By Robert Heide
In the world of film, during the month of August, a new documentary called Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood opened in New York City at IFC on 6th Avenue, the Chelsea Cinemas, and 100 theatres across the land. It appears to be at this juncture certainly the most important, riveting, and interesting doc to pop up in years. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer, it focuses in on a 95-year-old ex-Marine from World War II named Scotty Bowers.
Scotty, whose published book was the source and inspiration of the film, knows all the inside sexual stories of the top Hollywood players who thrived during the golden studio era. Who knew that the long-time fan magazine romance between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was all basically a façade, and that in reality both were gay? Scotty Bowers knew. A gossipmonger, procurer—or shall we say pimp—really tells it like it is, and what fun it was. Scotty, though secretive, feels the true shenanigans of many of these celluloid idols are just plain “normal.”
Scotty arrived in California and found employment working in a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard. At the back of the station was a double-sized trailer where sexual romps abounded between pretty boys and Hollywood superstars. His first trick was Walter Pidgeon, who seemed straight but as it turned out was gay. Scotty arranged for a tryst in the trailer, and usually at a cost of a twenty-dollar bill, helped out most of the stars that constitute Hollywood royalty.
Among Scotty’s revelations on the stars he “outs” are Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, who lived together for some time almost as a married couple. These two macho guys were depicted poolside in fan magazines, showing off in skimpy bathing trunks. To back up these gossipy stories in the film many of the male prostitutes, now old men, show up to tell all.
We learn about a bedtime story involving Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, wherein Frank Sinatra, then smitten with Ava, caught them in the bed. Other duos include Anthony “Tony” Perkins and Tab Hunter. The Duchess of Windsor is depicted as a dominatrix who enjoys punishing the meek ex-king Edward (often with a whip), who liked to dress up in women’s clothing, sensible shoes and nylon stockings while knitting mittens or a scarf for his duchess.
Another story centers on Herbert Hoover, who also liked to indulge in women’s attire behind closed doors. There is more. As I was writing this a call came in from the charming and talkative director Matt Tyrnauer telling me of other prominent personages and stars who swung on the gay pendulum and sometimes made it both ways. Only a small percentage of a very long list, most of these celebrated people did not appear in the book or in the doc. They include Dame Maggie Smith, Coral Browne, Adrian, Janet Gaynor and Mary Martin (lovers), Michael York, Grace Kelly, William Inge, Roddy MacDowell, Cole Porter and many, many more.
During the Q&A after the film showing, I mentioned one of my favorite movie queens of the 1940s and 50s, Lizabeth Scott, who starred in a great many films noir. Her sultry husky voice, mesmerizing look, and tough sexy manners in movies like Dead Reckoning; Desert Fury; The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers; and You Came Along earned her the title “Hubba Hubba Girl” in the 40’s movie magazines.
Lizabeth first understudied Tallulah Bankhead in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway, eventually taking over the role. A movie contract followed and she became the mistress of Hal Wallis, who gave her a big star buildup. It has been noted that the movie All About Eve is based on Tallulah and Liz. Later in her career, Confidential Magazine published a salacious piece connecting her to lesbianism at all night-all girl parties. It was then that her career took a nose dive. When I brought this up at the Q&A, Scotty, on-stage in a wheelchair, commented with a big grin on his face, “Oh, over the years I provided her with over 150 girls”–and that’s Hollywood, folks, or Hollyweird!
Robert Heide is an author, most recently of Robert Heide 25 Plays, available at Three Lives Books, the Drama Bookshop, and on Amazon.