A BIT OF ‘VICE’ IN IOWA
In the glitzy cop world of “Miami Vice,” Michael Talbott (Det. Stanley Switek) plays second or fourth fiddle to Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. The hefty, 6-foot-2 actor appears most often in a properly pasteled Hawaiian shirt during office scenes, stake outs and humorous undercover-cop comic-relief scenes.
However, Talbott is anything but small peanuts in his home town of Waverly. The quiet burg of 8,500 residents is a far cry from the drug-infested, pimp-ridden streets of “Miami Vice,” but that doesn’t stop locals from tuning into the NBC show each week to watch their one and only celebrity citizen. Although Talbott has several small film roles to his credit, those achievements are only incidental to the adulation he now garners from “Miami Vice.”
It’s hard to think of Waverly as a “Vice"-watching town. Located 120 miles northeast of Des Moines, Waverly hosts the semi-annual Midwest Horse Sale, where more than 1,000 horses--from Clydesdales to ponies--are auctioned. It is also home to Wartburg College, which furnishes residents with cultural amenities, such as ballet, that other small Midwest towns often lack.
Other than that, not much goes on. Crime consists of occasional acts of teen-age vandalism along Bremer Avenue, Waverly’s main street. Current controversies range from a newly opened bar with dancing girls from Des Moines to a hotly debated “Weekly Devotional” column in the local newspaper.
In fact, when “Vice” first aired, Talbott visited the local NBC affiliate and offered to do a promo for the then-unknown show. They weren’t interested.
Now, ask any resident about famous Waverly-ites and the proprietary response is, “Oh, you must mean Michael,” followed by “I went to school with him,” “I don’t know him but my sister went to school with him” or “I don’t know him but he’s a real nice guy.”
The resident closest to Talbott--besides his mother, Kay, who still lives nearby--is high school teacher Lynn Montague (pronounced mawn-tag), a close family friend (and Talbott’s art-history teacher in high school).
“He comes back to town a couple of times a year, but it’s different now,” Montague said, as he sipped a beer in Friar Tuck’s Lounge, a local hangout.
“Before ‘Miami Vice’ got so popular, we used to come in here and drink beers all night and catch up. Now, somebody usually spots him at the (nearby) Waterloo airport and once he gets home, the phone never stops ringing. If we come in here, everybody expects him to buy all the drinks.
“The whole celebrity thing is so strange,” Montague mused. “When he’s doing professional stuff as an actor, I can see why he has to deal with fans, but when he comes home he should be able to be just Mike.”
The best example of Talbott’s new status occurred last winter at Junior and Jan Iverson’s Tall Corn Tavern, a homey bar/cafe, where--although the bar opens each morning at 6--more Diet Cokes than mixed drinks are consumed. A bulletin board across from the bar is covered with pictures from a surprise reception for Talbott. “Every time he comes home he always stops by,” Jan Iverson said, explaining that her husband (who was out of town that day) had once worked for Talbott’s father (the Talbotts are divorced; John Talbott now lives near Omaha).
“Well, we weren’t here when he stopped this last time, so we called Kay and asked if she would send Michael back. Then we invited about 25 friends to come over.”
She giggled, “We were afraid that he wouldn’t show up. He’d been here once; he didn’t have to come again, being a celebrity and all.”
Lynn Montague recalled, “Brian Dennehy was visiting Michael and so they both went. Well, the Iversons had invited their kids, their grandchildren, pets--everybody--and Michael was there having his picture taken and signing autographs for about three hours.”
Amusing to Montague was that Dennehy, although the bigger star by Hollywood standards, went unrecognized. “People were polite to him but they really didn’t know who he was, other than a friend of Michael’s.”
(Even Jan Iverson, in retelling the story, first referred to him as “uh, Michael’s friend.”)
The party went unreported in the Waverly Independent and Democrat, which, to date, has written only one small Talbott article.
“I was trying to arrange for an interview with him this last time he was home,” reporter Linda Moeller recalled. “But then I went out of town while he was here, so we missed it.”
Moeller added, “We’re having a state-wide Homecoming ’86 celebration this summer and we’re asking all famous Iowans to come home. Waverly’s asking Michael to come back. We’re hoping that he’ll appear in a bit part in a production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ we’re staging.
“I think he’ll do it if it doesn’t conflict with ‘Miami Vice,’ ” she speculated.
To Kay Talbott, aside from the phone calls and friends’ frequent requests for autographed pictures, “I guess the biggest change in town is that people who probably looked down on him and thought he was a devil now say he’s the greatest.
“He’s not a celebrity to me,” she added with a laugh during a telephone interview. “He’s my son. I don’t think he’s any different. He’s always been good to me.”
She remembered the day Talbott left for Hollywood. “He stood out there by the car he still has, with just a stereo and his clothes. He promised me, ‘Mom, someday I’ll make it good and be on the Johnny Carson show,’ and, by George, if he didn’t go and do that very thing.”
Talbott flew his mother to Miami recently for a firsthand look at “Vice.”
“I was treated like a queen,” she enthused. “Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) was so nice!” So was Don Johnson, she hastened to add, “but Tubbs had pictures taken with me and everything.”
The superstar of Waverly chuckled about his newly revised home-town status during a phone interview.
“I’ll be digging out the sewer pipe or mowing the lawn in front of our farm and people will stop and ask me for autographs,” he said. “I don’t consider myself famous, but I can understand where they’re coming from.”
Talbott, however, recalled being more upset than pleased by the Iversons’ surprise party. “I was embarrassed for Brian (Dennehy, a longtime friend). This is my home. I like to come home and blend in and not be anybody. I wanted Brian to see the people here as they were--not all star-struck.”
The actor wasn’t sure whether he could return for the Homecoming celebration; however, he has agreed to be the commencement speaker at Waterloo high school’s graduation ceremonies this May.
“I wasn’t a great student in high school,” he admitted, “but I plan to tell them that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”