(2018, 97 min)
Country: United States
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Studio: Kino Lorber
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is the deliciously scandalous story of Scotty Bowers, a handsome ex-Marine who landed in Hollywood after World War II and became confidante, aide-de-camp and lover to many of Hollywood's greatest male - and female - stars. In the 1940s and '50s, Scotty ran a gas station in the shadow of the studio lots where he would connect his friends with actors and actresses who had to hide their true sexual identities for fear of police raids at gay bars, societal shunning and career suicide. An unsung Hollywood legend, Bowers would cater to the sexual appetites of celebrities - straight and gay alike - for decades.
In 2012, he finally spilled his secrets in the New York Times best-selling memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, which revealed a dramatic, pre-Stonewall alternate history of Hollywood. While the studio PR machines were promoting their stars as wholesome and monogamous, Bowers was fulfilling the true desires of many of them. This cinema-verite documentary by director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) tells his story, as well as presents eye-opening takes on icons from the Hollywood Golden Age including Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and many more.
Scotty Bowers who is now in his 90s, Bowers wrote a book about how he supplied a 'service' to the Hollywood elite. He was a gas-pumping pimp and prostitute to the stars and according to Bowers, he had sex with everyone who was anyone...or, supplied somebody to someone who could pay $20. He shares some pretty big names [those we know of and those we don't] with neither reservation nor shame. His 'stories' are corroborated by his ex-employees and a few clients.
In Matt Tyrnauer's film we only see what Bowers wants us to see. "Bowers is an inveterate performer/manipulator who has aged...disrespectfully, disgracefully, disloyally, irresponsibly.
During the Golden-age Hollywood, there was a great deal of homosexuality, infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction and so much more that would upset the moving-going public yet the movie stars of the mid-20th century were presented as such paragons. Now we know better. Unmarried male stars and directors, weren't necessarily just bachelors who hadn't met the right girl. In 2012, Bowers published "Full Service," a tell-all about his days running a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s, from where he provided male and female sex workers to satisfy the sexual needs of the film business from stars to set designers. Bowers claims to have personally serviced or provided companions for hundreds of people, many of them were the names you saw on movie marquees.
Director Matt Tyrnauer introduces us to a handsome young Bowers, fresh out of the army, who one day was picked up a at a gas station by Walter Pidgeon. It did not take long for Bowers to become Hollywood's go-to guy for attractive young sexual playthings. (Bowers says that he was not a pimp because he never took money from anyone he procured).
We learn of three-ways with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and of the sexual appetites of Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh and Cole Porter. Tyrnauer shares that Bowers was at Guadalcanal and in deadly WWII combat. Bowers discusses his sexual abuse -as a child, from a neighbor and from a string of Catholic priests after his family moved from the farm to Chicago. There will be those who will either not believe Bowers' tales or who feel that it's inappropriate that he's telling tales about celebrities who are no longer around to defend themselves. (To the films credit, it leaves out some of the more nauseating revelations, like the very many inclinations of a certain legendary actor-director.) "Scotty" captures a fascinating era of Hollywood - the public-relations version and the real one, with its morality clauses and scandal sheets while at the same time examining a key behind-the-scenes figure. We get an understanding of who Bowers is and where he comes from, and why his current wife says that his desire to make others happy is compulsive.
Those who object to Bowers' revelations may find themselves surprisingly empathetic to his life story- there is plenty of gossip to be found here, but there's also no shortage of humanity.
Bowers opens his little black book as he tells about his scandalous life as a Hollywood escort and pimp to the stars but Matt Tyrnauer avoids making Bowers' narrative one of tabloid fodder. There is novelty to this Hollywood insider's portrait. Bowers is a good storyteller and a quirky character that offers scintillating stories about hooking up all sorts of A-listers with hot young men and women to please the stars behind closed doors. We can object to Bowers' decision to reveal all at the age of 90 without being a member of the moral police. Bowers insists that his decision to out famous stars is an act of humanizing celebrities. And really, who cares if a celebrity was gay?
Tyrnauer is aware of this and includes a handful of objectors, including a hot debate of the book on the talk show The View in which Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck all dismiss Full Service as exploitative trash. Several characters in the film tell Bowers that it's wrong to reveal personal information about people who are dead and cannot speak to the story themselves, especially since his relationship as a liaison between the stars and the hustlers was one of discretion. Of course, we see Bowers as someone cashing in on the secrets of the dead.
Far more problematic, however, is the way Bowers presents his own secrets. One uncomfortable scene features Bowers recalling the early days of his sexual prowess, which leads to an account of a sexual relationship with his adult neighbor, who pleasured him when he was only 11. Tyrnauer interjects and asks Bowers if he realizes that the act he describes is child abuse. Bowers refutes the notion that his neighbor's actions were molestation. Tyrnauer revives the question in a later interview and asks if his profession might be the result of a latent trauma, but Bowers simply waves it off. He portrays the act as a beautiful experience. While convention cautions filmmakers and viewers to avoid judging their subjects, Bowers' characterizations of his childhood leave one uneasy.
Tyrnauer finds strong material in the implications of Bowers' bag of secrets as the documentary extends the conversation to the manufacturing of stars by the studios and how actors like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy compromised their personal lives for the escapist images we love.. Scotty's personal history might have best been kept a secret, but one appreciates Tyrnauer's ability to open the story up to Hollywood's own checkered past.
The most striking thing about Scotty Bowers is that he is ordinary. He seems to be a harmless old guy in a messy house, checking his messages. But Scotty Bowers knows a lot. He was Hollywood's "gentleman hustler," but "he was never a pimp," one of his employees insists. "He was a friend doing another friend a service."
-- Review by Amos Lassen (http://reviewsbyamoslassen.com)