It was a real-life Perry Mason moment in the public trial of Scotty Bowers' credibility.
In his sensational memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Bowers claims he procured female lovers for Katharine Hepburn and had threesomes with Cary Grant and his longtime companion, Randolph Scott. He depicts Old Hollywood as teeming with closeted gay stars willing to pay for discreet sex because they were worried about morals clauses, studio snitches, Confidential magazine and those self-appointed Hollywood watchdogs, columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.
But the press has largely covered Full Service as cocktail-party gossip. Even the New York Times simply repeated Bowers' claims, with the down-and-dirty details — e.g., that Charles Laughton liked shit sandwiches, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were both gay, that Cole Porter would suck off as many as 15 young men at a time — heavily sanitized.
Bob Benevides' conversation with the L.A. Weekly, then, was something new: fact-checking. Reached by phone, previously unaware that he was even mentioned in the book, he confirmed everything.
Yes, Benevides admitted, it was Bowers who first “introduced” him to actor Raymond Burr in 1959.
Yes, Bowers frequently “introduced” young gay guys to older men like Burr.
Yes, Bowers took no money for making the “introduction.”
“Scotty just liked to make people happy,” Benevides says.
In fact, Benevides confirmed three of the most controversial claims in Full Service: that Bowers, now 88, was the go-to procurer for many Hollywood stars — gay and straight — in the pre-sexual revolution, pre-AIDS, pre-Craigslist, postwar era; that he gladly shared his sex partners of both genders; and that he was not a “pimp” in the traditional sense because he collected money only when he personally serviced the customer.
Burr was not a star on the elite level of Spencer Tracy or Tyrone Power, both of whom Bowers writes about in graphic detail. But thanks to the enduring fame of Perry Mason, Burr was on the next level down. He also had prominent roles in several classic films: the relentless DA in 1951's A Place in the Sun and the wife murderer in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece Rear Window.
Bowers claims he turned tricks with Burr for years before setting him up with the much younger Benevides. “I arranged a quick trick for Ray,” he writes. Benevides then became Burr's life partner for the next 33 years, until the actor died in 1993.
Keep reading to learn how photos revealed at a book reading suggest Bowers is telling the truth.
The anecdote about Burr comes more than 250 pages into a truly amazing story. It starts with the 9-year-old Bowers being happily fondled by his friend's father in the depths of the Great Depression; moves to Chicago, where the teen Bowers provided sexual relief for dozens of Catholic priests; and continues to detail sex acts involving stars from the late 1940s right up until AIDS put a stop to Bowers' 24/7 fuck-and-suck-a-thon in the mid-1980s.
Like most of the stars named in Full Service, Burr is dead and unable to respond — a favorite talking point of Bowers' critics. And if Bowers lied about this casually mentioned trick (his favorite word, which he uses as both a noun and a verb), it would reveal a lot about the veracity of the entire story.
Benevides, now 82 and reached at the Raymond Burr Winery in Napa Valley, said he had not seen or spoken to Bowers for more than 20 years. He was not aware of Full Service, which was released Feb. 14 and has climbed to No. 8 on the L.A. Times bestseller list and No. 16 on the New York Times list.
Benevides confirms it all, to the extent that he knows personally. The idea that Bowers would make up anything is laughable, he says. “Scotty Bowers is the most honest person I've known, with the best memory for names and places I've ever seen,” he says. “If he tells you that something happened to somebody, that's the way it was.”
Benevides isn't the only one attesting to Bowers' credibility.
In the book, Bowers mentions that, in the mid-'50s, he posed for a trio of “French postcards,” featuring himself having sex with women of various ethnicities. At an event at the West Hollywood Library earlier this month, a man in attendance actually produced a set of the cards and handed them to Bowers. “They were old and faded, but exactly as Scotty had described them to me,” says Bowers' co-writer, Emmy Award-winning documentary producer Lionel Friedberg. “Scotty with three different women: white, black and Asian.”
And at a signing at Book Soup, a man who claimed to be the grandson of actor Walter Pidgeon, Bowers' very first star trick, in 1946, said he was impressed by Bowers and did not dispute anything he wrote. A man who claimed to have had a six-month affair with Rock Hudson in 1958 agreed that Bowers got it right. And noted writer and historian David Ehrenstein, who said he had researched director George Cukor's archives for his own book, reported that Bowers was mentioned frequently by Cukor — who introduced him to Tracy and Hepburn.
