Exclusive: Legendary Hart family brother Smith Hart
Joseph Bruen: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. What was it like growing up in Calgary and more importantly growing up as a Hart kid?
Smith Hart: Growing up in Calgary wasn’t too bad. I have come back here after all these years because of my family connections to this town, but have always preferred living in the tropics of Puerto Rico. Growing up a Hart kid really was only special because of all the brothers and sisters and having so many kids to play with. Outside of our home, we weren’t anything special growing up and because we were on the hill, we were rather secluded from the rest of the city. But at home we had so much fun playing and I loved that time with my siblings. Being able to play any team games, playing with all the animals it was just great fun.
Joseph Bruen: What is your earliest memory of pro wrestling?
Smith Hart: My earliest memories seem to be all the wrestlers coming to the house to pick up their paychecks. I remember seeing such legends as Gorgeous George and Buddy Rogers walking through our front door. Boxing legends like Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.
Joseph Bruen: You had a short in ring career in pro wrestling. What made you decide to stop?
Smith Hart: I guess that is perspective. I wrestled 18 years. And theoretically I still kept doing things sporadically right up until a few years ago, although more as a teacher than an active competitor. If it wasn’t for this cancer I might still be doing that. Compare that to the 14 years Steve Austin wrestled or the 8 years The Rock wrestled or the 4 years Bill Goldberg wrestled. I think the difference is my career was winding down before the big boom period of the 1980’s. That and I never really had a major run in any major territory. I decided to stop because I never enjoyed being a wrestler or working out. I preferred being the booker and only wrestled when I had to.
Joseph Bruen: Obviously it`s known what your father Stu meant to pro wrestling, but since you felt it all first hand, what did Stu mean to Calgary?
Smith Hart: Stu was heavily involved in every charity and every organization in the city it seemed. He was an Order of Canada recipient for all the work he had done in the city, which is the highest civilian honor in Canada. I remember, because he was a member of the Stampede board, the circus came to town and wasn’t doing very good in terms of ticket sales, so the board asked him if any of the wrestlers wanted to wrestle a giant Bengal Tiger to give some publicity. Of course all the wrestlers chickened out. So in order to keep the board happy, my Dad got in there himself and wrestled 750 lbs Bengal Tiger. The wrestling bear was old, had no teeth, had his claws removed and wore a muzzle and still knocked the crap out of everyone. This tiger was young and fierce had razor sharp teeth and claws and no muzzle. The only protection was this 120 lbs kid holding a chain on the other side. My Dad got it up on its hind legs and just tried walking it backwards. He grabbed the Tigers cheek and said the muscles in his cheek were like grabbing a tennis ball. He tried arm dragging it, but the tiger took my dad down with ease. My Dad was so impressed with its natural wrestling tendencies that he tried to buy it. When my dad died, it was headline news in the city of Calgary for a week. I would argue it was on par to what it was like for Muhammad Ali’s death this year in Louisville. The whole city stood still to honor my Dad (as opposed to the whole world standing still for Ali). That meant a lot to me.
Joseph Bruen: What were your hobbies growing up as a kid?
Smith Hart: I loved to draw and I was an avid stamp collector. Especially with mail coming in from all over the world I loved collecting stamps. The previous owners left a detailed stamp collection that I continued on.
Joseph Bruen: How was your relationship with your father?
Smith Hart: During the early years not very good as I had previously been raised by my grandparents who treated me like gold and gave into my every wish, whereas living with my Dad was full of hardships and discipline and I had to get used to getting whatever was granted to me. So my Dad and I didn’t quite see eye to eye. As I got older I gravitated more towards being creatively inclined and smoked pot and lived a bit more of a care free existence opposite to my Dad who was straight laced and didn’t have any vices. I like to think that in later years my relationship with my Dad improved and we became quite close. In fact I moved back into the house for the main reason of taking care of both my parents.
