Motorcycle Stuntman - Hollywood John Hateley

"Nobody Got Buried And We All Got Paid"

When Boone's Farm decided to promote its wine with a television commercial featuring a motorcycle-riding grandmother, stunt coordinator Bob Harris suggested using John Hateley to double granny. The professional racer was a logical choice-he was Hollywood-based and one of the fastest riders in America. He was also 19 years old.

Initially, the director was unimpressed with the diminutive, boyish Hateley and his blue CZ.

"Hey kid," he sneered, "what can you do?"

"What do you want me to do?" Hateley replied.

"I need a wheelie. Let me see you do a wheelie."

"How far?"

"Just go out on the road and do a wheelie."

Hateley rolled off in low gear, popped up the front wheel, short-shifted into second and then up into top, and disappeared over the horizon. Then he turned the bike around and came back on the back wheel. Setting it down, he asked, "How was that?"

"Paint the bike red," the director said. "He'll do."

The commercial was a hit and Hateley's wheelie in a wig earned him a Screen Actor's Guild card, plus regular stunt work in more than 50 feature films and hundreds of commercials and television shows. But Hateley had worked in Hollywood before.

In 1955, at 3 years old, he was cast in Bob Hope's The Seven Little Foys. That experience launched more than a decade of work as a child actor in shows like Dennis the Menace, The Virginian and Bonanza, and a lifetime of daredevil playfulness.

The directors and actors Hateley worked with didn't make much of an impression on him, but the work got him out of school and gave him opportunities to wreak havoc on the movie lots. "I was one of those kids who had way more energy than brains," he said.

The work as a child actor tailed off in the early '60s, and by '62 Hateley had turned his considerable energy to motorcycling. In '64, his father Jack founded Triumph of Burbank, giving the youngster access to bikes, and Hateley showed an immediate affinity for riding. At age 9, he raced at the Acton TT track. At age 14, he won the 1966 AMA District 37 100cc TT Championship.

Hateley's racing career took off quickly. His father forged a birth certificate to get him into the professional classes at age 15, and he soon began running wheel-to-wheel with the fastest racers in Southern California. Fluid and graceful on the track, Hateley is a rider who combines innate athleticism with energy and aggression.

He was the AMA West Coast Amateur Dirt Track and TT Champion in '70, and the AMA Pro Rookie of the Year in '71. That same year, he finished second at the Ascot Park Half-Mile and rode the Daytona 200 for the first time.

The Boone's Farm commercial ran in '72, just as he was hitting the national circuit. For about 10 years, he picked up movie work when he could fit it in between races.

Hateley rode for the factory Triumph-Norton team in '75. The next year, he earned points at Hangtown and rode for KTM in the Grand National Championship, making him the first rider to earn points in both AMA National Motocross and Grand National dirt-track events.

Despite being one of the fastest Pros in the country, Hateley raced at a time that lacked the high-dollar salaries and budgets enjoyed by modern racers. In the early '70s, you could campaign a $1000 motorcycle in several of the higher-level classes, and you drove yourself to the races in a van. Most racers had to work to pay the bills, often at a dealership as that allowed them access to discounted (or free) parts. Like playing major league baseball in the early days, racing was something you did "for the love of the game."

Hateley met long-time friend Gene Hartline during this time, and the two competed with a pack of vagabond riders. "We just kind of collectively appeared," Hartline said. "I did it for better than nine years. We'd do 60,000-80,000 miles a year. I wasn't anywhere near the racer that John was, but I'd make enough money to buy a tire and some gas and get down the road to get dinner at some choke-and-puke truck stop."

As the years passed by, Hateley's reputation as a professional stunt rider steadily grew. He was one of the few full-time professional riders and his versatility as a racer translated well to the film industry. He could do pretty much anything the directors suggested.

In '78, he and Hartline worked on Deathsport with David Carradine and Playboy model Claudia Jennings. The film was forgettable (Hartline dubbed it "space-age bullsh*t"), but the two learned a lot on the set.

"Deathsport was a laugh and a giggle because we really got our feet wet," Hartline said. "We rode these Yamaha 400s that were built with aluminum shields and laser blazers and rocket lights. We were jumping these things and flying over things and blowing them up. You know: B-movie stuff."

Working in the film industry appealed to Hateley. He quit racing full-time in '82. The money was good and the studios supplied bikes, clothing and expense accounts. He was in the right place at the right time, and due to his connections with stunt coordinators and his riding ability became the motorcycle stuntman of choice in the mid-'80s.

Hartline took a similar path. "We saw lots of good-lookin' chicks, we got real nice lunches and all that," he said. "The movie stuff was a kick in the ass. I was a guy that was too lazy to work and too nervous to steal. The movie business had my name all over it."

