Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — Off-Stage with Cast Member Jarett Smithwrick

by G. Jack Urso

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out

Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about

Opening lyrics to “Welcome Back,” by John Sebastian

Smithwrick in the open credits.
As I sorted through notes about my interview with cast member Jarett Smithwrick, the lyrics to “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian came ringing through my head. After some time away from the industry post Hot Hero Sandwich, Jarett in the past few years has returned to the screen, and what a pleasure it has been to see him. For Hot Hero fans, it’s a like seeing an old friend back where we missed him.

In this interview, Jarett takes time to answer a few questions about Hot Hero Sandwich and draw back the curtain a little on the creative process behind the show. We discuss getting the part, the rehearsal process, a particularly powerful scene that addresses racism, and we get caught up on what he has been up to in recent years.


Ae13U: Which state do you originally hail from? Where were you living at the time the series was filmed?

Jarett Smithwrick: I'm originally from New York, born and raised in Mt. Vernon.  I was living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when the show was filmed.

Ae13U: What had you been up to before the show? There’s one credit on the IMdB before the series (Watch Your Mouth) though their records are often incomplete. Had you been doing stage, improv, musical theater, commercials?

Jarett Smithwrick: I had done mostly stage, 2 off-Broadway shows - Benito Cereno, with Roscoe Lee Browne and Sister Sadie, starring Teresa Merrit. I appeared in one episode of, Watch Your Mouth.  I also did some extra work in film and commercials all after Hot Hero.

[Note: Teresa Merritt played the grandmother in the classic 1969 Urban Christmas Carol J.T., previously reviewed, and presented along with the full movie, on Aeolus 13 Umbra.]

Browne in 1979.
Ae13U: I have to take a moment and say how much I love Roscoe Lee Browne. What a magnificent actor with such a distinctive voice.

Jarett Smithwrick: Roscoe was the best, friendly, and very laid back. He even introduced the cast to James Baldwin who dropped backstage after a performance.

Ae13U: How did you get cast? Were there open auditions? What was your audition like? Was it a reading, improve?

Jarett Smithwrick: I landed an agent shortly before Hot Hero, as I recall I don't believe it was an open audition, and it there was a script.

Ae13U: Where were the opening credits filmed, where everyone gets picked up in the Hot Hero van? It doesn’t look like it was in the city itself. Was it in one of the boroughs?

Jarett Smithwrick: The opening was shot in Westchester, a van sequence was shot in a park.  I remember it was in a recreation area we used to take kids to, when I worked as a camp counselor in High School. Yonkers was the location for the remaining scenes if memory serves me right.

Ae13U: There was a large ensemble main cast. How were the parts for the sketches assigned? Were you able to ask to play certain parts in sketches that maybe connected with you?

Jarett Smithwrick: As talent I wasn't privy to the selection process.  We received the scripts with our assigned scenes.  I'd have to say the monologue on race [Episode 5], resonated with me most.  I was living it on a daily basis walking through my young adult life in New York City.

Ae13U: How much interaction did you have with Bruce and Carole Hart? I know the director was Tom Trbovich. Did he provide a lot of hands-on direction with the actors with their individual parts or did the cast work with a separate acting coach?

Jarett Smithwrick: I didn't interact with Bruce or Carole much, when I did they were always friendly, generous and supportive.  Tom was great, big open and again very supportive.  It was apparently a given that we were all up to the job at hand, so direction was minimal.

Ae13U: When did the day begin and end? Where there days set aside for rehearsal and then for shooting? Did you start with read-throughs early in the week and do filming later on in the week?

Jarett Smithwrick: The days were long, but we were so young it didn't matter, we started early ended late, and got up the next day to do it all again.  I don't recall being tired, just grateful to be doing something I truly enjoyed.

Rehearsals were on the fly done before each take.  We filmed an entire season in a very short time.

Ae13U:  The discussion of race in Episode 5 was really bold. It included a segment that led off with an interview with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Robert Guillaume, and then that powerful spoken word monologue you give. It’s nearly three minutes long. You challenge the racial stereotypes and even said the “n-word.” Which, blew my mind! I’m pretty sure that would probably not get aired today, at least not on Saturdays at 11 A.M. 

Discussing racial issues in episode 4. Jarett’s monologue begins at 2:16.

If you recall the piece, I would really like to get your thoughts on it. Who wrote that? How did you prepare for it? Was it completely memorized or work off notes from the notebook you were holding? Was the scene that aired shot in one-take or edited from a couple takes? How many takes did it take? What were your thoughts about it at the time?

Jarett Smithwrick: Well, I'm not certain who wrote the piece [ed. note: It was later revealed to be writer Richard Camp].  It was memorized, there must have been some retakes, at least for technical reasons.  I do recall that even the crew responded with applause there may have been an edit because I remember something about mentioning color TVs and the word colored.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1 Sketch: "Nicknames"

Ae13U: OK, this is a real small point of trivia, but I love your character Mark Johnson’s nickname in the first sketch in Episode 1. [Note: see clip above]

You and Paul O’Keefe managed to pull off a pretty impressive tongue-twister of a nickname; however, not sure I’m hearing it correctly, so help me clear it up.

