In Theaters--Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017)

From the 1940s until the 1980s Scotty Bowers was the man Hollywood turned to for sexual satisfaction. Be it from himself or the men and women he arranged to service Tinsel Town’s randiest residents, for decades he made a living as a bartender, but built a life offering pleasure just for the joy of making people happy. Long a local legend, Bowers found mainstream attention when he told his story in the 2012 memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, where he dished about the erotic proclivities of his clients, from Spencer Tracy and George Cukor, to Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. Now in the documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017), filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer looks more closely at the man who made a life fulfilling fantasies.

Bowers began adulthood as a Marine, fighting in some of the most harrowing battles of World War II. He returned from the war shattered, traumatized, and determined to create a happier world. As an attendant at a Hollywood gas station, he found his calling, when an invitation for and afternoon of nude swimming and sex with customer Walter Pidgeon inspired him to begin making his own connections between stars and willing partners. He arranged for hook-ups at the station, eventually moving on to bartending, which lessened his risk and gave him more flexibility. While the men and women he recommended made money, he never did and he never had a black book, keeping names and numbers in his head, and thus enabling him to fly under the radar for years.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is full of people who love Bowers. A former sex worker credits him with giving him the means to buy a home, another leaves him multiple houses in his will, and parties full of old friends delight in his smiling presence. It is certainly inspiring to see this man in his nineties still active, working, socializing, and sharing his knowledge with eager film historians.

All is not well with Bowers though. His homes are rotting away beneath piles of possessions, much to the distress of his loving, but exhausted wife. While he doesn't attend to basic needs like this clutter or the rotting hole in his deck high in the Hollywood Hills, he is nevertheless in constant motion. As he struggles to climb down from a ladder he should never have ascended, it becomes clear that this is a man who chases sanity by keeping his mind occupied, whatever the risks.

As a child, Bowers was frequently molested by a neighbor, and in book and film he insists that it was a mutually pleasurable experience. It was only the first sexual encounter he would have with a grown man while still a child, but he draws no connection between those moments and his hypersexual adulthood. Still, it seems he knows something is off. After defiantly defending his abuser and insisting what they did together was acceptable he says, “I went along everything…and I never told anyone.” In that moment, shame appears to waver beneath his determination to remain upbeat.

There is also the trauma of the war, which has had the most profound impact on his life. He finally makes himself vulnerable when he discusses these years and the way they permanently marked him. 

These experiences seem to have left Bowers with only a superficial ability to be kind. In focusing on his clients and the nightlife that came with it, he essentially abandoned his common-law wife and daughter, providing them with material comfort and little else. He is likewise unresponsive to the pain of his current wife, who sighs and says she stays with him because of the brightness of his personality, despite the baggage that comes with it. He avoids self reflection, passing over his flaws lightly, determined that he is okay, that everything is okay.

As the AIDS epidemic cast a shadow over party life in 1980s Hollywood, Bowers reluctantly shut up shop, unwilling to risk the lives of the people he only wished to make happy. His legend was secure though and the town he serviced continued to embrace and care for him. Though there are those who feel he betrayed his clients by exposing their homosexuality, fetishes, and infidelities, he has stayed firm in his belief that it was all common knowledge for years. Ahead of his time in many ways, he also never saw anything wrong with the pursuit of pleasure, wherever that path led, and that is why he remains appreciated by many.

In focusing on the trauma lingering beneath Bower’s sunny exterior, Tyrnauer reveals uncomfortable truths that were more easily buried in his memoir. The result is a complex portrait of a survivor who offered acceptance and happiness the best way he knew how.

Many thanks to SIFF for providing a copy of the film for review. It is playing at SIFF Film Center in Seattle, August 24-30 and at other select theaters nationwide.


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