Joseph Bruen: Tells us your memories of Stampede Wrestling and all that it took to keep that territory going strong. What did Stampede wrestling mean to your Dad and the rest of your family?
Smith Hart: To my Dad, I think it was the true definition of a livelihood. Because nothing made him feel more alive than being in wrestling, so it really did mean the world to him. He sunk everything he had into wrestling and as a man of his word, would pay the wrestlers every dime, even at his own expense or in the case of us children, the expense of us having some of the basics of life. My memories of Stampede are mostly of the long cold trips. My favorite story is from just outside of Edmonton. A guy came up to me and gave me his camera and asked me to go into the locker room and take a picture of my brother Bruce for him. Bruce had already left out the back door by then, but the Sheepherders (Bushwhackers) were still there and they suggested we take some picture of Mulumba (a rather well hung Black wrestler from the Caribbean) in the shower. Mulumba happily agreed as long as his face wasn’t in the picture. So the Sheepherders got down on their knees and pretended to be gnawing away on this giant penis. I emptied the whole roll of film and gave it to one of the stagehands to give back to the man waiting outside the locker room. The next week that same man came back and showed my Dad the pictures, telling him they were for his daughter, but the funny part was my brother Ross got blamed for it. Being on the road for me was more about the brotherhood and the humor.
Joseph Bruen: Let’s talk about your brother Keith. Keith is a known firefighter and wrestled as well. What was Keith like growing up and do you still keep in contact with all of your brothers today?
Smith Hart: Keith nicknamed Putz was my father’s pet. I never bonded well with Keith as kids and often found him more of a tattletale. Keith was as straight laced and disciplined as anyone I have ever met and because of that I think my father favored him, at least at first, over all his sons. Whereas I was a much more outside the box thinker. Keith was much more of an amateur standout than he was adapted to the pro style and when he had the chance to be the booker, he basically was promoting glorified amateur wrestling. Later in life Keith and I became somewhat closer, but have never been as close I would like to have been. When I did get my cancer diagnosis, he did call to wish me well and tell me to get my affairs in order.
Joseph Bruen: The basement of the Hart house became famously known as "The Dungeon". Your father Stu would do all the training and stretching down there with other wrestlers and up and coming talents. What was it like hearing the screams and groans from "The Dungeon" all the way upstairs?
Smith Hart: I think the screams and groans are often over-exaggerated. More often than not, it was legit training with accomplished wrestlers that my Dad was working out with the likes of George Gordienko, Luther Lindsay or Gorilla Monsoon. Very rarely did someone get tortured and that usually stemmed from some drunken cowboy or a local martial arts student thinking they were tough and trying to call someone out at a live event and my dad inviting that person back to the house to teach them a swift lesson. Archie The Stomper Gouldie was one such example of this and Archie went on to be one of my Dad’s biggest draws and one of the best villains I ever seen in wrestling.
Joseph Bruen: Obviously having such a large family, holidays must have been a great time. What was the holiday season like at the Hart house?
Smith Hart: Not as jolly as you may imagine. We had some lean years growing up and my parents fell on hard times. There were years we had no heat in the house. There were years all the boys would get a hockey puck as our present. Aside from always having amazing Christmas dinners, it wasn’t always the grand holiday one might imagine.
Joseph Bruen: Did you watch WWF as a child or was it all Stampede growing up?
Smith Hart: We didn’t get WWF in Western Canada. At least not until the late 1980’s. In fact, WWF didn’t get any TV rights in western Canada until my Dad sold his TV rights to Vince. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, all we got was local regional Stampede wrestling, although I often saw Al Tomko’s Vancouver territory also.
Joseph Bruen: Your other brothers Ross and Wayne both had short (In ring) wrestling careers. They quickly moved onto a referee spot and eventually retired from the ring. Tell us about their journey in the business.
