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Thursday, March 1, 2012

PERSONAL NOTE: Who can ya' trust?

Walk of Fame or Walk of Shame?

Navigating through various source materials to get to the "truth" of my monthly stars is always an ordeal. One biographer says one thing only to be opposed by another writer; one source tells a story, while another witness remembers things differently. So, whom do I believe? The short answer is: every one and no one. The only thing I can rely on for certain are facts: dates, recorded history, the words from the subject's own mouth-- and sometimes not even that-- and then, I allow the various other accounts, rumors, hearsay's, to pepper the facts with a story. Afterward, I can only hope that my logic and good sense will guide me down the most honest and accurate path. I consider myself an open-minded person, and while I am occasionally disappointed with a negative portrait of a personal hero, I don't allow whatever reaction I feel to end in a place of judgement. I don't blame people for falling below my own expectations, because I constantly fall beneath my own. We're only human, after all. Neither do I ignore more salacious or slanderous materials, and I assure you this is not just because they feed a certain greedy part of my morbid curiosity-- if we have a "funny bone" we too have a "sickly bent"-- but because I want to be open to all possibilites in rounding out the personalities of cinema. I am not deluded about Hollywood, or human nature for that matter, or its questionable underbelly. For Pete's sake, there was a bordello that supplied customers with Movie-Star-Look-Alikes. I don't think anyone is in denial of La La Land's dual nature at this point.

But when it comes to whom to trust, I am always going to choose the guy who backs his conclusions up with solid research and not the guy who relies on mysterious, unnamed sources who are good for one or two stories. Out of respect for the subject, I too am going to listen to what his family and close friends have to say more than the guy "who met him that one time at coat check" or the girl who "saw him at parties once and awhile." As to the authors themselves, a reader can tell the difference between a thoroughly investigated text and one that is feeding the author's own fancies. I didn't come to Hollywood until 2005, so everything prior to that year remains a complete mystery, but I too can't help but indulge my bull-shit detector when I come across a script that is clearly taking a little too much pleasure in nullifying or completely erasing the brighter sides of Hollywood. The writings of Darwin Porter, David Bret, and even Charles Higham-- who has been publicly lambasted for his (unprofessional) tendencies to edit source material for his own intentions, aka the Errol Flynn "Nazi" claims-- are constantly called into question, debunked, and cast aside as entertaining, lewd mirages written to sell books and not to be believed. I don't know these men. For all I know, they are telling the complete truth or at least think that they are. But when studying various examples of their work and comparing them with what I have learned through my own personal research, I don't rely on them for accuracy. I keep their "theories" in the back of my mind and move on to more reliable authors.

The reason I introduce this discussion is because much ballyhoo has been made of the recent memoir of Scotty Bowers, an alleged Hollywood pimp, prostitute, what-have-you to the stars. I've had several people bring his recent book, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, (left) to my attention and ask me about it, and since one of the subjects he discusses amidst his numerous sexual rendezvous is this month's star, Spencer Tracy, I thought it appropriate to at least address the text on that count. Now to begin with, I urge anyone approaching "biographical" material to do so with a certain amount of skepticism; to be certain that the author is approaching the material objectively, and that his "sources" are in fact sources. Too, do not rest on one perspective for the whole story, but compare and contrast with what other researchers and writers have discovered, as well as the recorded statements and memories of those who actually knew the subject. You have to be able to balance the materials and compare the facts with falsehoods. In other words, don't accept one version of history without doing some serious, critical thinking first. Mr. Bowers certainly seems to have people fighting in his corner, such as Gore Vidal, who vouches for him, so this makes it difficult to completely discount his stories. Yet, the way in which he narrates calls his reliability into question. The book reads like a badly written smut novel with the obvious intent to profit off sensationalism. For all of his intimate sexual relationships with the stars, you sense no intimacy, just the thunderous sound of his own back-patting-- he essentially describes himself as master-puppeteer of a population of sexual monsters. He assumes the tone of "free love" and acceptance, of course, to dilute this narcissism, but it is pretty clear that he didn't write this book to shed light on some long-hidden truths but rather to illuminate his own magnificence.

In addition, the book is very poorly written. I really couldn't take any of it seriously. For him to claim that he knew so many stars so well, and then fail to accurately capture their voices and personalities, is something to note. For example, he describes a scene between himself, George Cukor, and his "good friend" Katharine Hepburn, in which she sulks under George's beratings and then pouts, "You know I don't have any friends..." Ha. Hahaha. Interesting, since every other account of Kate paints her as a resilient and somewhat haughty woman not prone to be howled at by anyone. She hardly seems the type to mourn her loneliness, and if she were to show such a vulnerable side, it makes one wonder why she would do so in the presence of a complete stranger-- close friends often claimed they didn't know what she was thinking because of her fierce, emotional guard. Again, Bowers reveals himself as someone just that special-- like moths to a flame. I'm sorry... I'm still laughing as I write this... I'm imagining Kate kicking Bowers in the nuts and saying, "Who they Hell do you think you are?!" That scene is much more believable, I think.

Is it not somewhat absurd that in 2012, we are still led to believe that femininity and lesbianism
 (and equally masculinity and male homosexuality) are mutually exclusive concepts? If Kate
 preferred to "wear the pants," does this necessarily infer same-sex orientation?

Bowers may have run in the same circles as the stars. He describes his ascent from a gas pump attendant to a bartender, who consequently winds up pimping for his straight and gay friends and prostituting himself when requested-- though, of course, he never accepted money for his services. It was all about love, man. Now, clearly human sexuality is a much more malleable thing than we allow ourselves to admit, and it is possible that Hollywood during the studio era was something like a precursor to the "free love" '60s, but if Bowers wants us to buy this product, then he has made a fatal error. I get excited when supposedly revelatory books like this hit the market, thinking that I will learn something knew and hopefully true about a part of our history. Sadly, I am too often left disappointed by the sensationalized, graphic nature of the script, such as in this case. Are you trying to tell me a story or turn me on? Because you're doing neither. Bowers does not take the position of: Well, I was around these people, this is what I saw, this is what I know. He instead goes into lewd detail of his sexual shenanigans and prowess, luxuriating in his position as Mr. Congeniality. It's like listening to a grade schooler brag about himself. I'm going to get sick of listening to you after 3 minutes, and I am not going to believe anything you say: "Oh, you can bench press 3000 pounds? Sure, ya' can. Sure."

For example, the rumor of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott's (right) romantic relationship is one that is more popularly accepted, though it is still contested by various remaining family and friends, including ex-wives and his daughter. I would be willing to accept this scenario as a possibility, however. A hidden identity would explain a great deal about Cary's personal sadness, and other different accounts hint at its plausibility. I have never one-hundred percent accepted it, just because it hasn't been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in anything I've encountered, and out of respect to his remaining kin, I don't want to publicize something that could be a falsehood. But if Bowers hoped to convince me, he did not go about it the right way. Talking about how suave Cary was (which everyone knows) and how charming Randolph was (which everyone knows) doesn't display any particular knowledge, nor does talking about how "hot" it was when the three of them gave each other fellatio bolster the story. Thus, the disappointment: I open a book intending to discover a fact, only to witness a man indulging in fantasy. Which, again, if it is true, I cannot believe, because there is nothing to back it up. There is nothing to endear me to the author and make me trust him. There is no integrity in the script, nor any sense of dignity leading me to believe that he truly cared about these various people. It's merely an emotionless account of him screwing his way through Los Angeles. After every "romantic episode" I was left... well... laughing, and then asking, "Yeah, and?"

Bowers has come under fire as well for his lack of proof. We are all left to "take his word for it." Now, as a human being, he has as much right to be heard as anyone else. But, whereas other biographies, books, or articles use more than one source to tell their subjects' tales, there is no voice here to back Bowers up. There too is no mention by him of anyone else (living) who can say, "Yes, I was there. I know this happened." Suspiciously, Bowers is the sole man in Hollywood who witnessed any of this. He must have been really special to have been invited into this secret, secluded world. There too, since this book was released, have been many dissenting voices crying out against him and accusing him of fabrication. Now, these could be either disappointed voices who do not want the stars they've imagined polluted or family members that don't want to admit such perversities were present in their dearly departed. But, noted and acclaimed biographers and researchers have also violently debated the book's veracity, and it is interesting that in all of their research, they have come across no evidence to support Bowers's claims. It appears more that Bowers latched onto various rumors at the time, attached them to some of his own experiences, and exaggerated for dramatic effect. What is also noteworthy is that, while many are contradicting his stories, no one is validating them. Even Gore Vidal cannot lend him real support, for he states, "I have never caught him in a lie," but he cannot say, "I know he is telling the truth." Other writers who support him too are more enchanted by his tales than certain of their veracity, which, if he is telling the truth, is very unfortunate for him.

But, despite all of the He Said/She Said, there are definite examples of perjury to prove him wrong. Vidal may not have caught him in a lie, but others have. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding his trysts with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, whom he claims were both homosexuals. Very possibly true, but he errs when he claims that Edward preferred for him to call him "Eddy." A minor thing, but many researchers have made much of it. Those who have done their homework claim that Edward would never have surrendered his royal title. Now, even this could be argued. Who knows what this guy was like in the bedroom? But the fact that he told Bowers to call him "Eddy" and not by his real nickname, "David," is more than a bit suspicious.

