You know you are in for a tantalizing story when it begins, “I was sitting in Gore Vidal’s living room.”
That’s how filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer started explaining what led him to make Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, his characteristic documentary about Scotty Bowers, the now-95-year-old who has claimed to have arrange lots of — if not hundreds — of hush-hush same-sex sexual liaisons for a few of the greatest names in Hollywood’s golden age, together with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cole Porter, and Rock Hudson. The movie alternates between shadowing Bowers through the launch of his 2012 tell-all memoir Full Service and chronicling his one-of-a-kind journey from a few of the harshest battlefields of World War II to the Los Angeles gasoline station that he single-handedly remodeled right into a clandestine brothel for Hollywood’s burgeoning tribe of closeted homosexual and bisexual professionals.
“A lot of people in Los Angeles in that period who wanted to have sex lives that were authentic were simply unable to have them without someone they could trust to help facilitate that aspect of their sexuality,” mentioned Tyrnauer. “It turns out that Scotty was a key person in the town for that.”
Bowers had spent many years as one of many leisure business’s best-kept secrets and techniques — earlier than the discharge of his memoir. But that did not hold Tyrnauer — a journalist for Vanity Fair who additionally made the 2008 documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor — from catching whispers about him.
It all began with a profile Tyrnauer wrote on the closeted homosexual TV star and producer Merv Griffin. Rather than point out Bowers by identify, Tyrnauer mentioned Griffin advised him, “‘There’s a gas station where you used to go to get in trouble’ — which is exactly what someone of that era would’ve said.” Tyrnauer continued to listen to about this enigmatic gasoline station on Hollywood Boulevard from others, and he tucked it away in his mind as a great story to pursue sometime.
Meanwhile, he had began a protracted and rewarding skilled relationship with Vidal, the famed literary iconoclast whose 1948 novel The City and the Pillar was a landmark depiction of a homosexual man’s coming of age — and included prolonged passages concerning the lives of homosexual males in Hollywood within the 1940s.
Which brings us again to the fateful day Tyrnauer was sitting in Vidal’s front room. “Vidal said, apropos of nothing, ‘I want you to find Scotty for me,'” Tyrnauer recalled. “And I was like, ‘Who’s Scotty?’ He said, ‘Scotty was my pimp! He had a gas station.'” A lightbulb went off. Tyrnauer pushed additional, studying that not solely was this “Scotty” the person behind the famed gasoline station Tyrnauer had heard a lot about, however he was nonetheless alive, dwelling within the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of LA. Vidal had merely misplaced Bowers’ quantity.
Tyrnauer discovered it, and the following time he visited Vidal, Bowers was there, speaking with Vidal concerning the manuscript that might change into his memoir.
“[He was] much more spry and genial and magical than I ever could have expected,” Tyrnauer mentioned.
Right then, Tyrnauer requested Bowers if he could be excited by permitting Tyrnauer to comply with him for a documentary.
The outcome, which opens in restricted launch at the moment, is an enchanting and, at instances, distressing cinematic portrait of the intersection of intercourse and Hollywood, and the way even our idea of what makes up “Hollywood” is extremely skewed. Here’s every part it’s worthwhile to find out about it.
Bowers’ memoir rocketed to fame, and infamy, largely as a result of monumental stars he posthumously outed, and Tyrnauer knew he needed to embrace them in his movie. “There were certain names that are just immortal,” he mentioned. “Obviously: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Cary Grant.” Bowers contends that Hepburn and Tracy had been each homosexual, and their rigorously curated public relationship was simply that — a present designed to cover their same-sex affairs. And he additionally confirmed the long-standing rumor that Grant’s roommate, fellow actor Randolph Scott, was actually his live-in lover hiding in plain sight.
The movie additionally takes time tracing how Bowers ingratiated himself with a few of the greatest homosexual energy brokers in Hollywood on the time, first amongst them the director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, A Star Is Born), as a way to develop his attain as each the city’s preeminent male intercourse employee and its sexual procurer. And Scotty drops a number of different huge names — just like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, aka Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson — and head-turning anecdotes together with them: Bowers claims the duke “sucked me off like a pro.”
“We just didn’t want to overwhelm people with too much gossip.”
Tyrnauer understood the innate human curiosity in these sorts of tales, however he additionally was acutely conscious that audiences might solely deal with a lot scandal. “To hear someone recounting sex-capades for too long on screen — it just loses its interest value after a while,” he mentioned. “We just didn’t want to overwhelm people with too much gossip.”
He estimated that there are roughly 300 those who Bowers advised him about who did not make the movie. “Some of them [are] people no one have ever heard of, some of them are minor celebrities, some of them were major stars in their time who have been forgotten, and some of them were immortal names that didn’t even make it into the movie for various reasons,” he mentioned. “It was really a process of elimination, based on what we had time for and whether the anecdote was something that was going to propel the story forward.”
