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Austin stuntman Gary Kent has lived a life right out of the movies

Joe Gross
Gary Kent in "Love and Other Stunts" (photo: Joe O'Connell)

Gary Kent has heard sentences no person wants to hear. 

Here’s an example: “All your ribs are broken.”

Then again, the former stuntman/actor/writer/director has heard sentences every person would love to hear. 

Here are some from the actor Esai Morales, whom Kent cast in “Rainy Day Friends,” the 1985 feature film Kent wrote and directed: “He’s a soul brother, He is a white Texas soul brother if there ever was one. A beautiful man.”

And given wild career, he’s said some interesting sentences as well. 

Here are a few good ones related to an acid trip actress Susan Strasberg was supposed to have on-screen during the hippie-sploitation picture “Psych-Out:” 

“I had never done acid at that point so I had no idea what the trip should be [other than, for the movie], it should be a fire trip,” Kent says. So I thought ‘Well, I’ll take acid and see what it’s like; then I’ll know. I sat in a chair and they gave me a pill. 

“I was sitting there for a long time just nothing was happening and thought ‘This is really boring,’” Kent says. “I was in a red chair and when I stood up and lifted my arm up all of the red from the chair was clinging to my arm and just dripped down on the floor.”

All of these sentences can be found in Austin writer and first-time filmmaker Joe O’Connell’s documentary “Love and Other Stunts,” which screens June 2 and 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse.

These screenings also serve as a public send off for Kent, who, after living in Austin since 1981, is moving back west.

Kent, a native of Washington state, started working in Hollywood in 1959 and ended up being one of those faces you would invariably encounter in dozens upon dozens of beloved B-grade exploitation/”drive-in” movies of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. 

As Austin movie tastemaker Lars Nilsen puts it in “Love, the guy was everywhere, playing “Thug no.1’ or ‘Biker Who Administers Beating to Hero.’”

Kent frequently doubled for Jack Nicholson and coordinated stunts (and stunted, as it were, himself) on dozens of pictures. He worked with everyone from Penny Marshall to Peter Bogdanovich. The dude has done almost everything in a movie that it is possible to do and for a few decades, he did it living a quiet life in Austin.

But now, Kent, who turns 85 June 7, is thinking of leaving to be closer to his family in California.

“I moved here in 1981,” Kent says. “My wife (the late actress Tomi Barrett, who died of lung cancer in 2005) was from here and talked me into it and I thought I was just going to be surrounded by terrible rednecks. Turned out I was wrong.”

For years he commuted back and forth from Austin to Hollywood before becoming, as he puts it, “ensconced here for good” in the 1990s. 

He retired from stuntwork in 2003 after breaking his leg shooting Don Coscarelli’s movie “Bubba Ho-Tep.” 

“I thought, ‘Okay, I am getting a little long in the tooth for this,” Kent says. Let the record show that he was in his late 50s at the time.

The movie he’s most proud of?

Well, there are a couple he thinks were pretty good. The 1968 Bogdanovich picture “Targets,” which was based extremely loosely on the Texas Tower shooting, was a good one.

“Freebie and the Bean,” directed by Richard Rush, whom Kent describes as "the best director I ever worked for,” was another good one: “That had some good car chases.”

But at the end of the day, it’s “Rainy Day Friends,” a movie Kent wrote and directed about a kid from the L.A. barrio diagnosed with cancer who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an older, white lawyer (Chuck Bail), also in the hospital for treatment. 

Not only was the movie a big creative moment for Kent, it also picked up a Best Special Stunt in a Motion Picture at the International Stuntman Awards (essentially the Oscars for Stuntmen). 

““I was dragged behind a pickup truck on the freeway,” he says. “We were up against much bigger movies.”

The most dangerous thing he was ever asked to do?

Kent says that excepting car chases, which are just inherently a next level of dangerous, there was this time on “Psych-Out” when he was doubling Bruce Dern. 

“I had to climb into this building and hang by my hands on the edge of this glass dome at this old art museum in L.A.,” he says.

“I had to hang by my hands and swing onto this balcony and because of where the camera was, they couldn’t put any pads down. I barely made it. That was the most dangerous, I think.”

As for Austin, it’s no longer the quaint little town it was when Kent arrived in ‘81.

“It’s getting very big city,” Kent says. “Which is fine. Mainly what I liked about Austin was the people and that’s still true. And the film community here turned out to be just wonderful. It’s a joy to go to movies here.”

“Love and Other Stunts” screens at Alamo Village June 2 and 3 with Kent in attendance.

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