As classic film fans will tell you, the new wave of Hollywood secrets coming out today are nothing if you know about studio era history. Certain stars troubles were well-known, if not open secrets in the Hollywood of the ’30s and ’40s, and that includes sexuality. In 2012 author Scott “Scotty” Bowers wrote the book, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars where he claimed to have run a successful gay brothel out of a Hollywood Blvd. gas station that catered to the wealthy and closeted. The eventual documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood will certainly fascinate fans who believe what Bowers is selling, but what’s more enticing is the subject’s sad life now.
Bowers is a man with a colorful history. After serving in the U.S. military he went to Hollywood and took up residence as a gas station attendant on Hollywood Blvd (the location is now the Hollywood Fire Station). It’s there that he claims he became the go-to man for the actors of the era, giving them access to “tricks” as a means of letting their sexuality run rampant. As the film lays out, Bowers claims to have been in relationships of various duration with Spencer Tracy, Walter Pidgeon, and George Cukor, to name a few.
There are many who claim Bowers’ stories are utterly false, and director Matt Tyrnauer attempts to find something passing for the truth in Scotty’s stories. Tyrnauer interviews two other men who claim they worked at Bowers’ gas station. One claims working for Bowers “bought [his] house” and that the man was so kind that, unlike regular pimps, he never took a penny from the men he employed. Another former colleague seems reluctant to discuss events, telling Bowers to call the men he serviced “clients” and not “tricks.” It is this latter story that gives credence to Bowers’ story, if only because it doesn’t come off as sycophantic.
Tyrnauer understands there’s no way to definitively prove anything and so watching Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood means jumping into the narrative with both feet. Classic Hollywood fans have probably heard about the sexuality of the stars trotted out: Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, so hearing that they were gay isn’t ground-breaking. For Bowers, his book is meant to showcase the stars as people who had sex and, yes, weren’t straight. This seems to shock older readers. Bowers drops in on a retirement community where he tells a surprised woman about Katharine Hepburn’s lesbianism.
It is hard to believe Bowers is really doing a public service, but it’s hard not to applaud his dedication (if it’s to be believed). He allegedly turned down Confidential magazine when they offered him a (then) hefty sum to discuss his threesome with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. And he’s shown with a large group of people who worship at his feet. Yet all that glitters isn’t gold. Tyrnauer’s camera turns to look at Bower’s himself, and how the life he’s put down on the pages of his book might be the only way he can cope (or avoid) the real problems in his life.
Scotty’s story isn’t about the secret history of Hollywood, but his own secret history. Scotty and his wife of 35 years, Lois, live in a beautiful home in the Hollywood hills that’s falling apart due to a combination of neglect and Bowers’ hoarding. We watch him travel to a variety of different storage spaces packed with junk while his wife continually discusses how unsafe the house is for her. There’s no overt discussion of Bowers’ hoarding, though it’s evident that much of it might have to do with Bowers’ undiagnosed war trauma. He’s also frank about his sexual abuse, and it is these claims that threaten to turn you away from him as a subject. He maintains everything he did was a choice, even if he was a child being taken advantage of by Catholic priests.
For Bowers, his reputation is everything; the reputation he gained in Hollywood, as well as the adoration from people who believe him. It’s amazing to hear his wife, a woman he’s spent three decades with, question whether she’d have married him if she’d known about his exploits.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a mixed bag. It’s an intriguing look at an unseen Hollywood player who you either love to hate or believe wholeheartedly. The claims are specious and will never be proven, so if you’re watching you either believe him or want to discredit him. The movie is a flawed portrait of a flawed man who built his life around what was once seen as a flaw in humanity.