Tyrnauer is particularly unhappy actor Tyrone Power did not make the reduce. In the 1930s and ’40s, Power was one of many nation’s greatest film stars, however he died at simply 44 from a coronary heart assault, and his specialty of swashbuckling journey movies like 1940’s The Mark of Zorro and 1950’s The Black Rose have not aged nicely. Tyrnauer was stunned to be taught that Power was amongst Bowers’ shoppers, however when he examined the movie with a bit concerning the actor, he realized that, as he put it with a sigh, “nobody cares about Tyrone Power anymore.”
Bowers’ memoir Full Service triggered a firestorm of criticism when it debuted. Some of it got here from Bowers’ determination to out individuals after they’d died, however there was additionally quite a lot of skepticism about whether or not Bowers’ most outrageous claims had been even true in any respect. The ebook didn’t supply up a lot by the use of corroboration, however Tyrnauer was decided to make use of his coaching as a journalist to again up Bowers’ claims.
Sometimes, he received fortunate. While filming interviews in a New York City resort, Tyrnauer had lunch with the late gossip maven Liz Smith, one in every of Hepburn’s closest buddies. He’d thought of asking Smith about Hepburn’s sexuality, however he wasn’t in any respect positive Smith could be excited by speaking with him. “So I’m at lunch with her, and I said, ‘Hey, by the way, if I asked you on camera about Katharine Hepburn, would you talk about her being a lesbian?'” Tyrnauer mentioned. “She’s like, ‘Oh sure, why not?’ And we went up and did it.” To Tyrnauer’s data, it is the one time Smith confirmed on digital camera that Hepburn had lesbian relationships.
Other instances, Tyrnauer needed to discover his affirmation extra circuitously. He came across references to Bowers in arcane books about Hollywood from the 1970s, or contemporaneous accounts that might match particular particulars from a narrative Bowers had advised him. In one occasion, Tyrnauer recalled a dialog he had with the late homosexual actor Jack Larson, greatest recognized for enjoying Jimmy Olsen within the black-and-white 1950s Superman TV sequence. Tyrnauer had talked about that one in every of his favourite movies was the Bette Davis melodrama Now, Voyager, and Larson relayed to Tyrnauer that its director, Irving Rapper, had as soon as picked him up whereas hitchhiking, taken him residence, and jumped him. The subsequent day, Tyrnauer noticed Bowers and requested him if he knew Rapper. “And he mentioned, ‘Oh my god, Irving Rapper? I have never heard that identify for years. I used to trick him on a regular basis. He used to have this factor the place I needed to fake I used to be a hitchhiker,'” Tyrnauer mentioned with amusing.
What makes Scotty the movie particularly fascinating is how a lot Bowers’ story confounds no matter bias one might need concerning the golden age of Hollywood. If you’d believed the heteronormative mythmaking that Hollywood’s greatest stars had been paragons of fresh dwelling and straight intercourse, welp, it seems Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy weren’t precisely made for one another. Conversely, if you happen to thought that Hollywood was a chilly, cynical city teeming with the form of corrosive transactional intercourse that made quick-and-dirty work of the younger and exquisite dreamers pouring into LA by the busload, it seems that is not fairly proper, both.
“Scotty himself clearly doesn’t have any problem with all the sexual experiences he’s had,” Tyrnauer mentioned. “But it wasn’t just Scotty.” Over the course of constructing the movie, Tyrnauer mentioned Bowers linked him with 5 different males whom Bowers had helped discover work getting paid for intercourse (two of which ended up within the completed movie). Many of these males had been fellow WWII veterans like Bowers who had landed in LA after the warfare and wanted the money, but when they bore any resentment about their previous intercourse work, Tyrnauer by no means noticed it.
“It was clear that this was a golden era for them,” Tyrnauer mentioned. The typical presumptions about intercourse work as a sinister, self-destructive career simply didn’t match with what Tyrnauer was seeing within the males who’d labored alongside Bowers. “No one had something unfavorable to say. They all had the most optimistic issues to say about Scotty.”
He paused, as if deciding what to say subsequent. “This is not the PC term to say, but these were the happy hookers,” he mentioned whereas laughing. “It gave the impression to be very cool with everyone who I talked to. Lots of people are lifeless. I did not discuss to everyone. But the survey pattern that I noticed, this gave the impression to be extremely consensual. And nobody appeared to have an issue, whether or not they had been homosexual, straight, or in any other case, with what Scotty was asking.”
