Tom Selleck - 10 Facts About the TV Icon

Tom Selleck in JESSE STONE on getTV

If they made a Mount Rushmore of TV stars from the medium’s first 75 years, Tom Selleck would be one of the faces etched in stone. From commercials in the 1960s, to primetime guest spots in the 1970s, Magnum, P.I. in the 1980s, and Friends, Jesse Stone, and Blue Bloods ever since, Selleck has remained busy and beloved for half a century.

His mix of matinee idol looks and self-deprecating “regular guy” approachability keeps him equally popular with male and female viewers. And he’s the rare TV star who has successfully crossed over to film, with hits like 3 Men And A Baby (1987) as well as Western-themed miniseries and movies like Last Stand at Saber River (1987), Monte Walsh (2003), and more.

But it’s the long-running Magnum, P.I. and Blue Bloods for which he’s best-known and will likely be best-remembered. “This kind of success is rare; twice, it’s a gift,” Selleck told CBS This Morning in 2017. “It takes a certain amount of perseverance.”

Perseverance is an understatement. Selleck is currently starring in the ninth season of Blue Bloods and will soon begin his tenth turn as Jesse Stone, an aging cop who’s irresistible to the ladies — just like the actor who portrays him. Here are some fun facts about the ageless icon.

1. Why the Tigers hat?

Thomas Magnum wears a Tigers cap because Tom Selleck is a Detroit native. He was born in the Motor City in 1945 and lived there until age four, when his family moved to Sherman Oaks, California. Tom is the second of four children born to Martha and Robert Selleck, a homemaker and real estate agent. A picture of Selleck’s real life family sat on Thomas Magnum’s bedside table on TV.

2. He could have been a pro athlete.

In 1962, the 6'4" Selleck was awarded a basketball scholarship to the University of Southern California. Tom also played baseball and was told by Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle that he had “major league potential.” He chose to pursue performing instead, dropping out of USC to sign a contract with 20th Century Fox. But Selleck eventually got his shot as a ballplayer. In 1991, he spent three weeks as a member of the Tigers in spring training, prepping for his role in Mr. Baseball (1992).

3. He made his TV debut on a game show.   

Selleck may be famous for his mustache, but he was a clean-shaven college kid in his first TV appearance. He made his TV debut at age 20 on ABC’s The Dating Game in 1965 — and lost. He competed again two years later — and lost again! Somewhere, there are two women in their 70s wondering what they were thinking.

4. His first TV role was on a Western — with Sam Elliott.

Selleck appeared in a commercial for Safeguard (with Teri Garr) and other brands, but his first TV acting role was as an ornery barfly on the CBS Western series Lancer in January of 1969. Sam Elliott also appeared in that episode, though the two future stars didn’t have any scenes together. They reunited ten years later, this time as brothers, for the NBC miniseries The Sacketts. Selleck and Elliott also co-starred, again as brothers, in the TV movie The Shadow Riders in 1982.

5. Magnum P.I. was born on The Rockford Files.

In October of 1978 33-year-old Selleck appeared on The Rockford Files as Lance White, a handsome private investigator who’s a thorn in the side of curmudgeonly Jim Rockford (James Garner). That episode found Jim and Lance sharing an assignment for a wealthy client (Bill Quinn, best known as blind Mr. Van R. on All In The Family). Lance and Rockford teamed up again in 1979 — on an episode that featured Selleck’s future Magnum, P.I. co-star Larry Manetti! A year after that, Rockford producers Universal Television gave Selleck his own show. So, you can make a strong argument that Magnum, P.I. is an unofficial spin-off of The Rockford Files. (Garner can be seen on Bret Maverick, Sundays on getTV.)

6. Selleck almost starred in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

After an audition in 1980, Tom was offered the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark by director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas. There was only one problem: he was about to begin Magnum, P.I. “They held the offer for a month, but the more they talked to the network (CBS), the more the network said no,” Selleck told David Letterman in 2016. He got a second chance (sort of) to play Indy when Magnum P.I. did a Raiders parody episode in 1988 — complete with leather jacket, fedora, whip, and snakes!

7. He met his wife on a movie.

While filming the World War II-set film Lassiter in England in 1983, Selleck met and began courting actress and dancer Jillie Mack. The two married in 1987 — in a ceremony that was kept hidden from the press for nearly a month. Their daughter Hannah was born in 1988. (Tom also has an adopted son from a previous marriage.)

8. 1987 was a very good year for Selleck.

Selleck scored his first feature film starring role in the low-budget horror film Daughters Of Satan (1972). Just 15 years later, his comedy Three Men And A Baby (1987) was the highest grossing film of 1987 — while Magnum, P.I. was still a hit on TV!  He and costars Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg returned for the popular sequel Three Men And a Little Lady (1990).

9. Some of his scenes on Friends had to be re-shot.

Selleck focused on his film career after Magnum, P.I. ended in 1988. But he returned to TV in 1996 as Dr. Richard Burke, the much-older boyfriend of Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) on Friends. The superstar was such a hit with the live studio audiences in his ten episodes that all of his entrances had to be re-shot, due to too much cheering. Tom scored his sixth Emmy nomination for the role in 2000, with a previous win for Magnum in 1984.

10. Jesse Stone shares continuity with another iconic cop show.  

In 2005, Selleck took on the role of alcoholic police chief Jesse Stone in a series of made-for-TV movies based on the Robert B. Parker novels. The Jesse Stone stories share continuity with Parker’s Spenser novels, which were adapted for TV in the 1980s as Spenser: For Hire. Sadly, star Robert Urich died before we could see a Spenser/Jesse Stone team-up. Coincidentally, Selleck and Urich had played partners in Bunco (1977), a failed pilot for a buddy cop series. Bunco creator Jerry Ludwig also wrote for Hawaii: Five-0 and Murder, She Wrote — two shows that share continuity with Magnum.

11. Bonus! Selleck isn’t just an actor.  

Although he’s top-billed on Blue Bloods, Selleck doesn’t get the majority of screen time. And he planned it that way. Simultaneous to that show’s run, he’s been doing double duty as the star, producer, and screenwriter of the Jesse Stone TV movies. Before his death in 2010, creator Robert B. Parker wrote that Selleck “nails the character” and Emmy voters agree, nominating him for Best Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie in 2007. “I was dying to play him,” Selleck said in 2010. “(Jesse) has a lot of flaws, a lot of problems. That’s always fun for an actor. And I think it’s fun for an audience.”

The Jesse Stone movies air periodically on getTV. To find out when, visit the getTV schedule.

close