Newly discharged from the Marines after World War II, Bowers arrived in Hollywood in 1946. Young, charismatic, and strikingly handsome, he quickly caught the eye of many of the town’s stars and starlets. He began sleeping with some himself, and connecting others with his coterie of young, attractive, and sexually free-spirited friends. His own lovers included Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, and the abdicated King of England Edward VIII, and he arranged tricks or otherwise crossed paths with Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, Noël Coward, Mae West, James Dean, Rock Hudson and J. Edgar Hoover, to name but a few.
Full Service is not only a fascinating chronicle of Hollywood’s sexual underground, but also exposes the hypocrisy of the major studios, who used actors to propagate a myth of a conformist, sexually innocent America knowing full well that their stars’ personal lives differed dramatically from this family-friendly mold. As revelation-filled as Hollywood Babylon, Full Service provides a lost chapter in the history of the sexual revolution and is a testament to a man who provided sex, support, and affection to countless people.
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About the Author
Lionel Friedberg is an Emmy-winning producer, director and professional writer.
Read an Excerpt
Although I’m not a shy man I have always been reticent to reveal details about what I have done, mainly to respect the privacy of those whose lives have intersected with mine. But, if the truth be told, over the years many people have told me to write about my experiences and share them with others. A few decades ago my good buddy Tennessee Williams began writing his own account of my life but before it saw the light of day I told him to destroy it. Now, as I take stock of myself in my twilight yearsI’ll be eighty-nine on my next birthdayI feel compelled to share my story.
I reached this decision not long ago as I was driving east along Hollywood Boulevard. I had been to see a friend in Westwood and I was on my way to one of the two houses I own to pick up my mail. It was a perfect Southern Californian summer afternoon. The traffic wasn’t too bad and my dog, Baby, happily bounded from one side of the rear seat to the other, thrusting her nose out of the windows. We passed Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where throngs of tourists gathered in the courtyard to gaze at autographs and handprints of their favorite stars enshrined in concrete. People dressed up as characters from a multitude of blockbuster movies wafted among the crowds. Farther along the block, visitors gathered in the forecourt of the Kodak Theatre to admire the grand gallery where, once every year, the famous red carpet welcomes stars to the Academy Awards presentation. The El Capitan Theatre across the road was a riot of twinkling lights and more surging multitudes. It was just another average day in Hollywood.
Even for me, after all these years, the very name of Hollywood conjures up images of a fantastic world of make-believe. It’s a world that throbs with energy, excitement, indulgence, even decadence. This is a crazy, zany, wonderful, topsy-turvy town sandwiched between a blistering desert and the vast Pacific Ocean. It has been my home for nearly seven decades. I have enjoyed a fabulous life here ever since I put down my roots following my discharge from the U.S. Marines at the end of World War II. I love this place and all the people in it. The story that I am going to tell could only have happened here. This is a gathering place of lost souls, of eccentrics, of people who don’t follow the mainstream of anything.
As my car purred along Hollywood Boulevard I crossed Highland Avenue. I glanced around and realized how much things have changed since the early days. The old clanging streetcars are long gone. The shows that run in places like the Pantages Theatre are very different from what they used to be. Buildings have come and gone. The sidewalk still shimmers with inlaid terrazzo and brass stars that honor the many talented people who have worked in the film, television, radio, and music industries. Where bejeweled and fur-clad women once strolled arm in arm with tall, handsome men in tuxedos, there are now mainly tourists during the day and, after sundown, drunks, drug pushers, and the homeless. I drove on for a couple of miles. The crowds thinned out until the sidewalks were empty. When I reached Van Ness Avenue I pulled over. As Baby’s face appeared over my shoulder she licked my ear. She was curious. Why had we stopped? Her wagging tail thudded against the seat behind me. How could I explain it to her? I tugged at her muzzle and stared at the intersection, now the site of major construction work.
A new fire station for the Los Angeles Fire Department was rising there. Like a floodgate suddenly opening, a million memories enveloped me. This very spot, this place where cranes, concrete mixers, and metal scaffolding now stand, is where it all began for me. A little gas station once occupied that corner. Shortly after I first got here I worked there as a young pump attendant. But it didn’t take me long to learn to do more than just pump gas. Through a series of extraordinary incidents I became enmeshed in a wild world of sexual intrigue the likes of which few people can even begin to imagine.
Over the years more Hollywood personalities secretly congregated at that little gas station than anywhere else in town. It was a scene that saw as much furious action as the busiest studio back lot. The place became a magnet for those in quest of carnal thrills and escapism of every kind. A cavalcade of movie stars and others were attracted to the station like the proverbial moth to a flame. I became the go-to guy in town for arranging whatever people desired. And everybody’s needs were met. Whatever folks wanted, I had it. I could make all their fantasies come true. No matter how outrageous or offbeat people’s tastes, I was the one who knew how to get them exactly what they were after. Straight, gay, or bi; male or female; young or oldI had something for everyone. The vice squad and the press were constantly lurking on the periphery, eagerly waiting to pounce. But I always managed to elude them.
The gas station was the portal that eventually took me into an exclusive world where high-class sex was everything. I’ve had many occupations during my life but, to be honest, what really drove me was a desire to keep people happy. And the way I did that was through sex. Arranging sexual liaisons for folks from all walks of life became my raison d’être. When I first arrived here the stars were owned by the studios, which were heavily invested in them.
Naturally, they needed to protect their investments. But people still wanted to have sex. And I was there to help them get it. Also, you have to remember that there were lots of gay people working at the studios at the time. Those behind the camera could be more open in their private lives but the actors and major directors and producers had morals” clauses in their contracts, which they would have violated by being openly known as gay or bisexual.
Eventually I changed jobs. I moved on from the gas station to become one of the busiest bartenders in Los Angeles. In that capacity I gained access to the inner sanctums of Hollywood royalty. I moved in the highest of circles. Nothing was out of bounds for me. Those were amazing, intoxicating days, wildly erotic and carefree. Such a time can never come again. The lusty activities and vagabond lifestyle we once enjoyed in this town were unique to our time.
As I sat in the car that summer afternoon with Baby I became aware of the passing of an incalculable number of years. I felt myself reminiscing about dear and wonderful friends, all long departed. Oh, Kate, Spence, Judy, Tyrone, George, Cary, Rita, Charles, Randolph, Edith, Vivien, I thought . . . where are you all now? Do you look down at me from wherever you are and chuckle as you watch me mulling over how our lives intersected? What should I make of all those incredible adventures we enjoyed together? What do you beautiful souls think of the nostalgia now welling up within me? Am I resurrecting moments from yesterday simply because I want to dust them off and discard them or because I want to burnish them more brightly and hold on to them more endearingly?
Baby licked my ear again and I came out of my reverie. I reminded myself that there weren’t only movie stars in my past. There were politicians, judges, bankers, doctors, industrialists, newspaper columnists, even kings and queens. Not all were rich and famous. There were also plain, regular men and women whose names I shall never be able to recall. But I knew them all. Intimately.
I started the car and drove off. I realized that wherever I look, the suburbs, the boulevards, the side streets, the studios, the nightclubs, the fancy homes in the hills, there is a sliver of my past in all of it. There is so much to recall. There are apparitions and memories of myself everywhere. My mind lazily ambled through endless mental files containing images of glamorous parties, of wild poolside orgies, of weekends in fancy hotels, of studio dressing rooms, of crowded sound stages, of dark places where bodies collided with electrifying vigor, of ghostly gatherings of gorgeous women and virile young men, of a magnificent variety of passionate sex of every kind.
Frankly, I knew Hollywood like no one else knew it.