It’s always surreal during awards season to watch studio chiefs applaud the winning pictures, since these are the same movies that they’d previously turned down.
When an out-of-the-box film like “The King’s Speech” strikes pay dirt, executives will always confide that it was an “accident,” even an “inadvertency.” That’s because its budget was under $100 million and its plot did not emanate from a Marvel comicbook — hence it had to try for “indie” money.
The basic irony of Oscar season is that it has all the trappings of Official Hollywood but the awards themselves speak a different language. That’s why the most dramatic way to energize the Oscars this year would be turn the entire ritual over to the brave souls who actually put up the resources to make “The Artist,” “Hugo” or “The Iron Lady.” Or to stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Meryl Streep who not only acted in their films but went to the mat to produce and market them. (Streep even contributed her fee to build a new museum honoring the achievements of other women.) Or to Steven Spielberg, whose company delivered “The Help” and who also created in “War Horse’ the closest thing to an old-fashioned studio picture.
Indeed “War Horse” symbolized a fact that a generation of filmmakers has all but forgotten: that films like “The Godfather” or “Dr. Strangelove” or “Terms of Endearment” or “Nashville” were once mainstream studio pictures. When they were honored during awards season, the studio executives applauded because they, too, had put their butts on the line to see them through.
So think of an Oscar show produced by Harvey Weinstein and directed by Spielberg and hosted by Clooney and Pitt with Graham King and Scott Rudin telling some war stories and Uggie the dog doing a dance number. The ratings won’t be distinguished, but at least the show will be a true representation of the real Hollywood.
That is, the real anti-Hollywood.
The secrets of ‘Service’
Here comes yet another book subtitled “The Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.” It’s surely a weary genre, but this book has stirred an aura of mystery and expectation. That’s because it was written by an 88-year-old ex-Marine named Scotty Bowers, who has become a mythic figure in Hollywood’s gay subculture.
In his heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, Bowers was the ultimate fixer — the man who purportedly arranged sexual liaisons for the likes of Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, the Duke of Windsor and anyone else passing through town who wanted a gay adventure. He claims to have arranged scores of female escorts for Katharine Hepburn as well.
Bowers’ book, published recently by Grove Press, is titled “Full Service,” a clever title reflecting the fact that Bowers’ activities were based out of a gas station in the middle of Hollywood. Its cover carries endorsements from the likes of Gore Vidal and Griffin Dunne and the book was greeted by a long and felicitous story in the Sunday New York Times. There will even be a Vidal-hosted book party this week at the Chateau Marmont where Bowers will be on hand.
Does the book deserve this sort of attention? Surely Bowers (and co-author Lionel Friedberg) are skilled name-droppers and spare no sexual detail, but I always cringe when I read lurid reports about long-dead celebrities who are not around to defend themselves. The topic of sexual ambiguity itself has become overexploited: Try Googling any movie star and you encounter a sideshow purporting to offer inside “gay” information about anyone from Will Smith to Matt Damon to George Clooney.
To Sonny Bowers in his prime, every movie star was ostensibly gay except for Bowers himself who, while turning gay tricks, lived with a woman, had a child, and then married yet another woman with whom he presently lives. Bowers documents his encounters with great specificity — including Walter Pidgeon’s proclivities — and takes the reader inside some of the most fascinating “scenes” of the period. He was invited to George Cukor’s mythic salons, hung out with Tennessee Williams, advised Dr. Kinsey on his sex surveys and tried to help Errol Flynn with his drinking problem.
Trouble is, while Bowers seemed well traveled, he describes his adventures in a sort of relentless monotone — a man who, like a sexual Zelig, has seen everything but cannot capture any of the color or understand the nuance. His dedication to supplying “full service” seemed downright exhausting at the time, but his service to the reader — or to the memories of the stars he describes — seems seriously open to question.