“What’s wrong with being gay?” says old-time procurer to the stars Scotty Bowers in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. It happens when someone at a Bowers book signing complains that the author broke the confidence of his celebrity clients and wonders what if those dead icons have grandchildren and they find out they were gay. The “So what?” line of defense from Bowers is spot on, and he also says that these really weren’t secrets to those in Hollywood who knew what was going on anyway.
Besides, I would add, celebs’ private lives are always dissected by the media and the public, and if everyone can embrace the lies all those years, then why not finally learn the truth? There were a lot of gays in the movies (big surprise), and they were only human in their quest for constant sex, as long as no one blew the whistle on them, and Bowers never did—until they were gone, anyway.
The truths you learn from the film (and the book that preceded it) include the following:
The Tracy-Hepburn schemeSilver Screen Collection/Getty
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year (1942).
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn did not actually live together and weren’t a couple at all, but the big shots thought it would be better to pawn them off as an adulterous duo than a gay man and a lesbian. Oh, by the way, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were gay, too.
Hudson, Grant, and a flook marriageArchive Photos/Getty
Rock Hudson in 1955.
Rock Hudson married his agent’s secretary shortly after Life magazine pointed out that the hunky actor wasn’t married and would soon need to explain why. On the way up the ladder, Bowers had set Rock up with the tres gay Cary Grant.
Group play for Cole PorterMichael Ochs Archives/Getty
Cole Porter in 1960.
Witty songwriter Cole Porter asked Bowers for 15 guys at once, so he could blow them all, one by one. I guess he was living out his hit song, “You’re The Top.”
Bowers was a matchmakerSilver Screen Collection/Getty
Bette Davis in 1940.
Bowers also provided opposite-sex partners for stars like Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis. And by the way, he never took a penny! He just wanted people to be happy.
Holy trinitySilver Screen Collection/Getty
Gay director George Cukor was “the salivator,” campy actor Paul Lynde was the drunk, and The Seven Year Itch co-star Tom Ewell had an itch for a seven-incher.
Bowers’ lips are sealed (for now)Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Clint Eastwood in 1956.
Before the movie, it was noted that whatever Bowers knows about living stars like Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger is not included. (Nor are some of the more body-fluid-oriented tales from the book, Full Service. Yes, I read it—twice.)
A progressive kind of marriageTasia Wells/Getty
Scotty Bowers in front of a poster for Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.
Here’s the real shock: Bowers himself—who had sex with some of his male movie star clients back then, starting with Walter Pidgeon—has had a wife named Lois for 34 years. Their dynamic is interesting because Lois says she wishes Bowers had told her about his past when they met. He responds that she didn’t tell him anything about her past either, and for all he knew, she might have been a hooker. Yeah, but he would have loved that!
A Pocketful of Posey
I was thrilled when I received a copy of the new book Blame It on Bianca Del Rio in the mail, until I opened it and the Drag Race winner had written, “Michael, do you need a large print version?” No, I could read it just fine—and it’s hilarious, with Bianca responding to made-up questions with twisted answers. When asked if she has nerves before a show and if so, how she copes with it, Bianca says, “We all have different coping mechanisms to work through our nerves… Barbra Streisand throws boiling hot tea on the lighting director. And Meryl Streep masturbates to Holocaust pictures from Auschwitz. I have a much easier way to cope: I do it with yoga and meditation. And by ‘yoga and meditation’, I mean booze and pills.”
On Broadway, the Go-Go’s musical Head Over Heels is a hangover-free high (see my review here) and so was the opening night party at Guastavino’s. At the event, Go-Go Jane Wiedlin told me she welled up watching the show because she thought of the little punk girl she was 40 years ago, “and look at who I am today.” Is there still that punk girl inside her? “Yes!” she said, laughing and pointing to her wonderfully wacky outfit—a red-roses-patterned dress with lace-up combat boots.
Also there, Dominique Jackson from Pose said she had been inspired to sit with me and some others at a Whoopi Goldberg SAGE table last year. “And now you’re bigger than I am,” I noted. “No, I’m not,” she joked, smiling. “I had surgery. I cut it off!”
And our lips weren’t sealed when I did onstage Q&As with John Waters at IFC Center on Friday, after showings of Hairspray and Female Trouble. John admitted that at one point in the preparation for his dark 1994 comedy Serial Mom, Roseanne was going to play the title role (which ended up going to Kathleen Turner). “She was a liberal then,” Waters deadpanned. “What happened?”
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
“Ladies and gentlemen and the rest of us,” says nonbinary performance artist and author Kate Bornstein on welcoming us to Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Jangly rave music had preceded the show, and Bornstein was now onstage with two-spirit performer-writer-activist Ty Defoe—they’re the People in Charge, according to the program—both backed by a silver tinsel curtain.
All of it is not what you’d expect and not what it may seem, which was exactly the point. “Neither of us is a straight white male,” Kate adds, and the two continue to banter hilariously, while bringing up points about privilege, expectation, acceptance, and refusal to hate. And then the play begins, with those two occasionally appearing onstage to guide the actors in their movements, stagehands also in full view as they remove props between acts.
What follows is a Christmas Eve gathering with a spunky old widower named Ed (Stephen Payne) who brings together his three sons for banter, Chinese food, and misbegotten gift giving. Of the sons, Jake (Josh Charles) turns out to be a rich banker who coasts on his privilege, only hiring whites at his company, to give the clients what they supposedly want, even though he happens to have mixed race children. Drew (Armie Hammer from Call Me By Your Name) has managed to do good in the world with his teachings and writings. And Matt (Paul Schneider) is a Harvard grad who is still paying off student loans and who’s pretty much given up, having failed at trying to change the world, so he’s now living with dad and crying at unsuspecting moments. (Drew actually wonders if Matt might be gay and in need of coming out.)
The three brothers have a highly entertaining camaraderie, going into racy, silly shtick as if they were still pre-adolescents, and two funny set pieces emerge—a KKK version of the title song from Oklahoma! (you have to see the show) and a wild dance routine where the brothers get to carry on and show off in tag-team fashion. But things are amiss as Jake’s gift to dad breaks, dad can’t remember the words to “O, Tannenbaum,” and Drew tries to help Matt out of his depression while making things worse.
Jake’s initial view of Matt—that he’s self-sabotaging in order to make way for non-whites to get opportunities—turns out to be misguided, as the inter-relationships grow more complicated. More likely, Matt isn’t grabbing at his white privilege because the results didn’t make him feel all that privileged. The play, as directed by Anna D. Shapiro, is uniformly well-acted and quite funny, though the jokes are more persuasive than the pathos.