If you ever wore a felt-tip pen around your neck, wished the letter magnets on your refrigerator would rearrange themselves, or longed to bust the corner bodega for selling bogus videotapes, then surely you were a fan of PBS’s early ’90s series Ghostwriter. For those who missed out, Ghostwriter was an educational TV show about a group of multicultural middle school kids who solved mysteries with the aid of a friendly ghost (who had a penchant for words), set against the vaguely gritty backdrop of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. What wasn’t so obvious to us back then was the impressive array of celebrity cameos peppered throughout the series — such as a Samuel L. Jackson playing Ghostwriter Team member Jamal Jenkins’ father. Word! Check out the surprising array of stars featured in Ghostwriter episodes below.
Samuel L. Jackson as Jamal Jenkins’ father Episode: “Ghost Story” (1992)
Believe it or not, the very first lines in the pilot episode of Ghostwriter were spoken by none other than the Bad Motherfucker himself, Samuel L. Jackson. While searching for a trunk to pack up his college-bound sister, Jamal stumbles upon Ghostwriter for the first time, but since Real Adults can’t see Ghostwriter, Jackson isn’t privy. Shaft didn’t stick with the show for long, and another actor replaced him in later episodes, but if this isn’t a running start for a series, we don’t know what is.
Spike Lee as Special Agent Pete of Cosmic Comics Episode: “Into the Comics” (1992)
The team is on a mission to win a Cosmic Comics scavenger hunt, but their every turn is thwarted by a creepy adult named “Stoop Dude,” who lives in his aunt’s basement and speaks not unlike a crackhead. The voice of reason (besides Ghostwriter, of course) is played by Spike Lee, who appears in this episode as the contest’s ambassador, Special Agent Pete. Check him out at 3:40, accepting the “Cosmic Cluebook” from Tina Nguyen.
David Patrick Kelly as Double-T, a homeless poet Episode: “Into the Light” (1992)
While he’s not as well-known as some of the other celebs we’ll mention here, anyone who’s seen the 1979 classic The Warriors remembers a certain maniacal refrain: “Waaaaaarriors! Come out and PLAAAAYI-YAYYY!” That line was uttered by none other than David Patrick Kelly, who went on to play parts in The Crow and multiple Law and Order episodes. Back then we knew him as Double-T, a kindhearted, homeless Vietnam vet who bonds with team member Rob Baker over poetry. Idealistic? Sure, but this is also a TV show where two kids get stuck in an abandoned subway tunnel and are actually rescued. Check out Rob and Double T’s first “moment” at 8:05.
Judge Reinhold as Brad Pierce, a washed-up actor and Daisy Fuentes as TV star Galaxy Girl Episode: “Am I Blue?” (1993)
When Gaby’s favorite TV show, Galaxy Girl, films in Brooklyn, she “borrows” money, which she intends to return, from her parents’ bodega to buy a Galaxy Girl costume. Of course, her plan goes terribly wrong, and on top of that, Galaxy Girl’s mascot spaceship disappears, putting the team on the case. Judge Reinhold plays suspect and former star of Galaxy Girl, Brad Pierce, and you can watch him grovel for his old job at 7:38 in the first clip. In the second clip (at 5:45), former MTV It-girl VJ Daisy Fuentes makes an appearance as Galaxy Girl herself, complete with giant “G” earrings and major eyeshadow. Oh, the ’90s.
Bo Jackson as Joseph, art gallery security guard Episode: “Get the Message” (1993)
When an art thief causes a traffic accident and Tina accidentally catches the culprit on film, the team sets out to solve the case. Jamal visits the shanked art gallery and meets Joseph, an intimidating security guard, played by Bo Jackson. Joseph chased the art thief, so Jamal hopes he’ll get some new information from him, but the art gallery owner admits that Joseph accidentally let him get away. Unfortunately, in this case, Bo did not know who stole the painting, but, as demonstrated at 2:07, “Joe knows crashes.”
Julia Stiles as Erica, a pre-teen computer hacker at Hurston Middle School Episode: “Who is Max Mouse?” (1994)
This clip made the rounds on xkcd a while ago, but it’s worth another visit. Someone at the team’s middle school is wreaking havoc via the computer network under the handle of “Max Mouse,” setting off fire alarms, displaying scary messages on the computer lab screens, and changing grades. Of course, the Ghostwriter Team is determined to track down the troublemaker — and teach viewers about the Internet circa 1994. As you might imagine, this leads to some downright hilarious techie lingo, the most amusing of which is uttered by fellow student and suspect Erica (played by a then-unknown Julia Stiles), who seems to dig computers a little too much. Tina gets schooled in the clip above.
Robin Leach as Marlon Campbell, record executive; Salt-n-Pepa; Dr. Dre and Ed Lover Episode: “Don’t Stop the Music” (1994)
Starting to get the feeling that someone over at MTV dug this show? Yeah, we are too. Lenni is discovered by record executive Jade Morgan of Smash Records and is asked to record both a single and a video for an MTV new artist showcase. At 1:15 in the clip above, we meet sleazy, fast-talking Marlon Campbell of In Your Face Records, played by Robin Leach of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, who is determined to steal Lenni away. After she’s sweet-talked by Marlon Campbell, Lenni goes to Smash Records and bumps into Salt-n-Pepa on their way out (see 3:40). Big day, huh?
Before the end of “Don’t Stop the Music,” we also catch a glimpse of Dr. Dre and Ed Lover (as themselves, naturally) at Lenni’s MTV music video premiere party. We can’t say this is Dre’s best rhyme, but the cameo is pretty awesome in itself: