Happy 35th Anniversary, 'Magnum, P.I.': 20 Things You Didn't Know About the Classic Tom Selleck Drama

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From the car to the theme song to the Hawaiian shirts to the Tigers cap to the mustache, the most glorious mustache in all of primetime TV history… There is much to love about Magnum, P.I., the beloved CBS drama that debuted 35 years ago this week and gave us so many gifts that keep on giving — namely star Tom Selleck, and those aforementioned lip whiskers. Here are 20 things you should know to celebrate Magnum’s anniversary… eh, make it 21: The Magnum, P.I. theme was written by TV theme song guru Mike Post, who was a classmate of Selleck’s at Grant High in Van Nuys, California. And now, 20 more:

1. The Mustache Is A Star in its Own Right: How iconic is Tom Selleck’s facial fur? It has its own Facebook page and Twitter; he is in the inaugural class of the International Mustache Hall of Fame; and when the TV legend suggested he go without his signature look for his CBS drama Blue Bloods, the network politely, but firmly, vetoed the idea, says the actor. Selleck, 70, has a great sense of humor about his lippy friend: during one of the periods when he went sans ‘stache — as he did in the 1997 movie In & Out — he participated in a Late Night with Conan O’Brien gag in which his shaven mustache had fallen into a coma after a car accident and was put out of its misery at the hospital, with the help of Selleck’s finger and a tiny pillow.


2. Orson Welles Played a Major Role. The iconic director provided the off-camera voice of Thomas Magnum’s pal Robin Masters, the wealthy author and playboy who owned Robin’s Nest, the lavish Hawaiian estate where Magnum lived. Still, an ongoing storyline — which remained ambiguous through the end of the series — had Magnum questioning whether or not the estate’s majordomo Jonathan Higgins was actually Masters.

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3. Selleck and Sinatra, The Buddy Comedy Duo that Almost Was: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of another Hollywood icon who made an appearance on Magnum, P.I.: Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes guest starred in the Season 7 episode “Laura,” playing a retired New York City police detective who seeks Magnum’s help in tracking down his granddaughter’s killers. The guest performance – the Oscar winner’s final screen appearance – was Sinatra’s idea, which he had pitched after meeting and befriending Selleck at a post-concert dinner in Hawaii. The appearance was a ratings boon for the show, and though the scheduling never worked out, Sinatra enjoyed working with Selleck so much that he had planned a return visit to the show, and even told TV Guide he wanted to co-star with Selleck in a big-screen buddy comedy.

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4. Higgins Wasn’t Really British: Jonathan Higgins — a stuffy, formal, British Army veteran who often uttered his catchphrase, “Oh my God, Magnum!” when exasperated by Magnum’s hijinks — was played by actor John Hillerman. He was utterly convincing with his British accent, even though he was born and raised in Texas. The actor, a U.S. Air Force veteran, studied the performances of Laurence Olivier to nail the Higgins accent, and he won an Emmy (1987) and a Golden Globe (1982) for his portrayal of Magnum’s frienemy. Selleck also won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the series.

5. Magnum Send-Off Broke Records: The final Magnum, P.I. episode – which aired on May 1, 1988 – is the sixth most-watched TV series finale ever, with 50.7 million viewers. Titled “Resolutions,” the two-hour installment saw Magnum, a Vietnam War veteran, rejoin the Navy.

6. Actually, That Was the Second Series Finale: Season 7’s “Limbo,” that season’s final ep, was supposed to be the series finale, until Selleck decided to sign on for a shortened 13-episode Season 8. “Limbo” ended with Magnum in a coma after a shootout with baddies, and his spirit walking away on a cloud. He was revealed to have survived the coma in the Season 8 opener. The exhausted actor had initially decided to quit the show after spending as many as 18 hours a day working on Magnum as the star and producer.

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7. Angela Lansbury Came to Magnum’s Rescue: Magnum, P.I.’s ratings — up against the Thursday night powerhouse The Cosby Show — had started to drop when CBS moved the drama to Wednesday nights for its seventh season… where it was up against ABC’s primetime soap hit Dynasty. One plan to boost the viewership: a crossover episode with fellow CBS hit Murder, She Wrote, which was in its third season. Murder’s Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was on vacay in Hawaii when she tried to help Magnum, who’d been accused of killing a hitman in “Novel Connection.” The action concluded on that week’s “Magnum on Ice” episode of Murder, She Wrote. The November sweeps stunt did help draw viewers, and Magnum’s Season 7 ratings comeback also factored into Selleck’s decision to come back for Season 8. In Season 3, Magnum, P.I. had also done a crossover episode with fellow CBS private eyes Simon & Simon.

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8. Magnum’s Signature Look Has Been Preserved for Posterity: While it’s not as iconic as Selleck’s ‘stache, another item closely associated with Thomas Magnum is his colorful Hawaiian shirt collection. The most famous one, the “Jungle Bird,” is a bright red button down featuring parrots and banana leaves. That shirt — along with Magnum’s beloved Detroit Tigers baseball cap and the team ring he and his friends wore as a symbol of their service during the Vietnam War — was presented by Selleck to the Smithsonian in 2011.

9. A Magnum Movie Has Long Been Rumored, But… Selleck has always supported the idea of a big-screen Magnum, P.I. movie, and throughout the last 20 years, rumored stars of the film have included George Clooney, Nicholas Cage, Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans, Matthew McConaughey, and Ryan Gosling. Selleck told Yahoo TV in 2013 that the late bestselling author Tom Clancy — a big Magnum fan — had worked with him to develop a series of Magnum, P.I. films, but the project could never get off the ground because Universal, which owns the rights, went through three ownership changes during the development period. PS: For the Clooney version of the movie, Ricky Gervais had been offered the role of Higgins.

