Thursday, January 09, 2014

Beam Me Up, Scotty

In 1946, a handsome former marine named Scotty Bowers was working at a gas station in Los Angeles when he was propositioned by Walter Pidgeon. Bowers took him up on the offer and, as word got around about his talents, rather quickly found himself the de facto pimp to the Hollywood stars (and lesser known industry personnel). He could hook up anyone but his clientele was mainly Tinseltown's closeted firmament. Now pushing 90, he's recently come forward with a tell-all called Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. And like clockwork, the dreary question of the verifiability of his accounts has moved to the center of discussion.

Naturally, David Ehrenstein makes it plain that "there's no question it's all true" in Film Comment while The Democratic Republic of Amazon Comments (I won't even link there) has deemed Bowers an unethical liar. It's the fate of most queer historiography no matter where your book lands on the scale between well-researched scholarship and pure trash. William J. Mann, author of Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, summed up the dilemma in the New York Times: “Some of the pushback is going to be homophobia...But there will also be people who say he’s making it up to sell books and others who say why can’t you let these people rest in peace.”

But, of course, both the latter claims exhibit homophobia too in all their "the personal is NOT political" glory. Shipwrecked in the quest for truth and ethics, queer historiography becomes, well, queer - always a half-measure no matter how shiny the evidence or dusty the archive. So the most fascinating aspect of Full Service is not the saucy recreations of sex with the stars (which get numbing a third of the way through) but rather its unexpected glimpse into the policing of history.

In the late 1970s, writer Hector Arce approached Bowers for confirmation on rumors that Tyrone Power, a former client, was into scat. Bowers convinced Arce that the stories were untrue and thus they did not appear in Arce's 1979 biography The Secret Life of Tyrone Power. Upon publication, however, Bowers admitted to Arce that the stories were, in fact, true providing the following rationale: "It was too soon after Ty's death [in 1958] to be shattering the myth of one of Hollywood's golden boys. Twenty years after his death Ty was still looked upon as an idol. It was right for us to protect his fans from any disappointment or disgust they may have felt after reading about his odd sexual habits. Much time has passed and, as we know, time heals everything. Perhaps Ty's followers are more ready for the truth now than they were thirty years ago when the book was first published" (206). Perhaps, Scotty, perhaps. But what if they're not? Might they be soothed by a federal law stating that fifty years after the death of a celebrity must pass before an author can write about their odd sexual habits? And what counts as disgust? Shouldn't there be some sort of measurement for it the way homosexuality must be constantly verified else it winds up in the dustbins of silence? Does silence have dustbins?

Oh well. There's a least one classic line in the book (concerning Charles Laughton): "Jesus, why did he even take the trouble to wash the fucking lettuce and tomatoes?" (204)

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