Though there has been much written about whether iconic stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era were gay or bisexual, confirming the veracity of these allegations was nearly impossible during the period that the studios’ all-powerful publicity departments controlled every aspect of what the press printed about their commodities. But what if I told you that there was someone still living who had first hand knowledge of the sexual proclivities of many of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s past and had finally decided to spill the beans? Well, there is and he has: at last the secrets of the golden age of Hollywood have come out. His name is Scotty Bowers and his book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Life of the Stars was published in 2012 by the reputable Grove Press.
Though it is by any estimation a tell-all memoir, Full Service scans less as gossip and more as pop culture/gay history. Bowers, who is now around ninety, offers an explanation for waiting this long to share his story that seems plausible enough: though he may have wanted to tell his story before, Bowers is a gentleman and he never would have betrayed the confidences of the people who became his friends. But as fate should have it, Bowers’ longevity has enabled him not only to outlive every single person he writes about but also to find a publisher. (Publishers are leery of litigation). Indeed, the book’s narrative sheds much light on the culture of Hollywood debauchery of yore and reminds the reader that although the people and places have changed, the essential character of the town has not. If anything, it was worse then.
How does the reader know if Bowers’ story is true? Well, he doesn’t, for sure, but I do. In addition to the fact that all the dates square with historical records and what is known or surmised about the people he writes about, the biggest reason that I believe every word of this book is that its narrative meshes with the stories that have been passed down through the years in gay circles. I know older gay men who sat at the feat of the subject’s themselves and heard the same stories Bowers recounts. People bore witness. The stories were retold. Anyone who has worked inside the beehive of Hollywood knows that subterfuge is as endemic to its DNA as sunshine, but if you are gay and of a certain age and have lived in L.A., you buy probably buy the veracity of Full Service (I suggest reading the comments on the Amazon page, many from people who personally know Bowers and vouch for his character). If you are person who prefers to believe that Cary Grant was straight, then nothing will convince you otherwise, and that’s okay.
“The three of us got into a lot of sexual mischief together over the years”
– Bowers on his relationship with alleged boyfriends Cary Grant and Randolph Scott
But it’s important that we as gay people know our history. Not because of the gossip factor, but so we can feel whole and understand that we have always been here. There is something intrinsically homophobic about being intractably invested in a star’s image as opposed to the facts. One truth is what the studios (and stars) frequently propagated. Another truth, perhaps a more factual version of the truth, is that without the protection of the Hollywood studios and in the age of TMZ, Cary Grant and his husband Randolph Scott would not have been able to keep their cohabitation secret for very long.
Scotty Bowers came to Los Angeles right out of the marines after World War II and took a job as the evening manager and “pump jockey” (what they used to call attendants at service stations) at the Hollywood Richfield Gas station, located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard at the corner of Van Ness. It was March 1946 when Bowers caught the attention of closeted actor Walter Pidgeon as well as numerous technicians from the nearby studios who would stop at the station for gas and noticed the young, handsome marine and his coeterie of friends who passed the time there.
Bowers, who was primarily straight but gay for pay, began what might best be described as a very long-term and mutually beneficial side business connecting buyers and sellers. Bowers makes it very clear that he did not personally accept money for his introductions, only for his personal hook-ups which is, perhaps, why when someone said to director George Cukor that Scotty was a hustler, George replied “yes, but he’s also a gentleman!” Indeed, Scotty seems like one of those people who just really liked attention and liked to make people happy. I’ve met a few.
Though the book has gotten some mainstream coverage, including a big piece in the New York Times and a nice segment on CBS Sunday Morning, I’m disappointed that Full Service wasn’t covered more extensively, which is why I’ve taken the time to share some of my thoughts. From my perspective, in the end it’s important that the truth comes out. After all, this is not only the story of the famous names, but also the story of Scotty Bowers; just because he is quite old now and the book is not very well-written doesn’t mean it isn’t important to be respectful of his story.
Here are but a few of the book’s assertions:
“I tricked with Vinny for years. Sex with him was pleasant, unhurried, gentle…in 1974 he would marry Australian-born actress Coral Browne. She worked primarily in England and although she was a dyke—I know because I would fix her up with many tricks with young women in future years—the couple were devoted to one another. They had virtually no sex life together but they cared deeply for each other.”
“We were attracted to one another and tricked often…we had many long, steamy sessions together.”
“One evening…at yet another party where I was bartending, Maxene Andrews walked in arm and arm with a girlfriend. Maxene was a lesbian and quite open about it.”
In this photo, l. to r., the Andrews sisters are: Maxene, Patti, and LaVerne.
The actor’s homosexuality has long been an established fact—it was corroborated openly by Laughton’s widow, Elsa Lanchester, with whom he shared a clearly devoted, though sexless marriage until his death. What is certainly not as well known and, to be honest, a little too nasty to be repeated here, were some of the actor’s sexual pecadillos. This may be the one instance in the book where I felt that I may have actually been better off not knowing less.
