Hollywood sells sex. Yet for years, the movie industry has kept the closely guarded secret of many of its biggest stars’ true sexual identities. In Scotty Bower’s memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove/Atlantic), the 89 year-old gloriously and honestly recounts his many debaucherous memories to Lionel Friedberg, who has helped arrange them into a stunning text. Spanning his youth on an Illinois farm during the Great Depression, violent fighting in World War II, and sexual affairs with some of Hollywood’s most famous figures, Bowers’ story is truly a sensual epic.
After his discharge from the Marines, Bowers arrived in Los Angeles, a quiet town oozing charm and celebrities eager to explore their sexual desires. From Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cole Porter, Cary Grant, and Edith Piaf, to Vincent Price and Vivien Leigh, Scotty has tricked them himself or set them all up with the young men or women they desired. Not just a salacious tell-all, Bowers delivers a startlingly tender and honest sexual history, revealing more about his own life and the nature of human love and attachment than anything else. We spoke with Bowers about Hollywood at its height, how the war changed his life, escapism, secrecy and sex, his old friends, and why he’s chosen now to open his little black book.
ROYAL YOUNG: Why can people in Hollywood be the loudest version of themselves?
SCOTTY BOWERS: That’s well put. People can be the loudest versions of themselves because Hollywood is a different type of place than most. Regardless of where they came from, if they came to Hollywood, they became Hollywood. Certain types of people might be from a little town, but if they wanted to be an actor they became Hollywood in their attitude and how they felt. Rather than shy and bashful, they became Hollywood.
YOUNG: How have the changes in Los Angeles throughout the years affected your memories? Has it changed the way you view the city?
BOWERS: It’s changed so much. Prior to World War II, Hollywood was like any small town. Then all of a sudden, boom! Hollywood was so different then, the streetcars going up and down Hollywood Boulevard and the attitude of the people.
YOUNG: What does escapism mean to you?
BOWERS: Getting away from whatever you want to get away from.
YOUNG: What have you wanted to get away from in your life?
BOWERS: I never wanted to get away from anything.
YOUNG: Do you think the actors around you did?
BOWERS: Yes. Just by really being themselves when they weren’t able to otherwise.
YOUNG: How did a desire to see people happy translate into arranging sex for them?
BOWERS: By people being so shy about what they want and what they want to do, I kind of helped them not be shy about it.
YOUNG: Do you think people are less inhibited now?
BOWERS: Yes, I think so.
YOUNG: What was different then?
BOWERS: Back then, prior to World War II, a lot of people never left home. They stayed home and did what their parents did. When World War II came along, they left home and were able to do what they liked to do. A lot of them did come to Hollywood. What happened could have only happened in a place like Hollywood. It could not have happened in a small town in Iowa. I fell in with everything.
YOUNG: Do you also feel it was because of the war experience? That men had been away faced with death and women had been at home on their own, so much had changed socially?
BOWERS: Right. If the war hadn’t come along, guys would have stayed home and probably never done the things they wanted to do, because they’d have never left their little towns.
YOUNG: How did you feel about the way family, love, and sex were portrayed in cinema, versus the way stars were living their personal lives?
BOWERS: I felt there were many people who led double lives. What they pretended to do and what they did do were two different things. On the other hand, there were some people who were very square and straight. But in Hollywood, you had more opportunities to do it, because of the variety of people. In Hollywood you could be a block away from where you lived and no one knows you.
YOUNG: Do you still feel that sense in Hollywood? That you can sexually explore yourself?
BOWERS: Yeah, in a different way. It’s more open now, people aren’t as shy. Back then, if someone was gay, there were a few loud queens, but generally they were shy and felt very fortunate when they could meet somebody they could confide in or be fixed up by.
YOUNG: So besides sex, do you think it was just about meeting someone who accepted you for who you are and what you wanted?
BOWERS: Yes, I do. I felt like once I knew someone and they knew me, one of the things they liked is that they could be their true self with me very quickly and easily. People like that.
YOUNG: Well, I think it feels like home when you can be that way with someone.
BOWERS: That’s right.
YOUNG: How did your actors and famous friends reconcile the people they played on screen with the people they really wanted to be?
BOWERS: [laughs] Well, forget it. An actor is an actor, so they can portray themselves completely different than they are. The average person won’t pick up on it. I will say, look at the hundreds and hundreds of everyday people that I did the same thing for. Businessmen, housewives, married men, I mean the whole bit.
YOUNG: How did seeing such a range of people change the way you see people in general now?
BOWERS: There are still a lot of people that are shy and bashful. But nowadays people are more aggressive for going out and doing what they want. At one time name actors, if they found out they might be gay or otherwise would be dumped immediately. Nowadays, it doesn’t make any difference.
YOUNG: What’s changed?
BOWERS: It’s just a change in time and the attitude of a lot of people.
YOUNG: Have you enjoyed seeing that change?
YOUNG: Was there a level of secrecy though, that felt exciting and good back in your heyday?
BOWERS: There was a big level of secrecy, you bet! That’s why people liked and trusted me. Yet, you might say “If they trusted you and liked you, why are you doing this now?” Well it’s sad, because everyone is gone, and I do mean everyone. It does bring a tear to my eyes, thinking of all the nice people I knew. I was just thinking about Vincent Price. Remember Vincent Price? Such a sweetheart of a guy. And Randolph Scott, Cary Grant, all nice, all gentlemen. Niceness, kindness, sweetness is the answer to everything. Thinking of them all, how great and kind they were, regardless of what they did in bed. That’s another reason why I did this.
YOUNG: How did your life change? How does it feel to be more settled now?
BOWERS: [laughs] I still wish I were younger, doing the same thing.
SCOTTY BOWERS’ FULL SERVICE IS OUT NOW.