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Fans of Hollywood, once content with maps detailing the homes of movie stars, now prefer detailed flow charts of the stars’ sex lives, Venn diagrams of the daisy chains of the rich and famous, and vivid tell-alls like Full Service (Grove Press). With the assistance of ghost-writer Lionel Friedberg and the prompting of Tennessee Williams (in the 60s) and Gore Vidal (more recently), Scotty Bowers—once a beacon of discretion—finally unveils the carnal pecadillos of many of the studio era’s biggest players.
From his early years as a sexually precocious farm boy through his stint as a Marine paratrooper (alongside fuck-buddy, Tyrone Power), to his job as hustling pump jockey and eventually, “Hollywood’s go-to guy for sex,” Bowers livens the pace between his tawdry Tinseltown tales by sprinkling a few one-handers of his own: rural childhood dabblings with older boys and members of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a scene off the highway with a buff L.A. motorcycle cop straight out of Tom of Finland. Most effectively, Bowers summons that seminal moment in our culture when the positive affirmation of one’s sexuality, such as the coming out of one-time box office superstar William Haines, was a heroic act. Through his connections and startling memories, the 88-year-old comes off as an omnisexual Zelig who claims he procured companionship not for the money, but because he “liked pleasing people.”
In the cases of Vincent “Vinnie” Price and Vivien Leigh (among others), Bowers did the pleasing personally. He claims Leigh was the “one of the best fucks (he) ever had.” For clients such as Bob Hope, “Larry” Olivier, and Katherine Hepburn, Bowers procured female prostitutes. Preferring the male (mostly ex-Marine) variety were pals George Cukor, Noel Coward, Spencer Tracy, and cougar-before-her-time, Elsa Lanchester. With regard to Hepburn and Tracy, Bowers demonstrates how intrinsic and bizarre the institution of, what practitioner Cole Porter called “professional marriage” was. According to Bowers, the commonly accepted, semi-clandestine affair between the two stars was actually contrived to keep Hepburn and Tracy safe in their respective closets—both furnished handsomely by Bowers with unemployed hangers-on. According to Bowers, incredibly, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, although deeply in love, were also bearding for one another.
Appropriately enough, Dr. Kinsey traveled the same circles as Bowers, and with his help, gained a slew of female interview subjects to use in his Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, as well as a large chunk of King Farouk’s legendary pornography collection to supplement his own in Indiana. While the usual suspects (Cary Grant, Mae West, “Monty” Clift, Tennessee Williams) make PG-rated guest appearances, some of Bowers’ recollections verge on the lurid. Details of Cole Porter’s escapades divulge what the songwriter truly got a kick out of, and the most graphic chapter (“To Each His Own”) moves into gratuitous territory with the introduction of Charles Laughton’s shadow side. What’s most shocking, though, is the disregard Bowers showed for his common-law wife, Betty, and their daughter, Donna, with whom he lived this double life.
Unfortunately for bold-faced gossip-lovers, the absence of an index might make Full Service a bit of a slog. For impromptu beach house read-a-loud moments, however, the book is a must.
Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Lives of the Stars
By Scotty Bowers (with Lionel Friedberg)
Hardcover, 9780802120076, 304 pp.