Thursday, July 19, 2018

Small town quality

Walking through the charming little town of Noto, Sicily. 11:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, July 19, 2018. A warm, sunny summer day, yesterday in New York after a bright, cool (high 60s) morning. I took the Q down to 55th Street and Seventh Avenue which is two blocks from Michael’s.

I joined Brooke Hayward, Alex Hitz and Wendy Stark for lunch. Brooke was in from Connecticut, Wendy in from Los Angeles via Southampton, and Alex in residence until next week when he’s off to California and elsewhere for the rest of the summer.

Wendy, who is the daughter of the late film mogul Ray Stark and the granddaughter of Fanny Brice, has lived in Los Angeles most of her life and known most of the players, stars and personalities. In her lifetime, and even in mine living out there, Los Angeles had a small town quality to it, probably because of what used to be called (and was) the film industry.
Fanny Brice with her grandchildren, left to right: Wendy Stark, John Brice (on lap) and Peter Stark, ca 1950.
Around the room: Andrew Sorkin; Barbara Byrne; Jack Kliger; Jonathan Estreich; Leslie Nolen; Diane Coffey, Peter Solomon; Fern Mallis; Alice Mayhew; Stan Shuman; Andrew Stein; Courtney Tuttle; John Usdan; Ambassador William vanden Heuvel;  Francesca Beale; Michael Konsker;  Melissa Breitbart; Patricia Cruz; Pal Downs; Ted Hartley, Chele Farley; John Wilson; Bisila Bokokoko; Glenn Horowitz; Neil Lasher; John Caruso.

We didn’t get to talk about Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary about Scotty Bowers, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” which opens next Friday, July 27th. Scotty published a memoir six years ago, a best seller, a would be, as the Times put it, “an X-rated” one.

Matt Tyrnauer once worked here in New York for Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair. Several years ago, he left his post and became a documentary film maker. Among his achievements is the wonderful docu on Valentino, designer (Valentino; the Last Emperor); fascinating and a total entertainment as well as a look into the world of society and fashion . Valentino was an excellent subject because he commands your interest one way or another.

Tyrnauer is also a Los Angeles boy. I don’t know how he learned about Scotty Bowers but it may have come from his experience at VF. Because Scotty is one of those characters who was not famous in the world but was famous among the famous. The New York Times article this week about him and the film (by Brooks Barnes) refers to him as having “ran a type of prostitution ring for gay and bisexual people." In Hollywood. Stars, stars and more stars.

Scotty’s style of business was unique. To his clients he had class. His book “Full Service; My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars’ shoe-in for X-rated right there in the title, no?  Gore Vidal — who lived a good deal of his later life out there — wrote about him: “I have known Scotty Bowers for the better part of a century. I’m so pleased that he has finally decided to tell his story to the world. His startling memoir includes Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Scotty doesn’t lie — the stars sometimes do — and he knows everybody.”
I first met him at a cocktail party in Beverly Hills. I can’t remember the house. Scotty worked the bar at cocktail parties in the best houses in Beverly Hills, Bel Air and the Hollywood Hills. A nice looking man probably in his fifties (this was in the late  ‘70s), a full head of greying culry blond hair, he was one of those guys who wears a kind of permanent smile, as if life’s okay with him. He was wearing the bartender’s black half jacket and white shirt, the kind of guy you might strike up a conversation with if you don’t know anyone in the room (I didn’t).

The conversation was only memorable in that I had someone to talk to in a room full of people I’d never met before.  Afterwards, my friend Luis Estevez who had invited me to the party just so I could see it, told me about Scotty’s background. I think he told me because Scotty’s image was plain and simple, a man hired to service a bar, a professional. Luis, who knew him and liked him, told me about his “business” which was procuring. The waiters at the party, he said, were brought in by Scotty, and they were “available” to guests (elsewhere, after the party).

It interested me because I was naturally naïve about such business and really had no awareness. Furthermore Scotty was an ordinary friendly all-American guy who could make a good cocktail, an image far outside the image I would have had for a man in his business.
It turned out Scotty was a worker, a laborer. He tended bar at private parties at night and during the day he did landscaping work, keeping people’s properties in shape.  Traveling around in a beat-up pickup, it was well known among the Hollywood set that he had this business on the side. George Cukor, the legendary director, always had him at his famous Saturday afternoon lunches where the stars all attended.

Cukor no doubt found him attractive (and available) but more than that Scotty was one of the few who wasn’t looking for a part in a picture. A poor farmboy from Illinois who joined the Marines in World War II and served in the South Pacific, he just enjoyed the special company he was keeping.

Scotty's clientele included Cary Grant ...
Lana Turner ...
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, among others.
His clientele was “way up” there in terms of fame and wealth. (He was also very reasonable, and available personally.) And he had a wife at home who always knew where he was all the time. The list and the numbers of everyone were all in his head so there was no potential “evidence of” anything anywhere.  His clientele included some of the most famous names in the world at the time: Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they came to Los Angeles; and dozens of others, famous and not.

He had a long time client who had no arms and no legs. When one of Scotty’s other clients asked how he could go there, he replied that “sex is the one thing in life that makes people happy. Why shouldn’t I make people happy?”

People who’ve read his memoir have expressed disbelief about his clientele. Those “names” are, after all, long gone from this life. What isn’t understood is that Scotty was a friend of all of these people. A professional, but a friend who supplied something they wanted and were of course willing to pay for. It is an aspect of the Hollywood in which he lived and prospered, and at a time when all sexual behavior other than marital was verboten, especially in the halls of fandom and in the press.  In other words, bad for business. Big business.

In Hollywood it was never printed but it was well known because Scotty knew everybody, or everybody who wanted to know him. He provided a service that was otherwise risky to people’s professional lives. His lips were zipped unless the subject was no longer with us. Then they were remembered with wonder and pleasure.

When I lived out there, I had a neighbor who lived around a sharp bend in the road, just two houses away. I used to walk my dogs by her house a couple of times a day. I only saw her once, when she first moved into the house. An overweight, uninterested looking woman who walked around outside in housecoats and slippers.

I had no idea who she was, except she often had very pretty, even hot looking young women drive up — always in black BMW coupes — who would stay for a few minutes and then leave. This happened daily in the late afternoon. Beautiful women, like movie stars. I had no idea who the occupant of the house was, or why all these beautiful women would come and go. 

One early evening just after dark, the neighborhood (it was in the hills) was suddenly overwhelmed with searchlights and the racket of police helicopters and police cars, all directed at the woman’s hillside house.  A SWAT team ensued! When the action stopped, my neighbor was arrested and taken in. She was known as Madam Alex, compared to the Mayflower Madam of New York, The number one Madam in Los Angeles. I don’t think Madam Alex ever served time but she lost her business and retired to a small bungalow in the flats of West Hollywood.

One of her girls Heidi Fleiss moved into her position. Hollywood is a community that thrives on public attention, on fame and vanity. That is its business. Those who are part of that have their private needs too. Madam Alex, Heidi Fleiss, Scotty Bowers are/were a given in such a community, an ordinary acquirement. What made Scotty unique was the intimacy of his personality, a friendly guy offered, as his memoir is titled: “Full Service” who lived to tell about it. Now in his 90s, he’s still got that smile to greet you.
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