Playing either side of the law – cops, thugs, mobsters and government officials – is familiar territory to Mike, who has appeared in The Natural, Goodfellas, Mad Dog and Glory, Billy Bathgate, The Bodyguard, Millers Crossing, Dumb and Dumber and Summer of Sam. He is also proud of his television roles in Ed, The West Wing and especially the A&E original movies Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question with Gene Wilder. His complete list of credits is far too lengthy to list, and though Mike may not be a household name, his face is familiar to anyone versed in pop culture.
At 6’3″ Mike is known to play a consistent “type” on stage and screen, but he was certainly a Renaissance man on the Hofstra campus. Growing up in Flushing, New York, Mike was persuaded to attend Hofstra by his brother Bill (Beau) Starr ’67, ’69, a student-athlete who later played professional football and then – like his younger brother – went into acting. In fact, the brothers shared the screen in Born on the Fourth of July, the Academy Award-winning film based on the life of Ron Kovic, with whom Mike was friendly at Hofstra.
As a Hofstra student, Mike said, “I majored in drama literature and minored in communications. I was very active in the Anthropology Department and was a student senator.”
Upon entering the University, Mike became very active in both football and the Drama Department. “My brother was on the Jets and introduced me to [Al] Tank Passuello ’63, who became my ‘godfather,’ and Jim Fellman ’58, ’81, who I called my ‘rabbi.'” With Howdy Myers at the helm of the team and Harry Royle as the defensive line coach, Mike recalls, “It was a big thrill to play. I made the traveling team and got to start a few games.”
Mike particularly remembers a game in which he was ballman on the suicide squad of a big upset game against C.W. Post. Harry Royle, now director of athletic development at Hofstra, heard Mike on a pay phone prior to the game: “He was so excited. I remember hearing him yell, ‘Mom! Get the family down here to Hofstra for the game tomorrow! I’m starting on the kick-off squad!’ Mike was a terrific guy, dearly loved by his fellow players.”
When it came to his scholarly pursuits, Mike said, “Miriam Tulin [of the Drama Department] was my mentor and teacher. I’d go to her and ask advice anytime I was stuck on how to play a role.”
Almost as much as drama, the Department of Anthropology had an enormous impact on Mike and helped prepare him for the many roles he has since been called on to play. “I was a student aide and peer teacher in anthropology and taught a class on theater and film and its relationship to culture. One of my professors [then chair of the department], Gerry Rosenfeld, was a basketball player from the Lower East Side. He taught me to see the world, film and theater in a completely different way. To this day when I’m playing a character from a different culture, I remember the lessons I learned from Gerry.”
“Kathleen Holter from Financial Aid, who worked with a lot of members of the Football team. She was helpful to so many students. I know a lot of people with great stories about Mrs. Holter.”
“Ray Kennedy from Anthropology, who dissected every line of the song ‘American Pie’ in class.”
“Jeff Doolittle and Bob Gutowski [’70, former president of Madison Square Garden] who were so kind to me.”
“A night student, Miriam Krinsky, who came to see me in many of my shows.”
“Jim Van Wart from the Drama Department.”
“Bobby Rullan, a lacrosse and football player who was a good friend.”
“Karla Tamburelli [’75]. We were friends in school and she played my wife in the short-lived TV series, Hardball.”
Of the time he spent on the Hofstra stage, Mike’s fondest memories are of performing in The Crucible, directed by Dr. Richard Mason and starring Brian Rose ’72 [now a professor of performing arts at Adelphi University]; his leading role in the musical Fiorello; and Three Penny Opera, in which he performed with actor Robert Davi; Chris Albrecht ’74, who is now chairman and CEO of HBO; and Lou Berger ’72, head writer for Sesame Street and nine-time Emmy Award winner.
When The Gray Wig, Hofstra’s alumni theater company, began in 1974, Mike again took the stage in the group’s inaugural production, Guys and Dolls.
Fellow cast member and friend Jim Fellman, retired vice president for operations at Hofstra and the Honey and Arthur Sorin Distinguished Teaching Fellow, remarked, “I first met Mike when he was a student senator during some very turbulent times at the end of the Vietnam War. We played together with Al Passuello in Guys and Dolls. Mike played the role of Benny Southstreet, if my memory serves me well.
“Mike always impressed me as a very bright and generous fellow, with a fabulous sense of humor. Over the years – although we didn’t see much of one another – when we did it was as if no time had passed in the interim. I cannot express the warmth and depth of my feelings about him.”
Mike has been married since 1975 to Joanne, a Starr and star in her own right as director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery for Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. They have three children and were most recently on the Hofstra campus on May 21, 2006, to see their daughter Nicole receive a master’s degree in speech pathology.
The Odd Couple played its last performance at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on June 4, but there are certainly more rave reviews ahead for Mike. Look for him next in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia with Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett and the independent film Ossa Buco with actress Illeana Douglas.