A review of Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg, USA, 2012.
Sex as the means and ends of fulfilling life ****
Scotty Bowers was a Hollywood petrol-pump attendant and later bartender, but these occupations were easily eclipsed by his role in the sex lives of the film stars and other major celebrities who frequented his adopted town. Not only did he himself have sex with many of them without discrimination as to gender, but he made himself known as the man around who could fix up locals and visitors with trysts to match their fantasies. Wikipedia sums him up as a “pimp”, but this is unfair since, though willing enough to accept remuneration for his own performances in bed, he never accepted money for arranging that of others, repeatedly emphasising that he was driven purely by an urge to make people happy. This has been confirmed by many who knew him. They have testified too to the discretion, honesty and agreeable, happy-go-lucky character that comes out in this autobiography and made him such a success.
The main appeal of Full Service will be the astonishing revelations about the sex lives of the famous, which are bound to fascinate those interested in celebrities between the end of the second world war and the arrival of AIDS to spoil the scene. They are also rather shocking in their exposure of just how deceitful was the public pretence that these idols were paragons of the puritanical ideals society upheld. One might easily recoil with disbelief at the first-hand avowals of such things as Katherine Hepburn having been a pure lesbian and the ex-King Edward VIII and the woman for whom he gave up his throne also both being mostly homosexual. Moreover, the fact that he felt bound in honour not to tell his tale until its stars were dead means that most of it cannot be verified. However, Gore Vidal and others of the eminent who were there have upheld Scotty’s veracity, and I rather doubt he did more than exaggerate.
The Greek love interest in Full Service lies in the three chapters devoted to Scotty’s boyhood, which was already unusually full of sex and almost all of it with men, though that was a matter of greater opportunity rather than choice. To insist, as he does, in the twenty-first century, in headlong collision with the prevailing dogma that all sex between boys and men must be harmful, that all of his was good for him, both as it felt then and on reflection, and that he was grateful for it, is not only unusual and courageous, but so likely to infuriate many and to damage sales of his book as to confirm his general truthfulness.
Though most will be drawn to this book by the revelations about the sexual antics of the famous, I found more interesting two questions it poses about sexuality. Scotty was sexually active from the age of eight (earlier if one counts playing doctors and nurses) until the time of writing, by when he was eighty-nine. Though preferring women, his activity (except perhaps in old age) was regularly with both genders. It has been well-known since Kinsey’s studies that a small degree of bisexuality is common, but never before have I heard of anyone quite so enthusiastically and persistently enjoying long sessions of full, uninhibited sex with both women and men. He frequently speaks of being blessed with strong sexual potency. The first thing his story has made me wonder is to what degree bisexuality may really be synonymous with hypersexuality. Is it possible that monosexuality is really the consequence of culturally-induced inhibition, the extent to which individuals escape it being partially linked to the strength of their sexual urges?
Secondly, what, if anything, is the link between his being so very pro-sexual and the unambiguously positive account he gives of his sexual initiation at eight by the father of a neighbouring family, a man who gave him much more loving care and attention than his own father? Did he find his first experience positive because he was already unusually disposed to appreciate sex? I suspect not, both because of the innocence he describes (“I was far too young to fully comprehend the implications of what had happened”) and because he did not have the dry orgasms that have led other pre-pubescent boys to describe their experiences as exciting. Rather, his pro-sexuality looks due to his having had such positive experience before he had fully imbibed the anti-sexual attitudes of modern America.
Scotty introduces his account of Hollywood on a nostalgic note: “Such a time can never come again. The lusty activities and vagabond lifestyle we once enjoyed in this town were unique to our time.” In one direction, this runs counter to the general assumption that all history is progress towards our own state of approaching social perfection, but in the other it runs with it. The more people like Scotty shatter of our image of our parents and grandparents as prudes, the less confident I am that there has been any real progress towards enlightenment. Can Scotty or we really be sure that, behind their public image, our great-grandparents weren’t having an even better time?
Full Service is recommended as light and titillatingly enjoyable, while giving food for interesting thought.
Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 16 Aug. 2017.