Bartender to Babylon

As mix master to the stars, Scotty was party to the legends' private lives

Scotty Bowers is probably the only bartender in Hollywood to get an Oscar, even though he never made a movie. The award was actually given to “Days of Heaven” cinematographer Nestor Almendros, and the way Scotty tells it, Nestor was so convinced he wouldn’t win, he had talked himself out of attending the ceremony.

“I had him throw on some half-assed clothes. He wasn’t even in a tuxedo or anything,” he remembers. “I drove him down. They were closing the doors, and I grabbed the door and pushed him in. That’s probably one of the reasons he gave it to me. He said, ‘I didn’t want to go, and you kept talking me into it.'”

Scotty brings the statue along when he tends bar, as an honorary gesture to clients he believes deserve the honor themselves. At an intimate party at Glenn Ford’s house for the actor’s 90th birthday, there it was behind the bar. And every time someone would ask, he’d insist the Oscar was Glenn’s.

Everyone knows Scotty. After all, he’s been serving drinks to the Beverly Hills crowd for almost 60 years, working a different party almost every night of the week, sometimes two a day. That’s more than 10,000 parties tended for the likes of Ford, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Rock Hudson, Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott — and those are just the stars.

“A lot of people throw parties all the time,” Scotty says. “Not necessarily name actors and actresses. Name actors and actresses are always getting up to the goddamn studio at such an early morning.”

Still, he’s got colorful stories on virtually everyone, but not for everyone’s consumption.

“Any goof can tend bar,” he says. “You can bring somebody off the street and they can tend bar — that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s what you do besides tend bar, that’s what counts.”

At 82, Scotty is well past retirement age, but he still works, mostly for the same crowd of familiar faces living within a fixed radius of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“Well, it started out, they were young, I was young, and we grew older together,” he shrugs. Now it’s their kids, nieces and nephews who book Scotty for parties.

He doesn’t have to work. Scotty has made plenty of friends along the way, and they’ve been good to him. At his house up on Kew Drive, one of three willed to him by real estate-savvy actor Beech Dickerson, Scotty navigates a living room still cluttered with Beech’s things.

Pointing out a photo of a young Jennifer Aniston, he volunteers a salty anecdote — unprintable, of course — from the days when the actress used to live in the apartment above the garage.

The place feels like Beech still lives there. That’s because Scotty’s too busy with work to make it his own, he explains, tossing a lottery ticket purchased five days earlier on the coffee table. It’s a winner, worth $19,222.

“I like to work,” he says. “I’ve worked every day of my goddamn life, from the time I was a little kid. Still today, I work seven days and seven nights. … The parties are like vacations. If you worked in a sleazy little bar someplace, that could be a drag, but I go from beautiful home to beautiful home.”

Born on a farm in Illinois, Scotty hustled his way through the Depression in Chicago before the Marine Corps brought him to California, where he made easy friends with movie stars. He was close with Tyrone Power, enough so that — well, let’s just leave it at that.

Scotty served two overseas tours with the Marine paratroopers, including a stint in Iwo Jima, where his brother and two best buddies were killed. When he returned, he stayed in California. Times were still tough, and he found work at a Richfield gas station at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Van Ness where he started arranging introductions between returning servicemen and older gentlemen.

Word got around and studio types started to drop by looking for “dates” — first the hairdressers, followed by the stars. Scotty insists he never took a commission, but if someone like Howard Hughes wanted to send him a $5,000 tip, he wasn’t going to turn it down.

Speaking of Hughes, Scotty wants to set the record straight. He hasn’t seen “The Aviator,” but he’s heard about the movie.

“This one girl I fixed him up with, she was gorgeous,” he says. “She had a little pimple on her back, which would be gone in a few days, but he rejected her forever. That’s why this bullshit picture about Katharine Hepburn and him being lovers, there’s no way in the world. She had skin like a dead crocodile.” Besides, Scotty knows a thing or two about the type of paramours Hepburn preferred, and Hughes wasn’t her type, either.

But Scotty’s version of history doesn’t usually get printed, although he admits to fudging certain details in the past to keep the record clean.

A biographer working on a book about Power came to interview Scotty armed with scandalous information about the actor’s sex life, and Scotty managed to convince him it was all bogus. Only after the manuscript was published did he confess that everything the writer had uncovered was true, but the details didn’t belong in a book.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many different groups of people,” he says. “I’ve worked swingers parties, dope parties, square parties, church parties.”

Scotty almost always works alone, whether it’s a party for two, like the intimate dinners one admiring “queen” would arrange to present Gloria Swanson with expensive baubles, or an evening with hundreds of guests, such as the soirees Liza Minnelli’s stepmother Lee Anderson used to throw.

He’s learned the hard way that buying the food and liquor himself can lead to awkward confrontations, should a paranoid hostess accuse him of spending too much (or ask him to “send the bill to my business manager in New York,” a trick Scotty says Liza tried to pull), so he lets his employers worry about the supplies, dropping in before the party begins to see to everything else.

It works better that way, he explains, remembering a woman who insisted on hiring a “professional bartender,” even though she’d seen Scotty working multiple events. The guy showed up two hours early and started drinking immediately. By the time the guests started to arrive, he had passed out on the couch.

Scotty doesn’t drink at all, but he pours the alcohol generously. His philosophy: “When they drink too much, you just give ’em more so they get real loaded.” He’s seen his share of sex and drugs, although fights are rare in the crowd he caters to, he says.

In Scotty’s book of memories, a jealous wife shot her husband between the legs for bringing his mistress to a party. Another time, the host actually died halfway through the night. “I remember him saying to me, ‘Scotty, this is going to be my last party, I just wanted to let you know.’ Half an hour later, he sat down on the couch, deader than hell.”

Scotty has outlived many of the regulars he used to see on the party scene. Some, like Power, he truly misses; others, he doesn’t get what the fuss was about. Take James Dean, for example.

“What a fucking little prick,” he says. “You made him a drink, he’d say, ‘I don’t like it,’ and pour it on the carpet. That’s like putting a cigarette out on the carpet, you know what I mean?”

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