The Man With Two Names

How NoVA’s movie star cowboy became a law man

How NoVA’s movie star cowboy became a law man

By Matt Basheda

Photo Courtesy of Peter Ponzini

For over 10 years, Garry Westcott wandered the country.

Every town was the same.

Within hours—sometimes minutes—he’d pull a gun on an elderly man and demand to know where the nearest TV set was.

For over 10 years, Garry Westcott made his mark as an actor impersonating Clint Eastwood.

He traveled the U.S. filming TV spots for local channels as Eastwood’s most famous characters, with slogans like “Make my May” and heated exchanges with comedic blacksmiths.

That was his part-time job. In his full-time job he took groups of travelers to four- and five-star resorts across North America.

Then one day, the vigilante went straight—in both his lives.

His full-time career switched from professional travel to private investigation, and on-screen the man now wears the badge of a U.S. Marshal.

Westcott is a natural cowboy. He wears cowboy boots, even with a crisp suit. His blue eyes shoot out from beneath steel wire hair, coifed like Clint’s. He stands over six-feet tall—he’s incredibly friendly, but imposing nonetheless. Westcott is a man of confidence. He owns his presence.

His destiny was clear even before he was born. His parents were celebrity look-alikes, too; though they embraced their roles for fun only. They were constantly mistaken for William Powell and Myrna Loy, the witty husband-and-wife detective team from “The Thin Man” series of movies.

“My father had a little pencil mustache,” Westcott recalls. “My mother had a snood on her hair with bangs, and they traveled with a wire-haired terrier named Ruffy. Well, in the movie it was Asta, the little dog. Well, everywhere they went, people would say, ‘Oh Mr. Powell, what’s it like living in Hollywood?’”

As a child, Westcott appeared in local radio and TV commercials. He continued performing in college—”I got the bug,” he says.

But acting got put on hold with the arrival of a draft card to Vietnam and a stint in the Army. Although Westcott previously considered the Navy as a full-time career—only to be rejected by Annapolis due to eyesight problems—he didn’t care for the Army.

He was last stationed near Washington, D.C., where he stayed. And acting found him again.

One day Westcott strolled into a casting agency to drop off publicity photos for a friend. But the agent asked him, “Well what about you?” So Westcott promptly returned with photos of his own, and his acting career began once more—this time with fewer pauses.

Although his location limited him—”If you really are serious about acting, you really need to go to New York or Los Angeles,” he says—he managed to stay employed.

Photo Courtesy of Garry Westcott

He stood in for Robert Wagner during Wagner’s role in “The Concorde … Airport ’79,” filmed at Dulles Airport. He even had lunch with Wagner and Natalie Wood there. Westcott recommends standing in as an excellent opportunity for any young actor seeking employment.

“The stand-in is right there with the star, the cinematographer, the director,” he says. “And he’s privy to whatever arguments, whatever creative ideas, whatever changes, whatever the star likes and he’s demanding, but the director’s trying to convince him otherwise. And you’ve got all these egos that are at each other—often. And it’s a pressure cooker. But the stand-in is right there.

“And oftentimes, if you’re the stand-in for a star … it rubs off on the stand-in, so that everybody treats you deferentially, Westcott says. “They think that if they don’t treat you right, the star’ll get pissed off. … But you also get paid as a principal. And you get to know everybody. It’s a neat little job, but it helps you learn more things about how the creative process works among the director and the cinematographer and the actor.”

Wescott did stunt work, too, in Wes Craven’s “Swamp Thing.”

Westcott sat at a table and waited to be transformed into the creature. A latex suit, glued to his body, enveloped him. Tubes filled with sludge lined his arms, and at Craven’s “Action!” the slime oozed out between his fingers. Meanwhile, the fumes from the glue overwhelmed him as he metamorphosed. And he didn’t even get the most difficult stunt job in that film—his coworker got set on fire.

But the Eastwood role remained his most reliable gig.

Each year during sweeps week, when ratings mattered most, local independent networks like D.C.’s channel 20 showed popular movies to ensure maximum ratings. Often, those movies included Clint Eastwood films, as the actor was at the height of his on-screen popularity.

Photo Courtesy of Garry Westcott

So Westcott impersonated Eastwood for the cameras—most often as the “Man With No Name” character—and promoted such Eastwood movie weeks, often with exchanges like the following:

Blacksmith: “Howdy stranger, what brings you to town?”

Westcott/Eastwood: “My horse.”

“Well what can I do for ya?”

“I came to tell you Clint Eastwood’s riding into town, Monday night at 8 o’clock, and I aim to be watchin’. You do have a TV in this town, don’t you, old timer?”

“Yeah, over at the hotel.” [Pronounced HO-tel in classic campy  Western accent.]

