming coolness; yet you know there is real pain. Her death did not stop Bowers from going on a call that same evening.
Whether SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) is scandal sheet stuff or truth is debatable as many of the people had passed on and were not able to defend themselves. The film’s pathos is witnessed when Bowers and his friends consistently try to relive the old days with laughter and tears hidden. They laugh. They joke. They hug like they are holding on to a hidden joke or a life no one believes but they do.
Scotty Bowers passed away in 2019 at age of 98. His second wife Lois preceded him in 2018. Like it or not, Scotty Bowers and others like him are part of the fabric of Hollywood. The Bacchanal continues.
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