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Scotty Bowers' 'Full Service' names names from Hollywood Golden Age

'Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars' by Scotty Bowers review: Cary Grant, Vincent Price, Edith Piaf and Spencer Tracy are included.

February 14, 2012|By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
(Grove / Atlantic Books )

The street date of Scotty Bowers' "Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars," written with Lionel Friedberg, is Valentine's Day, but the eagerly anticipated memoir has been generating buzz for several weeks, and will most likely encounter a firestorm of criticism from some segments of the Hollywood set.

It offers the former Marine paratrooper, pump jockey and bartender's accounts of three decades of having sex with — or arranging others to have sex with — some of the biggest names of Hollywood's Golden Age — Cary Grant, Vincent Price, Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy and the Duke of Windsor.

The title is a not-so-subtle reference to the job that was Bowers' entree into his career as a sexual "fixer," pumping gas at the Richfield station at 5777 Hollywood Blvd., where he began to connect former Marine Corps pals and other acquaintances with Hollywood elite looking for secretive sexual encounters — gay and straight — in an era where the studio system and the mores of the day kept a lid on sexual activity and orientation.

He says his first "trick" came in 1946, with actor Walter Pidgeon and milliner-to-the stars Jacques Potts, and other bold-faced names Bowers mentions along the way include composer Cole Porter, director George Cukor, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Katharine Hepburn and Vivien Leigh.

The initial impulse, of course, is to compare Bowers' allegations about his career with that of Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, and though both pandered to the prurient interests of the entertainment industry, Bowers' fantastical story goes further.

When he wasn't crossing paths with the likes of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and porn star John Holmes, Bowers writes, he acted as stud service for infertile couples in Colorado, assisted .at least one Hollywood star in a custody battle and helped Alfred Kinsey research his book "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female," as well as connect Kinsey with former Egyptian ruler Farouk I and his legendary stash of pornography.

By the time Bowers has finished sharing anecdotes about fighting on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II and once assisting Beatles manager Brian Epstein (one of his tricks) in whisking the Fab Four out of the hands of groupies during an August 1964 visit to Los Angeles, he's been less than one degree away from so many people and events in popular culture one starts to wonder if "Forrest Hump" might have been a more appropriate title.

This doesn't mean that "Full Service" is an easy book to read. It isn't — for several reasons. Chief among them is the gnawing question about the book's veracity — especially given the fact that virtually all of the people he mentions in the book are long gone and unable to refute his account. (Asked about this in a recent phone interview, Bowers' response was: "Not only did I do all the things I said I did in the book, I did even more.")

The pacing of the book is a bit uneven in places, choppy in others, and full of purple prose throughout (it's unclear, for example, why an account of his childhood on the farm needed to include a sentence like: "As my fingers tugged on the cow's soft teats, her warm milk squirted into the pail.") and occasionally punctuated by a rhetorical elbow to the ribs. While it's easy to marvel at his sexual escapades, it's hard to forge any kind of emotional connection with Bowers, who comes across as well-endowed in the ego department as he suggests he is below the belt and who rattles off the names of his sexual partners with all the emotion of making a shopping list. He even refuses to label his own sexual orientation as straight, gay or bisexual.

And even those who consider themselves open-minded and not the least but prudish — gay or straight — may find some of the specific details are too much of an over share (such as some of British actor Charles Laughton's alleged peccadilloes). Even more troubling — especially in light of the current allegations about teachers at the Miramonte Elementary School — is Bowers matter-of-fact account of his childhood activities, which included his introduction to sex by his adult male neighbor, having sex with not one but several Roman Catholic priests, and arranging a lesbian tryst between a 13-year-old classmate and his own grade school teacher.

If you're looking for a morality tale — a neat and tidy story arc in which Bowers reaches an epiphany or realizes the error of his ways — you'll be sorely disappointed. But if you're looking for an unvarnished account of the closeted sexual shenanigans of Hollywood's Golden Age — and a good trashy read at the same time — then "Full Service" is the full enchilada.

adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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