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27 Actors Who Got Their Starts on Miami Vice

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On September 28, 1984, Miami Vice made its premiere on NBC, and a new kind of cop show was born—one in which grown men weren’t afraid to pair pastel Ts with white Armani suits, music was an integral part of the storytelling, and pet alligators and sweet Ferraris were all within reach of an undercover narcotics officer. The show, which for the most part still holds up today (well, the first three seasons at least), is also famous for giving a break to dozens of then-unknown young actors who’ve since moved from the underbelly of South Beach to the top of the Hollywood A-list. Here are 27 of them. 

1. JIMMY SMITS: Season 1, Episode 1

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Before there was “Crockett and Tubbs,” there was “Crockett and Rivera.” As in Eddie Rivera, Crockett’s original—and beloved—partner, played by a then 29-year-old Jimmy Smits in his acting debut. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t make it past the pilot episode.

2. BEN STILLER: Season 4, Episode 2

Ben Stiller has made a career out of talking fast and being funny. Which is exactly what he was directed to do as a small-time con named Fast Eddie Felcher in his third-ever small-screen performance.

3. BRUCE WILLIS: Season 1, Episode 7

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Bruce Willis also owes the beginning of his small-screen career to Miami Vice, on which he played arms dealer extraordinaire Tony Amato in the show’s first season. Four months later, he was trading barbs with Cybill Shepherd as P.I. David Addison in Moonlighting, a role that earned Willis his first (and only) Golden Globe Award.

4. STEVE BUSCEMI: Season 3, Episode 7

Before he was Atlantic City’s most respected bootlegger on Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi was the middleman for a Bolivian drug lord who sort of got his ass kicked by Willie Nelson.

5. JULIA ROBERTS: Season 4, Episode 22

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Even the greatest of television series lose their way on occasion, and Miami Vice was no exception. Particularly when they went the “amnesia” route, which had Sonny Crockett believing he was in fact his undercover alter ego, Sonny Burnett, at the end of season four. Which is when Julia Roberts made an appearance as Polly Wheeler, an art gallery manager/drug dealer’s assistant with a penchant for bad boys. And Sonny is just her type.

6. CHRIS COOPER: Season 4, Episode 22

Miami Vice’s casting directors scored big with their fourth season finale, which featured not one but two Oscar winners: Julia Roberts (see above) and Chris Cooper, who landed a plum role as a crooked cop from Fort Lauderdale intent on blowing Sonny’s cover in the drug underworld. 

7. DENNIS FARINA: Season 1, Episode 6

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In 1981, the late, great Dennis Farina was an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who was hired as a consultant on Michael Mann’s Thief due to his burglary expertise. Mann saw something he liked in the guy, cast him in a small role, and Dennis Farina: The Actor was born. Throughout the character actor’s career, Mann would remain one of his biggest champions, so his appearance in Miami Vice’s debut season is not surprising (Mann was the show’s executive producer, after all). Nor is the fact that his character, gangster Albert Lombard, became somewhat of a recurring character. 

8. KYRA SEDGWICK: Season 2, Episode 10

At the height of his musical popularity in 1985, following the release of his Diamond-certified No Jacket Required album, Phil Collins stepped in front of the camera to play game show host/con man Phil “The Shill” Mayhew, who moved to Miami from London and quickly set about depleting the bank accounts of the city’s richest residents with a shady drug deal. His accomplice in this endeavor? None other than “The Closer” herself, Kyra Sedgwick, in one of her earliest on-screen appearances (she was just 20 at the time).

9. BENICIO DEL TORO: Season 3, Episode 23

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Also 20 years old at the time of his appearance, future Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro had a bit part on Miami Vice in 1987 as Pito, an ex-con-turned-thespian with a local theater group, Mi Vida Loca.

10. VIGGO MORTENSEN: Season 3, Episode 19

Two years after making his big-screen debut in Peter Weir’s Witness, Viggo Mortensen partnered up with Lou Diamond Phillips to play two junior detectives (Eddie Trumbull and Bobby Diaz, respectively) working a case with Crockett and Tubbs. But when a deal goes bad and Viggo is killed, his partner becomes convinced that Tubbs is dirty. Annette Bening also appears in the episode. The end.

11. LIAM NEESON: Season 3, Episode 1

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Being a South Florida-set show about drugs in the 1980s, the bulk of Miami Vice’s episodes surround South American drug and arms dealers. Which made its third season premiere, “When Irish Eyes Are Crying,” a bit of an anomaly (in a good way). In it, Detective Gina Calabrese (Saundra Santiago) falls for an Irish philanthropist—played by Liam Neeson—who turns out to be a former IRA member and current terrorist. Oops!

12. MICHAEL RICHARDS: Season 2, Episode 17

If you thought Michael Richards’ inflections as Cosmo Kramer were specific to his Seinfeld character, close your eyes and listen to him playing a sleazy bookie in this episode from Miami Vice’s second season. You’ll swear Jerry, George, Elaine are in the room, too.

