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20 Fashionable Facts About Miami Vice

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NBC

Though its extra-large “car phones” and pastel-hued costuming decisions might seem laughable to some today, Miami Vice’s impact went far beyond the small screen. From music to travel to fashion to facial hair, no corner of American culture was left untouched by the huge presence of officers Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Throw an Armani jacket over that pink T-shirt and let’s revisit one of TV’s most groundbreaking crime series.

1. “MTV COPS” WAS THE MAIN CONCEIT OF THE SERIES.

There have been differing opinions as to who came up with the idea of “MTV Cops” as a summary for what Miami Vice should be. While many sources claim that it was Brandon Tartikoff who scribbled down the two-word idea as a brainstorming memo, show creator Anthony Yerkovich has maintained that he spent years developing the idea that would become Miami Vice. “I thought of [Miami] as a sort of a modern-day American Casablanca,” Yerkovich told TIME in 1985. “It seemed to be an interesting socioeconomic tide pool: the incredible number of refugees from Central America and Cuba, the already extensive Cuban-American community, and on top of all that the drug trade.”

Regardless of whether you believe the story about the Tartikoff memo, there’s no denying that Miami Vice did become a cop show for the MTV generation. “The show is written for an MTV audience, which is more interested in images, emotions, and energy than plot and character and words,” said Lee Katzin, who directed two episodes of the show’s first season.

2. SONNY CROCKETT WASN'T THE FIRST SONNY CROCKETT.

Prior to Miami Vice, Yerkovich was a writer and producer on Hill Street Blues. In 1983, a year before Miami Vice’s premiere, actor Dennis Burkley appeared in four episodes of Hill Street Blues, playing a racist biker named “Sonny Crockett.”

3. NICK NOLTE AND JEFF BRIDGES WERE APPROACHED TO PLAY CROCKETT.

Producers showed interest in both Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte for the role of Crockett; both passed, reportedly to focus on their film careers. Gary Cole—who played a smuggler in season two’s “Trust Fund Pirates”—also auditioned for the role of Crockett.

4. THE NETWORK DIDN’T WANT DON JOHNSON.

Though the casting conversation kept coming back to Don Johnson for the role of Sonny Crockett, the network was against casting him, deeming him pilot poison. “I had made five pilots for Brandon Tartikoff back then, and none of them were picked up,” Johnson told Rolling Stone.

5. CHIPS’ LARRY WILCOX WAS JOHNSON’S BIGGEST COMPETITION.

Ultimately, the Crockett role came down to two actors: Don Johnson and Larry Wilcox, who played “Jon” on CHiPs for five years. In 2011, on his official fan site, Wilcox recounted how it all went down:

“Michael Mann asked me to read for this series called Miami Vice. He asked if I would grease my hair back and have stubble and moustache and be a hard ass. I said sure ... My agent told me they had read tons of actors and could not find the right guy. They had read even Don Johnson originally according to my sources.

When Universal saw my screen test they went crazy, saying that I was one of the finest and most intense actors they had ever seen in a screen test and told my agent, David Shapira, that I should have been a screen star with that intensity. I wallowed in the ego of those statements and of course … agreed.

Then they said that, ‘We need you to read with other actors to see if we can find someone that will be good with you.’ I read with many actors and did stunts and fight scenes and all kinds of crap for Michael Mann and the writer. Later I found out that the writer of the original series pilot did not want me and was perhaps just using me to read other actors. I went and read for NBC for the final decision and Brandon Tartikoff, the esteemed president of NBC, said in his book, that ‘Larry Wilcox was the choice for Miami Vice.’

On the day before Christmas, after helping them (Universal and Michael Mann) to find an actor, taking hits to my face in fight scenes, and all of the other such tests … I was informed that it was all bullsh*t and they were not going to use me and in fact were going to use Don Johnson. It was a cold blow and a manipulative blow the day before Christmas and I was upset and dejected. I wondered about all the compliments and all the hoopla and the lies or truth of it all. I still do not know what happened but it could have been the writer, it could have been an agent pulling a move with other actors in some other production if they would take Don Johnson on Miami Vice, or it could have been Don was just great. In retrospect, I think they made the right choice!”