But to come more to the point, James Curtis, author of Spencer Tracy, pointed out several examples as to why Bowers's portrait of Spence (left) was total invention. Bowers asserts that he and Spence, whom he claims was bisexual, had a fling around the time Spence was filming Pat and Mike, which was released in 1952. He describes the "seduction" thusly: Spence would get sloppy drunk, behave like a mad ogre, then engage in sexual relations with the stunned Bowers, who had no idea of Spence's inclinations but was happy to oblige. The only trouble with this tale is that it has been well documented that Spence remained completely sober from his 1945 release from the Doctors Hospital, which he entered essentially for detox, to 1955 when he slipped up on the set of The Mountain and had a drink. The entry in his calendar for that day reads, "Gin." Spencer always recorded his alcoholic slip-ups. As a devoted Catholic, it was, in a way, a form of flagellation for him to note when he had essentially failed as a human being. Just as he would celebrate "3 months sober!" so too would he record "loaded" when he fell off the wagon. There is no note in his calendar during the Pat and Mike period to indicate that he got trashed and consequently had sex with a man. Now, the sex he may have purposely not mentioned, but the drinking... always. Spence was serious about handling his alcoholism, and he would go for incredibly long spells without drinking, even resisting the temptations of imbibing friends like Clark Gable or Laurence Olivier when they drank around him. If he had taken a drink during this period, had he atypically not noted it himself, the studio would have, the press would have, friends would have. Everyone knew when Spence fell off the wagon, because he followed the same routine: drank for days, disappeared, holed up somewhere, got sober, and re-entered society. No such situation is recorded by anyone during this breadth of time. Which means, Bowers-- as an aware human being-- knew that Spence battled alcoholism and tried to use this detail to bolster his story. Too bad that little added detail of Pat and Mike perjured him. The timing doesn't add up.

He too asserts that Katharine Hepburn was a lesbian and that the relationship that she and Spence shared was a studio mandated publicity ploy to cover up both of their sexual preferences. Interesting. Now, why would MGM choose a married man as Kate's beard? Why stop one scandal by starting another? You don't put out a fire with fire. In truth, the studio did all it could to stifle Spence's philandering and his relationship with Hepburn in the press for fear of smearing his reputation as a married man (to wife Louise), so explain the thinking that would put him and Kate together to save the latter's face? Why not choose a nice, single beard for her? It makes no sense. Particularly since, as their extra-marital affair was well protected by the studio, the general public knew nothing about it until very late in their careers, after the great passion that brought them together had simmered into their latter day affection and companionship. So, if news of their "fake" relationship was meant to protect their bi/homosexuality, the studio sure got a late start on the cover-up. But this is nothing compared to the first-hand witnesses of colleagues and friends, like Garson Kanin, Ruth Gordon, and Kate's niece Katharine Houghton who saw their love affair and described the relationship's ups and downs, their devotion to each other, and their deep and abiding love. Bowers is asking us to believe that Kate and Spence not only fooled the press, but fooled everyone they came into contact with as well. There would be no reason for them to carry the charade that far, particularly if the inner-circle Hollywood Bowers describes was as open and unashamed as he claims it was. If Kate was a lesbian with no romantic feeling for Spence, why was she so fiercely protective of Spence? Why go to such lengths to keep him sober, why follow him around like a little girl in love, if she did not adore him? Why would he look at her with warmth when he thought no one was watching him, if he too did not love her? I'm sorry... I'm witnessing Kate kicking Bowers in the nuts again... Hahaha... (Kate and Spence relax while filming Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, right).

Bowers too claims that the studio invented Spence's Catholicism to explain his failure to obtain a divorce and marry Kate-- again, allegedly to protect the real reason for the deferral: their sexualities. First of all, by the time this would even have been an issue to publicly discuss, Spence would have been dead and needless of studio protection. Secondly, anyone who knew Spence would validate his religious inclinations. Spence was a deeply conflicted individual concerning his religion. He was not proud of his behavior as a man, and at the core of his unhappiness was his belief that he had failed as human being because of his drinking and because of his infidelity. He was like a little boy who couldn't help himself and would then punish himself for his sins. Attending church was a special thing he shared with his father as a boy, and he continued to attend mass regularly as an adult, as many witnesses could affirm. He too admitted on several occasions, including to longtime friend Pat O'Brien, that he had wanted to be a priest as a boy and regretted his decision in taking, what he considered to be, a lesser profession. Spence's Catholicism was not an invention. It was a cross he bore his whole life. Which begs the questions, what the Hell is Scotty Bowers talking about? And if he is lying about this, then what else is he lying about?

