Book Review: Full Service

January 29, 2014
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Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood & the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers & Lionel Friedberg – Grove-Atlantic Publishers (ISBN#082120076)

“Scotty doesn’t lie,” says Gore Vidal, one of my all-time favorite writers, on the book cover blurb. “I have known Scotty Bowers for the better part of a century… Scotty doesn’t lie!” This is enough to make me pick it up. Celebrity gossip is definitely one of my more senseless vices, especially when it comes to Old Hollywood and any sort of smut involving the likes of Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Katherine Hepburn. Most of these dreadful books consist of the kind of scurrilous meandering that hasn’t been new since Kenneth Anger’s fabulous Hollywood Babylon. The prose is usually pitifully awful and written by bitter venal hacks like Kitty Kelly and Charles Higham. Now and again, however, you get something brilliant like Donald Spoto’s Lenya, brilliantly researched, written with love and composed with an empathetic intent.

Scotty Bowers and his ghostwriter do not do the expected in that, from the get-go, we don’t get the usual index of names. Thus, should you be less interested in story, form and content and only interested in the secret sex lives of the stars, you are going to have to suffer through searching each page for Spencer and Kate, Edward G and Walter, Randy and Cary, Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, James Whale, John Barrymore, Colin Clive, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, and Vivien Leigh.

Full Service

Ah, Vivian Leigh, aka ‘Vivling,’ was prone, it says, to the loudest orgasms in Christendom. So much so that her sexual tutor, a flaming old queen and brilliant director named George Cukor, who was in the next door bedroom drinking himself giggly, pleasured himself (after being fired by David Selznick from the set of Gone With the Wind) while bisexual Scotty was having his way with her. Leigh, who was susceptible to terrible bouts of schizophrenia, was Bowers’ most enthusiastic and voluble bedmate. And, really, he had many. That’s all on pages 158-61. The rest is up to you, otherwise I shall feel like a pimp instead of a critic. Suffice to say that there are scores of surprises when it comes to some actors you thought were champions of heterosexuality, apple pie, the bible and family values.

Bowers is still alive and coming up on the cusp of ninety at the time of writing. An ex-marine, he saw action in the Pacific at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Demobbed, he moved to a booming Los Angeles, first as a gas pump attendant and then as a bartender and a sort of trickster/magician at Hollywood parties. Stunningly good-looking, and double-jointed, his career began as what he refers to as a very expensive “trick.” With the gentleman-actor Walter Pidgeon (Mr Miniver!) as his procurer/pimp Scotty serviced men who needed blowjobs or more.

Starting business off with the whole cast and crew of what turned out to be the Oscar-winning Mrs Miniver, Scotty was quite the sexual athlete. This includes the marvelous Greer Garson, so that it becomes clear that Scotty-Boy not only takes it wherever her can get it, as long as it pays, but he really enjoys it. Nevertheless, in no time, Scotty ultimately transcends. Soon he’s not just a trick but also a director of fantasies. A middleman, an intermediary, the connection – and often a participant in all kinds of sexy and sometimes kinky shenanigans – he was a valued commodity, albeit ultimately one more hunk of meat in the pay-to-play fantasy meat grinder. Discretion is his byword in a closeted homosexual world where artists lived under the constraint, threat (and thrill) of exposure. What’s sort of weirdly icky, though is just how strange it was that gender role models were made out of flamingly queer and bisexual celebrities like Errol Flynn, Susan Hayward and Charles Laughton. Indeed, Bowers claims that the couple who were ‘Kate and Spence’ were both flamingly gay.

Joking about Father Flanagan in Boy’s Town is, of course, one thing, but Scotty’s act of Outing Spencer Tracy has been condemned by many of the so-called Hollywood gay cognoscenti as the skullduggery of a geriatric Judas. This is funny! A chorus of other so-called critics have signed petitions and promised lawsuits about what are ridiculed as fabrications, but what’s on the page seems not so much scurrilous as fetchingly convincing. Imagine, I kept thinking, having to be Spencer Tracy! It’s almost as if George Clooney was gay!

It took six years’ of serious work to write this book, according to Friedberg. A splendid piece of entertainment, it also transcends its subject matter as a sort of anthropological farce. The Hollywood of myth and legend that I grew up is not so much gone as repainted, dissected, post-modernized, and given an alternative perspective. I very much recommend it.

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