Although Scotty focuses extensively on his prurient previous, the movie additionally spends quite a lot of time following Bowers by means of his lively current, a lot of which is spent along with his spouse, Lois, of their residence. Or, nicely, a part of their residence. It seems that Bowers is a fairly aggressive hoarder — it is so unhealthy that a number of rooms in his residence are barely accessible in any respect.
“I hadn’t seen it until the day we shot there for the first time,” Tyrnauer mentioned. “I had no idea he was a hoarder. No one had told me — certainly Scotty didn’t.” Bowers evinces no disgrace concerning the state of his residence, not to mention the a number of, jam-packed storage services he maintains all through LA. In reality, disgrace does not appear to be an emotion Bowers has any use for in any respect.
There was no extra acute instance of Bowers’ lively disinterest in feeling disgrace about his life than the part of the movie coping with Bowers’ younger childhood. Bowers says that earlier than he hit puberty, his neighbor would carry out intercourse acts on him, and that he would “trick” a number of clergymen within the space, all unbeknownst to anybody else in his household. Some of this was coated in Bowers’ memoir, however when he interviewed Bowers for his movie, Tyrnauer was nonetheless not ready for the complete breadth of Bowers’ sexual expertise earlier than he’d turned 14.
“The extent to which he had such a busy ‘sex life’ as a toddler was surprising to me,” he mentioned. “I had no idea. It was hard for me to conceive of it.”
In Scotty, you may hear Tyrnauer inform Bowers that many would see his experiences as abuse, however Bowers pushes again instantly and forcefully, asserting that he was in command of these experiences, and doesn’t regard himself as something near a sufferer. “He sees it as part of his origin story as a sexual being: ‘Hell no, this is what I wanted. It was the way I wanted it,'” mentioned Tyrnauer.
Between Bowers’ sexual experiences as a toddler, and his expertise in a few of the most horrific battles of WWII — he was at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima — it could be tempting to armchair diagnose Bowers, to ascribe the various traumas he is weathered to his skill as an grownup to freely navigate the sexual boundaries so many others discovered so inflexible. But Tyrnauer needed to go away that form of appraisal to his viewers.
“When I sign up to make a movie about someone, I try not to be judgmental in that way. I need to express onscreen the nature of their character and their being, and this is a part of it,” he mentioned. “I leave it to the audience to conclude how he has coped with all these traumas, and what it has led to in his life.”
Tyrnauer is evident that he nonetheless thinks Bowers’ experiences as a toddler make him “what we would today categorize as a survivor of sexual abuse.” But he additionally factors out that it’s removed from the one trauma in Bowers’ life — there are a number of shattering private losses, to not point out the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic, which Bowers in some way escaped — and but Bowers has endured and thrived nicely into his nineties. Most would possibly anticipate somebody who had lived by means of a lot to look again on their life heavy with remorse. Instead, Tyrnauer mentioned with a chuckle, “He is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
One of the most important components that the majority excited Tyrnauer about Bowers’ story was how a lot of a window it supplied on what it was like for LGBT individuals within the pre-Stonewall period. For most, it could have been not possible to authentically specific their sexuality with out Bowers offering a mechanism for it, when the mere whisper of queerness might kill your profession, or worse.
“There were morals clauses in contracts, and the LAPD was operating a vice squad that was pernicious, and specifically targeting gay men for extortion,” mentioned Tyrnauer. “I think it is fair to say in a world where men marry men and women marry women legally in this country, society has just shifted seismically. That’s one reason the movie was worth making. Millennials don’t know any of this. How could they? Unless they did deep interviews with their parents, who would have had to have been privy to this information. And most people don’t have gay parents.”
“Scotty cuts this diagonal swath through the entire culture of the town.”
For Tyrnauer, Scotty additionally gave him the possibility to seize a distinct, if associated, facet of Hollywood, specifically the huge swaths of people that aren’t the largest, boldest stars. “There’s a whole roaring middle tier to lower tier of this town which makes it go. It’s everyone from craft services people to makeup artists, to day players, to background people, to people that move up from that, and become guest stars,” he mentioned. “Those people are the real denizens of Hollywood. They’re the people who make the town turn. … And Scotty cuts this diagonal swath through the entire culture of the town.”
It’s there within the movie’s depiction of Bowers’ lasting friendship with a shlock film actor named Beach Dickerson. And it is there within the many instances Tyrnauer follows Bowers to Hollywood features populated totally by individuals of their seventies, eighties, and nineties — members of these center to decrease tiers of Hollywood whom the business might have lengthy forgotten, however who stay an important, if invisible, a part of the town all the identical.
Tyrnauer was particularly happy with a sequence within the movie when Bowers visited the Triangle Square Senior Apartments in LA, created particularly for LGBT seniors. “These people were all gay and lesbian citizens of this town — a lot of them worked in show business — and you don’t see those people,” he mentioned. “I was so moved by that day.”