When Full Service, a memoir by Scotty Bowers, was published in 2012, it confirmed what many film buffs had suspected all along: queer movie stars have been around since the advent of cinema. Bowers, a handsome sexually fluid Marine veteran, made his way to Los Angeles after World War II and landed a position at a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard where he caught the eye of powerful men in the film industry such as gay director George Cukor. Bowers soon became a confidante, procurer, and sometimes lover of the rich, famous, and discreet.
While his claims to have procured women for celebs such as Desi Arnaz weren’t exactly shocking, the book’s true bombshells were incredibly salacious tales of stars of long ago such as Charles Laughton whose sexual cravings can best be described as unsavory. Bowers also details supplying Katharine Hepburn with what he estimates to be 150 pliable young women over a period of time and his own hookups with Spencer Tracy, Hepburn’s reported lover. The now-95 year old claims the famed romance between the two Oscar-winning legends was merely a publicity exaggeration, that they were just very close friends.
Although Bowers’ book was met with skepticism by many, literary giant Gore Vidal vouched for its veracity. Now his story is the source material of Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (opening in theaters July 27), a documentary by filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer, which is a relatively polite account of Bowers’ book that sheds light on the author’s day-to-day life since the publication of his book. Whether you believe his tales, you’ll likely be captivated by Bowers’ charm and understand how this former gas station attendant could have rubbed shoulders and other body parts with Hollywood’s elite.
This interview, conducted in 2012 at the time of the book’s release, has never been published. It’s been edited for clarity.
I feel like it’s important for you to tell this story because openly gay and bisexual people are kind of absent from history.
But at that time, if you remember, there were guys that I knew that had teaching jobs and jobs with the city, even cops and sheriffs, and they were gay and, you know, you didn’t dare tip your hat then, in those days at all, because your job would go bye-bye.
Of course, but I think that it’s really important that you’re telling this story because there’s this myth that gay people didn’t really exist back then and you’re setting the record straight, so to speak.
[Laughs] They did, but it wasn’t as noticeable. They didn’t have the big parades and things.
What’s the response been since the book was published?
The response has been almost like you just said. Most people will call me they’re like, “I read your book and it’s wonderful.” Of course, a lot of people that do that, you know, they’re gay and they just love the book, even straight people.
It’s mostly a considerate work, I think. The writing is very considerate of people.
Yeah. Well, one time I remember when somebody said to George Cukor, who was a director, “George, you know Scotty’s a hustler.” “You bet he is, but he’s a gentleman hustler.” [Laughs] I always thought that was nice.
So people have been really kind about the book?
Most people have been fine. We were at a book signing at Book Soup [in West Hollywood] and everybody said it’s wonderful and they liked it. No one put it down, really. I’m sure there are people who would, or will, but the people we’ve met and seen haven’t.
So what would you say people are taking away from the book?
Almost the way you’re talking and what you said of the period of time. A lot of people have said, you know, back then, straight people especially: “I really didn’t think there were many gay people then. I know there are now because they’re out and about and things like that. I said, “What do you think? People all of a sudden just become gay now?”
You paint a really evocative picture of what life was like back then and how people had to be so secretive. You provided this amazing outlet for people with the services you offered.
You know how word gets around. Why go to a bar or why cruise and pick someone up when that can be bad news, when you can go to the gas station, you know, by the time you meet someone, take them out to dinner, and everything, it’s going to cost you, right?
But you could go to the gas station and have it immediately for 20 bucks. So it’s a better deal I think.
Sure. In and out.
Yeah. In and out, or take them with you, or see them there.
There are some people who don’t believe your stories.
Oh, I’m sure. Don’t forget, there are many people who will say this room is white and people will say no, this is not white. There’s a lot of people who don’t believe anything. But it’s foolish to try to convince people that don’t believe. It’s better to be with the believers.
Why do you think there are some people who just, regardless of all the evidence, refuse to believe that Katharine Hepburn was lesbian?
Dr. Kinsey told me when he would go around years ago to women’s clubs and give lectures, and then he began to talk about gay people and some woman would get up and say, “Well, I can see why guys are gay, they’re in the service,” meaning, they’re in prisons, they’re off some place “and they’re only with men. So therefore, they can be gay.” But I never saw a woman that was gay and I’d gone to college for 12 years. I spent 12 years in college and I said to the doctor that he should have said to her, “You should look in the fucking mirror and you’d see one.”
Do you think that living closeted lives affected the careers of celebrities? Did they channel their frustrations into their performances and it made them more powerful on screen?
I think possibly that would be true, because they did keep it under cover. Their daytime lives and nighttime lives were completely different. But for the average person who did have a job, whether it was a studio, even though all the set decorators and the hairdressers at a studio were basically gay, but they already had good positions and were good at what they did, so they didn’t really worry about their job as much as someone with a job with the city or state.
Why do you think people found you so trustworthy?
Well, I think it’s just as you came around the station and saw what was happening and how nice it was done and come again and again and again, night after night after night. It was just a pleasant situation.
But I mean, some big star, like Katharine Hepburn, who would have a lot at stake, why would she?
That was done over a period of time, because I met Katharine Hepburn through George Cukor, who was her director. It wasn’t like she came into the gas station, because she didn’t.