As I heard it, the nickname is: Mark Swivelhead, Motormouth, Dinosaur-Breath, Pizza Face, Donut Brain, Yellow-belly, Bugger-eyed, Silly Putty, Sniveling, Bowlegged, Barfact, Dipstick, Hangnail, Wombat, Johnson.

“Barfact?” I know I must not have heard that correctly, but it sounds like that’s what you and Paul are saying. Since this is my big chance to clear up a Hot Hero mystery, can you confirm for me what that word is? Also, it’s a pretty long one. Did you memorize it or use cue cards?

Jarett Smithwrick: It was barfbag. We never used cue cards, all of our scenes were memorized. We showed up for work with every word in our heads.
I later obtained a script for episode 1 which proves Jarret's memory was right on!

Ae13U: It seems like the writers knew the show wasn’t going to have another season. When did you find out? Would you have stayed for a second season? What changes would you have liked to have seen?

Jarett Smithwrick: We found out at the end of the summer the shows aired, it was over.  I would have done another season but like all actors I would have liked to have been in more scenes than the previous season.

Ae13U: What was your impression of the show when it aired? Where there things you felt worked really well, or perhaps could have worked a little better? What would you have liked to see changed?

Jarett Smithwrick: I was very proud of the fact that I'd landed a show. Frankly it’s always difficult watching myself, what I'd do differently is a constant to this day.  Gratitude for the opportunity to work and hearing how the show affected so many folks, is of great comfort however. 

Ae13U: I know it’s a bit of time to cover, but what did you do after Hot Hero Sandwich and what are you doing now? I see there’s been some credits have recently popped up on the IMdB the past couple years. Will we be seeing more soon?

Jarett Smithwrick: Well things dropped off a good bit after the show, there were a few commercials and even those dried up after a while.  I was very fortunate in that I could type 80 words per minute, so I kept a roof over my head and made a living as a temp for years.  In the late '80s I moved to Los Angeles, I wrote a couple of screenplays got a nibble here and there but nothing got picked up.  I stayed there for 13 years, then headed back to New York after 9/11.  I ended up working in Healthcare until I retired eight years ago and I've been fortunate enough to have finally aged into an age range that keeps me relatively busy.  I've done over 20 commercials in that time and the usual New York episodic rounds of, Law & Order, Bull and Power.  My intention is to keep going.

Jarett Smithwrick today (photo courtesy Jarett Smithwrick).

Concluding Thoughts

Though many years have passed since the broadcast, Smithwrick’s monologue on race remains relevant today. It honestly discusses the issue and the use of the n-word — and on Saturday morning network TV in 1979.  I can’t imagine the same thing taking place today.

As the saying goes, Hollywood is a fickle mistress. Jarett’s performance showed a broad range for both comedy and drama, but Hot Hero didn’t have much network support, and seemed purposely set against various sports schedules almost guaranteeing pre-emptions in certain markets, with the last episode being aired in only four or five markets. The preemptions reduced the actors’ opportunity to be seen in important markets. At a time before the widespread use of VCRs, the performances were buried in vaults and closets.

But you know what? We’re still talking about the show and those scenes today. Somehow, despite the apathy of the network and no video releases, they stuck. If an actor’s performance can survive only as a memory after four decades, well, that’s one damn good actor.

So, if it hasn’t been said yet, let me welcome back Jarett Swivelhead, Motormouth, Dinosaur-Breath, Pizza Face, Donut Brain, Yellow-belly, Bugger-eyed, Silly Putty, Sniveling, Bowlegged, Barf Bag, Dipstick, Hangnail, Wombat, Smithwrick.

We missed you, man.

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  1. Loved this piece, Aeolus. Good job. Thanks to Jarett Smithwrick and the HHS crew for being the traiblazers and heros of teen tv. You guys are fondly remembered.

  2. The "ridicule rap" at the end is spot on. I'm a bit of an affcionado on the subject, and this example is all right.

  3. Richard Camp wrote the monologue that Jarett delivered so brilliantly. Bruce and Carole fought the network very hard to get it on the air, just as they fought the network and censors for every scrap of honest and relevant content we all produced. It was a constant uphill battle that we all appreciated their waging and (mostly) winning. I wrote a sketch featuring Claudette Sutherland as Miss Pinch, School Librarian, as a satiric comment on the network's over-sensitivity and the arbitrary nature of censorship. Pinch refuses to allow students to check out every book they hand her, stating her foolish objections, and tossing the offending books into a drawer. The sketch ends with Miss Pinch grabbing a book from Stanley Dipstyck and suffering a kind of fit, spraying the book with an aerosol can, and sputtering, as Stanley objects, "But it's about a whale!" That particular fight with network censor Jane Crowley was epic, and Bruce won with this quotable line: "It's a good thing CBS aired The Dick Van Dyke Show. On NBC, it would have been called The Van Show."

  4. The monologue is so powerful, and so relevant today. Marianne told me about "The Whale Sketch" and as soon as she did I burst out laughing. What a classic line! I should do an article just on the psychology behind Stanley Dipstick. The more I hear about Bruce and Carole fighting for their vision, the more I am convinced there is a streaming series idea in there somewhere.