13. STANLEY TUCCI: Season 3, Episode 9

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In season three’s “Baby Blues” episode, Stanley Tucci played Steve Demarco, the adoptive father of a smuggled baby, and all went well. So well that the show’s producers brought him back for two more episodes in season four—but this time playing an entirely different character: crime lord Frank Mosca.

14. HELENA BONHAM CARTER: Season 3, Episode 16

Aww, Sonny Crockett is in love. And with a lovely young ER doctor named Theresa Lyons, played by Helena Bonham Carter. There’s just one problem: she also happens to be a heroin addict. Which causes a bit of friction in the relationship when Sonny sets his sights on taking down the dealer who supplies her.

15. RICHARD JENKINS: Season 1, Episode 15

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“Smuggler’s Blues” is probably one of the best known episodes of Miami Vice, first because it gave Glenn Frey (a founding member of The Eagles) the chance to show off his acting chops, and also because it featured his hit song of the same name. (Apologies if you get that stuck in your head for the rest of the day.) But separate yourself from all the Frey-ness of the episode and you’ll notice future Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins as D.E.A. Agent Ed Waters. (Jenkins appears again in the show’s fifth season, this time as a sleazy bookie named Goodman.)

16. LAURENCE FISHBURNE: Season 3, Episode 4

Back when he was still going by Larry, the man who would be Morpheus played a prison guard sizing up Tubbs, who was sent to the clink undercover in order to bust up an in-house drug operation. Turns out that Larry is one of the guys behind it.

17. JOHN TURTURRO: Season 1, Episode 16

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While the men are out busting up drug deals, the ladies of Miami Vice can usually be found in hooker attire, working undercover as prostitutes. So it’s only befitting that the show would feature a few pimps in its time, John Turturro among them (in his television series debut).

18. ED O’NEILL: Season 1, Episode 2

If Miami Vice taught us one thing about undercover work, it’s that your alias should be a different last name only (Sonny’s alter ego, for example, is Sonny Burnett). In the series’ second-ever episode, Ed O’Neill starred as undercover FBI agent Artie Lawson/Artie Rollins, a man who knows his way around a semi-automatic weapon. What would Al Bundy say?

19. BILL PAXTON: Season 3, Episode 10

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If there’s one thing an undercover cop should never do, it’s fall in love with a prostitute. Which is exactly what Bill Paxton, as Vic Romano, does. Much to the dismay of a pimp named Silk, played by Wesley Snipes in yet another Miami Vice Future Star Twofer.

20. OLIVER PLATT: Season 4, Episode 14

Stealing scenes is nothing new for Oliver Platt. He’s been doing it his entire career, including in his second-ever acting gig, playing arms dealer Speed Stiles.

21. MICHAEL MADSEN: Season 1, Episode 10

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Season one offered up yet another would-be-star twofer, when Michael Madsen played tougher-than-his-name-makes-him-sound drug dealer Sally Alvarado, with Terry O’Quinn (a.k.a. John Locke from Lost) as his lawyer.

22. TELLER: Season 4, Episode 8

Penn Jillette’s partner in magic-making’s biggest claim to fame may be his tendency to remain silent, but he had plenty to say as talky defense lawyer Ralph Fisher. Fun fact: Penn, too, appeared on the series, playing a middleman for a big-time New York City drug lord in the second season.

23. JOHN LEGUIZAMO: Season 2, Episode 21

Miami Vice Wiki

The tendency of Miami Vice’s producers to recast actors they liked—as completely different characters—is fairly legendary. No actor experienced this more than John Leguizamo, who had a recurring role as the vengeful son of the Vice squad’s main target, Calderone, between 1986 and 1987. Two years later, he was back on the show, this time as Angelo Alvarez, a drug dealer in his own right.

24. VING RHAMES: Season 1, Episode 17

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Ving Rhames, too, experienced the double-casting treatment. In season one he played a Haitian immigrant named Georges. In the fourth season he was Walker Monroe, a powerful arms dealer.

25. JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS: Season 4, Episode 17

Miami Vice Wiki

Now a regular in Christopher Guest’s ensemble of comic actors, John Michael Higgins was a total unknown when he made his acting debut as Murray Phillips, a tabloid television reporter modeled on Maury Povich.

26. R. LEE ERMEY: Season 4, Episode 9


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When R. Lee Ermey tells you to jump… you run. The same year he became a household name with Full Metal Jacket, the former Marine Corps Drill Instructor made his television debut as a tough-talking—and very corrupt—homicide sergeant.

27. CHRIS ROCK: Season 4, Episode 7

Miami Vice Wiki

Funnyman Chris Rock had the misfortune to make his first television appearance in what is inarguably the single worst episode of Miami Vice ever produced. “Missing Hours,” which saw the series take a sci-fi turn for the worse, even featured a guest appearance by James Brown… as an alien. Rock plays an eager young records clerk who the squad tasks with researching UFOs and aliens.

