Why Gore Vidal loved Scotty Bowers, Hollywood’s best-known pimp who fixed him up with Rock Hudson
November 11, 2017
In December 2011, around seven months before he died, Gore Vidal turned to his good friend Scotty Bowers as the two relaxed in Vidal’s home on Outpost Drive in the Hollywood Hills.
“You suppose we could find Bob and bring him over?” the frail, nostalgic Vidal, then 86, asked. “Bob” was Bob Atkinson, a favorite hustler of Vidal’s that Bowers had first set him up with in 1948. They had long lost touch.
“Gore liked Bob because he had been in the Navy and he had a cock as big as a baby’s arm,” said Bowers, who recorded his life as a trick, then pimp, to Hollywood’s rich and famous in Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.
“Scotty was the closest person to Gore in the last four years of his life who wasn’t a servant,” said Matt Tyrnauer, Vidal’s close friend, and onetime editor at Vanity Fair.
Tyrnauer is also the director of the documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, which receives its U.S. premiere today at the NY Doc festival. The film is dedicated to Vidal, and is a subtle and moving investigation into Bowers’ picaresque life.
For all the sex Bowers has had and all the sex he has arranged, and for all his long-suffering wife Lois casts despairing glances toward the camera, you worry for both of them falling through the rickety-looking boards of their outside balcony.
Bowers, 94, remains a charismatic storyteller, and even though he is now famous for revealing all, he remains by nature discreet. I spent three, delightful hours with him in 2013 interviewing him for my book, In Bed With Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood, and The Private World of an American Master, and—as candid as Bowers was—he was also respectful, and when it came to sex and sexuality utterly without shame and judgment.
The book and film are rich in gossip, casting an unsparing spotlight on a Hollywood of old, where secrecy was all and the stars protected by a ruthlessly powerful studio system, aided by a media that, while frothing in gossip, rarely if ever trespassed too far into the sex lives of celebrities.
In his memoir, Bowers reveals how, while an attendant at the Richfield gas station at 5777 Hollywood Blvd., he met, then had or arranged sex for Hollywood’s gay elite (and quite a few horny straight stars too). He had sex with Walter Pidgeon, Cole Porter (“He could easily suck off twenty guys, one after the other. And he always swallowed”), George Cukor (who would “suck dick” with a “quick, cold efficiency”), and Cary Grant and his partner Randolph Scott (“The three of us got into a lot of sexual mischief together”).
Cecil Beaton would carefully tuck away and de-crease the sheets and blankets of a bed before sex; Bowers had three-ways with former English King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor (“He sucked me off like a pro”) and the woman he abdicated the throne for, Wallis Simpson (“she definitely preferred homosexual sex”).
Further, Bowers writes, Spencer Tracy “took hold of my penis and began nibbling on my foreskin,” while Vivien Leigh “had orgasm after orgasm” with him, “each one noisier than the last.” “Penetrative sex was out” with Noel Coward—“it was strictly oral”—while Bowers made “long slow love” to Edith Piaf “until she dozed off as dawn broke.”
Bowers has had sex with men and women, and keeps his sexuality as undefined as Vidal did.
Charles Laughton liked eating pretty young men’s excrement on his sandwiches, while Tyrone Power enjoyed being urinated on; Montgomery Clift was so “fastidious” about the tricks Bowers arranged for him he complained when one trick’s penis “was an inch too long.”
Some have questioned the veracity of Bowers’ stories. But the biographer William J. Mann, who spoke to Bowers when researching his 2006 book Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, said, “I found him forthright and honest and not interested in personal fame or gain,” turning down at that stage Mann’s offer to write about him or introduce him to a literary agent.
“Several people I respect vouched for Scotty’s essential truthfulness and reliability as a source,” Mann stated, including the journalist and author Dominick Dunne and film director John Schlesinger—as well as Vidal himself.
It is telling that in Bowers’ book of scandalous revelation there are only four decorous, entirely sex-free sentences about Vidal, praising him as “one of the nicest, brightest men,” Bowers has known.
Vidal himself supplied a laudatory cover quote for the book, testifying to Bowers’ veracity: “I have known Scotty Bowers for the better part of a century. I’m so pleased that he has finally decided to tell his story to the world… Scotty doesn’t lie—the stars sometimes do—and he knows everybody.”
At Bowers’ book launch, in what would be his last public appearance, Vidal told guests that he’d never “caught Bowers in a lie” in the many years he had known him in a town “where you can meet a thousand liars every day.”