Smith Hart: Ross nicknamed “Inky” was notorious for always playing in my mother’s office and getting covered in my mother’s ink pads hence the name, which I believe was the breeding ground for him to be more office oriented. Although he was a talented wrestler like all of us, he like Dean lacked size and therefore didn’t find much in terms of success in the ring, but was one of the most organized promoters I ever saw. He was also a noted historian and new every detail about the history of the business. Wayne nicknamed the Goat was often criticized as the black sheep of the family. He grew up in the 60’s and associated quite clearly with the counter culture. I think he unfortunately took the worst of my dad’s punishments growing up and got blamed for a lot of things that had nothing to do with him. I think because of this he distanced himself from the in ring aspects of both amateur and professional wrestling. But to earn a living he would work as a referee for my father and was a damn good referee that should be held in the same breath as other great referees like Tommy Young, Tiger Hattori, Earl Hebner and Sandy Scott. He was also the best driver my dad ever had. You have to imagine that road trips in my dad’s territory could be up to 60 hours round trip in the cold prairie winters through God awful blizzards and snowstorms. Many accidents occurred with the wrestlers often acting out and partying on the road. But my brother Wayne was often entrusted as the safest of all winter drivers.
Joseph Bruen: Which brother did you find you were closest to growing up?
Smith Hart: I was closest to my brothers Wayne and Dean. I was born in New York and my parents had been alerted by the chief of police about an opportunity to purchase the rights to promote in Calgary. So I was left with my grandparents in New York while my parents travelled to Calgary to secure the deal. It was along that way, my mother 9 months pregnant with Bruce, that they were in a terrible accident that destroyed my mother’s face, broke all her teeth and caused her to go into delivery with Bruce immediately. They ended up staying in Montana for about 2 years settling the litigation on the case which is where both Bruce and Keith were born. After that they settled in Calgary and opened up shop. Fortunately it was the settlement of that accident that allowed my father to purchase the promotional rights for Calgary and Edmonton as well as purchase the home that would eventually be called Hart House. After they settled in Calgary it was then my Dad came back to retrieve me from my grandparents and by then Bruce and Keith were strangers to me, and I gravitated to the next two which were Wayne and Dean.
Joseph Bruen: Unfortunately in 1990 you lost your brother Dean. Tell us all about Dean. What was Dean all about? Did he enjoy pro wrestling?
Smith Hart: Dean was my best friend, and my favored brother. He was nicknamed Biz, because he was such an incredible entrepreneur. He often had one hustle or another going on. I remember he was largely responsible for many of the concerts that occurred at our family’s Clearwater beach resort that included such names as Joe Cocker and The Doors. The bands thought nothing of it when they were booked over the phone, by what sounded like an intelligent and articulate promoter, but were often shocked that it was an 18 year old kid that had booked this incredible event. He was a tremendous wrestler and perhaps the toughest of us all, but was also the smallest and during that era, size was incredibly important, so outside of a brief run in Hawaii working with Ata Maivia, he didn’t do much in wrestling beyond promoting. Sadly he was hit by a city transit bus which destroyed his kidney and eventually he succumbed to it. I was the one to discover his body upstairs in my parents’ house in the bathroom. One of the worst days of my life. I lost my best friend and my partner in crime.
Joseph Bruen: Your Mother pretty much married into what became the biggest pro wrestling family out there. Helen seemed like such a nice, caring person. How did she handle all of the nonstop day to day pro wrestling in her life? Tell us all about your Mom and some of the great memories you may have.
Smith Hart: My mother hated wrestling until Bret became a big star in the 80’s. Until then she thought it was the lowest form of burlesque and often chastised my father for being in the business. My mother was a high-society lady from New York and always thought the vagabond nature of wrestling was beneath her dignity. It wasn’t until Bret became a huge star and was taking my mother, my cousins and my aunts backstage at events like Wrestlemania 3 to mingle with celebrities like Robin Leach, Liberace, Ray Charles, Burt Reynolds, Aretha Franklin and Mary Hart that my mother began to embrace pro wrestling. My favorite memory of my mother was taking my mother to go smoke some pot. My mother drank wine, but was often complaining about how she was gaining weight. So I invited her upstairs with me to smoke some pot, but my sister barged in and hauled my mother out of their just as she inhaled her first drag. She never tried it again with me.
