Documentary reveals secret gay and lesbian history of Hollywood

 “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer’s affectionate documentary opening Aug. 17 at the Ritz at the Bourse profiles Scott Bowers, a pimp for stars in Hollywood’s Golden Age who wanted same-sex sex. His client list reportedly included Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and many others.

Bowers, now 95, published a book called “Full Service” in 2012, in which he recounted his experiences, several of which are featured in the film. However, Tyrnauer said in a recent phone interview that he doesn’t consider his documentary, which is shot in cinéma-vérité style, to be an “adaptation” of the book.

“It’s my take on the Scotty story, which is in some ways different from his own take on the story. I took a documentarian approach. [Everything] on screen was something I inquired about or independently researched. I didn’t depend on Scotty’s memoir for anything other than a roadmap to the people and places.”

Tyrnauer said he heard about the “mythic gas station” in Hollywood where Scotty worked and then slowly pieced things together from various comments, such as one Merv Griffin made about “a gas station in Hollywood to go to if you wanted to get ‘into trouble.’”

The filmmaker eventually met Scotty (before “Full Service” was published) in Gore Vidal’s dining room. (Tyrnauer is Vidal’s literary executor). “Scotty was there by coincidence,” he recalled.

“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” recounts the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, when Bowers “helped people out” (as he likes to describe his pimping), or occasionally participated in trysts. But the film also shows what life is like for Scotty now, in his 90s, living with his wife Lois in a house that shows what a hoarder he has become.

Tyrnauer described his film as “a back-and-forth account of a historic life. He provided an alternate history of Hollywood, which I think is invaluable.”

The curious will be impressed by the film’s stories (some recounted by hustlers Scotty hired who are still around today), as well as the dozens of archival photographs, film clips and interviews Tyrnauer assembled, including footage from a 1965 drag show. The images reflect beautiful people smiling and appearing happy, and Bowers himself is very open and charismatic.

However, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” does present a dark period for queer people working in the film industry.

“The studios had morals clauses which severely limited the public and private lives of movie stars,” Tyrnauer said. “In addition, the LAPD ran a fascistic sexual Gestapo called the Vice Squad, which had as its primary function the hunting down, extortion and persecution of [queers] — and they were in collusion with the press. It was a dangerous time to be openly or covertly gay in the city of Los Angeles. Scotty was the protector of these extraordinary people’s lives and reputations. In order to live an authentic life — if you were a gay or lesbian star who had to live in the closet — you needed someone who was trusted to facilitate your needs. Scotty was a really very helpful figure for this secret society that had to exist in Hollywood in the bad old days.”

While many of the actors Bowers helped out are now dead, concerns have been raised about the veracity of all the hookups. Tyrnauer dismissed them, saying, “Gore Vidal vouched for him; I had an eyewitness to history in the form of Gore.”

But does knowing that Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn had same-sex lovers change one’s opinion of these stars? Tyrnauer, who believes in knowing the full spectrum of a historic person’s life and not “straight-washing” it, turns the question back on itself: “Why is Katharine Hepburn having a lesbian affair ‘dirt’ when her adulterous relationship with Spencer Tracy is not ‘dirt’? That, to me, is a curiously acceptable form of homophobia. The Hepburn-Tracy affair was an adulterous romance, and under McCarthy, a great scandal. But that captured the imagination of the public and became part of the publicity mix of the Tracy-Hepburn myth and legend.”

If Tyrnauer sounds defensive of Bowers, it’s because “he wasn’t hurting anybody.”