When Scotty Bowers published his notorious memoir, “Full Service,” in 2012, it made an impact.
In the book, Scotty claimed to have facilitated the secret sex life of movie stars during the Golden Age from a trailer in the back of a gas station at Van Ness and Hollywood Boulevard, connecting them with partners – of whichever gender was preferred – for discreet liaisons. In more direct language, you might call him a pimp, except that he also claimed to have never personally pocketed a dollar of any money that changed hands between the people he set up.
Many of his detractors called him that, anyway, and worse, when his book “outed” dozens of the movie giants that took advantage of his services from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Not only did Scotty spill their dirty little secrets, the nay-sayers said, he did it without any proof after every one of them was already dead.
These stories should not be believed, seemed to be the argument, because the people they were about could no longer come forward to defend themselves.
As if they had anything to defend themselves for.
These men and women were in the thrall of an industry whose top priority was preserving the “dream” image of glamorous Hollywood life that appeared in their movies. There was no room in that image for anyone who wasn’t 100 percent straight.
When filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer released his documentary, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” in 2017, he spoke to the Blade about the Hollywood in which his enterprise took place.
“These people were vulnerable to ruination if their sexuality was revealed,” he said. “The LAPD vice squad was rabid and fascistic in its persecution of queer people, and was ready to extort movie stars, to collude with the press to shame them and destroy their lives.”
As for the argument that there’s no proof, it turns out that’s not exactly true, either. As Tyrnauer told us, “I found literally hundreds of instances of corroboration… I’ve seen interviews with people who were sex workers at the gas station during that period, who confirmed in person, on camera, everything that Scotty claims; there are letters from the period in which he’s mentioned, testimony from trustworthy people who knew him at the time, the list goes on and on.”
That context casts the prurient response of Scotty’s skeptics in a very different light. Any shame that might have been associated with the stories in his book only existed because of the extreme cultural homophobia that viewed anyone who lived anything other than a heteronormative lifestyle as, essentially, a monster. To maintain the pressure of that shame decades later is only to participate in the straight-washing that persists in Hollywood even today.
Around the time of the documentary, attitudes began to soften toward Scotty and his book. He was even presented with a key to the city of West Hollywood, in recognition for (in the words of then Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico) “putting the ‘wood’ in Hollywood.”
Part of the shift was surely because the renewed publicity allowed him to be his own best character witness, putting his winning and unpretentious personality in front of the camera for all to see. As Tyrnauer said, he was “utterly charming.”
Scotty Bowers, at 96, passed away in his Laurel Canyon home on Sunday, October 13. He wasn’t gay himself — he saw himself as what we might now call “fluid,” and was married to a woman even at the height of his exploits — but in the many remembrances being published and posted in the days since his death, he is receiving long-overdue acknowledgment for helping to shed light on an important chapter of a history that should no longer be hidden.
Some of these eulogies, it must be noted, bestow such acknowledgment while repeating the not-quite-accurate talking point that his stories are all uncorroborated.
Scotty himself likely would not have cared. As he said in Tyrnauer’s film, he did it all because he liked “making people happy,” not because he wanted recognition for it.
Humility aside, the people he made happy were members of a marginalized population, victims of repression and violence from a system specifically geared toward oppressing and erasing them.
For this, Scotty Bowers deserves to be remembered as more than a footnote in the annals of silver screen gossip. He deserves to be remembered as a hero.