6. CROCKETT’S BELOVED FERRARI WAS ACTUALLY A CORVETTE.

By DougW at English Wikipedia - Transferred fromen.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain

Like his cutting-edge fashion choices, Crockett was immediately associated with his beloved Ferrari. In the series’ earliest episodes, he drives a Ferrari Daytona; in actuality, his Ferrari was a custom-built 1980 Corvette. Unhappy that the series was using an imposter, Ferrari filed a lawsuit against the show’s creators. Ultimately, both parties came to an agreement whereby the car-maker would supply the series with two brand-new Ferrari Testarossas—but only if the old “Ferrari” was destroyed on the show. (It was.)

7. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE SHOWS ON TELEVISION AT THE TIME.

Given the show’s commitment to authenticity, by shooting in Miami—not to mention its music licensing rights—Miami Vice was one of the most expensive shows of its decade, with an average cost of about $1.3 million per episode.

8. A TRIP TO A PAINT STORE INSPIRED THE SHOW’S PASTEL COLORS.

In discussing the genesis of Miami Vice’s pastel-heavy costuming and production design, executive producer Michael Mann explained that it was the result of two things: a vacation he had taken to South Beach several years before the show’s debut, and a couple of color chips he found at the paint store. "I was playing around with them and I realized: three colors become thematic, two colors don't," Mann told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "Three colors, you can actually start telling a chromatic story. You can create a mood with three colors."

9. JAN HAMMER’S THEME SONG SET A RECORD.

Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” became a huge radio hit, going all the way to number one on the Billboard chart, and remaining there for 12 weeks—a record for a television theme song.

10. THE SHOW BOOSTED MIAMI’S TOURISM.

When Miami Vice premiered, Miami and Miami Beach were not the destinations people flock to today; the blighted backgrounds seen in the show are 100 percent authentic. In 1984, the same year the show premiered, Miami was dubbed America’s “Murder Capital.” But the series played an essential part in rehabbing the city’s infrastructure, and its reputation.

“When we were there, it was all retirement apartments that were dilapidated and rundown,” Johnson told Rolling Stone. “We painted the facades of virtually every building up and down Collins Avenue and Ocean Avenue to match the color palettes that we had for the show.” The show’s popularity led to a huge influx of tourists (many of them European), and as a result, improvements to the area’s hotels, restaurants, and other visitor attractions—a phenomenon that’s often referred to as “The Vice Effect.”

11. “THE VICE EFFECT” LED TO PROTECTION FOR THE CITY’S ART DECO BUILDINGS.

Miami Vice’s pastel-leaning design mandate included what audiences saw in the background. In order to help achieve this (Mann had declared that “no earth tones” were to be visible), the show’s production team was often tasked with prettying up the historic buildings that would be seen in the background of a shot, which meant that boring beige tones could be reworked in shades of pink, blue, and beyond. Seeing the opportunity for a powerful ally in their quest for recognition and protection of the hundreds of historic Art Deco buildings that lined the beach, the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) was able to work in concert with the show’s producers to make South Beach pretty again. “Miami Vice helped politically, economically and artistically,” MDPL co-founder Michael Kinerk said. “I have absolutely no doubt. It certainly put the Art Deco district on the world map.” Mann even ended up sponsoring one of the first editions of Art Deco Weekend, an annual event that continues to this day.

12. IT WAS A BOON TO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.

One thing that made Miami Vice so groundbreaking was its use of popular music, and its ability to popularize music. Many of the day’s best-known musicians lent their tunes (and sometimes their acting chops) to the series. The show’s high budget was made even higher with the $10,000 that was allotted for music rights for each episode—an amount that allowed them to showcase music from The Rolling Stones, U2, Eric Clapton, and The Who. For the record labels, it was also a surefire way to see a boost in sales. The series even packaged some of these songs into a number of official series soundtracks.

13. THE SHOW KICKSTARTED SOME SERIOUS MEN’S FASHION TRENDS.

NBC Television/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s impossible to think of Miami Vice without picturing Crockett’s iconic T-shirt-with-an-Armani-jacket look. A 1985 TIME cover story talked about the series’ impact on the fashion industry:

“‘The show has taken Italian men’s fashion and spread it to mass America,’ says Kal Ruttenstein, a senior vice president of Bloomingdale’s. ‘Sales of unconstructed blazers, shiny fabric jackets, and lighter colors have gone up noticeably.’ After Six formal wear is bringing out a Miami Vice line of dinner jackets next spring, Kenneth Cole will introduce ‘Crockett’ and ‘Tubbs’ shoes, and Macy’s has opened a Miami Vice section in its young men’s department. TV cops have never been so glamorous. Says Olivia Brown-Williamson, who plays Undercover Detective Trudy Joplin on the show: ‘Who wanted to look like Kojak?’”

