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    Documentary Chronicles Life of a Former Hollywood Pimp for Closeted Celebrities

    Gary M. Kramer

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer’s naughty documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, opening August 10 at the Alamo New Mission, is an expansion of Scotty Bowers’ 2012 tell-all memoir Full Service, about the author’s experiences as a pimp (for lack of a better word) for closeted celebrities.

    The film recounts Bowers’ experiences that began in the 1940s, when he worked at a Richfield gas station at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard. He arranged, and occasionally participated in, discreet hookups for men who like men and women who like women. Bowers got started “trying to help people out”—which is how he describes his particular work—when Walter Pidgeon invited the handsome young man to take a dip in his pool. Other offers soon followed, and Bowers eventually “hired” a coterie of attractive young men and women to provide services for celebrities for $20 a pop—or blow, as it were. Such was the enterprising nature of this Hollywood pimp.

    In a recent phone interview, Tyrnauer dished about Scotty and his documentary.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you learn about Scotty Bowers?

    Matt Tyrnauer: I knew him before he published the book. I’d heard about the mythic gas station for years in the course of writing articles for Vanity Fair about old Hollywood figures who were gay men. I met him in Gore Vidal’s dining room when I came over and Scotty was there by coincidence. I had an eyewitness to history in the form of Gore.

    Gary M. Kramer: This film is the first time you adapted a book for a documentary. Can you talk about that process?

    Matt Tyrnauer: I don’t consider the film to be an adaptation. It’s my take on the Scotty story, which is in some ways different than his own take on the story. I took a documentarian’s approach. What is on screen was something I inquired about or independently researched. I didn’t depend on Scotty’s memoir for anything other than a roadmap to the people and places.

    It’s a cinema verité film, so it was important to me to make the film about Scotty. He’s now 94. I started on his 90th birthday and shot for approximately two years. It [moves] back and forth between time frames. I catch him in the present and talk to him about the past. It’s Scotty walking down a mirrored hall of memories. He provided an alternate history of Hollywood, which I think is invaluable.

    Gary M. Kramer: You frame the story between an era when being gay was forbidden in Hollywood—it could end a career—and the era of AIDS, which was equally detrimental for actors. Can you talk about the atmosphere of the times—the morality codes and Confidential magazine—that resonate with social media and openly gay actors today?

    Matt Tyrnaeur: Scotty was a really very helpful figure for this secret society that had to exist in Hollywood in the bad old days when the studios had moral clauses, which severely limited the public and private lives of stars in the town. In addition, the LAPD ran a fascistic sexual gestapo called the vice squad, which had, as its primary function, the hunting down, extortion and persecution in collusion with the press of anyone who [was gay] so it was a dangerous time to be openly or covertly gay in the city of L.A. Scotty was the protector of these extraordinary people’s lives and reputations. So, in order to live an authentic life if you were a gay/lesbian star who had to live in the closet, you needed someone who was trusted to facilitate the authentic lives of stars. He turns out to be a pivotal figure.

    Gary M. Kramer: Do you think hearing this Hollywood gossip changes one’s opinion about the celebrities?

    Matt Tyrnauer: There is a disturbing propensity of people to straight-wash stars’ lives, and they do it by dismissing the lives of stars as unimportant, or not relevant. Why is Katherine Hepburn having a lesbian affair dirt, when her affair with Spencer was not dirt? It is a curiously acceptable form of homophobia. The Hepburn/Tracy affair was adulterous romance, and under McCarthy, a great scandal—but that captured the imagination of the public and that became part of the publicity mix of the Tracy/Hepburn myth and legend. But the minute you hear that Hepburn had lesbian affairs that were perhaps adulterous, then it’s so-called dirt. There’s a strange discordance there that I think is tantamount to homophobia.

    Gary M. Kramer: If you could have asked Scotty to hook you up with any celebrity, who would it have been?

    Matt Tyrnauer: OMG! I don’t really think in those terms. I don’t think I could answer that. I don’t have those aspirations.

    © 2018 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer