Scott Bowers was an infamous, albeit top secret, figure during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
A former Marine who later worked at a gas station, Bowers became famous for hooking up high profile movie stars with sexual partners. According to Bowers, Walter Pidgeon was the first such client. tHAT led to decades of hooking up and/or personally servicing male and female celebrities.
He never maintained a “little black book,” preferring to keep it all in his mind. Bowers claims to have had, among his clients, Cole Porter, Tom Ewell, Charles Laughton, George Cukor, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Spencer Tracey, Katherine Hepburn, Vivian Leigh and Bette Davis, to name only a few.
He wrote about it in his 2012 tell-all book, “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars.” Bowers is now over 90-years old, married, still lives in Hollywood and, after years of being known as a sort of urban legend, now makes public appearances and book signings.
“Scotty and The Secret History of Hollywood,” Matt Tyrnauer’s cheerfully sleazy documentary on Bowers, gives its subject ample time to recall his various encounters and gleefully celebrate his colorful career.
We get lots of smutty anecdotes of Bower’s sexual encounters and witnessing to legendary movie stars in their most intimate moments. If Forrest Gump were a porn star, he’d be Scotty Bowers.
Early on, there’s a clip from “The View,” where Bowers made an appearance: Elisabeth Hasselbeck makes the comment that all the people Bowers has gossiped about are now dead and that the families of these deceased movie stars likely wouldn’t appreciate Bowers outing them.
Whoopi Goldberg visibly praises Hasselback’s comment and, you know what? Hasselbeck’s right. It’s the heart of what’s wrong with this documentary, in which we’re meant to take Bowers at his word and find delight in his sordid journey.
Bowers is a gregarious hoarder who writes salacious details about your favorite dead movie stars. Listening to him give brief but coarse recollections is akin to being witness to your Grandma’s tales of her former trysts.
We’re clearly meant to take all of these brief, smutty tales at face value and supposed to find Bowers fascinating in a “Grey Gardens” way, as he lives with his life in a home full of old junk. He visibly also has two other Hollywood homes (given to him by a former lover) and fills them and various garages with lots of old junk.
There’s also hilarious shots of skunks on a nightly scavenger hunt through Bowers’ leftover dog food. For all the morbidly fascinating scenes of Bowers’ curious daily adventures, there is rich historical material here that Tyrnauer unwisely keeps in the background.
Bowers dismisses claims that he was a “pimp to the stars” and describes himself as a sort of sexual Santa Claus, his overall goal just to make people happy. He believes he did nothing wrong, though he tellingly decided to reveal his dirty work many decades later, as most of the names he brings up are now famously known for their double lives.
It’s the atmosphere of Tyrnauer’s film that is the most valuable but troublesome: the documentary brings up closeted gay Hollywood, the MGM “moral code” that stars had to sign and the oppressive society that kept so many from revealing their true selves to the public. Every time this comes up, Tyrnauer all too quickly goes back to Bowers, whose story just isn’t as compelling.
At one point, the subject of AIDS and the sad, final days of Rock Hudson are explored, only to have Tyrnauer cut to a shot of Bowers working on his roof. The bits that detail life for gays, lesbians and bisexuals during the Cecil B. Demille era of Hollywood are the most vital pieces here and they’re squandered by focusing on a figure worthy of a quick tabloid read.
In fact, Confidential Magazine, a rag that outed movie stars during this era, is briefly spotlighted but deserves a documentary of its own. The 1995 documentary, “The Celluloid Closet,” is far more valuable and incisive in its exploration of Hollywood’s closeted past, both on screen and off.
The song choices to accompany the footage are upbeat and Tyrnauer clearly means this to celebrate Bowers, who is also shown in raunchy, vintage clips from orgies. Scotty’s pals all seem to love him and the book he wrote. They all laugh and declare, “…and it’s all true,” which seems a tipoff that Bowers’ version of his life has received a gloss of Hollywood fabrication.
It isn’t until near the film’s end when Bowers’ relentlessly cheerful outlook is fazed by his recollections of the battle of Iwo Jima.
In the end, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” tries to make a counter-culture hero out of Bowers and it may succeed as that. The biggest name supporter the documentary finds is in Variety Magazine’s Peter Bart and Bowers clearly has a following. Yet, despite the provocative title, this is old hat gossip and offers zero commentary to the current landscape of bombshell revelations, reports of sexual assaults and gross misuses of power.
If Tyrnauer removed the graphic shots of home-made pornography, this could easily play on AMC. If your Grandma has a bawdy sense of humor and ever wondered what it was like having a three-way with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott (or Ava Gardner and Lana Turner), then she’s going to love this.