Scotty Bowers: The Erotic Fixer Of Golden Age Hollywood

On the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and North Van Ness Avenue stood a typical-looking service station. Decades ago, motorists would pull in and have eager attendants refuel their vehicles, check their fluid levels and tires, and perhaps give eager tourists a tidbit or two about where they might get a glimpse of their favorite stars while they were in the neighborhood. In the post-World War II era, it appeared to be a station like the many others a person would encounter on a trip. But one worker, fresh from his Marine Corps duties following the end of the war, would make this service station anything but typical.

Many were surprised to later learn that this corner gas station was a popular hub for Hollywood stars to have trysts arranged by one of the attendants on duty. Scotty Bowers began working at the Richfield Oil station in 1946 as an attendant and, after a chance encounter with an actor, began serving a dual role in the world of sex work. Bowers was a part-time sex worker (per The New York Times) but would also arrange for sexual encounters between others for a nominal fee (per The Hollywood Reporter). Bowers kept the stars' secrets for many years until he released his memoirs in 2012. "Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars" chronicled the underground career Bowers had established, discussing the various arrangements he had with the many A-List stars of the times. And he wasn't shy about naming any names.

Bowers was a Depression-era kid with some ambition

Scotty Bowers came from humble midwestern roots. He was born in 1923 in Ottawa, Illinois, a small town that was built where the Illinois and Fox rivers converge. He wasn't even a teenager when the Great Depression impoverished the United States, but the young Bowers still worked to help earn money for the family. He would sell newspapers on the streets to help make ends meet, later remarking (per The Hollywood Reporter), "I had to sell 10 Chicago Tribunes to make a penny."

Bowers enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1942 and served in the Pacific theater during the war (per The Times). Before his time in the service was over, Bowers lost a brother and several close friends to combat. The Hollywood Reporter tells of how Bowers lived in San Diego after the war concluded but soon made his way north to the Los Angeles area. When he was 23 years old, Bowers got hired to work at the Richfield Oil service station, where he and fate would soon cross paths by way of one closeted Hollywood actor named Walter Pidgeon. The Canadian-born actor had already been nominated for one Academy Award for a film the year before — "Mrs. Miniver" — and was cast in a leading role in "Madame Curie," which garnered him a second nomination for best actor in two years (per IMDb).

Pidgeon pulled into Richfield Oil and hit it off with Bowers. The actor invited the young attendant to take a ride with him in his car, the start of a brief and secret affair between the two.

Walter Pidgeon helped to jumpstart his new career

According to The New York Times, Walter Pidgeon propositioned Scotty Bowers that afternoon, perhaps forever altering Hollywood history. Though the affair between the two men was a brief one, Pidgeon began telling of Bowers' services to others in his close circle. It wasn't long before Bowers was getting paid visits from the many referrals sent to him thanks to that one chance encounter he had with the Oscar nominee. Soon enough, the Bowers' side hustle became too much for one person to handle. To help out, he enlisted the help of some other young men who could take on the growing clientele. Occasionally, Bowers received requests involving a lady, which Bowers was more than willing to accommodate by getting female acquaintances to assist him when needed (via All That's Interesting). 

Bowers had a trailer put in the back lot behind Richfield Oil to make it faster and easier for the hustle. This building had two beds on either side and was divided down the center with a curtain for privacy. In his memoir "Full Service," Bowers writes of how his accommodations for his clients truly lived up to the name. He would arrange private appointments, with him or his workers meeting customers wherever they requested. Bowers was also sending his crew to "entertain" at private parties all over the Los Angeles area.

The list of Bowers' clients might surprise you

In his 2012 memoir, Scotty Bowers doesn't appear to hold back on the lengthy list of notable clients he and his workers serviced over the years. The Hollywood Reporter tells of how Bowers claims that he had sexual encounters or made arrangements for hookups with many actors, actresses, directors, and other recognizable names from Hollywood's Golden Era. "Full Service" says that among his client list were actors Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, and Randolph Scott. If one-on-one encounters weren't their thing, Bowers could arrange for an event more conducive to an entire group, such as the orgy he says he put together for Cole Porter.

Bowers claims to have had Katharine Hepburn as a client as well. Over the years, Bowers said he made an estimated 100 hookups between the multiple Oscar winner and various women on his payroll. Other Hollywood starlets said to have used Bowers and company were "Bride of Frankenstein" star Elsa Lanchester and actress Bette Davis.  Bowers also purported to have had a sexual relationship with former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. According to the sex worker, this act was performed when the head of the G-men was dressed in drag. 

Famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey got to know Bowers, but on a more professional level. Bowers was approached by Kinsey and participated in several of his research studies. According to The Guardian, Bowers shocked Kinsey by "checking off every sex act on his list."

His legacy has been the subject of a documentary and docudrama

There's a lot to digest in Scotty Bowers' memoirs, the contents of which have been put under the microscope ever since it was published in 2012. Several years after its release, "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood" was made by writer and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer. The documentary was released in 2017 and featured interviews with Bowers, several of his former workers, and Hollywood writers and biographers (via IMDb). Bowers and his gas station crew were also the subjects of the 2020 Ryan Murphy Netflix series "Hollywood," a fictionalized account that has a character inspired by Bowers.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Tyrnauer candidly refers to the documentary's primary subject as "the premier male madame and sex worker of Hollywood's postwar period," a pretty apt description when you consider the giant list of characters Bowers accepted business from over the years. Tyrnauer's film explains that Bowers stayed in his line of work until the AIDS crisis happened in the 1980s, which prompted him to retire. But are all of the claims made by Bowers true? Film critic Todd McCarthy points out during his Hollywood Reporter review of the Tyrnauer documentary that though people should be asking themselves about the validity of Bowers' claims, "at this stage, there is no reason not to (believe him); Scotty does not seem remotely like a braggart or someone desperate for a sliver of late-in-life fame."

It might be hard for some to understand why Hollywood had all the secrecy it did

The Hollywood of today is a bit different from the era in which Scotty Bowers was plying his trade to various stars. Movie studio contracts had pretty strict terms, and any violation of what was considered the "morals clause" could cost a star not only money but also their entire career (per Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law). Bowers was able to give an outlet for closeted entertainers, one that was safe, discreet, and without any judgment. It's hard to believe that being anything but heterosexual would get you into hot water with a movie studio, but in those days, it could be viewed as something that would cost production companies dearly.  

That's not to say that Bowers' book and the Matt Tyrnauer didn't have their detractors. The Guardian reports that "outing" deceased stars were viewed as disrespectful by some, with one movie fan in the documentary chastising Bowers for his revelations. Bowers was quick to reply with, "What's wrong with being gay?" Overall, the details revealed by Bowers have been well-received. He was honored with a citation from the City of West Hollywood in 2018, honoring his part in LGBTQ history (via The Hollywood Reporter). Whether you agree or disagree about Bowers naming names, you have to admit that by doing so, he helped the community that honored him to keep Hollywood history from being "straight washed."

Bowers died in October 2019 of natural causes. The former male madame was 96.