My Days on Miami Vice


I just couldn&#39t get work.

I had been trying to make it as a working actor for about three years, got a few auditions, a few callbacks, but that was it. It was getting a little discouraging … that is, until I perfected something no other actor could pull off:

The gentile fro.

Sure, you have seen black men with Afros, and even Jews with Jew-fros, but a gentile? It was exactly the edge I needed when I answered a casting notice for an early-30s mulatto with an edge. I would have never pulled off that look without my new fro!

The casting was for a new cop show called Miami Vice, which was about a couple of undercover cops working narcotics in the seedy underworld of Miami. Lucky for me, I had a ton of experience to draw on since I hailed from the middle-class, white suburb of Fair Lawn, NJ.

Don Johnson had already been cast as Sonny Crocket and I was reading for the part of his partner, Raquan Smith (a black first-name with a white last-name to drive home my mulatto heritage). He was a cop with an edge, a man who didn&#39t fit in either the white or black world. He also had a strange attraction to fish; his house was literally a giant aquarium, and he was never seen with a woman.

The fro wasn&#39t enough (on its own) to pull off the half-black look, so I had to get a tan. This was before fake tanning was possible, so I had to lay on a bed of light bulbs to get the desired effect. There is nothing like a 60-watt bulb on your crotch to wake you up in the morning.

The fake tan, fro and the dashiki with the signature bolo tie made the character come to life. And of course loafers with no socks.

Don is known through history as the person who pioneered the solid T-shirt with the blazer look, along with the no socks and loafers. A little known fact is that Johnson initially was wearing Mickey Mouse socks, and when the producers forced him to take them off, it spawned the no-socks craze.

Don and I really clicked in my audition, and they called me to shoot the pilot, which featured my character infiltrating a group of Chinese triads. Amazingly, they accepted my mulatto character as an Asian opium dealer, and all was going well, until they took me to a sushi restaurant.

Despite my best efforts, the site of dead fish sent my character into a rampage and I shot three triads and ran through another with a chopstick. I was suspended and spiraled into a drinking binge, until Crockett pulled me out of it with some late-night speeding in his Ferrari, while Phil Collins’s &#39In the Air Tonight&#39 blasted. It was my suggestion to use Collins’s song; they initially wanted to use &#39Africa&#39 by Toto.

I thought it was a pretty solid episode, but, unfortunately, the network didn&#39t see it that way. They ended up replacing me with Philip Michael Thomas and changed the characters name to Ricardo Tubbs. The only thing they kept was the fro.

I could have been on one of the landmark shows of the 80s, but apparently my character was to ahead of his time. The look did get me one more audition&#39for the movie Soul Man&#39but that part ended up going to C. Thomas Howell.

Besides a guest spot on The Commish and a small part on Laugh In, my acting career was over, but I will always have that one episode of Miami Vice, which they curiously refuse to include on any of the DVDs.

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