Creative Minds: Mitch Glazer talks ‘Magic City’ and 1950s Miami

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Screenwriter Mitch Glazer brings his Miami-based gangster vision to TV in the new Starz period drama “Magic City” — and yes, he’s ready to defend it against that other period drama that just made its comeback.

Have you become a pro at fielding “Mad Men” comparisons?


Not in any smart comeback sort of way. But in a general sort of way, yeah. I kind of expected it. I started out as a journalist—I used to write for Rolling Stone, Esquire and Vanity Fair back in the day—so I remember you kind of go in, not with a story, but at least an attack on a story or an idea of one. So I kind of expect the “Mad Men” questions.

The answer that always comes to mind is that I was born and raised in Miami Beach, grew up in these hotels. I’ve been carrying around stories my whole life of this period, which as a kid, to me, felt really glamorous and exotic and cool and worth writing about. I had already been writing versions of it for years.... And I had actually pitched it, sold it and wrote it [for CBS] before “Mad Men”...

I went into the room at CBS with Nina Tassler and midway through the pitch—'It’s mid 1959 in Miami Beach…' — she said, “Where did you go to high school?” and I said, “Beach High,” and she said, “I went to Gables,” which is an arch-enemy. And she said, “Let’s just do this.” It was like a high school thing.

A premium channel like Starz must be a better platform in terms of telling the sort of darker stories you need to for this series?

CBS was really nice to me and generous in letting it go to Starz. It’s not a procedural, it’s not a franchise. It needs to be allowed to do the sexuality and violence and the things that were part of Miami Beach in the 1959. And, truthfully, it suits premium cable completely.

You mention these were the stories you sort of witnessed growing up. How did you approach writing them as an adult?

As a kid — I’d hear a story … literally, I’m in my friend’s bedroom and we’re in seventh grade; the older brother comes in and just starts packing. “I was at the Algiers Hotel and this girl picked me up for the weekend and it turns out she’s Trigger Mike Coppola’s wife and I spent the weekend with her and I’m going to the Catskills!” I remember my friend said, “Who’s Trigger Mike Coppola?” His older brother said, “Who cares? His name is Trigger Mike Coppola! I’m leaving!”

As those stories are happening, as a budding journalist, I was kind of scrolling them away for the time when I could research and write about the period. And then, besides the whole Sinatra-Rat Pack kind of cool era of it, I started doing research over the last 20 years of what was happening in the lobbies of those hotels in that time — ’59, ’60, ’61, the Kennedy period — and it’s incredible. There’s wiretaps — tapes they’ve made public now — where the CIA gives Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli $300,000 and poison powder to kill [Fidel] Castro in the Boom Boom Room in the Fontainebleau Hotel.

So there’s this great CIA-mob-Cuba thing that was actually happening at the time; the very first civil rights marches in the country were in 1959 in Miami.... All that is going to be reflected.

What do you hope this portrait does for the city?

The thing that’s really cool for me about Miami Beach is you have this dichotomy between sunlight and family and happiness and innocence and then at night, darker, stranger mob conspiracy stuff sort of comes out. It seems like a storytelling engine. You can just keep writing about how those two worlds smash into each other.

Will [“Magic City” star] Jeffrey Dean Morgan give Jon Hamm a run for his money?

I know Jon, and I love him. We met because he worked as a waiter at my house like two years before-- yeah, it’s completely random. And, of course, my wife and daughter were in the back room while he was making drinks, just gawking at him.... But again, comparisons are weird. I met Jeff, and he’s such a man, and there’s a depth to him and a complexity to him. And Jon has those same things, but Jeff has a real soulfulness to go with the great looks.


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-- Yvonne Villarreal