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From 'Vice' to 'Sweet Hearts' : TV's Favorite Miami Cop Picks a Sensitive Movie Role

September 21, 1988|NINA J. EASTON | Times Staff Writer

"Miami Vice" star Don Johnson has kept the photographer waiting long enough. He finally descends from the top floor of his Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow and slips into a brocaded armchair, his shirt open to the waist.

He has a few ideas of his own about how this photo session should proceed. "What lens are you using?" he demands. Then, a bit later, refusing a pose: "This is not a flattering angle. I've been in this business a long time, and I can usually tell what looks good."

Minutes into the session, Johnson declares that he's had enough and walks out. Just like that, the session is over. "These pictures always look lousy in the newspaper anyways," he calls over his shoulder as he moves back up the steps.

Welcome to the tempestuous world of Don Johnson, where cool telegenic charm can disappear into a black hole of celebrity hauteur faster than a speedboat in the Miami night. Johnson's temper is already legendary in the Florida city that loaned its name to his stylish cop series. He stormed out of Miami last year after publicly blasting its press and city leaders. Both, he told USA Today last year, were guilty of "maligning" and "misusing" "Miami Vice" and its stars--even though, he added, the show had boosted tourism to Miami by "12 to 15%."

Johnson said in the same interview that he decided to sell his $1.4-million Star Island estate and move back to Los Angeles after learning about the Miami Herald's "tabloid-esque" tactics in uncovering Gary Hart's entanglement with model Donna Rice. (That comment prompted the Herald to print a tongue-in-cheek response, acknowledging that the paper's editors had erred grievously by not checking with Johnson first before running such an important story.)

Johnson's furor with Miami--and its local press--had been mounting for some time. Not content to stop at dutifully reprinting Johnson's favorite dessert recipe (pistachio souffle) or his taste in women (he prefers a sense of humor), the Herald provided extensive coverage of his life in Miami.

There was the time, for example, that police officials canceled an 82 m.p.h. speeding ticket--until the paper got wind of the story. And another time when the paper printed the whereabouts of Johnson's estate, prompting the actor to file a $2-million invasion-of-privacy suit against the broker who had leaked the news. The suit was later settled out of court.

There's not a lot of love lost between Miami and Don Johnson, but then maybe it doesn't matter much anymore. Johnson has confided to associates that he would not be heartbroken if this was the last season for "Miami Vice"--which has dropped from the ninth most popular show during its second season to No. 45 last season. As the series begins its fifth season, which debuts Nov. 4, Miami may not have Don Johnson to kick around any more.

Johnson is already turning some of his attention to feature films. On Friday, theater audiences will be treated to the first movie he has made since "Miami Vice" rocketed this son of a Kansas farmer and his beautician wife to fame after a decade-long struggle up the show-business ladder.

In "Sweet Hearts Dance," released by Tri-Star, Johnson stars alongside two Hollywood veterans--Susan Sarandon and Jeff Daniels--and the rising young star Elizabeth Perkins. He plays Wiley Boon, a carpenter in a small New England town who gets more fulfillment out of climbing gymnasium ropes with his high school buddy (Daniels) than going home to his longtime wife and high school sweetheart (Sarandon). It's an examination of the Peter Pan principle that allegedly afflicts so many thirtysomething men.

Johnson's reputation for sometimes being difficult and demanding on the set didn't stop director Robert Greenwald from hiring the TV actor for "Sweet Hearts Dance." In fact, Greenwald says he liked the edge that Johnson's personality could bring to his character.

"He is as emotional and moody and funny and smart as Wiley Boon is," Greenwald says of Johnson. "I will never, as long as I live, say that he's easy. But he is good."

Johnson was the first choice for Greenwald, who had experience turning the star of a TV series into a respected film actor: He was the director who hired Farrah Fawcett to play a battered wife in the acclaimed TV movie "The Burning Bed."

Johnson is as angry at the press these days as he is at Miami. "Even venerable newspapers are engaging in that journalistic scandal sheet kind of crap," he says. But he is anxious to publicize his movie, so he recently asked reporters for interviews at his Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow.

He says he won't talk about his relationship with Barbra Streisand, and accuses any reporter who mentions her name of "tabloid-esque" tactics. (It turns out Johnson was saving his Streisand comments for a cover story in US magazine, in which he hints at marriage. And, listen for Streisand's voice on Johnson's upcoming album, due out later this year.)

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