Joseph Bruen: What was your relationship like with your brother in laws in Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart?
Smith Hart: Much like brothers. I was the best man at Jim’s wedding to my sister Ellie. I was actually the one that first wrestled Davey in Europe and I wrestled him in Royal Albert Hall long before my brother Bruce ever invited him to come live and work in Calgary.
Joseph Bruen: "The Hart House" just the name itself brings so many images and memories to any long time wrestling fan. It was a legendary home filled with memories to last a life time. Can you share some of those memories with us?
Smith Hart: Well the house was an amazing piece of real estate that originally was a sprawling acreage all by itself on the hill looking over the city that my dad bought for $25,000 from a local judge. Over the years I am sure everyone heard dozens of stories some true and some embellished. Whether it was us kids dripping ice cream on our toes to have the wrestling bear under our front porch lick it off. Or the myriad of circus like wrestlers coming through our front door collecting a weekly paycheck from my parents. In later years I remember all the guests that grew to live in the old house like Bob Johnson, Carl Leduc and Neil Page. My fondest memories involve watching my daughter Satania playing with her cousins. For although it was my childhood home, there is nothing greater than watching my children playing gleefully at their grandparent’s estate.
Joseph Bruen: Losing the Hart house a few years back when it sold must have been hard. Take us through that time period.
Smith Hart: At first I wanted to buy it and preserve it. Not only was it my home at the time, I foresaw it being a continued training ground for future talent as well as having the potential to being turned into an actual wrestling museum. But the biggest conflict I had with various siblings was preserving the various antiques my Dad has collected over the years like the crystal chandeliers, the Persian rugs, the industrial kitchen, the gym equipment downstairs and my Dad`s library of books. Last week I went to the house with a friend visiting from out of town and even though it has been “preserved” as a historical landmark, it looks nothing like what it was. It’s been bastardized and to be honest I have lost my connection to it.
Joseph Bruen: Tell us about all of your sisters. What were they into? Did they feel as though they had to watch pro wrestling all the time or did they do their own thing?
Smith Hart: They actually weren’t allowed to watch wrestling and were encouraged to focus on school and studies. Ellie focused on wardrobe design and today works at a Fabric store near Tampa. Georgia focused on cooking and was often heralded as the best cook in our family. Allison was deep into her studies and now works as a librarian at a university here in Calgary. Meanwhile Diana was a talented writer and has just released her second book. All very talented women and inspiring souls.
Joseph Bruen: It goes without saying that Owen and Bret were the most successful when it came to pro wrestling and the Hart brothers. When they first started, did you see them going as far as they did?
Smith Hart: With Owen right away you saw the talent. Owen was the best natural talent our family ever had and that could be seen at an early age. Bret on the other hand had to work hard for it and to his credit, the only person I ever seen put in as much effort to be in this business as Bret would be Tyson Kidd. Those two worked far harder than anyone else I have seen in my life and I have seen a ton of trainees first hand.
Joseph Bruen: Owen tragically passed away in 1999. What was your relationship with Owen? Tell us all about Owen and what he stood for. Do you have any great Owen stories that maybe haven't seen the light of day just yet?
Smith Hart: I won’t bullshit you to tell you that I was the closest to Owen as many of my other siblings would, but he was everybody's favored sibling that is for sure. We all adored Owen. I don’t know if he stood for anything in terms of convictions. He certainly loved his family, but I know he loved wrestling, he loved seeing people smile and of course his humor. One of my favorite Owen pranks was he had arranged with a state trooper to pull him over while he was driving with Davey and Lex Luger down the highway. Owen had hidden a bag full of a white powder in the back. The trooper pulled them over and found the white powder and was in the process of arresting the trio for a narcotics violation, and since Owen was a teetotaler, Davey and Lex were accusing each other of stashing cocaine. Then of course it was all revealed to be another Owen prank. If I had the energy and resources I would love to meet with all of Owen's former colleagues and collect all of the pranks on one DVD to help honor his legacy. I do feel fans need to remember him for the smiles he brought to people’s faces which were plentiful.
