Tom Selleck and His Famous Life

June 3, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.
Tom Selleck as Magnum (1980-1988) and Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan in "Blue Bloods" (2010-2014)
Tom Selleck as Magnum (1980-1988) and Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan in "Blue Bloods" (2010-2014) Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time

My ears perk up whenever Tom Selleck is in the news, and he's been in the news a lot lately. His new memoir, You Never Know, hit bookshelves on May 7 and has already been declared an instant New York Times bestseller.

Typically, Northwest Prime Time covers only celebrities with strong ties to Washington. While my research found that Tom Selleck has a few connections to the Evergreen State (described later in this article), his new book gave me an opportunity that I couldn't resist. I've been a fan since 1981, when my sister, my cousin and I kept running into him during a weeklong vacation in Hawaii, my first-ever big trip. (Visit this link for the story: Look at That Handsome Man

The legendary star rose to fame in the hit television show Magnum PI (1980-1988), playing freewheeling private investigator, Thomas Magnum, a former Navy Seal and Vietnam vet. Audiences responded to Magnum's appeal as a charming, fun-loving, freeloader -- an imperfect hero. The show's humor, band of friends (along with Magnum's ideal foil, the stuffy Higgins), and stunning Oahu locations set the stage as much as Selleck's signature mustache, Hawaiian shirts, and Detroit Tigers baseball cap, along with the red Ferrari he drove throughout the series.

The cast of "Magnum PI" 

Now, 44 years after Magnum premiered, Selleck is in the long-running hit TV series, Blue Bloods, playing no-nonsense, honorable New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan. Reagan is the head of a large family, all with strong ties to law enforcement. The character-driven show is as much a family drama as a police procedural. Selleck loves that Sunday night family suppers are a regular element of the show. Blue Bloods, which started in 2010, is in its 14th season, but word has it this season will be its last. Selleck holds out hope that the venerable show will be back. He's game to continue.

Sunday night family supper is a regular element of the show "Blue Bloods"Selleck has kept busy throughout his nearly 60 years in show business, with more than 50 film and television roles since Magnum. To name but a handful of notable projects: Three Men and a Baby (the biggest box office hit in 1987), Quigley Down Under, In & Out, the Jesse Stone television film series, and a recurring role on Friends.

In his memoir, Selleck discloses that his road to success was not easy. He didn't hit the big-time until his mid-thirties, and Selleck himself called acting an "accidental career." 

Born in Detroit in 1945, Tom Selleck's household consisted of his parents, two brothers and a sister. 

Who is this cutie?The family moved to Los Angeles when Tom was four. Living near Hollywood set up the "accidental career" that came along later in life. Selleck actually wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Bob, who pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The sports minded 6-foot, 4-inch Tom was a serious athlete, and played basketball, baseball, and volleyball in college. His major, Business Administration, came in second to sports. Selleck reported that he wasn't much of a student; he dropped out before graduating when the allure of show biz came calling.

While still in college at the University of Southern California, Selleck earned some extra money by appearing in commercials. Then, in 1965, he found himself on The Dating Game, which brought him to the attention of two Hollywood studios. 20th Century-Fox recruited him for a talent program that paid a bit more than a hundred dollars a week, "which sounded astronomical to me," wrote Selleck in his memoir. "I'd never had the slightest interest in acting. Ever." He asked his father for advice, who said if his son didn't go for it, he might regret it later in life. His father then added, "Just don't let 'em change you."

A young Tom Selleck as an eligible bachelor on "The Dating Game" in 1965 

His father's advice was helpful, but truth is, says Selleck, the semester hadn't been going too well. "I was on academic probation every year, always on the edge, almost ineligible once." So, he accepted the offer and hasn't looked back since.

Memorable early experiences included a deodorant commercial with Farrah Fawcett, a turn in a soap opera, plus bit parts in numerous shows. He made an appearance with Mae West in Myra Breckinridge... “Mae was a wonderful woman,” said Selleck in an interview. “I escorted her to a couple of premieres, and she did hundreds of interviews where she mentioned me in the same sentence as Cary Grant." He was in six pilots that were never picked up. But then, it was his recurring role as Lance White, a picture-perfect super-detective in the Rockford Files with James Garner, that caught the attention of Magnum producers.