Bowers met the famous director while he was directing A Double Life, which would put the year at around 1947. Cukor became a long-time client of the author’s and frequently included him at events at his legendary estate on Cordell drive in West Hollywood, where Bowers got to know the top level of gay society in the 1940s and 1950s. Bowers also worked for years as a bartender at private parties populated by the same people he procured for; variations on a theme, I suppose.
Bowers’ stories about the legendary songwriter are fascinating and of particular interest. Not surprsingly, the Kiss Me Kate composer had a big thing for Marines.
Guilaroff was truly the hairdresser to the stars, counting everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Judy Garland among his regular clients. God only know what secrets he was privvy to. Bowers tricked with him regularly. Interestingly, Guilaroff was the first unmarried man in the United States allowed to adopt a child, who he named Jon (after Joan Crawford). If naming your son after Joan Crawford isn’t tantamount to outing yourself, then, pray tell, what is?
Bowers affirms the handsome stars bisexuality, adding that he preferred men. Scotty describes Powers as “an exceptionally nice man.”
Bowers devotes a great deal of space to this couple, whose relationship has been widely speculated about for years. Of course Grant was one of the most famous leading men of all-time. His boyfriend Randolph Scott, though less well-known today, was a major star who worked with some of the great directors and leading ladies including Mae West, Marlene Dietrich and Irene Dunne. According to the author, the couple enjoyed a healthy sex life as a threesome that lasted over many years. While he admired both men, he emphasizes his especially warm feelings toward Scott, whom he describes as exceedingly kind. He goes on to say:
“I really liked those two men and they were obviously very good for one another. In future years I would be seeing a lot of them. Theirs was a relationship that would last a long time, with the two of them eventually sharing a home together behind the familiar Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood as well as a Malibu beach house. I don’t know if their wives ever knew what was going on between them. I never asked…the three of us got into a lot of sexual mischief together.”
Oddly, Grant and Scott were photographed extensively together in their homes and if “a picture is worth a thousand words,” these photographs would certainly seem to substantiate Carole Lombard’s famous quip that they had the “best marriage in Hollywood.” What do you think?
According to Bowers, Tracy: “Lived in George Cukor’s guest house on Cordell Drive in the mid-1950s. He needed to drink to have sex. His phony romance with Hepburn was a movie within a movie. Tracy drank more than anyone I’d ever seen except Errol Flynn.”
Bowers assertions about Hepburn are particularly touching and extremely controversial. People just don’t want to think of the great Hepburn as a lesbian, but Bowers stories about Kate have been corroborated by several major biographers. He writes:
“Over the next fifty years Katharine Hepburn and I would become the very best of friends. In the course of time I would fix her up with over 150 different women. Most of them she would only see once or twice…but there was one exception. There was a very cute little 17-year-old trick that I set Kate up with early in our friendship. The girl’s name was Barbrara. Kate became infatuated with her…shortly after they started seeing one another Kate bought her a brand-new two-toned Ford Fairlane as a gift. Kate saw Barbrara off and on for just over 49 years. Kate lived out east most of the time but Barbara remained here in California. Three months before dear Kate passed away in June 2003 Barbara—who had married no less than three times during that period—received a letter from Kate’s attorneys. With the letter was a check for $100,000.”
“I arranged many ladies for Hughes. Any arrangement I made for him had to be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Howard was as straight as an arrow and really liked women but, ironically, he hardly ever had sex with them. He was so fanatically fussy about his own health…if, heaven forbid, she had even the tiniest blemish or a pimple he simply would not touch her.”
Bowers’ anecdotes about heterosexual Flynn are both startling and expected. In addition to alcohol consumption at an almost impossible levels (Flynn was dead from alcoholism by 50), the author details the actor’s predilection for “young stuff.” “I don’t care if she has to be 18, just as long as she looks and behaves like someone between, well, let’s say 14 and 16.”
Full Service chronicles how Scotty procured liaisons for both Edward and Wallis whenever they were in Los Angeles. According to Bowers, they were both bisexual and, more suprisingly, none of the assignations ever suspected who they were.
“Larry often came to town from his native England. Even though he was married he secretly harbored a liking for boys. When he was here alone he would frequently call me up and ask me to arrange for a busty blonde and a well-hung guy to make up a threesome with him. Each time I sent a couple over to his hotel room…he would ask for a different girl but, quite often, he would request the same guy.”
“…she fancied me and I had the hots for her. While she was making A Streetcar Named Desire, Larry signed to do a film called Carrie, for director William Wyler so the couple were not consistently together, and Vivien often came around to George Cukor’s place for dinner alone…you seldom get a roll in the hay like you did with Vivien Leigh.”
According the book, the famous comic was a “very nice man…always very discreet about his extramarital affairs…I fixed him up with a lot of hookers, many of them high class, expensive ladies.”
You may also enjoy:
Torch Song Elegy, Volume 1: The Man that Got Away—How The Loss of a Generation of Gay Men Affected Our Ears as Well as Our Hearts
Torch Song Elegy, Volume 2: How to Reduce 20th-Century Gay History to a Stereotype in Three Lines or Less