Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
A somewhat surprising and poignant documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is cooking with gas when it comes to Scotty Bowers gleefully revealing dozens of Hollywood secrets of gay and bisexual affairs.
Bowers wrote a tell-all best-selling book which this film is based on. Fans of the book will be excited to see the film.
Though it spends lots of time exposing the truths of names like Grant, Hudson, Hepburn, and more, Scotty Bowers’ story is actually one that earns compassion, a sense of understanding, and has surprising introspection. This is a very well directed movie.
The matter-of-fact nature with which Bowers is telling Hollywood secrets, with nearly all of the actors deceased, has rubbed some people the wrong way.
Bowers arranged homosexual and bisexual affairs for $20, with a cadre of males and females at his beck and call. The morality of these details for some folks will be hard to look past.
I think this is a great film, however those with sensitivity to ratings assigned to movies, Scotty likely would earn an NC-17 from the MPAA ratings board.
Scotty Bowers is one of the most fascinating figures in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and odds are, you have never heard of him. Perhaps you came upon his 2012 memoirs, “Full Service”, but if not, then Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a documentary that will likely change the way you look and think about Tinseltown and Hollywood, seeing it in an entirely different light.
Directed by Matt Tyrnauer, we are introduced to Bowers, an amiable, kind-hearted, 90-plus year old man, quick witted and sharp. Married to Lois for over 30 years, he has a mop of gray hair, a Cheshire Cat grin, and all the tea to spill when it comes to sharing stories on the homosexual and bisexual lifestyles, trysts, and relationships of many of the most revered and idolized stars of classic cinema.
Bowers, who himself was an active participant in sleeping with men and women from that era, considers himself the creator of a rainbow, by means of the gas station he managed in Hollywood. Frequented by many of the top male celebrities in cinema at the time, Bowers began turning tricks and arranging trysts for $20 a pop. A trailer, on site and behind the station, served as a makeshift bedroom, and a nearby hotel would alert him to which rooms happened to be available on any given night.
As tawdry as all that sounds, look at Bowers’ list of connections: Cary Grant. Randolph Scott. Spencer Tracy. George Cukor. Katharine Hepburn. William Holden. Bette Davis. Walter Pidgeon. Charles Laughton. Cole Porter. Tom Ewell. Ava Gardner. Lana Turner. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (!?!).
In addition to the sexual encounters he arranged (and perhaps also participated in) for those superstars, as well as many, many others within the Hollywood system, he was frequently corralling young men to attend private pool parties and service many of the celebrities dubbed “Bachelors” by the entertainment journalists of the time. He even played matchmaker on occasion, in situations where the public façade masked over private realities many of these actors of the time period were wrestling with.
As actor Stephen Fry and Hollywood biographer William Mann point out, being “out” in an era of “moral turpitude” contracts, could not just get you fired and take away your livelihood, it might also get you arrested. And Tyrnauer finds plenty of empathetic voices, including those of former hustlers, still alive, who tricked for Scotty, love him dearly, and vouch that every word Bowers put in his memoirs was the God’s-honest truth.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a no holds barred film, with plentiful graphic photos and sexually explicit clips from private home movies. Mostly though, this is a film of stories - lots and lots of stories, told with a sincerity and matter-of-fact nature that is as likable as it is alarming.
With the film’s first half is largely tabloid-rich in dropping names and salacious details, we start to see a different documentary emerge from under the naughty nature of Bowers’ unbelievable “access” to the stars.
His first sexual experience occurred at the age of 11 when the husband of the family next door took away his innocence. When asked by Tyrnauer if this was not abuse, Bowers dismisses the comment straight away, almost offended by it being asked. “There was no abuse. I never saw or ever felt anything wrong with any of that stuff,” he grumbles.
He was a World War II veteran, and discusses having a 50-plus year relationship with a woman named Bette, who he never really lived with, but saw from time to time. He describes their relationship as a “common-law marriage,” even though they never officially tied the knot. He had an intimate relationship with Beach Dickerson, a “C-list actor” as Bowers describes him, with Dickerson leaving him nearly $1 million in assets at the time of his death in 2005.
And then we return to Lois, who will not read her husband’s book and has no interest in discussing anything he was involved in prior to their marriage.
Now, in his mid-90s, Bowers has two homes, each resembling those commonly seen on “Hoarders,” which Lois says is a recent phenomenon. “It didn’t used to be like this,” she says meekly.
It comes in moments like these, largely comprising the back half of the film, when Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood becomes a rather poignant and moving film.
Bowers shares the story of how his daughter died at 23 following a problematic abortion. We watch him look wistfully back at a scrapbook of the life he tried to have with Bette. Lois shares that the thing she loves most about Scotty is how he simply wants to make everyone around him happy.
This is where all the X-rated stories, and shocking reveals fall away and we find a man, who has lived a full life, facing an insurmountable sense of his mortality.
As he surrounds himself with more and more memories, we wonder what he’s looking for. What is he trying to find? And that is where Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood becomes so much more than just a movie of dirty stories and naughty details.
CAST & CREW
Documentary Featuring: Scotty Bowers, William Mann, Stephen Fry, Peter Bart, Robert Hofler, Lois Bowers.
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Release Date: July 27, 2018