Joseph Bruen: What is your current relationship with the WWE?
Smith Hart: I mean they offer me complimentary tickets when they are in Calgary and on my trip to New York this past fall; they invited me to come to the head office where I enjoyed a beautiful rooftop lunch. But outside of that I really have no dealings at this stage with WWE. I received a nice phone call from them after my cancer diagnosis.
Joseph Bruen: What were your thoughts on the WWE Owen Hart DVD / Blu ray project?
Smith Hart: I thought it was a nice gesture, although I think in a lot of ways WWE held back too much, due to the conflict with Owen's widow. A conflict I find utterly ridiculous. I know it’s hard losing a spouse, I am 4 times widowed. But I don’t hold grudges especially 16 years later. I feel as though Owen would be very disappointed to see how his estate and legacy has been handled since his passing.
Joseph Bruen: Who were your favorite wrestlers growing up?
Smith Hart: My all-time favorites were Archie Gouldie, Waldo Von Erich and Sweet Daddy Siki, although I also thoroughly enjoyed Jim Wright, Rube Wright, The Mills Brothers, The Vachons and even Killer Kowalski.
Joseph Bruen: The Hart family and Harley Race were always so close over the years and still are to this day. Any good stories about Harley throughout your experiences?
Smith Hart: Harley was very close to my Dad and by fruition came often to my Dad`s territory. He was one of the few wrestlers that would have been invited to spend the night during that time. Later on everyone was invited to spend the night, but back then it was very few and Harley was one of them. Through the years we have stayed in touch and kept a friendship. I always felt Harley was a lot like Dynamite Kid in terms of toughness and being a man’s man.
Joseph Bruen: Your brother Bruce was always heavily involved in the wrestling business. Tell us about Bruce growing up and what he`s up to today.
Smith Hart: He was my mother’s pet and perhaps favored child. I didn’t bond well with him at first and often felt I got in trouble for things he and Keith did growing up because he would always be protected by our mom and Keith was protected by our father. In later years we developed a mutual passion for the creative end of wrestling and often worked together on storylines although he was given the official status of booker. I always thought Bruce had good ideas, but I always thought he lacked foresight where I felt I could have added.
Joseph Bruen: Bring us back to the night your Father Stu was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. His memory will forever live on. How was it that day being there with the whole family?
Smith Hart: Well that weekend was both incredible and yet bittersweet. Unfortunately the weekend was more about Bret and whatever he wanted than anything else. Bret and Vince had a silly agenda for that match, which obviously didn’t pan out as most herald it is a shitty match, even though both Bruce and myself raised ideas with how to make it a far greater match. My idea involved having Tyson Kidd and Harry Smith tag with Bret while Big Show and Miz tagged with Vince, allowing the younger guys to carry the load of the match yet still have Vince and Bret in for the coup de grace. Especially considering Harry & TJ took the tag belts from Miz and Big Show the following night on Raw anyway. I was disappointed none of my children were able to join me. And it was truly saddening that my mother and father weren’t able to be there as well. Having said that, WWE is a first class operation and they made us all to feel like kings with limos, custom catering, and 1st class hotels, you name it, it was one hell of a party. I couldn’t have been happier all things considered and WWE couldn`t have treated myself or my family members in attendance any better.
Joseph Bruen: What are your thoughts on that first night Bret came back to the WWE in 2006 to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame?