14. CROCKETT’S STUBBLE HAD A NARRATIVE PURPOSE.

While it was important that Crockett and Tubbs be fashion-forward, Johnson also made some tweaks to his outfits to deal with the logistics of playing a Miami cop. “It was the eighties, man,” Johnson said. “It was all about what it looked like. I took what was handed to me and I turned it into my style. The rolled-up sleeves were a function of the fact that I had to have a jacket to cover the gun and the holster. I just stripped everything down to the bare minimum. I didn't wear socks because it was too hot to wear damn socks. And the stubble was born out of the character, because it was intimated that he had been up partying with drug dealers for two or three days at a time. That was sort of an unspoken thing, which is why he was always unshaven and looked like he slept in his clothes.”

To maintain Crockett’s five-o-clock shadow, "I shave with a sideburn trimmer," Johnson told People. Fans of the show—and its facial hair—had an even more appropriate option: the Miami Device, which was named for the series … until its manufacturer worried that they might be sued, and changed it to the Stubble Device. In either case, no one was buying it; the trimmer was quickly discontinued.

15. MIAMI VICE HELPED TO QUADRUPLE SALES OF RAY-BAN WAYFARERS.

By 1983, Ray-Ban was on the brink of collapse, until Tom Cruise donned a pair of their Wayfarers in Risky Business, making them the shades to own in the '80s. While Risky Business helped the brand sell 360,000 pairs of the sunglasses in 1983, Miami Vice—and Johnson in particular—helped to push that total up to 1.5 million by 1986.

16. PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS MAY HAVE INVENTED THE WHOLE “EGOT” THING.

Though he always claimed that it stood for Energy, Growth, Opportunity, and Talent, many others swore that the “EGOT” necklace Thomas wore around his neck was a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of the awards he hoped to claim: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Thomas has yet to be nominated for any of those accolades (though he did score a Golden Globe nomination, for Miami Vice, in 1986).

17. JOHNSON TRIED TO LEAVE AFTER THE SECOND SEASON.

By the end of season two, Johnson’s contract was up—and he was ready to bolt. When filming resumed on the show and Johnson had still not negotiated a new contract, he was a no-show on the set. “We’re shooting around him for now,” an anonymous network executive said at the time. “But it’s costing $50,000 a day to shoot without him, and we’re not going to let him drag the show down with him.” So the network came up with a plan: they tapped Mark Harmon to take over for Johnson. Eventually, both sides came to an agreement—one that made Johnson one of the highest paid actors of the 1980s.

18. THOMAS LIKED THAT JOHNSON WAS THE MORE POPULAR ACTOR.

Though reports of onset rivalries plagued the series, both Johnson and Thomas vehemently denied it. While Thomas admitted that the two didn’t socialize much outside of their workdays, he told People that, "I like Don a lot. We have a good time." He went on to explain why Johnson’s overshadowing popularity was a good thing: "I liked that Don was getting the publicity. I wanted the mystique. The bigger he got, the bigger we got."

19. DALLAS WAS PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS CANCELLATION.

By the time Miami Vice’s third season rolled around, the show was shifted from the 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday time slot, which pitted it against ratings juggernaut Dallas. For many insiders, this contributed to the show’s decline in popularity. On March 21, 1987, TV Guide ran a cover story titled, “Dallas Drubs the Cops: Why Miami Vice Seems to be Slipping.”

20. THOMAS WAS "MISS CLEO" BEFORE "MISS CLEO."

A few years after Miami Vice's finale, Thomas signed an agreement to become the spokesperson for the Psychic Readers' Network, where he promised that "together with the world's most powerful and influential psychics," The Philip Michael Thomas International Psychic Network could help callers live their best lives. Too bad he couldn't have predicted that he'd end up suing the company for violating his contract, and would spend the next several years arguing his case in court. In 2002, Thomas was awarded $2.3 million. In the meantime, the company brought in "Miss Cleo" to replace the former Miami Vice star. 

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
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Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

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