Hateley and Hartline worked in a number of movies as stuntmen and occasional extras, including 1982's Megaforce, a science-fiction flick starring Barry Bostwick and produced by lunatic director and former stuntman Hal Needham. The action centered around a band of mercenaries who tore up the desert on dirtbikes and dune buggies. Needham needed roughly 50 drivers to pull off his film, and hired a number of notable riders including "Wheelie King" Doug Domokos, stuntman and former motocross star Mike Runyard, and the legendary Bud Ekins.

The crew spent three months filming at a dry lake bed in Nevada. The film used real M48 military tanks and armored personnel carriers, and night and day scenes featured rockets, explosions and hand grenades. The stunt riders were required to wear spandex uniforms and park their machines in formation when on set.

"I've worked on a lot of war movies," Hartline said, "and Megaforce was as much like going to war as I can remember."

"There were some real crazy situations that happened during filming," Hateley said. "Hal Needham was one of the early ballsy stuntmen that would try anything and didn't care if he hurt himself or someone else." This included a night shoot that found the whole crew riding across an unexpectedly icy patch of desert after Needham bought a water truck and sprayed down the area.

When the vehicles stormed into town, lights blazing and on the gas, they slipped and spun on the ice-slicked dirt road into a massive pile-up of bikes, bodies and dune buggies. Domokos flipped over backwards into a cactus, J.N. Roberts jumped a dune buggy more than a hundred feet in the dark, and literally hundreds of hand-fired rockets filled the skies.

"These rockets would go a mile. If you were in the wrong spot, somebody would hit you in the back," Hartline said. "There was a Mormon kid from Salt Lake City who landed the job as a driver because he was friends with Donnie and Marie Osmond. He was the only one who really got banged up."

"Nobody got buried and we all got paid," Hateley summed up.

After Megaforce, Hateley continued to appear regularly on the silver screen. He performed motorcycle stunts in Raw Deal and Inner Space, and doubled Fred Ward in the Michael Nesbit-produced film Time Rider. He also worked as stunt coordinator for the latter, a natural progression in his career and one that would change his life.

While stunt coordinating Eye of the Tiger, an '86 action film in which Gary Busey goes fist-to-helmet with a motorcycle gang, Hartline hired a number of motorcycle-riding women, one of whom was artist and AMA District 37 Champion Candace Hartman. Hateley was doubling the lead baddie in the film, and the two instantly hit it off. They married soon after the film ended. The relationship with Candace changed John's life.

"John was a complete juvenile delinquent," Hartline said. "He was in more trouble on any given day than any 10 kids you grew up with. He was always blowing things up and doing all kinds of sh*t he wasn't supposed to, making everybody around him crazy."

As Hateley's family grew with the addition of two sons, he took a bit more care in the stunts he chose to do. "After I got married and had kids, and my brain started to work a little clearer, there was stuff I turned down," he said. "I had already used up my luck."

He learned to work with the stunt coordinators to reduce the risks by reducing speed or increasing clearances. He also learned to never give 100 percent on the first take. That way, when the director asked for more on a subsequent take, the rider could up the action with a reasonable degree of risk in a business that's never exactly safe.

To this day, Hateley is in demand when the job requires someone precise and professional. He's run camera bikes for 2009's Fast & Furious and for the L.A. Marathon. He really enjoys working with the wheelchair athletes-a mad group of adrenaline junkies who hit top speeds over 55 mph and try to draft him. "I get done with covering that 26-mile run and I feel like I've completed the Baja 1000," Hateley said.

He hasn't quite given up racing, either. Last fall, he raced a friend's Triumph in a round of Gene Romero's West Coast Flat Track at the L.A. County Fairgrounds half-mile. Hateley confided to Hartline that when he sat on the line with riders half his age, he wondered what he was doing out there. But when he pulled out for his first practice session, all his concerns melted away and he ran as fast and smooth as ever.

"He's a racer. If you want a definition of what that is, he's it," Hartline said. "He'll race you to the bathroom."

Hollywood John Hateley
From bum wine to big time: This Boone's Farm commercial was Hateley's breakthrough role.
Wonder if the costume Hateley wore during the filming of 2001's Bubble Boy was Snell-approved?
Stunt work has introduced Hateley to the biggest names in Hollywood, like director Steven Spielberg.
Hateley won his first amateur dirt-track championship at age 14. He entered his first professional event the next year, and at age 19 was named AMA Pro Rookie of the Year.
Hateley quit racing in 1982 to turn his attention full-time to stunt work. The money was better in Hollywood, the schedule was flexible and the work was slightly safer.
Oh boy... Hateley stunt doubled for Scott Bakula in the hit TV show Quantum Leap.
Though not nearly as well known as Evel Knievel, Hateley is an even more prolific stuntman.
Also a gifted motocross racer, Hateley put that experience to use on the Street Hawk set.
Hateley, shown here mid-corner at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1973, knew his way around a road course, too. He was drafted for the factory Triumph/Norton roadracing effort in '75.
Another from the "You want me to wear what?" file: Hateley in costume on the Batman set.
"Space-age bullsh*t" is how Hateley's stunt partner, Gene Hartline, remembers Deathsport.