Real-Life Gary Johnson In ‘Hit Man’ Film: Did Gary Ever Say “All Pie Is Good Pie”?


I feel that understanding human beings is one of the most underrated art forms. Well, suppose I walk into an interview and tell someone that I understand people. They are just going to look at me and throw me out of the window. And I am not even talking about statistics to understand what a group of people like American Presidents do. I am talking about individuals: their actions, their choice of words, their gestures. Well, you can read even this in Travis Bickle’s voice or Patrick Bateman’s, because that’s how most psychopathic hitmen or serial killers define their prey. I feel we all have a “Ron” inside of us, and we all want to be a cooler version of ourselves, yet most of us, including Hit Man‘s Gary Johnson, have better control over that “alter ego.”

So our not-so-cool psychology teacher from New Orleans, Gary Johnson, is actually based on a real-life “fake” hitman. Hit Man film is based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, first posted on Texas Monthly. However, writers Richard Linklater and Glen Powell have taken a lot of creative liberties with the character. For example, the real-life Gary didn’t operate in New Orleans. Instead, the man was based in Houston, Texas. The real-life Gary was born into a pretty simple family in rural Louisiana, where his father worked as a carpenter, and his mother saw over the household part of things. 

Additionally, Linklater’s film is based in the 21st century, where we see a young and charming Powell donning the role of Gary Johnson. However, the real-life Gary took on the role of a fake hitman only after he moved to Houston in 1981. Those were the most conflicting times in American history, and like most young countrymen, Gary, too, took part in the Vietnam War, where he worked as a military policeman and looked after the convoys. After doing a year’s military service, Gary returned to his hometown and started working as a sheriff’s deputy in the local police department. During the mid 1970s, he also did some undercover police work for the Port Arthur PD, where he disguised himself as an addict to catch the drug peddlers operating in the area. And yes, that was one of the first few jobs when Gary first recognized his talent to switch personalities like a chameleon without getting caught.

But even though Gary had a gift when it came to getting confessions out of criminals, his true calling was somewhere else. He wanted to teach psychology in college and also enrolled in a night course at McNeese State University to get a master’s degree in the same field. Later, he moved to Houston so that he could bag a doctorate degree in psychology and fulfill his dream of teaching someday, but unfortunately, his application was rejected. So, while the fictional Gary used to take psychology and philosophy classes at the University of New Orleans, his real-life counterpart only got the chance to teach at a local community college. He used to teach psychology and human sexuality twice a week.

So yes, location and era were the most drastic changes that were made in Richard Linklater’s Hit Man, but there are more. In the opening scene of the film, Gary, the fictional character, reveals to us that he has a flair for handling digital and electronic equipment, and that’s how he bagged the job of part-time undercover detective in the New Orleans Police Department. But for the real Gary, things weren’t that easy. After he failed to enroll in a doctoral program in psychology, he started working as a staff investigator for the Harris County DA’s office. Gary’s job was to collect evidence and track witnesses for a number of cases. He also used to modify audio and video cassette tapes for the various prosecutors so that they could be used as evidence in a court of law.

Gary did the boring job for almost eight years until finally, in 1989, the DA’s office got a call from the cops asking for someone who could pull off murder-for-hire cases. And yes, that was Gary’s moment to seize the opportunity and start his own legacy. But yes, if you are wondering if Gary ever used the alias of Ron in real life, then sorry to disappoint you. He had created a similar character for a similar case, but it wasn’t Ron. In 1981, Gary was contacted by someone named Kathy Scott, a 37-year-old lab technician who wanted to get her husband killed. The couple had been married for four months; most likely, it didn’t work out. The wife, on the other hand, wanted to get her hands on the insurance money and her husband’s entire wealth, which is why she contacted Gary, who met the woman under the alias Mike Caine, a punky biker. To a certain extent, the real-life Kathy Scott did resemble the fictional Madison Figueroa Masters, but the real-life Gary didn’t start a romantic relationship with her, even though there was instant sexual chemistry between them. Based on the evidence recorded on the wire by Gary, the cops soon arrested Kathy, and she was given a sentence of 80 years in prison by the jury. However, Gary did meet a young woman in real life whom he didn’t get arrested. The young woman had an abusive boyfriend, and when Gary cross-checked her story, it turned out to be true. She was indeed a victim, and therefore, Gary decided to help her instead of turning her in. He helped her get rid of her abusive boyfriend and get into a women’s shelter, where she would get the necessary help she needed.

Now, if it wasn’t obvious already, I would state clearly that Gary’s keen interest in human behavior most likely stems from his inclination towards psychology. There is no hard evidence to prove what I say next, but I feel that being the quiet person in the room, Gary was a keen observer and incredible listener. He had the right communication skills to take his prey into confidence so that they would end up spilling their darkest desires. Gary wanted to become a psychology teacher and share his findings with his students, but he was rejected by the university. After not being able to achieve what he really wanted in life, Gary became a self-taught man and read the works of philosophers like Gandhi and Carl Jung. But still, without a degree, Gary wouldn’t have been able to teach at a university, right? But see how destiny favored him and brought back his dreams. Through the fake-hitman work, he finally got the platform to showcase his talent. In his article, Skip Hollandsworth called him Laurence Olivier of the field. A similar title had been used for the fictional Gary in the film, but it wasn’t Olivier, but Daniel Day-Lewis. I believe Gary might have become a great actor, too.

Coming to Gary’s personal life, he had been married 3 times, but none of the marriages worked out. In Hit Man film, Gary was married once and had an ex-wife named Alicia, whose character is loosely based on real-life Gary’s second wife, Sunny. As per the original article, Sunny understood him well. Or maybe a little too well to understand the fact that Gary was a loner who wasn’t a husband material. Maybe it had something to do with Gary’s itch to change personalities, like a chameleon who wanted to live a different life each day. But it happens with most people with high intellect, right? They get bored easily, and maybe the same was the case with Gary. And before I miss it, yes, the real-life Gary also had 2 cats named Ego and Id, the same names that have been used in the film. The makers of the film also feature something real-life Gary used to say, which is “All pie is good pie.”

Now, before wrapping up, as the last frame of Hit Man suggests, the real-life Gary didn’t kill anyone. He got shot in the leg once, but he never got blood on his hands. In his lifetime, Gary helped the cops make more than 70 arrests before taking retirement from his adventurous life. Gary took his last breath in 2022, and most likely died from natural causes. He had been in contact with Richard Linklater until the very end.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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