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Film Reviews Review: Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a fascinating and poignant chronicle of sexual politics

  • Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
  • Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer
  • Classification: 18A; 98 minutes

rating

At the heart of Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary is Scotty Bowers himself.

Thanks to his bestselling 2012 memoir, Full Service, Scotty Bowers has become an unlikely LGBTQ folk hero.

His book and now this documentary have been billed as exposés, but whether you believe most or even half the salacious anecdotes is almost beside the point. At the heart of Matt Tyrnauer’s doc is Bowers himself, now 95 and refreshingly free of sexual hang-ups or guilt as he shuffles around making repairs to his Hollywood Hills home. And what Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Citizen Jane) offers is an anthropology of the sub rosa social life made necessary by a repressive Hollywood studio system.

Arriving in 1946 Los Angeles, Bowers was a handsome young former Marine from Illinois who soon became the lover and sex fixer to many of Hollywood’s biggest names. He was pumping gas on Hollywood Boulevard near the old Warner Bros. lot and developed the side hustle after an assignation (and a $20 tip) from customer Walter Pidgeon. Forty years running a sexual matchmaking service followed, but the documentary isn’t about proving the stories – although for good measure, Tyrnauer uncovers a few fellow former hustlers, clients and bald-faced friends (such as the late gossip columnist Liz Smith) to corroborate and offer additional perspective on the era.

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Author William Mann and filmmaker Peter Bart also drop in, as does thespian Stephen Fry (who calls Bowers “pregay”). Is Scotty’s frank oral history about the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant and Bette Davis dishy? Absolutely, baby. And the colourful R-rated memories of the stars are juxtaposed with entertaining, well-chosen clips from their films (Grant’s gay quip from Bringing Up Baby comes up, naturally).

But the film is also a chronicle of the sexual politics of the era – and the subsequent systematic erasure of LGBTQ history (under the guise of privacy and not “spoiling” the illusion) by the juggernaut industry that shaped our culture. That perspective on the proclivities makes Scotty as fascinating as it is poignant.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood opens Aug. 3 in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review incorrectly identified William Mann as the author of Hollywood Babylon. This version has been corrected.
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