Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
2018, NR, 98 min. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 24, 2018
The term "pimp" summons up a lot of visuals – most of them far from flattering, many of them drenched in racial stereotypes and abuse. Affable retiree Scotty Bowers as the center of attention at his birthday party, with glamorous friends telling him how good he looks, seems like an unlikely candidate for the title – right up until the cut young men clad only in thongs and a thin sheen of baby oil carry in a cake in the shape of a giant cock. "I created the rainbow in Hollywood," Bowers proclaims, and he may be right: The gas station he ran at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard was Tinseltown's best-kept open secret, the town's biggest and most discreet gay brothel, and it was all Bowers' creation.
Yet director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City) has no interest in a TMZ-esque exposé. Instead, his story – or rather, Bowers' self-narrated story – is of what it meant to be young, gay, and American in midcentury America, and how this farm boy turned World War II marine turned Hollywood's go-to procurer was (to use the old line) the good time had by all. That's what Scotty emphasizes – that Hollywood was a town of open secrets, and when an actor was a confirmed bachelor, or a starlet had a roommate in her palatial estate, everyone knew what it meant, and no one cared. And Bowers was at the heart (or the bed) of everything and everyone, on first-name (and often more) basis with everyone from Charles Laughton to Alfred Kinsey to Katharine Hepburn and at least one former king.
The underlying story is a combination of a personal memoir and a sex-positive retelling of a period in pop culture that has previously either been swept under the carpet or been given the salacious Hollywood Babylon treatment. But it's not all fun and games, and that's where Scotty can feel a little strained. The ethics of outing people posthumously are glanced off in an opening montage of reactions to Bowers' 2012 autobiography Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Scotty's wife Lois turns out to be far more scintillatingly incisive and sardonic on the topic than the entire crew of The View). Even Tyrnauer's obvious positivity takes a beating when he cross-examines Bowers on his childhood. Well, less cross-examines than blurts out a question in surprise at his subject's take on clerical abuse scandals (there's sex-positive, and then there's NAMBLA, and never should the two ever meet).
But when Tyrnauer concentrates on the life of consensual pleasure – often told with Bowers' salty tongue from his giggly recollections – then Scotty is more fun than a sock hop.