Film Review: Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

Hollywood’s happiest hustler looks back on 40 years of servicing the stars.
Specialty Releases

In the discreet, often deeply closeted world of gay Hollywood, Scotty Bowers is definitely the kiss-and-tell type.

And tell, and tell, and tell.

He’s already produced one memoir, Full Service, about his decades as a pimp and prostitute to the stars. Now comes a documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, and it’s a raunchy, rollicking story of movie legends off the set and between the sheets.

Bowers—still impish at 95—first hit Hollywood after World War II, uneducated, unskilled and just happy to get a job pumping gas. But the station was on Hollywood Boulevard. And some of its regular clientele—rich and handsome actors who’d pull up in their snazzy convertibles—soon wondered if this boyish Marine with the big smile didn’t have other, hidden talents.

He did, it turns out, and he put them to work. And to hear Bowers tell it, that very first trick—square and sober Walter Pidgeon, “Mr. Miniver” himself—led to nearly 40 years in the sex trade, with Bowers servicing everyone from Spencer Tracy to Vincent Price, and picking up extra cash by introducing his blue-collar friends to hungry stars.

The operative phrase here, of course, is “to hear Bowers tell it.” Absolutely everyone he says he serviced is now dead, conveniently unable to sue or even disagree. And although Bowers’ uncloseting of some stars—Charles Laughton, Judith Anderson, Cary Grant—won’t surprise any reader of Hollywood Babylon, other revelations might raise an eyebrow or two. Tracy, really? And a Katharine Hepburn so insatiable she went through over 150 different women?

Only the stubbornly homophobic would refuse to accept any of this; only the extremely gullible would take all of it on faith. Choosing not to challenge every assertion, director Matt Tyrnauer—whose docs include 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor—simply sits back and lets the man talk. And a very entertaining and persuasive talker he is.

Energetic, too, with Chris Dapkins’ cameras following the nonagenarian around as he attends a couple of birthday parties (the film was apparently a while in production), putters around his bungalow, pokes through a packrat’s mountain of memorabilia, affectionately bickers with his long-suffering wife, and tends bar. (Say what you will about some of the man’s less-than-legal endeavors, his work ethic is legitimately impressive.)

Also energetic is the editing by Bob Eisenhardt and Daniel Morfesis, which not only incorporates plenty of home movies, archival stills and rare vintage pornography but cleverly repurposes scenes from classic films, to illuminate (or, in a few snarky instances, introduce) gay subtext. Occasionally, friends and Hollywood observers—former Variety editor Peter Bart, actor Stephen Fry—pop in to add their own observations.

Although Tyrnauer clearly gets a kick out of Bowers, there are times you wish he’d pushed him a little harder. You learn nothing about Bowers’ parents, or his upbringing, beyond the fact that, as an 11-year-old, he was molested by a neighbor—an event that Bowers actually remembers fondly. After all, it felt good, didn’t it? “Nothing wrong with that, baby” he proclaims.

A darker, more serious documentary would dig a little deeper into that, and how it affected Bowers’ attitude towards sex. And it might probe, just a bit, into the reasons behind his hoarding (his wife complains she can no longer navigate their crammed home), or his primary desire to “just make people happy”—a lovely philosophy, to be sure, but also often the sign of an adult who grew up as a scared, enabling child.

But that’s not the sort of reflection Bowers is prone to, or indeed, the kind of documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood wants to be.

Instead, like Bowers, like his clients and like all those fresh farmboys and girls he hooked them up with, it just wants to have fun, and gossip a bit, and think about the good old days before AIDS, before TMZ. When all you needed was $20—and an extra $5 for the room. When everyone was beautiful, and everything was pleasurable, and nothing felt better than the rare chance to be yourself.

And as Bowers himself would say—“Nothing wrong with that, baby.”