‘Full Service’: the secret history of Hollywood?

|

Although it was the subject of feature stories in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, the Scotty Bowers memoir “Full Service” (Grove Press) received some very negative reviews.

We live in a let-it-all-hang-out age, but many people — book reviewers included — want to hold on to their cherished fantasies regarding Old Hollywood. They would just as soon not have Bowers give us the lowdown on old pals like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and  Randolph Scott (below).

The book is written in an almost self-consciously un-sensational style that makes its potent content all the more interesting (and believable).

Bowers was an ex-Marine who went to work right after World War II at a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard patronized by movie people — the young man began hooking up with stars and behind-the-camera talent and had lots of young friends who were up for fun, too.

Bowers was paid for his sexual services — by men and women — and became the middleman for others who were looking for action, but he insists that he never ran a prostituion ring ala Heidi Fleiss.

A legend quickly grew around Bowers and his connections, as he became a friend of such powerful figures as director George Cukor and superstar Cary Grant. In addition to working at the gas station, Bowers also became a much in-demand bartender at Hollywood parties.

Although the memoir never digs under the surface of the author’s friendships and sex relationships, it seems clear that one of the reasons so many people befriended the ex-Marine was his discretion about the sexual services he and his friends were providing. Bowers says he wrote the book only after many years of people like Tennessee Williams and Dominick Dunne pushing him to tell his story. Vanity Fair writer Matt Tynauer is in the process of making a documentary based on “Full Service.”

Bowers has been used as an unnamed source by many historians including Hector Arce (for a best-selling biography of Tyrone Power, right) and William Mann for “Kate,” his excellent book about Katharine Hepburn.

The author’s acceptance of complicated romantic and sexual relationships was reflected in his open marriages to women and is reinforced by the book’s depiction of sex as little more than a form of recreation for stressed-out Hollywood folk. Some of the content in the book is “shocking” because of the names involved but not because of the way Bowers (and Lionel Friedberg) present the material — the sex scenes are pretty clinical, so it is not surprising to learn that the young man became a major source for Alfred Kinsey when he was doing his pioneering sex research in the late 1940s.

Bowers seemingly never felt any guilt about no-strings-attached dalliances with married men (and women) — because he didn’t believe these flings threatened the stars’ marriages any more than they got in the way of his role at home as a husband and father.

If you have an interest in the vast gulf between image and reality in Tinsel Town, “Full Service” is the book for you.

Joe Meyers

3 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    There are sex scenes in the Elsa Maxwell biography?

  2. lee says:

    Will it be better than the sex scenes in that Elsa Maxwell biography?

  3. I’ve heard about this book. Am definitely interested in reading it after your article.