'Magnum' star Tom Selleck's memoir tells of accidental acting career

With his trademark moustache and red Ferrari, Tom Selleck was one of the most popular TV detectives of the 80s. In a new autobiography, the "Magnum P.I." star explains he had never planned on becoming an actor. picture alliance/kpa/dpa
With his trademark moustache and red Ferrari, Tom Selleck was one of the most popular TV detectives of the 80s. In a new autobiography, the "Magnum P.I." star explains he had never planned on becoming an actor. picture alliance/kpa/dpa
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Tall, dazzling and with an unforgettable moustache, Tom Selleck is known to millions as the private detective Thomas Magnum from the television series that made his name famous.

Celebrated in the '80s as one of the most attractive men in the world, he played the tanned, laid-back star clad in bright Hawaiian shirts, racing around solving crimes in a red Ferrari.

We now know he never intended to become an actor, the Hollywood star tells us in his autobiography "You Never Know," released in early May.

"I'd never had the slightest interest in acting. Ever," Selleck writes in the book. "I was very shy. Actually, I still am," he told dpa in an interview.

Sports were his passion and he dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. Getting into a talent programme and going into show business was a lucky coincidence, he says.

"In my own unplanned way, I had actually accomplished something. I'd been offered an opportunity that others would kill for. I was developing a healthy respect for serendipity."

It all started when he was a failing student of business administration, earning some money by featuring in a Pepsi ad in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.

Next, he was a contestant in TV show "The Dating Game" then joined a development programme for promising young actors.

Next came an aperitif ad, featuring him flirting with the then unknown Farrah Fawcett. After that was a part in his first small film with an older Mae West in "Myra Breckinridge."

His breakthrough came late at the age of 35 with "Magnum," and Selleck recalls his initially arduous career, the numerous auditions, cancellations and minor roles in his book.

But readers hoping for Hollywood gossip and juicy revelations will be disappointed, as we learn very little about his private life.

Right at the start, he describes a car accident that occurred on Mullholland Drive in the Hollywood hills in 1962, when he was a teenager.

A friend of his was driving his mother's car, and his girlfriend was in the back seat. The car left the road and they rolled over - "I felt a painful, overwhelming crunch as the car hit the ground upside down." Luckily no one was seriously injured.

For Selleck, though, this was an example of when he "screwed up big-time" and is one of the mistakes he learned from in the course of his life.

In his memoir, Selleck also talks about how he did not get the "Indy" dream role. He had just finished filming a pilot for "Magnum" but the series was still under consideration, when "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and Steven Spielberg invited him to audition for "Indiana Jones" and gave the newcomer the green light for the lead role.

"There's no way I ever would have turned that down," Selleck told dpa. But he was bound by contract to the broadcaster CBS, who wouldn't let him go.

"But the benefit for me was that those two creative geniuses, Steven and George, were going to put their cards on me. It really affected my own confidence. And the more confident I was, the better an actor I was," he told dpa.

He pays tribute to Harrison Ford's acting as the mad cap archaeologist, saying he "did it really well." Ford played the action hero five times, in a role that catapulted him to global fame.

But "Magnum" did not get off to a particularly smooth start either. "I didn't like the script at all," Selleck said. He ventured to express this fact, turning down the show initially in what may have been "the biggest risk in my career."

But, as he says in his book, quoting his father, "risk is the price you pay for opportunity."

He didn't want to play a slick private detective, wanting a more complex character with more weaknesses instead. In the end, the script was rewritten and Selleck became an internationally acclaimed star as a veteran from the Vietnam war who brings charm, humour and a couple of quirks to the crime-solving business. Some 162 episodes were shot in Hawaii from 1980 to 1988.

Far from Hollywood, Selleck was able to avoid the hustle and bustle of stardom. "I think it was a real blessing. It impacted my life hugely, and for the better," he told dpa.

"I have a lot of problems adjusting to the loss of privacy. It was when I first started going back to Los Angeles for the Golden Globes or whatever, where I realized just how big the success 'Magnum' was."

The series earned Selleck a Golden Globe and an Emmy and a handful of invitations to star-studded events. In 1985, at a gala dinner at the White House in honour of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, he was among the star guests alongside John Travolta and Clint Eastwood.

After Travolta danced twice with Lady Di, Selleck was asked by a woman with a British accent to step in as a new dance partner, to avoid any rumours arising. Naturally, Selleck could not match the star of "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever." In his book, Selleck says he apologized to Diana for his inexperience as a dancer.

We learn little about the women in his life. He briefly discusses his first marriage in 1971 to a high school girlfriend and how he adopted her son, Kevin.

He met his second wife, the British actor Jillie Mack, on stage in the musical "Cats" in London. They married in secret in Lake Tahoe in 1987 to avoid the hype, though a month later, the news was out. Their daughter Hannah was born a year later.

They now live on a ranch north of Los Angeles and steer clear of all the city's celebrity gossip.

Selleck's memoirs end with the end of "Magnum" though of course his career continued. The 1987 film comedy "Three Men and a Baby" was a box office hit. He kissed baffled men in small-town comedy "In & Out." And he is still cherished as Dr Richard Burke in numerous episodes of sitcom "Friends." And in a further crime drama, he stars as police chief Frank Reagan in TV series "Blue Bloods."

It took four years of making handwritten notes on notepads to assemble his memoires, says Selleck, admitting he is not so good with computers.

He was reluctant to write about Hollywood glamour but preferred to focus on the work and craft of acting.

"A lot of young actors come to me and they say, how do I get to where you got?" Selleck says. "I say, well, stick your neck out and take a risk and start failing. And learn from those failures."