Presumably, then, he would sanction as fact Bowers’ revelations to me that Vidal not only had sex with him, but also “many” hustlers Bowers arranged for him, as well as Hollywood stars Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, and Charles Laughton.
Vidal’s long friendship with Bowers was one of the most consistent of his life: He feuded and broke up with a number of close friends, especially as dementia exerted its grip in the last few years. “There’s no one who can say they were friends that long because Gore didn’t keep friends that long. I never had a cross word with Gore,” said Bowers. “He was very opinionated, I was very easy going.”
They met after the end of World War II. A friend of Vidal’s had told him about Bowers’ gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, and Bowers had been told Vidal might be coming in.
“That’s how word got around in those days,” said Bowers. “If you had money, you couldn’t advertise as well as this. You take a queen, tell him a secret and swear him to secrecy, and you just got the word all over town.”
The first time he met Vidal, Bowers recalls him driving in one evening just after 8 o’clock at the wheel of a two-tone ’47 Chevrolet. He said, “I’m Gore” to Bowers and hung out for around an hour, looking at the ‘trade’ (hot young male hustlers) on display. “Wherever you looked there was someone,” said Bowers.
Vidal told him that day, “I can see this is going to be a fun place, I’m going to be here often.”
For $20 Bowers fixed his clients up with hustlers: “If a guy wanted to buy you a car or give you more money, that was his business. I never took a cut.”
Bowers and Vidal connected well: Vidal had been in the Army, Bowers in the Marine Corps, which probably made Vidal more open with him than others. Vidal was two years older than Bowers.
On that first night Bowers was working till midnight, so sent Vidal “off with someone else he liked, a clean-cut all-American looking guy, his type.” A couple of days later he returned and said, “That was great, do you have someone else?” Bowers introduced him to Bob Atkinson, and Vidal saw him “quite often.”
“Gore had a medium sized cock, seven inches, he looked circumcised but wasn’t,” Bowers recalled. “He was basically a top [he liked to penetrate, rather than be penetrated], but with Bob he allowed himself to be fucked. With some men I fixed him up with he didn’t have sex with them at all. He just talked to them if they were very bright. Gore enjoyed talking to people.”
The few times Bowers had sex with Vidal was “pleasant, not mad love.” Vidal was always “on the ball, not bashful or shy, rather aggressive and pushy,” and was “more or less into a quick trick. He did everything sexually, you sucked his cock, he would suck yours, but he preferred to fuck. Gore and I fucked and rolled around and played with each other’s cocks. He’d grab your cock and, boom, he was young and hot and sex was rather quick.”
Did Vidal have sex with any of Bowers’ other famous friends, I asked Bowers.
“I fixed him up with my friend Tyrone Power, which Gore asked me for as a favor, and he did me a favor and had sex with Charles Laughton,” Bowers revealed. “Charles Laughton was not Gore’s type, but Gore went with me for kicks.” It was a three-way? “Yes, Charles was a dirty old man, but they wanted to meet each other. It was the same with Tyrone Power.”
Bowers laughed that he “probably introduced Gore to more famous people than he introduced me to.”
He recalled Jacqueline Kennedy at one party going off to a bedroom with one man: her parting shot to Bowers, “I can’t fucking help myself.” Bowers said: “They always talk about her husband [JFK] fucking people, but she was a regular little tramp too. She’d fly out here just to see William Holden. So would Grace Kelly. When I fixed up Edward and Wally [the Duke and Duchess of Windsor], I fixed them up with a Beverly Hills hotel bungalow, she was the boss, he was shy and bashful. She told him what to do with guys: ‘Suck his cock, do this, do that.’”
When Vidal and Power got together, Bowers recalled, it was a “sucky-fucky thing. Gore put his cock between Tyrone’s legs and fucked him between his legs. They sucked each other off and played together.”
Bowers laughed and added: “Gore told people I had introduced him to people he wanted to know and that was certainly the case with Tyrone Power. Both Charles and Gore sucked each other off and of course Tyrone liked being pissed on, so we did that. Gore went right along with it.”
Bowers introduced Vidal to Rock Hudson; the men “hit it off” and they “buddy-buddied” together as friends too.
“We had three-ways just when Rock was getting started as an actor,” said Bowers. “I met him in 1947 when he was living in Hollywood with a little queen who was a car-hop in a drive-in. They had an Irish Setter dog. Gore did a little bit of everything with Rock. He started necking with him and pretty soon he was playing with his cock. Gore was quite into fucking people between their legs. He did that with Rock.
