Matt Tyrnauer on Documentary ‘Scotty,’ Story of Hollywood’s Golden Era Sexual Zelig

Matt Tyrnauer on 'Scotty' and Hollywood's
Toronto Film Festival

There’s Hollywood’s official history, one adorned with screen goddesses and cinematic icons of masculinity. Then there’s another, less-told tale of the golden age of movies. That’s a story in which Scotty Bowers plays a central role.

For decades, this former marine turned gas station attendant, bartender and handyman, was a sexual rainmaker to the stars. Away from the greasepaint and the glitz, actors like Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Rock Hudson allegedly turned to Bowers to make their sexual fantasies come true. His story is the subject of a new documentary “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” from Matt Tyrnauer, a writer, director and journalist best known for “Valentino: The Last Emperor.”

The film, and particularly Bowers’ claims that Grant, Tracy and Hepburn engaged in gay sex, are bound to make headlines and attract controversy as they go against the actors’ carefully cultivated images. Tracy and Hepburn, for one, famously co-starred in films like “Adam’s Rib” and “Woman of the Year,” and it was an open secret in Hollywood that they were devoted lovers off-screen for decades (not true, says Bowers), despite the fact that the married Tracy would not divorce his wife.

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“Scotty presents a counter-narrative to the Hollywood myth that was operating at its peak in the decades after World War II,” says Tyrnauer. “This was the post-production code period when studios pledged to produce wholesome content with this image of a white-washed, white-picket fenced America, with the house and two kids and dog. Scotty lifts the lid on this image of conformity and unveils the hypocrisy of all that.”

The stories of orgies involving some of the most beloved film stars in history are what will attract buyers at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, where the pic is playing, as well as looking for North American distribution. But its central character is the key to its charm. The 94-year-old Bowers commands the film, armed with an ever-present smile, while talking unabashedly about his many love affairs. In between dishing on Walter Pidgeon’s dalliances, he’s seen puttering around his over-stuffed bungalow or scaling the roof to do some maintenance work. Bowers looks less like a sexual rebel than a grandfather who still puts in time on the treadmill.

“He approaches everything in life with the same type of interest and enthusiasm — whether it’s a tree he trimmed or the most incredible sexual assignation,” says Tyrnauer, who was connected to Bowers thanks to a friendship with Gore Vidal.

In World War II, Bowers was in the thick of some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific, including at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Maybe it was the carnage he witnessed, but he emerged from that crucible with virtually no inhibitions. He was so open to sexual experiences with women and men that he was a key subject and a kind of unicorn for Alfred Kinsey, the famous sex researcher.

“He’s extraordinary in that he was born without the type of shame that a lot of us are born with and carry with us,” says Tyrnauer.

Not everyone is thrilled that Bowers is opening Tinseltown’s closet door. He’s told his story in a memoir, “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” and Tyrnauer captures a prickly encounter with a reader who challenges Bowers about sharing details of these actors’ lives without their consent. Why, he wonders, is Bowers writing things that might upset their children or grandchildren. His response is two-fold: “They’re all gone” and “What’s wrong with being gay?”

That answer may not satisfy every viewer, and some will be skeptical about Bowers’ claims, which come without much in the way of tangible proof. Tyrnauer, for his part, believes him. He’s checked out a number of Bowers’ stories, and he notes that he’s described things about different people’s family lives or the layouts of their homes that would have been known to only a few.

“I think he’s telling the truth,” says Tyrnauer. “I cross-checked everything I could. There are a lot of small details that he mentions that are seemingly insignificant and no one could have known unless they were there. This is someone who doesn’t have the internet and who I don’t believe has a library card. I don’t think he could have researched everything and constructed such an elaborate ruse.”

Bowers’ heyday coincided with a dark and repressive time for gay Americans. Society demanded that they remain closeted and they were threatened with jail, violence or financial and social ruin if their sexual activities were exposed. But this shadow community that sprung up also meant that people from all walks of life, the very rich and the very poor alike, the movie icons and the average Joes and Janes in the audience, all brushed up against one another in a way that social and economic strictures would never have permitted.

