Part autobiography and part memoir of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, Scotty Bowers’ 2012 book Full Service, written with Lionel Friedberg, is a provocative and, at times, troubling read. He writes candidly, without apparent guilt or shame, about the role he played in the lives of an extraordinary number of famous people. The book offers his behind the scenes, often graphic, eye-witness accounts of the private and not-so-private lives of some very public people.
Born and raised in rural Illinois and later Chicago, Bowers joined the Marines at the start of World War II. Discharged at the end of the war, the 23 year-old settles in Hollywood where he meets, has sex with, arranges for others to have sex with, and, in many cases, befriends a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of the mid-20th century. He provides a first-hand account of what gay life was like in Hollywood in the repressive 1940’s and 1950’s. Given that his own interests seem to span the entire Kinsey spectrum, his story is not limited to the gay sub-culture but covers the full range of sexual expression that existed in Southern California, and probably everywhere else, at the time. Most impressively, his account covers a period of more than 80 years of his own life and more than 60 years of American popular culture.
“I have known Scotty Bowers for the better part of a century. I’m so pleased that he has finally decided to tell his story to the world. His startling memoir includes great figures like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Scotty doesn’t lie – the stars sometime do-and he knows everybody.” – Gore Vidal
It is good that the above captioned blurb from Gore Vidal is included because a lot of the book tests the reader’s credulity. Can one person, any person, have possibly known, literally as well as biblically, all the these famous people? Apparently so.
When he first arrived in Hollywood, Bowers worked as a gas station attendant. Later he would work as a bartender and cater waiter at private parties at the homes of his famous friends and acquaintances. Throughout his life, Bowers, honesty requires we acknowledge, was also a sex worker. While he never describes himself as a hustler or prostitute, he is candid that he provided a wide range of sexual favors for a large number of men and women and that money usually changed hands afterward.
Even more intriguingly, he became known as the ‘go to’ guy when someone wanted to arrange a discreet assignation. This was not always a good reputation to have as evidenced by an incident he relates when he was tending bar at a private function when he was confronted, physically and verbally, by Lucille Ball for arranging prostitutes to meet her husband, Desi Arnaz.
To put this in context, he summarizes;
“At the height of my tricking days – in other words, during the gas station period and the years following – I was setting up an average of 15-20 tricks a day. This was a 24/7 operation, extending over a period of, say, 30-40 years. As for tricks that I performed personally, I was often seeing 2-3 people a day.”
Bowers emphatically and repeatedly, denies ever accepting money for arranging ‘tricks’ for others. The money always changed hands between the parties themselves. He only accepted money for services he performed personally. It is a subtle but important moral distinction.
Parts of Bower’s story are disturbing. He describes his experiences in a very ‘sex-postive’ tone. He says he enjoyed every one of his experiences, regrets none of it, and “looks back on it all with warmth, gratitude and affection”. He includes in that his experiences being fondled by an adult neighbor when he was eight years old. Presumably he includes in that his feelings about exchanging sex for money with a number of Catholic priests in Chicago at the ages of 11-12. I struggle with that.
There are times Bowers’s explanations seem disingenuous.
In describing his feelings about having sex with Catholic priests as a child he writes:
“I felt no shame, no guilt, no remorse for what I had done. In fact, I derived an undeniable sense of satisfaction knowing that I had brought a little joy into someone’s life. I saw nothing wrong in that. As far as I could see, our bodies were designed in a certain way and there was no doubt in my mind that sex was essential for one’s emotional, psychological, and physical health.”
I am glad he was not scarred by the experience of being a pre-pubescent boy exchanging sex for money with adult priests but I find it hard to believe any 12 year in 1930’s Chicago was so abstract in their thinking about the subject.
Similarly, he describes an incident, later in life, when he discouraged the biographer of a well-known, deceased actor (he names the star) from including details about specific and, to many, distasteful sexual practices the subject enjoyed. Bowers denied the information was accurate. He knew the stories to be true but rationalized misleading the biographer by telling himself it would be damaging to the deceased star’s image to have such information revealed. These concerns did not prevent him from revealing the same information in this book, however.
There are times the details are graphic and lurid to the point of being unpleasant to read though I freely acknowledge that probably says as much about a Puritanical, judgmental streak in me about the sexual interests of others that I do not share.
In the end, Bowers is a fascinating person who has led a unique life. He tells his story candidly and without shame or fear of condemnation. His final words in the book are; “And I am contented.” I hope I can say as much should I look back on my life when I reach my late 80’s.