“Rock had a steam room and that was across the courtyard as you came in. We went into the steam room. Gore was rubbing Rock and sucking his prick. There were hands here and hands there. We were necking, sucking and fucking: whatever position you wanted to be in you got in. We had three-ways a dozen times and I’m sure they did it on their own a few times. When you fix up two people very often they see each other. Separately they both told me how glad they were I introduced them. I know without a doubt they got together other times on their own and I’m sure, when they did, that Gore fucked Rock.”
(Richard Harrison, the former beefcake model and actor who used the same gym as Rock Hudson, recalled: “He would sit in the sauna. His cock was so big it would hang down to the next step. All the old guys would complain about it. But he didn’t use it—he was a bottom.)
Vidal wanted Bowers to introduce him to James Dean, “and I told him Jimmy Dean was a little prick. But I introduced them. Gore thought he wanted to have sex with Jimmy, but after meeting him, he said ‘Fuck him. He’s into his own thing.’”
Bowers fixed Vidal up with “dozens of people,” including in Italy men who he knew in Europe: They were, as so many friends recall, “clean-cut, all-American type guys, not rough trade or weird muscleboys, not a bum or someone with long hair.”
These men were mainly chosen in the image of Vidal’s childhood love, Jimmie Trimble. “I was on Iwo Jima and had a brother who was killed there,” said Bowers (Trimble had fought and died there). “He mentioned him so often. He would say how fond he was of Jimmie and how much he liked him. I got the feeling he was one of Gore’s first loves.”
Vidal “had a healthy sexual appetite, but he had to like the guy too,” recalled Bowers. “He’d come into the gas station and say, ‘Scotty, that guy leaning against the car, that’s my type.’ It wasn’t always younger guys. Once in the Beverly Hills Hotel he indicated a handsome guy who wasn’t that young. He had good-looking assistants too. I don’t know if he had sex with them, but Gore was the kind of ‘put your hand down there and grab the cock’ type. Anybody around Gore knew that score. I don’t know if he had sex with Paul Newman, but that’s not impossible. He always said Paul had done it with guys.”
The first time Vidal heard a hustler in the U.S. charge $100 he wanted “to leave the country,” he said to a friend; Bowers had charged $20.
Bowers saw, at close quarters, Vidal’s innate resistance to being out about his homosexuality, or being described as gay, being born and raised in an era when “gay” meant effeminate or camp, someone outside society, a freak—not things the patrician, Establishment-inhabiting Vidal saw himself as.
“Gore was not a gay person, not a queen,” said Bowers. “He would say, ‘I have gay sex but I’m not gay.’ I heard him say that numerous times. He meant he wasn’t what he thought was a queen, the kind of guys where it’s like ‘How much was the operation to have all those bones removed from your wrist?’ You can spot a queen. Gore was not ‘gay’ at all in appearance.”
When I said to Bowers what a narrow encapsulation of being “gay” that amounted to, he replied, “Gore was gay but didn’t look gay, act gay, but he had gay sex.”
But he was also a gay person, even if he didn’t say it, I said.
“Yes,” said Bowers.
In the 1980s, Vidal talked about HIV and AIDS intermittently, Bowers recalled. “When AIDS first started Gore said to me: ‘I can see your point in not fixing people up anymore and I’m very concerned about meeting people.’ He said, ‘You never know,’ but Gore said if a guy looked healthy and clean-cut it’s possible he doesn’t have it, but he wouldn’t fuck anyone looking drawn. That’s what people thought at the beginning,” said Bowers.
Did HIV and AIDS change his sexual behavior? “He met some guy: he just wanted to jack off and watch the other guy jack off, not touching. I never saw him use a condom but he might have. Possibly.” Did he ever bottom? “Not really. I knew him as a top, so he worried less about contracting HIV.”
Bowers recalled Vidal once wanting to watch Bowers have sex with a woman: “There was something about her he liked, so he sat and watched us fucking and jacked off. He liked her because her personality was like his. I had a good-looking guy who was gay. Gore liked him, and used to fuck him too. I would stop fucking this guy and Gore would plunge his prick in, and boom, blow his nuts.”
Over the years Bowers came to know Howard Austen, Vidal’s longtime partner; the pair met in 1951 at the Everard Baths in New York City, and stayed together for 52 years until Austen’s death in 2003. Austen would go out cruising, pick up guys and share them with Vidal, said Bowers.
“It wasn’t just prostitutes but also young men who were available. Howard picked up many men who weren’t hustlers and picked up more men in general than Gore. Howard was a nice guy,” he says. “They were a great couple and made you feel very welcome.”
