By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mitch Glazer once worked as a cabana boy in a Miami Beach hotel, his dad was an electrical engineer at the city's grand hotels in the late 1950s, and he grew up listening to stories of the glamorous, and dubious, exploits of staff and clientele.
Now Glazer has recreated that era in "Magic City", premiering on Friday on cable TV channel Starz, in the latest drama series set in the United States on the cusp of an era of social and political upheaval.
"Magic City" opens on New Year's Eve 1958 at the luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel in Miami Beach where Frank Sinatra has been booked to see the old year out and where the mob, the CIA and sultry female escorts all hold court under the watchful but nervous eye of ambitious owner Ike Evans.
Ninety miles away in Cuba, Fidel Castro's rebels are closing in on Havana, and at home in Miami Beach, Ike's world threatens to implode because of an unwise pact with one of the most dangerous criminals in town.
Glazer calls "Magic City" a passion project he first began writing in 2007 - before advertising drama "Mad Men" cast its spell over Americans and made the early 1960s fashionable in pop culture once again.
"As far as the shows being comparable, they're really not, other than the year. 'Magic City' is set in an ethnic, Jewish-Cuban world, a tourist town. I worked as a cabana boy at the Deauville Hotel. It's not like I looked around and thought 'What's a cool era to write about?' This is my home and this was the time for me," Glazer said.
Glazer said hotels like the fictional Miramar Playa were the center of social life when he was growing up in Miami Beach and the place where local kids liked to sneak into, even if they were quickly throw out.
BASED ON REAL EXPERIENCES
"Magic City" stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Ike Evans, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as a former showgirl who is married to Evans, and Danny Huston as mob boss Ben 'The Butcher' Diamond.
Evans's cool, honorable facade begins to fall apart as he tries to conjure new ways of keeping his dream hotel afloat financially while navigating the sleazier sides of the city and his family's secret lives.
Many of the incidents that Glazer relates in the series "are based on stories that happened, that I saw, or older brothers and sisters or my parents told me."
Shot in Miami Beach and using many of the city's iconic 1950s era buildings, it has already been renewed for a second season in a sign of faith from Starz.
"Magic City" is the first TV venture for Glazer, who is better known as the screenwriter of independent movies like "The Recruit" and "Passion Play," which he also directed.
Glazer first envisioned "Magic City" as a feature film, but said he quickly realized he had more story to tell than would fit in a 90-minute movie.
An initial deal with a U.S. network foundered because of the constraints of a one-hour format. "Magic City" eventually found its way to premium cable network Starz.
Glazer had met Starz' chief executive Chris Albrecht on a research trip to Havana before Albrecht gained his current post, and the pair learned they both shared a love of 1950s design.
Glazer said he knew his idea for a sophisticated, one-hour TV drama likely had its best shot on cable TV where many dramas have moved in recent years as broadcast networks began to favor reality TV and comedies.
"I don't think it's an accident that (movie directors) Gus Van Sant, Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese ... are being attracted to premium cable. It's a great place to tell stories," Glazer said.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)