Joan Allemand, the former arts director of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, has known Bowers for more than 20 years. She introduced him to his co-writer, Friedberg, at a dinner party in 2003.
“Scotty doesn't lie about anything,” Allemand says. “He's a poor kid from a farm in Illinois, and when he got here, his two assets were his big penis and charming personality. That's what he used to feed his family.”
At a series of Allemand's parties over the years, Friedberg drew Bowers out, finally talking him into putting his life story on paper. In that, he succeeded where Gore Vidal, Dominick Dunne and Tennessee Williams all failed.
On the next page, why Bowers wouldn't let Tennessee Williams tell his story.
Williams had even gotten as far as writing a 40-page treatment. But Bowers asked him to tear it up.
“It made me look like a mad queen flying over Hollywood Boulevard in charge of all the other queens,” Bowers says. A former U.S. Marine, he insists he prefers women. (He has been married to one for the last 28 years.) “It made me look very gay, like I was the No. 1 gay person in Hollywood.”
Bowers' agent, David Kuhn, is a former editor at the New Yorker. When Kuhn told Bowers the book had been turned down by an editor at Knopf, it prompted Bowers to recall how he'd supplied women for Alfred A. Knopf, the publishing house's founder, and how he later had an affair with Knopf's wife, Blanche.
Kuhn relayed the story to the Knopf editor. She asked how Bowers, who started out in L.A. pumping gas, could have met the high-society Knopfs.
Bowers explained he had been introduced to Knopf by his friend Clifford Mortimer Crist, a former Princeton English professor who sold college textbooks for Knopf. Kuhn took that name back to the editor, who checked with someone who had worked at the publishing house for 40 years. It was true: Back then Crist was in charge of selling college textbooks on the West Coast. So Bowers' adventures with the Knopfs were added to the manuscript.
The anecdote illustrates an overlooked point: Ninety percent of Bowers' hook-ups were unknown people, such as Crist and Benevides. The book's marketing — and its critics — have focused on the big names; that's the sizzle that draws in the public. But, as Allemand points out, the 286-page memoir makes a larger sociological point.
“It's a hidden psychosexual history of America in midcentury,” she says. “A lot of these people wore public masks and could only be their true selves around Scotty. The book is telling readers that it's OK to be different, to be our true sexual selves, that we need to be more broad-minded about human sexuality.”
As a Marine, Bowers saw both his best friend and his brother die in the battle of Iwo Jima. Discharged in 1945, he arrived in L.A. determined to live every day to the fullest.
His L.A. story reads like a pre-Facebook version of friending: Once he “tricked” Pidgeon, Pidgeon told all his gay friends about his new friend, Scotty. After sampling his services, they told their friends about the randy Marine at the Richfield station on the corner of Hollywood and Van Ness, complete with a two-bedroom trailer out back, who was happy to hook them up with his young friends, male or female. The standard fee — garnered by the trick, not Bowers — was $20.
By 1950 Bowers realized his gas station operation was drawing too much attention from the vice squad. He quit and started tending bar at high-class parties, where he made more connections.
During a three-hour interview conducted just yards from the site of the long-gone gas station, Bowers gladly takes on the criticisms floating around the Internet. Still sporting a full head of curly white hair, he talks quickly and coherently, thanks to a lifetime of no drinking or smoking and plenty of exercise, both in and out of the bedroom.
How is it possible that you supplied 150 young women to Katharine Hepburn?
“Remember, that was over 49, 50 years,” he says. “That's only three a year.”
Does he still feel grateful to the male neighbor who introduced him to sex? Wasn't that child molestation?
“Hell no,” he says. “He was just being nice to me.”
Does he consider himself straight, gay or bisexual?
“I consider myself everything,” he says. “Bisexual means 'Bye-bye girls, hello boys.' And vice versa.”
While he often sounds like a salty old Marine — “those cocksuckers” and “bullshit” are two favorite expressions — he also cries twice during the conversation: When discussing his brother Don and the other American soldiers who died at Iwo Jima, and when talking about Betty, his companion of 63 years, and their daughter, Donna, who died at age 23 due to an illegal abortion.
The most common question he gets, he acknowledges, is why tell his story now?
“I didn't want to betray confidences, but now all my tricks are dead, and I'm almost dead,” he says. “I might as well do it now.”
And he's ready for any questions about whether he's making money by trashing former friends and lovers.
“I'm not putting them down or saying they were bad people,” he says. “I'm merely saying what they did, like with Raymond Burr and Bob Benevides. I'm not trying to hurt anybody.”