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David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
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Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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9 Things You Might Not Know About Maurice Sendak
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Maurice Sendak's books were shaped by his own childhood: one marked by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the concentration camp deaths of most of his extended family, and parents consumed by depression and anger. When Sendak started illustrating and writing for children, he vowed that he wouldn't write stories of sunshine and rainbows, because that's not real life. In honor of what would have been his 90th birthday, here are a few other things about Maurice Sendak's real life you may not have known.

1. HE DESIGNED F.A.O. SCHWARZ'S WINDOW DISPLAYS.

Sendak and his brother visited Manhattan’s F.A.O. Schwarz in 1948 to try to get the company to purchase their handmade, fairytale-inspired wooden toys. Though the toy store declined to purchase the brothers’ work for reproduction, they were impressed with Sendak’s artistic eye and asked him if he’d be interested in a job dressing windows. He worked at F.A.O. Schwarz for three years while taking classes at the New York Art Students League.

2. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED WHERE THE WILD HORSES ARE.

The book was intended, of course, to feature fillies, foals and mares. Editor Ursula Nordstrom adored the title, finding it poetic and beautiful, but there was one problem: Sendak couldn’t draw horses. When he told his editor that the whole horse thing wasn’t going to work out, he recalls her “acid tone[d]” response: “Maurice, what can you draw?”

“Things,” he said, and "things" he drew.

Side note: Ursula Nordstrom was also the editor of a few classics like The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon and Charlotte’s Web among others. Not a bad resume.

3. THE “THINGS” SENDAK ENDED UP CREATING WERE INSPIRED BY HIS IMMIGRANT RELATIVES AND THE WAY HE VIEWED THEM AS A CHILD.

“They were unkempt; their teeth were horrifying. Hair unraveling out of their noses.” Though the monsters were modeled after his family, they weren’t named after them; in fact, the things had no names in the book. They finally received monikers when Wild Things was made into an opera. “We had to have names to tell [the actors] when they were screwing up. They had Jewish names: Moishe, Schmuel. But the names were dropped after the opera. They never had names until they became movie stars.”

4. MOST OF HIS EXTENDED FAMILY DIED IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS.

It wasn't until he was older that Sendak realized how lucky those immigrant relatives were to be alive—and how lucky he was. Most of his extended family died in concentration camps, which his father discovered the day of Sendak's bar mitzvah. He attended the happy event anyway. When unknowing guests burst into "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" when Mr. Sendak walked through the door, Maurice knew something horrible had happened by his father's expression. "My father's face was vivid, livid, and I knew I had done something very bad, that I had made him suffer more than he had to. This 13-year-old ersatz man."

5. EVEN IF WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE HADN'T BEEN SUCH A HIT, YOU PROBABLY WOULD HAVE KNOWN SENDAK’S WORK ANYWAY.

Prior to the success of his own books, Sendak illustrated the popular Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik.

6. ONE OF HIS BOOKS IS FREQUENTLY BANNED.

Though many parents and libraries initially protested that Where the Wild Things Are was too scary for children, it was his later book, In the Night Kitchen, that landed on the American Library Association’s frequently challenged and banned books list. It features a little boy named Mickey, who is nude throughout most of the story, likely because he’s dreaming. “Have you never had a dream, yourself, where you were totally naked?” he said, when Stephen Colbert asked him about the nudity. (Colbert: “No.” Sendak: “I think you’re a man of little imagination.”) Because of Mickey’s full frontal and some of his nude antics in the book (he jumps into a milk bottle, for instance, and later slides down it), critics have deemed it inappropriate for children. It was #24 on the ALA’s frequently banned books from 2000-2009.

7. HE WAS DEEPLY AFFECTED BY THE LINDBERGH BABY KIDNAPPING.

Sendak believed that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping very much affected his childhood, his work and his views on life in general. Though he was only 3.5 years old when the tragedy occurred in 1932, he says he vividly remembers the whole thing, including hearing Mrs. Lindbergh’s tearful voice pleading with the kidnappers via radio to rub camphor on her infant’s chest because she didn’t want his cold to get worse. “If that baby died, I had no chance. I was only a poor kid, okay? [When the Lindbergh baby was found dead,] I think something really fundamental died in me.”

8. SENDAK HATED EBOOKS.

Waiting for a sweet Where the Wild Things Are app for the iPad so your kids can explore the book in a new way? Don’t hold your breath. To say that Sendak disliked eBooks is an understatement: "F*** them is what I say; I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future ... they may well be. I will be dead, I won’t give a s***!”

9. HE NEVER CAME OUT TO HIS PARENTS.

Sendak never told his parents that he was gay. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in 2008. “They never, never, never knew.” His partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, passed away in 2007.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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