In your book, when you first met her at Cukor’s party, it seemed like she was very open about her life.
Well, you could pick up on her life, because, don’t forget, she parted her hair down the middle and wore men’s pinstriped suits. It wasn’t like she was feminine at all. You never saw her without slacks on and, as I said, suits and things like that. She looked like a dyke, I mean, to an average person. One time she said to George, “You know, I’ve been here all these years,” I think she came here in 1934, “I’ve been here all these years George, and I really don’t have any friends.” And he says, “Katharine, you never will because you’re a real bitch.”
I’ve heard other similar stories about her. Somebody recently told me he was friends with a woman whose career she had destroyed because she wasn’t able to seduce her.
Katharine was always nice to me, but in observing her, she wasn’t really a nice lady. That’s not my opinion because she was always nice to me because of what I was doing, right? But she was nasty to Spence, Spencer Tracy. She was nasty to him always, even though Louis B. Mayer made it look like they had a romance. They didn’t have a romance at all, but they made it look like that because movie magazines were very popular years ago. But Katharine herself, as I said, just like being here since 1934 and not having many friends, that tells you something right there.
What really surprised me in the book was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor being so trusting of you.
Yes, but when I met —I call him Eddie—when I met him I had come highly recommended from four different people, [including] Cecil Beaton. “If you ever get to Los Angeles, be sure and call Scotty.” So that was different than just meeting someone. If you’re already recommended by English friends, you get what I mean? That is a whole different thing I think. So, therefore, he felt very relaxed with me immediately under the circumstances.
She did as well?
Yeah. Just automatically. I made them feel completely at ease.
When you were procuring for them, how would you convey to the person that they were going to be with someone of such a high station, or did they know who they were going to be with?
I had them at the Beverly Hills Hotel, because a friend of mine was the manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel, who I was tricking with, who was gay. I said, “I need a bungalow for a week.” It was paid for, but he never asked who it was for. And the bungalow was in the rear of the hotel, you know? You park on the street and walk over the lawn under the bungalows. That was good because you weren’t going through the lobby or anything like that. I mean, there wasn’t television to speak of, and who bought the newspaper? So a lot of the kids I fixed them up with had no idea. Never even questioned it. Who is this? Who am I with? You know what I mean?
Were there other people providing this service that you knew of?
Not really. I mean, I became without trying the number one procurer. I was fixing up seven nights a week, at least 20 people a night.
My God, that’s a lot of hook-ups.
Both guys and girls, mainly guys. But it just went boom. How this happened, all of the sudden in the matter of weeks, it went from nothing to something and it never was planned that way. It just happened because these guys who had just got out of the service, no money, who were hanging around there before they went back to Ohio, Pennsylvania, places like that, and I thought, “Geez, they don’t have a goddamn dime. I can make them a few bucks.”
Some of the stories in your book, such as the one about Charles Laughton, were kind of unsavory.
Charles Laughton was a dirty old man. Charles never took a bath. I remember one time Charles had poop on his hand. Charles went like this, and there were four lines over his cheek. I met him a week later and those lines were still there. Charles never took a goddamn bath.
You talk about some of his fetishes. I mean nowadays nothing really surprises anybody because of the Internet.
No, because people are into things and they’ve always been into things.
One of the things that really fascinated me was your encounter with Vivien Leigh.
Yeah, that was because I knew her and her husband. I would fix her husband up with girls, too, and he liked to see a guy and a girl both. When a guy likes to see a guy and a girl both, he’s really got a gay bit to him, but he doesn’t want to admit it by saying I want to see a guy. Let’s see a guy and a girl [Claps his hands] and he will often suck the cum out of her pussy after he cums in her and things like that. But no, they’d come on by being straight. They would very often, and her husband was that way.
I mean, we’ve heard these stories now because of all the biographies that have been written about them, but back then they were Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier. But now we know that she was bipolar and allegedly highly sexed.
It was kind of kooky. You know, cute little body and sweet, but kind of kooky, like she’d say, “We shouldn’t be doing this. Why do we do this? Why do you come here?” I wanted to say, “Bitch, you asked me to and you opened the goddamn gate for me and let me in and here we are.” Then the moment we’re in bed she’s screaming and hollering, and I mean really screaming and before that she was whispering and writing me notes.
So her bipolarity or manic depression was obvious to you?
To me, “We shouldn’t be doing this together; I don’t know why we did to start with.” And I’m just listening to her talk and “We aren’t going to do this anymore. Why’d we do it to start with?” And it would work its way to, “Can you come back tomorrow again? I’ll be here tomorrow.” “Yeah, I’ll be here.”
I mean, again, I think the public perception of them was that they were almost royalty.
Yeah, but even then everybody does something, you know what I mean? You know what I’m talking about.
It just seems really surreal. You have somebody like that, I’m not necessarily doubting your word, but being in that situation, I think I would have been very surprised.
Well, don’t forget, she was staying at George Cukor’s by the pool. Her husband, I already knew and I was fixing him up with things, so that’s how I got to know her obviously. How do you get to know her? You know, if you’re doing what you’re doing, you get to know a lot of people.
Part Two of our interview with Scotty Bowers continues tomorrow. Check back for tantalizing tales featuring Rock Hudson, James Dean, Cole Porter, Edith Piaf and more!