“Because of the need to lead secret lives in the period after the war, strong communities formed,” says Tyrnauer. “Some were really protective places where people led full and robust lives expressing their true identifies. The consequences of revealing their sexuality was so grave that men and women kept secrets and that created a camaraderie that was unusual and special.”

It’s not just Hollywood’s secret history that Bowers illuminates, Tyrnauer argues. He also shines a light on a time, that post-Stonewall, “Will & Grace” and the legalization of gay marriage can seem very distant and, frankly, foreign.

“I wanted to show a window into gay history that by necessity covered its tracks,” he says. “The world we live in today is so different than the one that our parents and grandparents grew up in. One reason Scotty is important is that he’s a living eyewitness to a period that we risk forgetting.”

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  1. Mark says:

    Any actual proof, or does proof even matter now a days?

  2. Kathi L. Keeney says:

    I can’t even type the horrible things I think about that book and the idiot(s) who would make a documentary about him. All I can hope is that it’s an exposé. It really breaks my heart that people who become interested in the world of film read that garbage and believe it. I don’t mind the bad with the good, those olden time stars were human, after all. And my opinion is that nothing about Mr. Bowers is anything real or positive or truthful about who is or was gay in Hollywood. That isn’t the issue with the anger at him. I am angry with him because I hate lies. Even Hollywood Babylon was presented more as “gossipy trash” than what really happened. Lying shouldn’t be rewarded with a film maker etching your fantasies into a permanent shrine to the cult of saying or doing anything for a buck or to be what is called “famous” today.

  3. Jack says:

    Is this the same stuff we heard many times before about pretty much EVERY dead star in Hollywood? James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe….all gay and sexual perverts, really?

    This strikes me as another attempt by liberals and homosexuals to to ‘re-write’ history in their favor by using and abusing the famous names of dead people, who can’t talk back.

    And how good for him, that he has a book to sell, too…

    And how exactly did he have ‘gay’ sex with Katherine Hepburn ?
    That needs some explanation.

    “This is someone who doesn’t have the internet and who I don’t believe has a library card. I don’t think he could have researched everything and constructed such an elaborate ruse.””

    Look, Mr. Tyrnauer, I know you need to sell your movie somehow, but let me tell you this:
    If someone is intelligent and creative enough to write a whole book about his “sex affairs with stars”,
    then he has to be able to do research – and maybe invent and construct believable lies.
    You don’t need to be a genius to do that.

    This is just another narcissistic phony & you were stupid enough (or greedy enough?) to buy it.

    • Juan says:

      The old Hollywood stars were ALL a troubled bunch, and yes lots, if not most, actors were at least bi. Some would have sex with men for the money in their early years (John Wayne, Clark Gable) and others like Cary Grant, Monty Clift and Kate Hepburn kept their sexuality mostly under wraps, while the studio took care of how to present their private lives to the public. I love and admire these icons, not despite of their struggles and tribulations (even sometimes w some unsavoury bits – Joan Crawford seducing her stepdad at 12 y o…), but because of their complexities and spirit.

      • Charlie says:

        Juan,
        you had sex with John Wayne :-O ? Tell us more about it. Please.

        “…and yes lots, if not most, actors were at least bi”
        Did you get your numbers from SAG ?
        Or did you do some survey, like, ‘Kinsey for actors’?

        Truth is, there are no numbers, so your statement is nonsense.

        Only because Rock Hudson was gay and maybe some others, it doesn’t mean
        that Hollywood is full of queer people.

        But, I guess, you love that idea, don’t you ;-)

  4. Toni says:

    N new movie rating is in order
    G pg pg13 r and
    add x for trash/smut/porn

    • benskelly2 says:

      You’re not the brightest bulb, are you? He says he procured WOMEN for Hepburn. Get it? Let me guess: you think Hurricane Trump is making America great again.

      • Charlie says:

        The review didn’t say that. I thought the same thing. It’s not well written. Was this guy a john or a Don Juan? Both?

      • Dana says:

        Maybe he could have a scene of everyone peeing in the bathroom.
        Nobody cares about old stars and their private personal lives.

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