“Well that’s where you’ll find me.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t.” [Pulls out gun.]

Westcott’s characters ran the gamut of Eastwood’s roles. He climbed faux mountains promoting “The Eiger Sanction” and dressed as a GI from “Kelly’s Heroes.” One commercial even had Westcott as the mayor of Carmel, Calif.—which was Eastwood at the time—in a mock press conference.

Being an outlaw came with its share of dangers, too. Horses, for instance, can surprise even experienced riders like Westcott.

His worst accident came on a shoot, as the horse galloped at full speed with Westcott aboard. The horse’s front hoof sank into a pit of sand, and off Westcott flew.

“I hit the ground so hard that it knocked the wind out of me,” he says. “The people I was riding with, they thought I was paralyzed, because I was in an awkward position, and I couldn’t move anything.”

Westcott is a dead ringer for Eastwood, though he’ll deny it. But the proof is in reality: “People would come up to me … and ask me for an autograph, and call me Clint, and insist that I was Clint Eastwood.”

Outside his acting endeavors, Westcott managed to find careers that rivaled his life as Eastwood for excitement. He portrayed a wanderer, but he worked for a travel company, too.

He took groups of travelers to four- and five-star resorts across North America, Canada and the Caribbean. Each trip included hotel stays, restaurants and sightseeing; and Westcott led the groups to each location.

Having traveled extensively with his brother as a teenager, the job was a perfect fit. And yet again, the opportunity fell into his lap.

“I’m sitting in my apartment one time out here [in Alexandria],” he says. “The phone rings. I pick up the phone, and I say, ‘Hello?’

“And a guy goes, ‘I thought you were gonna come in here for this job! I’ve got a trip leaving, and you said you were gonna take it! What am I supposed to do?! You were supposed to be here yesterday to pick up papers! You told me you’d take them!’

“And I said, ‘Who is this?’And he goes, ‘Oh, isn’t this Brian Sappowich?’ And I said, ‘No, my name’s Garry Westcott.’ And the guy says, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I must’ve dialed wrong.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute! Don’t hang up! What are you talking about?’

“And he said he had a tour group leaving for Nova Scotia—it was an eight-day trip, it was very complex. … And [he had] nobody to go. And I said, ‘I’ll be in tomorrow.’

“That wrong phone call was a 12-year job. And I got my brother in it.”

But with 9/11 came new concerns.

Westcott knew his prior experience with security in the Army and the Military Police would be a valuable asset after the attack.

He became a private investigator. He still travels the world, but his concerns are far different now.

His specialty is counter-surveillance—sweeping houses and places of business for listening devices.

But Westcott has never let up on his film pursuits.

In 2010, having finished his first screenplay, Westcott decided to hone his skills further. He enrolled in a screenwriting workshop at Northern Virginia Community College.

“I remember students loving Garry’s stories,” says Kathryn O’Sullivan, teacher of the screenwriting class. “Garry had such a positive attitude about everybody else’s work.”

Counters Westcott: “It was one of the best courses on Hollywood and on the entertainment industry that I had ever encountered. And I learned more from [Kathryn] than all of my drinking buddy associations with anybody in the business.”

Westcott kept in touch with O’Sullivan, a screenwriter herself, after the class was finished. They exchanged emails, and Westcott inquired if O’Sullivan had any new projects in the works.

She mentioned a Western series she had recently been writing. O’Sullivan knew nothing of Westcott’s prior acting experience. He suggested they get together for lunch sometime soon.

“So when [my husband] and I went to lunch with him,” says O’Sullivan, “Garry brought all his information about his acting background—which he didn’t reveal to me until that moment,” she laughs. “Although I suspected he had had some kind of acting training.”

Westcott thereby won the role of U.S. Marshal Perry Robinson in “Thurston,” O’Sullivan’s new Western Web series. However, O’Sullivan’s script initially called for a 22-year-old marshal. She rewrote the part specifically for Westcott upon learning of his hefty prior experience with Westerns.

They filmed the first three and put them up on Vimeo and YouTube, as well as the series’ official site.

“Thurston’s” potential became almost immediately apparent. The series debuted in the fall of 2011, and by February had been nominated for three Indie Soap Awards and four Indie Intertube Awards.

And that was just the first wave of accolades. In March, online television network SFN picked “Thurston” up for distribution. Days later, the L.A. Web Series Festival included “Thurston” in its 2012 event.

“Our connection to the American West,” says Westcott, “is such a unique mythology we’ve created … it’s the romantic period of our American history, and that’s another reason why it’s fun to be reproducing a little of that with this show.

“We’re not that far removed from our American West experience and our Western heritage … my mother and father were both alive when Wyatt Earp was alive.”

 

 

(June 2012)

X