Welcome back to Bi Book Club! Summer often brings lots of fun in the sun, showing off some skin, and possibly even a sexy fling or two. So I figured it was time to add a juicy little beach read to our collective straw tote. Recently I was lucky enough to attend a premiere of Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, focusing on the life of former WWII Marine Scotty Bowers. Scotty moved to Tinseltown after the war and quickly started up a business as a hustler/pimp/gigolo at a gas station. But here's the catch ;" he serviced the highest ranks of the closeted members of Hollywood, right during the Golden Age of movies. These exploits included not just gay and lesbian members of the community, but bi ones as well. And Scotty tricked with them all.
The documentary was at turns hysterical, tawdry, moving, and heartbreaking, and I was thoroughly grateful I got to go (and meet the film's subject, Scotty, who's still going strong at 95!) So when I found out the film was based on Scotty's tell-all memoir, I had to pick it up.
SPOILER ALERT: This review from here on in will discuss some of the racier and more graphic sections of Scotty's storied life. I must also include a content/trigger warning for molestation and child abuse.
One of the things that stood out to me above anything else was the tone of Scotty's memoir. Scotty meanders from story to story, writing in a style that feels like one long, amusing conversation flitting from anecdote to anecdote, told over a glass of good wine while taking in a fantastic vista. That may not be the kind of style everyone can read in one sitting because it could infuriate those looking for a through line plot, but it's quite enjoyable. Most stories feel like they were directly dictated, since they end in rhetorical questions more often than in typical literature. The structure hops around on the timeline, too, so be prepared to recalibrate where in time the story is taking place.
Scotty's memoir covers quite a life. Honestly, the documentary serves as a starting point to a wild ride of a life lived. I'll get to the details of his sexual exploits later, but this former Marine also details his time serving in the Armed Forces in the Pacific. Scottie survived a tragic and harrowing experience at the battle of Iwo Jima. I won't spoil the details, but know that the passage was such a tale of chance, horror, and loss that I dropped the book and had to take a walk to process my feelings. It was truly the most humanizing accounts I've ever read from that war.
But what surprised me, and really seemed to set up Scotty's attitude for the rest of his life, was noting how that grief and loss made him embrace life, and do so without judgment or reservation. After reading what he witnessed on that beach, I would understand living a life without a shred of shame (especially about sex, which people should not feel ashamed about, anyway).
Scotty also had other adventures that didn't quite directly involve sex work. Among other things, he helped Alfred Kinsey get more research subjects willing to talk about lesbianism. There is also an anecdote about Scotty getting historic examples of pornography to Kinsey's institute that is too good for me to spoil. Needless to say, this Midwestern farm boy lived a helluva life.
However, the big draw of this book is Scotty's tawdry times running a makeshift queer brothel out of a gas station on Hollywood Blvd. There are almost too many same-sexcapades to list, but Scotty tricked with or arranged tricks for Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, and the former King of England, just to name a few.
Most of these celebrities were not publicly out during the prime of their lives and careers due to a morals clause written into their contracts.
After WWII, the studios realized how important/profitable it was to convey an image of success ;" and for America, that meant a squeaky-clean, conservative, hetero-normative image. Any straying from that hard-won conceit by the people who perpetuated the image ;" even in their private lives ;" would undermine all of their effort. So many of these artists had to live out their greatest desires behind closed doors. And that's where Scotty came into the picture. The stories of his gas station and personal services more than deliver on their promise of eyebrow-raising and delight.
Scotty does not claim the label of bi for himself, though his exploits and attractions he recalls dictate otherwise. But he doesn't have any problem calling a spade a spade with other artists and personalities that crossed his path. Honestly, there were so many bi people he tells stories about that I lost count.
When Full Service first hit the bookshelves, pearl-clutchers started raising concerns, both about the validity of Scotty's claims and about outing these people after their deaths. But as time rolled on, most of the families affirmed their realatives' predilections. As far as outing them, it really does seem like Scotty waited until nearly everyone was gone and he was almost a nonegenarian to tell his tale. I think that's enough time, and his stories give a huge insight to a cultural touchstone of American history that would have otherwise been lost to the sands of time. Not only that, but ;" as Scotty says himself ;" there's nothing wrong with being gay or queer. All of these actors, directors, and heads of state only stayed in the closet because of the very real possibility of personal and professional repercussions. If they had had the chance to be out and in the open like their contemporaries today, I don't think most of them would have stayed in the closet. Their secrecy was a product of the morality of the money-holders of the time. And I'm glad Scotty got them some of the loves and hook-ups they richly deserved.
Finally, there's the question of Scotty's sexual awakenings at the hands of child abuse from his neighbors and community priests. I have to admit these passages were difficult to read, especially since he tells the exploits so casually when the rest of the world will read them for pedophilia. There may be a gray area as far as Scotty's own short latency period and his prism on desire and making people happy, but he seems to be at peace with what happened to him. However, I do not in any way condone what transpired.
There is so much in Full Service I have not even touched on ;" and that's just the way a book review should go, in my opinion. I recommend the memoir with few reservations ;" especially if you are looking for a light summer read about a man whose free relationship with sexuality helped others live their lives to the fullest; outside of the limelight.