Stuff Danger God With Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood Into Your Stocking

Gary Kent now (left) and then. Photos courtesy Wild Eye Releasing

When I reviewed Quentin Tarantino’s ninth motion picture (“Reliving the Good Ol’ Bad Days in Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood,” Aug. 8), I hoped to hold back my blabbing enough so there would be room to direct my lone reader to a related documentary. Alas, I failed Joe O’Connell’s Danger God.

However, with Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood being released Tuesday on digital and Dec. 10 on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD, as well as Danger God still being available on DVD and Blu-ray, I can now recommend picking up both as stocking stuffers.

Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, the stuntman in Q’s joint, is partly based on Gary Kent, O’Connell’s documentary subject who, like his fictional counterpart, had a run-in with the Charlie Manson Family at Spahn Ranch. By then, Kent was deep into what would become a 50-year career of falling, burning, jumping, fighting and getting real-life broken in more than 100 movies in the 1960s and ’70s, mostly indies and B-movies. 

Kent’s mother recognized early on in Walla Walla, Washington, that her son was a daredevil, and he perfected the art of running into solid things at high speeds while playing on the high-school football team. But he was also a theater nerd whose interest, after a stint in the military, led him to Corpus Christi, Texas. While working with a theater company there, he met his first wife, Joyce, who would become the mother of his three children.

With zero prospects awaiting Kent, he nonetheless announced to his young family that they were moving to Hollywood so he could pursue an acting career. But he only mustered extra and stunt work, which he did around drama classes and acting in plays at night. “Staggering home is no way to conduct a marriage,” concedes Kent, who eventually divorced Joyce. (He later married a co-star.)

Before Kent landed lead parts and directing gigs, he took a role that had him riding a chopper as a Hells Angel, even though he’d never before ridden a bike. He wound up crashing and breaking a rib before being driven to the hospital by the movie’s producer, Dick Clark (of American Bandstand, The $25,000 Pyramid and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve fame). Kent’s description of the Spahn Movie Ranch proves that Tarantino’s depiction was spot-on. Hippie girls watched actors and stuntmen work on the Simi Valley property, then begged for their craft services lunches.

He tells of the incident that inspired a prominent scene in Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood. Tarantino’s movie has Cliff discovering a tire had been purposely flattened on his car while parked at the ranch, and he orders a male hippie to fix it . . . or else. Kent reports it was a dune buggy that served as a movie project’s camera car that broke down, which prompted Patricia Krenwinkel to offer to have Manson, who she swore was a “great mechanic,” fix it—for $70 in advance. When the film crew arrived the next day, the dune buggy had not been repaired and Manson was ordered to fix it . . . or else. Charlie jumped into the work right away.

The Danger God subject, people he’s lived and worked with, and admirers have plenty more stories that are entertaining, uplifting, enlightening, jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. Despite some serious recent health scares, the 86-year-old was still with us as this story went to print. To his credit, O’Connell presents a warts-and-all portrait, although he can’t mask his deep respect for Kent.

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