This is an article from October 2022. Thanks Donna!
Legendary stuntman Gary Kent's strange encounter with Charles Manson
Gary Kent is an American actor, director and stunt person who is most known for his work in independent grindhouse films. Having made his movie debut in 1956 in R.G Springsteen’s Battle Flame, a war film about a marine who tries to free his girlfriend from the North Korean army, the actor went on to make other notable appearances in movies such as The Black Klansman, The Savage Seven, and more.
Famously, Kent worked as a double for actor Jack Nicholson in Hell’s Angels on Wheels and Psych-Out, both directed by Richard Rush. Later, in 2009, Kent published a memoir titled Shadows and Light. In the book, he discusses an “outlaw” cinema aimed at breaking film taboos and barriers.
Kent and his experiences as a stuntman served as inspiration for Cliff Booth, the character portrayed by Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 alternative historical film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As depicted in Tarantino’s movie, Kent crossed paths with the notorious cult leader Charles Manson and some of his deranged followers.
Charles Manson and his cult committed a series of nine murders during the summer of 1969. After being apprehended by the authorities, in 1971, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and the attempt to murder seven people. Notoriously, one of his victims was the film actress Sharon Tate, who was heavily pregnant at the time. The prosecution concluded that while Manson was not directly responsible for the murders, it was his ideology and leadership that manipulated his cult to commit the crimes.
So how did a meeting between one of America’s top stunt men and one of America’s most dangerous criminals unfold?
Kent details how the incident took place in June 1969, during the shooting of Lash of Lust. The filming took place at The Spahn Ranch, a location that was built from three ranches where filmmakers could shoot Western films due to the lack of any electrical appliances. When they were shooting at the Ranch, Kent noticed there were “a bunch of hippies” who were “staying in these shacks” close by.
“The girls would come down to where we were shooting and beg for our lunches from us,” Kent claims. He also explained how he shrugged the incidents off: “We just thought they were strange little hippies that lived there,” Kent commented.
It was interacting with these very “strange little hippies” that led to Kent meeting Manson.
During shooting, the dune buggy that was used as a camera car suddenly broke down, disrupting the filming process. Kent then went over to the girls and asked: “Do you know of a mechanic around here?”. The girls eagerly replied, “We’ve got a great mechanic right here”. Kent agreed to see him, even though “we didn’t know him from Adam”.
When describing the mechanic who came to help, Kent states he was “this little guy… maybe five four by five” who was “barefoot bare-chested” and was wearing an “old pair of raggedy jeans”. He also remembers how he “had this long scraggly hair and he introduced himself, Charles Manson”. This is the same Charles Manson who would then lead his cult to tragically murder Sharon Tate.
Kent also shared details of how Manson carried himself: “Charles Manson’s handshake felt like a dead trout and he wouldn’t look me in the eye,” he explained, also labelling the hippies as “his creepy-crawlies”. Kent further stated: “To me, Manson was as shifty and full of hot air as a corn-eating cow”.
Once the buggy was fixed, Manson left the location and “next thing we knew, they had arrested this guy called Charles Manson”. Kent immediately thought back to the mechanic incident: “We thought…that was the guy at George’s ranch and that was my big meeting with Charlie”.
Manson would then serve life in California State prison, where he died in November 2017 at the age of 83.