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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

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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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11 Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton
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Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. YOU WON'T FIND HER ON A DOLLYWOOD ROLLER COASTER.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. SHE ENTERED A DOLLY PARTON LOOK-A-LIKE CONTEST—AND LOST.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. SHE SPENT A FORTUNE TO RECREATE HER CHILDHOOD HOME.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. SHE WON'T APOLOGIZE FOR RHINESTONE.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. SHE IS MILEY CYRUS'S GODMOTHER, SORT OF.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FROM THE KU KLUX KLAN.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBT members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted, "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. TO PROMOTE LITERACY, SHE STARTED HER OWN "LIBRARY."

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. PARTON'S HOMETOWN HAS A STATUE IN HER HONOR.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. THE CLONED SHEEP DOLLY WAS NAMED AFTER PARTON.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. SHE TURNED DOWN ELVIS.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. SHE JUST EARNED TWO GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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15 Things You Didn't Know About Betty White
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Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 96th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. HER NAME IS BETTY, NOT ELIZABETH

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. SHE'S A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. HER FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE IS LOST TO HISTORY.

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Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. WHITE'S RISE TO STARDOM WAS DERAILED BY WORLD WAR II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. HER FIRST SITCOM HIT WAS IN THE EARLY 1950S.

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Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she's won five times.

6. WHITE LOVES A PARADE.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. SHE HAS BEEN MARRIED THREE TIMES.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. HER MEET-CUTE WITH HUSBAND #3 HAPPENED ON PASSWORD.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. WHITE ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BLANCHE ON THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

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Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. IF SHE HADN'T BEEN AN ACTOR, SHE'D HAVE BEEN A ZOOKEEPER.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. SHE DIDN'T DO AS GOOD AS IT GETS BECAUSE OF AN ANIMAL CRUELTY SCENE.

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White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN MADE WHITE THE OLDEST SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE HOST EVER.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. SHE IS THE OLDEST PERSON TO EARN AN EMMY NOMINATION.


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In 2014, White earned her 21st Emmy nod—and her third in a row for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program—for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. SHE LOVES JUNK FOOD.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. SHE WANTS ROBERT REDFORD.

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White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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