The Accidental Scotty Bowers
Another purveyor of prime jarhead to the Hollywood stars
‘Welcome. We want you to have an enjoyable and profitable time during your visit. It should be a safe time, as well. So, first, if there’s a problem about your military status, please wait to discuss it when your hosts can arrange for a sympathetic attorney to be present. Second, if you’re carrying illicit drugs of any kind, please don’t tell your hosts about them. Finally, we know that you’re here of your own free will and you’re not expecting payment. Even so, at the end of your visit, we’d like you to accept a donation that should more than cover your expenses.’
– Printed card handed to Rolf’s weekend arrivals in the 1970s
I recently posted/bragged about the Marine-flavoured Palm Springs pool party I attended in 1999, organised by 'Rolf’.
I should have said more about Rolf, though perhaps you can understand why I was so distracted by his Devil Dog staff. Now in his 80s, Rolf is a thoroughly fascinating character in his own right, someone whose fearless friendliness and charm has garnered him a life of spectacular connections - high and low. And I say that not out of a belated sense of obligation to him, but rather one to you.
Although Steve Zeeland and I were generously billed by him as guests of honour at his Palm Springs reception, it wasn’t all about us. Our host, then in his sprightly sixties, was also celebrating his contribution, under the penname ‘Rolf Hardesty’, to Zeeland’s just-published Military Trade: a collection of confessions by lovers (seventeen male and one very feisty female) of men in and very much out of uniform. So-called ‘military chasers’.
(One of the more famous contributing chasers, an iconic British heavy metal vocalist, also wrote under a discreet pseudonym – but recently published his much-praised memoir, in which he comes out, all-guns-blazing, about his passion for serving men, and how he ended up being banned from USMC Camp Pendleton, southern California, for ‘lewdness’. A magnificent achievement, even for a heavy metal legend.)
In organising the 1999 bash at the ‘clothing optional’ desert resort, Rolf, who has had several busy careers in writing, communication, and broadcasting, but is now retired, was revisiting his past as an organiser of glittering gay Hollywood parties in the late 1960s – as well as a purveyor to the stars of prime jarheads in the 1970s. One last hurrah perhaps – with Steve and myself, alas, a poor parody of the kind of celebrity he had hosted in his heyday
His chapter in Military Trade is titled ‘Hollywood Marines’ and is much more informative and honest – and entertaining – than Ryan Murphy’s 2020 woke ‘reimagining’ Hollywood. A series clearly inspired by - or appropriating and bowdlerising - the life of Scotty Bowers, the sexually omnivorous married Marine vet hustler who, in the late 1940s, along with the actor Walter Pidgeon, set up a gas station escort agency of young men, many of them military, pumping gas and servicing the stars, male and female – but mostly male – of Beverly Hills.
Life is supposedly stranger than fiction – but not when it’s hilariously anachronistic fiction. In the first episode of Hollywood, the main character, a butch, ex-military hustler in the 1940s actually runs away screaming from the prospect of having his pee-pee sucked for ready money by the musical legend Cole Porter. The distressed chap then dresses, as you do, in cop leathers and heads to a 1940s gay porn cinema – where the clientele are all young, fit and attractive, i.e. porn stars – to find and fake arrest, at gunpoint, a ‘gay hustler’. In order to persuade him to turn the male tricks so he doesn’t have to.
Because he’s straight.
Then there is the cartoon villainous portrayal of Hollywood agent Henry Willson (played, cringingly, by Jim Parsons), who cultivated and manufactured in the 1950s a new breed of young, all-American, clean-cut – yet very humpy – male star, such as Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and Guy Madison to name just a few (names that were, in fact, chosen by Willson). ‘Objectified’, packaged young men whom he then, in effect, pimped out to Hollywood, and thence to the American public. His homosexuality was an open secret in the business, and his male stars were often assumed to be homosexual or at least bisexual themselves, though this was not always the case.
He did however have a well-worn casting couch - or rather, according to rumour, a king size rubber sheet covered in Baby Oil, where he got to grips with his latest talent.
Rolf told me by email that he met Willson more than once at a ‘hard-to-find Hollywood restaurant (Panza’s Lazy Susan) where Willson often dined when NOT showing off his latest discovery.’
Despite his lack of love for Willson, Rolf was unimpressed with Murphy’s version of him:
‘In person, Henry Willson was homely and coarse. But, for at least 15 years, he peopled the screens of Hollywood -- and, by extension, the world -- with a whole new vision of American beefcake. Just compare “leading men” of the '30s and '40s with those of the '50s and early '60s. A man of such sweeping influence deserved far better than that libellous caricature in Hollywood.’
Rolf also shared with me a hilarious anecdote about Willson and the anglophile Hollywood actor Jay Robinson (1930-2013), whose enormous success as ‘Emperor Caligula’ in The Robe (1953) went to his slightly odd-shaped head – and his Caligula-like high-handedness succeeded in alienating everyone important in the motion picture business, tanking his career. Hours after a desperate Robinson had tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Willson to represent him, he had a close friend of Rolf’s drive him past the agent’s darkened house.
‘Thereupon, standing on the passenger seat, Jay hurled a glass bottle of milk through Henry's picture window...and the two vandals sped away into the dark. Why the attack on Willson's home? Jay told my friend, “This Willson has been signing and fucking every gorgeous young hunk in Hollywood. But he can't be bothered to represent a real Actor!”.
And that's how we settled matters in the 1950s.’
Now, that would have made a great scene in Hollywood. If the makers had any idea what a great scene was. As a bonus, it also contains within it an eloquent explanation of some of the animus towards Willson.
But back to Rolf – and his ‘Hollywood Marines’. He was a kind of accidental – and gay – Scotty Bowers. Although not actually servicing the stars personally, as Bowers did, he likewise found himself providing them with the horny-handed chaps who would. A role which was delivered to him by fate.
There he was one August evening in 1968, minding his own business, walking out from the modest three storey, seven-bedroom Edwardian Hollywood mansion with tennis courts and swimming pool where he was living at the time (with six other ‘confirmed bachelors’) when:
‘…an oversized Cadillac swerved into the circular driveway. A three-hundred-pounder sporting a greasy pompadour sat at the wheel, with at least eight closely cropped young men packed beside and behind him. The whole thing looked like a mobile fraternity stunt: How many Marines could you squeeze into a Fleetwood?