Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series Hollywood isn’t just a stroll through the early days of the movie biz. It’s also a reimagining of how things could have been, if the Hollywood powers that be pushed for inclusivity and representation in its early days. Yet while much of Hollywood is fictionalized in order to give its characters deserved happy endings, some of its more sensational plot points are plucked right out of history. Hollywood’s gas station, where sex workers meet clients and take them to “dreamland” is surprisingly the real deal.
In Hollywood, aspiring actor Jack Castello (David Corenswet) is recruited to work in the fully functional (and then some) gas station by Ernie (Dylan McDermott), a slick talking movie star wannabe and ringleader of the operation. There, Jack is paid to have sex with multiple wealthy, succesful women, including Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), the wife of a major studio head..
In 2012, Scotty Bowers published a book titled Full Service: My Adventures In Hollywood And The Secret Sex Lives Of The Stars. It detailed how, in 1946, Bowers bought a gas station on Hollywood Blvd. in a stretch of what is now Thai Town, in order to provide people with companions. Bowers alleged that sex work was often done in the trailer behind the gas station (something that also exists in Hollywood) or in a motel next door. He claimed he never accepted money for his services (though he did often receive gifts) and that part of his work was to provide his clients with a safe place to be themselves.
“Ninety percent of jobs could be lost from being gay,” Bowers says in the 2018 documentary Scotty & The Secret History of Hollywood. “You were in the closet, basically. So many people were. This is why what I did at the gas station was so nice for people.”
Bowers — who only chose to reveal this “secret history” because everyone he worked with is now dead — claims he set up same-sex hookups for stars like Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and even King Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor. Specifically, Bowers alleges that he set up Grant, with a man named Roy Harold Scherer — who would later be known as movie star Rock Hudson. Jake Picking portrays a version of Rock in Hollywood, and frequents Ernie’s gas station.
Bowers died in October of 2019, at the age of 96, when production was already underway for Hollywood. Though Bowers’ gas station is the inspiration behind Hollywood’s most salacious true-to-life plot point, Murphy tells Refinery29 it’s not directly inspired by Bowers.
“I wasn’t interested in Scotty as much as I was interested in the idea of, oh, here's a place that is successful in servicing people who cannot be who they are. They go [to the gas station] to fulfill their fantasies, and to be seen. It’s an outlet for them, it’s a way to survive,” explains Murphy. “If you were a Hollywood star, you had to present this certain cookie-cutter, all-American image. I was fascinated with the shame aspect of it.”
In addition to the stars who frequent the establishment, Murphy says he was interested in exploring the “plight of the sex worker, who is [often] not allowed in the door if they are honest about who they were or what it took for them to get through the door.”
“There are many cases of Hollywood stars — men — who slept around. John Wayne. Clark Gable. But they erase that from their history,” adds Murphy. “I was interested in the gas station being very much in the same vein. The buried history, this culture of not letting people be who they really are.”
In Murphy’s Hollywood, stars like Rock Hudson do get to be more honest about who they are than they were allegedly able to be in reality. He meets the love of his life, Archie (Jeremy Pope), a screenwriter who makes ends meet by working at the gas station. Ultimately, the couple goes public — something that Hudson, who died in 1985 of AIDS, never had the opportunity to do in real life.
It’s this blend of fiction and history that makes Hollywood such an aspirational tale — as well as one that will have you Googling all the scandals and secrets of Tinseltown.