Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood empties the closet

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      A documentary by Matt Tyrnauer. Rated R

      The Forrest Gump of celebrity sex, Scotty Bowers was everywhere closeted rich folks were copulating in the second half of the 20th century. Now a sprightly 95, he drops names like yesterday’s trousers in this rousing portrait of someone who knows where all the boners were buried.

      A combat marine in World War II, Bowers washed up in 1946 Los Angeles, ready for any kind of job. He found his life’s vocation in a Richfield gas station on Hollywood Boulevard. His first day, Walter Pidgeon cruised through and invited the pugnaciously handsome attendant back to his place, “for a swim”. Handed a crisp 20 for his troubles, Bowers also knew lots of ex-servicemen who’d enjoy hanging out with closeted stars for extra green. The station’s absentee owner kept a double-wide trailer parked nearby, and it saw plenty of rockin’ long before Elvis Presley came to town.

      Back then, the studios owned the images of their biggest stars; a gay dalliance could instantly end even the most established careers. (Liberace sued Confidential magazine for character defamation when the only thing straight about him was his face.) Clients for Scotty and his male and female pals included director George Cukor, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Oh, let’s not forget FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, in drag, no less—perhaps one reason Bowers never got arrested, considering that his operation ran until 1980.

      Few survivors are around to confirm or contest Bowers’s claims, but his stories ring true. Among old friends and social commentators here, Stephen Fry describes this polymorphous pimp—now on his second long-term hetero marriage—as “pre-gay”, in that his sexuality was (very) fluid before such terms existed. Dr. Alfred Kinsey, for whom Bowers was a spectacular subject, even came to some of the Beverly Hills orgies he orchestrated. “Although he only watched,” Scotty recalls dryly.

      Sharp light is shed on key golden-age figures like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, who acted as beards for each other, and masculine icon Cary Grant, who famously straight-played the openly gay Cole Porter. This mirrored wall between art and real life relieves director Matt Tyrnauer—who has also tackled designer Valentino, urban critic Jane Jacobs, and killer fruit Roy Cohn—of the need for actorly re-creations. Instead, copious movie clips comment knowingly on the subtext at hand.

      Bowers put most of his fun-time money into real estate, and when not bartending or attending book-signings for his memoirs, he still does his own repairs (but has to wade through mountains of accumulated junk to do them). He’s affable but curiously non-self-reflective. “I did what I did,” he states slyly. “And I didn’t do any of it accidentally.”