Bowers had some pretty shocking things to say about Tyrone Power. I won't give it away, but
 it rhymes with "Olden Tower." ("Bowers," coincidentally, does not rhyme with "taste").

In the end, I don't know. I don't know if Bowers is telling the truth, or thinks he is, or is some crazy old fart who has become lost in his own imagination. Since he describes suffering sexual abuse as a child, it is possible that as a resultantly sexually confused adult, in order to cope with and hide from certain demons lurking in his own soul, he created an erotically charged world of Hollywood, where all of the brightest stars adored him and came to him for sexual satisfaction-- a place where he was in control. Yet, if he is telling the truth, then he simply told his story the wrong way. Reading his book is like watching porn (not that I ever have, mind you): you sit there indulging in the most outrageous of scenarios where absolutely everything is over the top. The interactions are ignorant, inhuman, super-animal, and as a result, internally, you laugh. You know it is all a joke. This isn't how real people sound or act. It is fantasy. It's fun. But in no way, shape, or form do we believe it to be emblematic of the real world. The best I can say of Bowers is that he has a great future as a porn writer.

The trouble with books of this variety, is that they claim to shed light on the truth while really clouding it. While the book isn't solely about homosexual revelations, that is the portion that-- as always-- has caused the most controversy. We know that there were a great number of closeted homosexuals in Hollywood from the silent days onward. We know about William Haines because he was very open about it. We know Marlene Dietrich was bi-sexual, because she too was unabashed. We know of the likes of Ramon Novarro and Rock Hudson, sadly because of the way they died. It only makes sense that there are more hidden stories, and certainly it is a hope that their dignity be restored and thus dignity extended to the gay demographic in having the truth revealed. However, when the gay community is "outted" in this fashion, it actually does them a disservice. Instead of depicting them like everyone else-- movie stars forced to keep up a facade, including in this case their sexual preferences-- they are painted as sexual deviants and perverts. They are portrayed as human-adjacent as opposed to just human. What purpose does this serve? But perhaps I am simply offended, because I have a great many homosexual friends and take such things personally. Too, Bowers does the gay population no favors by describing nearly all of Hollywood as gay, as if everyone born with the acting gene too was born with same-sex orientation. Because you can't believe that every person-- minus Humphrey Bogart, I suppose-- living in Hollywood during this era was gay or bi-curious, you have to receive Bowers's perspective as foolish, and thus believe that he's lying about everyone. So, we are back to square one, and those members of the populace who were indeed forced to remain closeted are still left closeted. That... is sad. And in the end, what does it matter? None of my heroes' sexual proclivities are going to change my respect for their talents one iota, so if Bowers simply wanted to stir the pot and shake things up, he too has failed on that count.

Gene Tierney illustrates the point: there are so many faces in Hollywood, 
but which ones are real?

There is much fault that I can find with Bowers's memoirs: depicting Errol Flynn as a pervert who liked little girls, claiming that Walter Pidgeon (?!?!) propositioned him after having known him all of 5 seconds, because he just looks that good pumping gas... I don't seek to protect the stars from the slander of "gayness" nor to uphold a pristine image of Hollywood, because I know more than anyone else that that is the greatest lie of all, but I do have to use my conscience when gauging material.  If I can't trust the author, I can't trust his writing. I don't hold anything against Bowers for his latest offering, and I give him the benefit of the doubt that at least some of it is true, but "in defense of Spence" at least I had to point out some glaring inconsistencies.  After all of the research that I've personally done, I feel that I am fair in weighing what information to believe, what not, and what to consider when building up a subject for myself. I won't deny the possibility of Bowers's stories, but let's just say that he has a long way to go to prove himself, particularly when there are better researched, better written, and more thoroughly supported accounts of the people he claims to know so well. It says something when a stranger like Curtis can use his words to get me so close to a man like Spencer Tracy that I feel like I know him, and a "friend" of the stars like Bowers can tell me some "first-hand experiences" and leave me... well... just laughing. So, to those who asked my opinion, I respond, "Go ahead. Read the book. Enjoy it. Then come back to the land of reality and do the subject matter the dignity of thinking logically." The truth is not as simple a thing as we make it out to be, but nor should we indulge in uncertainties to float our own fancies. People deserve better.


  1. Thank you for a very intelligent post. The book sounds like another "Hollywood Babylon." I think I'll pass.

    1. You're welcome! I'm glad to have your support, as always. Thanks.

  2. Had a good laughing at this clown's book. I think he probably did provide those services but just added the Hollywood stars for effect

  3. Oh come on. There's not a grain of truth in this tawdry book.