Austen seemed “like a nice guy” to Bowers. “It seemed like an equal relationship to me and not lopsided. They got along like two young businessmen, no petty arguing as to who ate a slice of bread or drank the Coca-Cola. It was very honest, above board, cool, everything done nicely, not in a queeny or chintzy manner. Howard did his own thing between singing and cruising and fucking around.”
Bowers never heard Vidal express a sexual interest in underage men. “Hell no. The guys I fixed him up with early on were his own age, and later in his life were in their twenties and thirties, never younger or illegal. The guys I saw him and Howard cruise in Italy were in their twenties.”
After Austen’s death in September 2003, Bowers would go over to Vidal’s house for supper, then afterward Vidal would put on his much-cherished CDs, featuring Austen singing.
“He would sit there with tears in his eyes, and I would hold his hand, run through ten or twelve songs, then begin the CD again. Pretty soon it was four in the morning, and there were still tears in his eyes. He never said, ‘I miss him,’ but rather, ‘Howard’s great.’ When he was sad he talked about happy things.”
Vidal told Bowers, Bowers said, “‘I was really in love with Howard.’ He’d cry. ‘I didn’t realize how much I loved Howard until now that he’s gone,’ he’d say. He’d sit there with tears in his eyes for ten to fifteen minutes. I sat there playing with his big yellow kitty. It didn’t surprise me: many people don’t realize until someone has gone how much they love or care about them… like having a little doggy who you love and don’t realize until they’re gone that you’ve taken them for granted.”
After Austen’s death Vidal still used hustlers, “though not in the last year,” said Bowers. “He was in a wheelchair and not really able to move. But he still wanted to see people. I would go to the house and sit with him. Sometimes there would be guys there, in their thirties and handsome, he had met. Nothing happened. He thought he wanted someone in bed, but Gore just wanted company.
“We’d talk, have four, five, six drinks and soon Gore would fall asleep. In the last couple of years he was not in the position to have sex. One of the guys he thought was wonderful. Gore held his hand and talked to him about knowing me for so long, and then after a couple more drinks, halfway into a conversation, he’d fall asleep. He’d drink wine, Scotch, Portuguese port, and I’d sit there and think, ‘He hasn’t got up to take a piss.’”
Bowers was not the only pimp Vidal used in his later years. Bowers said he also employed the services of Dave Damon, who had a small statues and ceramics store in West Hollywood. (Damon died in 2005.) “Dave cruised for numerous people, and picked up people every day,” said Bowers.
“He was one of the best cruisers in world and such a nice guy. He was out picking people up all the fucking time. Gore always agreed with me that Dave was one of greatest picker-uppers there ever was. We were different in that the people I used I knew personally, Dave had no fucking idea who he was sending round to you, but Gore used Dave for years.”
Vidal’s physical decline in the last three years of his life was dramatic and painful and shocked his family and friends, as he continued to feud with some and excommunicate others. Bowers remembers him talking about being interred next to Austen.
“His fucking feet and ankles swelled up. He couldn’t move, he was drinking heavily and taking the pills he was supposed to, but so many pills I said ‘Don’t drink.’ That fucking wheelchair: I remember how vibrant he was.”
Vidal’s last public appearance, on Feb. 8, 2012, was at the launch party for Bowers’ book at the Chateau Marmont, where he made a short speech. Days later he was admitted to St. John’s Hospital with pneumonia, where he stayed for around a month and a half. Then he went home and got “very sick again,” said Bowers. Vidal was readmitted to hospital: this time Cedars Sinai.
“I went to Cedars three times,” recalled Bowers. “He was unconscious and looked like he was dead. I held his hand and kissed him, but he didn’t know I was there. There was a tube in his stomach feeding him, poor baby.”
After two months in Cedars, Vidal went home. “I saw him there and he was totally unconscious,” said Bowers. “I held his hand and said, ‘Gore, you sweetheart, to think what a great on-the-ball guy you were, it’s really sad to see you like this, poor baby.’ Some people are dull in life, but for someone that sharp to end like that…” Bowers’ voice clotted and he teared up.
Bowers’ voice also broke when he talked about missing Vidal, who died in July 2012. “He was a wonderful guy, nice guy, a sweet guy, an all-American guy, he was pissed off a lot at the way the country was run. My thoughts of Gore will always be great. I think of him all the time, every day. He was a sweetheart, one hundred percent.”
Bowers is, at least, keeping alive the Vidal tradition of “no-labels” when it comes to enjoying sex. “The last time I had sex with a guy was a week ago, a 95-year-old,” he told me. “I still have sex with several younger men too.”