Rubbing elbows with cinema royals at his same-sex brothel made Marine-turned-celebrity pimp Scotty Bowers the unlikely keeper of closeted Hollywood’s deepest secrets. But when documentarian Matt Tyrnauer peeled back the 94-year-old’s layers for his eye-popping documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (in limited release July 27), he found a complicated figure whose glamorous past conflicts with his current hoarder lifestyle — a psychological anomaly begging for screen time of its own.
“He’s a picaresque character… one of the great untold stories,” Tyrnauer tells EW of his subject, whose unorthodox — even by Hollywood standards — lifestyle takes center stage in our exclusive trailer for the film (above). “I’m willing to follow the character and make a movie about what I find, so I didn’t really have a lot of preconceived notions. The one thing I didn’t want to do was an archival film about old Hollywood and their secret lives, so that was a whole point of Scotty being around and being in great shape mentally and physically. Once I’d established that, I was prepared to go down any road following him. What I found is he lives an eccentric life, but exactly the kind of eccentric life he lived was a surprise to me.”
He admits there’s an unbelievable candor to Bowers’ frankness when it comes to recounting his deeds, which included running a gas station sex operation for A-list actors, actresses, directors, and more amid the sheen of Hollywood’s mid-century heyday. But most of Tyrnauer’s surprise stemmed from the personal skeletons in Bowers’ own closet — namely unresolved issues of grief, loss, and coming to terms with his first sexual experiences as a child. That and the fact that, today, Bowers is happily married to a woman, lodging in a Los Angeles abode overcrowded with years’ worth of collected objects, and feeding wayward raccoons on his porch with leftover birthday cake.
“He turned out to be extremely helpful and necessary member of a very interesting community that by necessity had to be underground and exist in the shadows,” Tyrnauer says, recalling Bowers’ work in facilitating the sexual release for one of the most bustling industries in the world, an act which largely provided a sexually charged, recreational backbone for classic cinema staples.
But, in the end, “this is a memory piece,” Tyrnauer adds of the deep-diving project. “When you have a character looking back over a long, storied life who’s kind of partially lived [as a hoarder] in rooms with memories that are, in some cases, haunting, explicative, and confusing, that was an interesting area to explore.”
Given Bowers’ honorable military background and boyish good looks, it’s easy to see why the most powerful men in the film industry trusted him with knowledge of their true identities. And yet Bowers never lived his own life in secret, exploring his bisexuality with men and women — even when it wasn’t fashionable.
“This was the All-American boy of the 20th century, but [Scotty’s experience] is the part that most of them left out,” Tyrnauer continues, alluding to Bowers’ tale as an example of the sexual excess and experimentation that (probably) occurred behind countless closed doors of even the most polished, camera-ready facades.
“Scotty is utterly truthful, unabashed, and has a very different way of looking at the world and a very different way of approaching sex and sexuality,” finishes Tyrnauer. “He marched to his own drummer — totally unapologetic — and lived to tell his tale.”
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood opens in a select theaters on July 27. Watch the trailer for the film above.