Leading Man Rex Smith Says He's Looking for Love—in the Classifieds
While he waits for his true love, Rex is contenting himself with passing dalliances and directing his libido to the stage. He is currently playing on Broadway in The Human Comedy, a musical version of William Saroyan's saccharine fable about small-town American life during World War II. Smith plays Spangler, the kindly manager of a telegraph office. His performance, though received more enthusiastically than the play itself ("excellently forceful," said one New York critic of Rex), is not quite as glitzy as his last Broadway appearance in 1981, when Smith played the heartthrob Frederic opposite Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance—and encountered a parade of damsels swooning at the stage door. The more staid Human Comedy, apparently, does not stir the same passions. Moreover, Smith has taken to tooling around town on a Suzuki Katana, a form of transport he finds unconducive to romance. "It's tough meeting girls on a motorcycle," he complains. "I can't just pull over and say, 'Hey, baby, I'm on Broadway.' "
Still, the gentleman doth protest far too much. Smith has been spotted around New York of late with Tatum O'Neal, though he insists the relationship is more "sociable" than anything else. His three-month romance with Dorothy Hamill last winter, on the other hand, was more serious. "We like each other a lot," Rex says. "I spent Christmas with Dorothy and her folks." Since then, Hamill and her husband, Dean Paul Martin, have attempted a reconciliation. "That's something people have got to work out by themselves. I know. I've been married," says Rex, whose five-year union with Playboy Bunny Lois Smith ended in 1983. One of their problems, perhaps, was that Rex seemed reluctant to let his adoring fans know he had a wife.
Smith hopes that his Broadway career will help erase his image as another Andy or Leif or Shaun. "This time I'm playing a serious young man and not an ingenue," says Rex. "There's more character development in this part than I've had before." Smith was so eager for such a part, in fact, that in the beginning he agreed to work for scale: $300.07 a week.
The salary represents a hefty cut from his last job—serving as emcee on the television Top 10 show Solid Gold. "When they said they would pay me a million bucks a year for working six days a month, I told them: 'Okay, guys, you have rung the bill.' " Smith was also well rewarded for his recently completed TV-movie pilot, Street-hawk, scheduled to air later this year, in which Rex plays a crippled motorcycle cop—and doesn't sing a note.
A decade ago Rex, the son of an Atlanta advertising executive, was happy enough to graduate from high school and into bar gigs. He later toured with his band, Tricks, recorded the hit single You Take My Breath Away and played the Broadway lead in Grease.
Since his recent return to the stage, Smith has settled down with his pit bull in an East Side Manhattan apartment. Living alone, he says, "gives me time to read. And I've been cooking crepes. My crepe maker is the only appliance I salvaged from my marriage."
Meanwhile, he is cheerfully hoping that The Human Comedy survives and is continuing his quest for the perfect girl. For inspiration Rex carries around a picture of his hero, Errol Flynn. "I sort of believe Flynn's watching out for me," he says. He will never forget the night he slipped back to Los Angeles from New York. "I stopped by the house Flynn lived in before he died and said, 'I'm back in town, buddy.' Then, at 2 o'clock in the morning, my doorbell rang. I hadn't told anyone but Flynn I was back in town, but two girls I had never seen before were standing there in evening gowns, with champagne." Rex promptly invited them in because, like his hero Flynn, Smith staunchly vows, "I'll swash till I buckle."