First Person: Rex Smith

Rex Smith played Jesse mach in the 1980’s show STREET HAWK. For 13 episodes, he had every teenage bike-fan glued to the tv screen with his crime-busting antics...

I used to leave the film studios on the Street Hawk bike and go for a ride around town. I’d tell the boys to give me one of the bikes at lunch and I’d shoot off for a bit around downtown LA, just take it out for a ride, tell the guys I needed to get into character or some other bullshit. We had a lot of fun on the Street Hawk set, it was a great team and we were pretty raucous. Our parties were infamous. The first week I wondered why my trailer was stacked with every imaginable bottle of spirit. I said “I can’t drink all of this,” and the guys said “you don’t have to, we just need you to get Universal to pay for it!” Friday nights we would work late, but it would be Saturday very, very early before the last person left the lot. Universal must have wondered how I even managed to walk, the amount we went through.

I did a fair amount of stunt riding during filming, although I didn’t go through plate glass or anything. The best part was sliding up and using the machine guns. Even in the world of Hollywood when you hit a button, the squibs go off, flames shoot out of the guns and you see a car fall apart in front of you, hood and doors exploding off, in your mind it’s still you doing it. I never got over how cool doing that that was.

Street Hawk was filmed in the Universal film plot, one of the worst places in the world to shoot. The rule was that public tours took precedent, so we had about six minutes between tours in which to run around filming as fast as possible before the next one arrived. But we had some fun with them. I would get out there and wheelie past the tour buses, all you could hear was “look, there goes Street Hawk!” I’d get a kick out of that, people’s mouths would drop.

Motorcycles have always been part of my life and I raced motocross when I was first starting out. When I was 20 and signed for Columbia Records I would put my motorcycle in the truck with my equipment and would race, then rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve got a six-way fracture of my ball joint, my left hand has been rebuilt and I’ve got a hole in my leg through muscle tear, but that was more due to a drunk off-duty cop running a red light in Park Avenue, New York and knocking me down. But hey, there’s two kinds of riders: those who have been down are those who are going down again. I’m kind of semi-retired from bikes at the moment, I’ve got five kids and I feel like I’ve tested my nine lives, and now I’ve got other responsibilities. But I was just on eBay the other day looking for a Honda 400 from the ‘70s, it’s a childhood memory thing.

Street Hawk doesn’t really get the retro airplay these days. They just didn’t make enough episdoes of it, but recently I got a call from a mate of mine in New York telling me to watch the Tonight Show. George Clooney was on it promoting Ocean’s Thirteen and there were two clips shown, one was Ocean’s, the other was Street Hawk. The clip was George and me doing a scene. I got George into the show. Street Hawk was his first big break.

Although I’m not quite as famous as George now I never really know when or why people will recognise me. It could be through Street Hawk or my singing career. I did six albums for Columbia records, played Madison Square Gardens and was even being groomed to be Van-Halen. Before Eddie got the job, if you see what I mean. I had the same manager as AC/DC and Aerosmith. In fact AC/DC were my opening act for six weeks.

Believe it or not I have actually made an arrest on a motorbike. A citizen’s arrest, but that still counts! I saw a lady being robbed and I took after the thief, chased him on my bike into a building that was under construction, blocked the entrance and waited for the cops to arrive.

I’ve worn many hats in my life but Street Hawk’s helmet was certainly one of the more exciting ones. It was always more than just a job, the crew were always excited about the show and we knew we were making something pretty cool for bike-fans everywhere. Yeah, I miss it.