Smith Hart: I didn’t know anything about it. We were all quite a bit surprised as we all had been lead to believe that that bridge was burnt beyond repair. Obviously in the greater scheme of things, Bret is a well-deserving member of any wrestling hall of fame, but I am not a huge fan of the selection process of Vince`s arbitrary hall of fame. It really comes down to whomever one person feels is best, rather than any voting or merit based inductions. I do prefer the pro wrestling hall of fame based out of Wichita Falls Texas myself.
Joseph Bruen: What is your current relationship with your brother Bret?
Smith Hart: I just spoke to Bret today and I anticipate having him on my podcast sometime in the future. We have had our ups and downs as brothers, but I have always had a deep love and respect for Bret. I protected him as a kid and we were quite close while we were tag team champions together in Puerto Rico.
Joseph Bruen: Where can fans follow you online / social media?
Smith Hart: Smithhart1 on twitter or Smith Hart on Facebook or listen to my weekly podcast the Hart Grapevine on Totally Driven Radio
Joseph Bruen: What are your memories of The Dynamite Kid?
Smith Hart: Tommy was like a brother to me. Dynamite was a man`s man and am true pioneer of the cruiserweight division. I will tell you that he did have his vicious side and the first memory that comes to mind is when he broke the legs of JR. Foley`s daughter so that JR could cash in on the insurance. I’m not telling tales out of school as Dynamite told this story in his autobiography
Joseph Bruen: Recently you announced that you have cancer. What is your current status and how are things going with this fight? I want to say that I personally wish you a speedy recovery and we here at All Axxess Entertainment are pulling for you my friend.
Smith Hart: I went for surgery last week and had my urethra scrapped clean for Prostate cancer. I still have bone cancer spots on my hips, collarbone, ribs, breast plate and spine.
Joseph Bruen: Do you have any good Brian Pillman stories? Brian was very close to the family. How were your experiences with the late Brian Pillman?
Smith Hart: Brian and I were good friends. I always enjoyed partying with Brian. He was a brilliant performer and had fate not dealt him a series of bad cards, I could easily of seen him being the biggest star the business ever had. I mean that, because if you look back to 1997, a healthy Brian was a better character, a better promo and a better wrestler and would have been far more over than a Steve Austin. I can only imagine how big he could have been during the prime WWF years 98-01 if he was alive, healthy and in the game. My favorite Brian story was him getting smashed drunk in Calgary and passing out. We then placed him in a bed with a dog and put his leather jacket, which he wore to the ring while tagging with Bruce on the dog. When he woke up and saw the dog he yelled which made the dog run away with the jacket. We would always tease him for years about seeing that dog running the highways of Western Canada wearing his jacket.
Joseph Bruen: Teddy Hart, Harry Smith and Natalya have all made names for themselves over the years. The Legacy seems to continue on. Who do you see getting involved next?
Smith Hart: Not to be prideful, but my son Matthew seems like the safest bet. At 21 he has all the potential and is working hard. Although opportunities are limited here in Western Canada for wrestling. As his brother Michael winds down on his career, Matthew is on the verge of taking on the wrestling world, while my youngest Chad has all the potential if he applied himself.
Joseph Bruen: What would you say now to someone just getting into the wrestling business or looking to do so? What advice can you give them?
Smith Hart: I would say find another hobby. The business has far and away dissipated from its original intention and the modern incarnation seems ridiculous to be honest. In the old days it was competition based on merit with enough showmanship to draw real heat and make the fans spend more money to provide the entertainers with a better living. Today it’s about super hero fantasies of mostly kids that couldn’t win a real fight with a paper bag, so they resort to pro wrestling so they can feel like the tough guys they wish they were. There is no realism, no competition, no characters, no legitimacy and above everything else there is no money unless you are in the biggest company in the world which is almost impossible to break through to that world. More likely you will break your body and break the bank chasing a n unreachable dream that will never materialize in turn wasting the best years of your life. So I suggest remaining a fan, enjoy it for what it is and find a more remunerative path to follow.