In 1946 , fresh from the Marines after serving in some of the bloodiest campaigns in the South Pacific during World War II, 23-year-old Scotty Bowers decided to seek his fortune in Los Angeles.
He got a job at a gas station and not long afterward a man in a fancy car offered him $20 to join him at his swimming pool. It was the actor Walter Pidgeon , and as Bowers reveals in his 2012 tell-all autobiography, “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” this liaison would be the start of a lucrative business. He became the go-to person for celebrities looking for sex and companionship during its glitziest and most repressive era.
His male and female clientele — gay and straight and in-between — would include not just screen legends such as Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, and Laurence Olivier, but also the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
In his documentary “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer catches up with the nonagenarian Bowers, who dishes on the stars but also reveals a troubled secret history of his own.
Tyrnauer discussed the film last week via e-mail.
Q. What do you think the film contributes to our understanding of Hollywood history?
A. I wanted to create a counternarrative about Hollywood in Los Angeles, which is my hometown. I grew up there, was fascinated by the artificiality, but also the great beauty and compelling themes of the “entertainment capital of the world.” Mainstream Hollywood history was written by the publicity departments of the major studios. Scotty provides a primary source perspective on the lives of many of the principal players who were forced to keep their true identities a secret because they were under contract to corporations, which had concluded that only heteronormative lives were fair game for silver screen storytelling.
Q. Do you think some might find Scotty’s cheerful acceptance of his childhood abuse, his PTSD, and other tragedies in his life disturbing?
A. I think that Scotty doesn’t see himself as a victim and is intent on expressing that point of view. I have no doubt that people may find it disturbing, but I allow him to speak his truth in the film and question him about his perspective on multiple occasions.
Q. Do you feel that film has special relevance today when it seems like we could lose the gains made in the struggle for gay rights?
A. Yes. I finished the film more than a year ago, but since then the film has resonated even more because a rogue administration has made moves to threaten the progress that has been made.
Q. What was the most shocking revelation in making the film for you?
A. Most shocking to me was the breadth of unconventional sexual practices all over the Hollywood community. The craziest and most transgressive stories tend not to be about the stars, but it seems like the character actors and the B players could get a bit more fetish-y. There are scores of stories about people [who] are remembered only to the most dedicated Turner Classic Movies buff with whom Scotty had the wildest times. Apparently, John Dall — the star of “Rope” — was the most extreme practitioner of sexual acrobatics, including a fetish for being tied upside down from the branches of oak trees in remote Hollywood canyons.
“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” opens Friday at the Kendall Square Cinema.Interview was condensed and edited.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.