Two years ago, Scotty Bowers—the Los Angeles hustler who claimed to have hooked Old Hollywood’s biggest stars up with willing sexual partners, gay and straight—was the subject of a fascinating documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. In it, the World War II veteran-turned-pimp dished on the alleged secret sex lives of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Charles Laughton, Raymond Burr, Vincent Price, Cole Porter, and Vivien Leigh, as well as the legendary gas station—on the corner of North Van Ness Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard—where he and his liberated friends, male and female, serviced many of their A-list clientele. Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series Hollywood, a fictionalized homage to 1940s Hollywood, pays tribute to Bowers by featuring its own gas station and charismatic pimp (Ernie, played by Dylan McDermott).
The real-life Bowers was working as a gas station attendant at age 23, shortly after the war, when he claims actor Walter Pidgeon pulled up and asked Bowers to hop into his car. In his memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Bowers rationalized that hooking up with celebrities for $20 was easy, lucrative work. As Pidgeon spread word about his reputation, Bowers said, he expanded his operation—setting up two king beds in a parked trailer and enlisting good-looking men and women to help his secretive cause. Among Bowers’s raciest claims: that he introduced Katharine Hepburn to 150 women over four decades; that he set up Cary Grant with an early-career Rock Hudson; and that he procured sexual partners for Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. Bowers also said he slept with both Spencer Tracy and Vivien Leigh; had a three-way with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner; went swimming with Cary Grant and his alleged lover Randolph Scott; and claimed that his sex life was so uninhibited that it surprised even sexologist Alfred Kinsey.
In his 2012 memoir, written with Lionel Friedberg, Bowers wrote, “I was setting up an average of 15-20 tricks a day. This was a 24/7 operation, extending over a period of, say, 30 to 40 years. As for tricks that I performed personally, I was often seeing two or three people a day.”
Prior to his memoir, Bowers was fastidiously discreet. He never kept a black book of client names, and refused to speak about his famous clients until after they died. Homosexuality was not legalized in California until the 1970s; Bowers’s operation allegedly helped countless men and women indulge sexually without endangering their careers, reputations, or, in some cases, marriages.
“There always will be secret life happening,” Bowers told The Guardian in 2018. “People should do what pleases them and the other person—some people just please more than a few.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dylan McDermott said that his character was certainly inspired by Bowers—but also by Clark Gable’s character in the 1961 film The Misfits. “I have a poster of The Misfits sitting in my bathroom and look at it every day,” McDermott said, citing Gable’s mustachioed aging playboy as a “muse” for Ernie. “There was a certain quality in him I wanted. His hair, his mustache, the way he carried himself, and his optimism, if you will. If Scotty Bowers and Clark Gable had a love child, it would be Ernie.”