10. Magnum’s Home Now Has a Presidential Connection: The three-acre beachfront Honolulu estate that served as Robin’s Nest on the series was sold for $8.7 million earlier this year to Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, close personal friend of President Obama, and the chairman of the Barack Obama Foundation. Does that mean the POTUS will get to tool around the grounds in a Magnum-esque red Ferrari?

11. Magnum Was Supposed to Have a Different Ride: Producers originally wanted him to drive a Porsche, but that company refused to make modifications to their cars, which was necessary to accommodate Tom Selleck’s 6’4” height. The Ferraris used on the show had padding removed around the seats, tops cut off, and seats permanently moved as far from the steering wheel as possible to allow Selleck to fit into them more comfortably. Magnum P.I. fan Steve Paruszkiewicz’s thoroughly entertaining and procrastination-inducing Website Magnum-Mania! includes a list of the many damages Magnum vehicles suffered during Thomas and friends’ adventures. And don’t feel too bad for Porsche; they still made at least a few Magnum P.I.-related sales. In 1984, to celebrate the show’s success, Selleck gifted his co-stars Hillerman, Larry Manetti, and Roger E. Mosley Porsche 928s, which he had delivered to their homes.

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12. Wes Anderson is A Magnum Fan: On the DVD commentary for 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, director Wes Anderson said the helicopter at the beginning of the movie was modeled after the Island Hoppers chopper flown by Magnum pal T.C. (Mosley). “We needed a good helicopter, and I think this is a memorable one … nobody told us we couldn’t use it,” Anderson said.

13. Chris Pine Has a Magnum Connection: Robert Pine, the CHiPs alum who played Thomas Magnum’s father in flashbacks, is the real-life father of Star Trek star Chris Pine.

14. Mrs. Magnum Made an Appearance (Sort Of): Tom Selleck’s wife, Jillie Mack, guest starred in Season 5’s “Professor Jonathan Higgins,” playing Higgins’s punk rock cousin, who gets the Henry Higgins treatment from the man T.C. referred to as “Higgie Baby.”

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15. One Magnum Star Wrote a Memoir: Magnum co-star Larry Manetti (above, left), who played Thomas’s pal Rick Wright, wrote a book called Aloha, Magnum, an anecdote-filled memoir about filming the series in Hawaii. Manetti, who currently hosts a radio show on CRN, has returned to his old stomping grounds with his recurring role on CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 remake, playing Nicky “The Kid” Demarco, a local Sinatra-esque singer and, like Magnum’s Rick, a nightclub owner.


16. Magnum Almost Launched a Spin-Off: It never made it into development, but the Season 1 Magnum episode “J. Digger Doyle” was the unofficial pilot for a planned spin-off series. The episode starred Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Silver Spoons alum Erin Gray as the titular “Digger,” a security expert who worked with Thomas to thwart an assassination plot against Robin Masters and rescue a kidnapped Higgins.


17. James Rockford Helped Magnum Happen: Selleck has said one of the reasons he signed on for Magnum, P.I. was because he’d had such fun with his recurring guest role on pal James Garner’s The Rockford Files. Selleck played Lance White, a charming, handsome (obviously) and more successful private eye rival of Rockford’s.


18. Archer Paid Homage to a Classic Magnum Moment: One of the most memorable Magnum, P.I. scenes came at the end of the Season 3 premiere, “Did You See the Sunrise?” Magnum and his friends are being hunted by Ivan, a Russian who had held them captive during the Vietnam War and who vowed to kill all of them. After Ivan murders Magnum’s pal Mac, Thomas captures him and, after asking him the titular question — which had been Mac’s wish — shoots Ivan, with the episode ending on a close up of Magnum’s face and the firing of his gun. Adam Reed, the creator of the animated FX comedy Archer, is a Magnum fan who paid homage to that classic scene by putting the Sterling Archer spin on it in the Archer Season 2 episode “Placebo Effect.” Cancer-stricken spy guy Archer finds out he’s been fed fake drugs from the Irish mafia, so he goes on a vengeance bender, ending with a scene that, save a Regis Philbin reference, mirrors Magnum. “That ending… is straight-up shot-for-shot from [Magnum, P.I.],” Reed told EW.com in 2011. “[Magnum] just executes the guy. I saw that closing scene when I was a kid. I was nine years old, and my jaw just hit the floor. ‘Oh my god! Magnum just murdered somebody!’ I always wanted it to end just like that Magnum episode, but tweak it a little bit, put a bit of an Archer stamp on it. So it wasn’t an exact rip-off, just mostly a rip-off.” Watch the Archer scene below:


19. You, Too, Can Have a Magnum-Style Hawaiian Adventure: Even if you don’t have almost $9 million or a Presidential hookup to secure a beachfront getaway spot, $300 a night will get you the vacation rental of a suite advertised to be next to the estate where Magnum, P.I. was filmed.

20. Harrison Ford Owes Tom Selleck a Thank-You Note: Selleck famously had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones — after George Lucas had chosen him for the part — because CBS wouldn’t allow him time off from Magnum, P.I. to film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Selleck’s career has gone pretty well in spite of missing out on Indy… but he did get a chance to play an Indy-esque character. Season 8’s “Legend of the Lost Art” found Higgins charging Magnum with finding a missing ancient scroll, which resulted in Selleck donning a costume that included a Jones-ish hat and bullwhip.

Magnum, P.I.: The Complete Series is available on DVD from Universal Home Entertainment