I t’s no secret that movie stars’ images were carefully controlled by the studio publicity machines during Hollywood’s Golden Years. Rather than display the variety of human life, movie stars were distinguished not only by their good looks, but also by the apparent absolute wholesomeness of their lives, with wholesome being defined by a very narrow and puritanical standard indeed. The movie studios managed this enterprise so well that most Americans never guessed that hunky Rock Hudson was anything other than the flaming heterosexual he portrayed on screen, or that the child Loretta Young “adopted” was actually a product of an affair between herself and Clark Gable.
Of course people working in the movie business come in a wide variety of types and identities, and experience a variety of desires, just like the rest of us. Enter Scotty Bowers, a handsome Midwesterner who moved to Hollywood after serving with the Marines during World War II. Bowers found a job at a gas station at Hollywood Boulevard and Van Ness, and soon began acting as a sort of broker for people looking for other people outside the strict confines of the studios’ moral code. If you wanted a handsome young man, or 20 of them, a woman or several, a threesome, or anything else that needed to be kept secret from the studios and the general public, Scotty was your go-to guy. The term “pimp” would usually be applied to someone who performs such services, but it seems a harsh term to apply to Bowers, particularly since there’s no evidence he abused anyone, nor took money from the hustlers who provided the services clients were willing and able to pay for.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, is based on Bowers’ 2012 book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Much of the film consists of interviews with Scotty (still handsome at age 94, although he has some health issues, and the state of his house suggests a serious hoarding problem as well), his wife, and people he used to match with clients, some frankly identified on screen as “former hustler. The remainder consists of clips from old movies, interviews with historians and others who remember the era, and archival materials that help to establish the context in which he operated. Fair warning: the photographs aren’t censored, so if you’re not up for some full-frontal nudity, you’d best stay home.
It wasn’t just the studio code that prevent many people from having the kind of relationships they desired, of course. Homosexual behavior was against the law in California until the 1970s, and the tabloid press loved to ruin careers by publishing innuendo or facts that really did not need to be shared with the public. The historical context is well established, but as to the details of who was doing what with whom, you’ll have to decide just how seriously you want to take Scotty’s accounts (and bear in mind that many people about whom he tells his tales are long since dead). Even if you don’t believe every word from his mouth, though, he’s a lot of fun to listen to, and the general outlines of his story certainly rings true. Scotty also seems like just about the nicest person you could ever meet, and a living testimony to the benefits of being exactly who you are. | Sarah Boslaugh