Tom Selleck called Mae West a wonderful woman 

After the pilot was filmed but before Magnum had started airing, Steven Spielberg offered Selleck the lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the role later made famous by Harrison Ford. Selleck knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to accept it, feeling that he could do both the movie and Magnum. In what has become a legendary Hollywood story, Selleck was forced to turn down Raiders because CBS was worried he'd never come back to the series and refused to allow him to accept the offer. Selleck states that he quickly made peace with the situation. "Look," he said in an interview, "I made a deal with Magnum and it was the best thing that ever happened to me." He can watch Raiders and have no pangs whatsoever. "Maybe one what if. But most of the time I'm just a good audience."

When Magnum was being developed, Selleck followed the advice of his mentor, James Garner, that characters are a lot more interesting when they have some flaws. Selleck fought the powers that be to make Thomas Magnum "rough around the edges," not the suave, polished James Bond-type character the studio envisioned. CBS also wanted to lose the Vietnam vet backstory, since the wounds of war were still fresh in the American psyche. But Selleck, along with his producer, Donald Bellisario, fought to keep the storyline intact. 

Tom Selleck with James Garner in "The Rockford Files." Selleck credits his mentor, James Garner, for his success in Magnum.


Selleck has said that if his fight hadn't been successful and the opportunity to do Magnum went away, "I don't think I ever would have worked again. The studio would have seen to that."

The series became a huge hit.

Selleck is proud that the Smithsonian asked for artifacts from Magnum to credit the series with being the first to show Vietnam veterans in a positive light. "So the fight was worth it," said Selleck in an interview with CBS. "When Magnum ended, we got a call from the Smithsonian: 'We wanna honor Magnum, we need some artifacts.' And they took my hat and the ring I wore – the team ring in Vietnam – and my Hawaiian shirt, the red one." Selleck's patriotism is deep-seated, he served for six years in the National Guard.

After Magnum, Selleck was offered the lead role in Baywatch, the NBC series about lifeguards, but turned it down because he didn't want to be known as a sex symbol. He starred in many movies following Magnum, and a few television series, including Las Vegas. He even had a Broadway show (A Thousand Clowns, which closed with the pandemic). Many Northwest Prime Time readers have probably seen him in his recurring role as spokesperson for reverse mortgages.

Tom Selleck has always worked hard to keep his private life private. He was married to the model Jacqueline Ray (1971-1982) and adopted her son. In 1987, he secretly married Jilli Mack, just before Magnum started its final season. He had become smitten while watching her in a London production of Cats. The couple has one daughter. 

Tom Selleck became smitten with his wife, Jilli Mack, when he saw her in a London production of "Cats"


Selleck and Jilli Mack live on their 63-acre ranch near Thousand Oaks, California (formerly owned by Dean Martin).  Selleck himself does a lot of the work on the spread. In an interview, he said, "So I like to get outside and work on the ranch, from fixing roads to clearing brush. I hate going to the gym, so sweating outdoors sure beats sitting on a stationary bike staring at my navel. And I work cheaper than anyone I could hire to do it."

At 79 years old, with his love of ranch life that keeps him away from the prying eyes of Hollywood and with nearly 60 years in front of the camera, one might wonder if Selleck contemplates retiring. But he told CBS correspondent Tracy Smith, "You just go to work and you do the work. And I have a lot of reverence for what I call 'the work,' and I love it. And I'd like to keep doing it."

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As mentioned at the top of the article, Northwest Prime Time doesn't typically feature celebrities merely for being famous; we look for those with ties to the Northwest. A little research shows that Tom Selleck does have a few connections here, including filming two movies in Seattle and other areas around the state: the made-for-TV movie Divorce Wars (1982) and Runaway (1984). Selleck also played competitive volleyball in the area. And there are unconfirmed rumors that he has been known to vacation in Washington's stunning San Juan Islands. 


  • A childhood friend of mine, Jim, told me about playing volleyball with Tom Selleck when he was in Seattle for tournaments. "He's a good guy," I recall Jim saying. Selleck is an accomplished indoor and beach volleyball player who played with Honolulu's Outrigger Canoe Club during the time of Magnum. Jim's team would compete with Tom's team whenever the league was in town. Selleck was named honorary captain of the US Olympic men's team in 1984.
  • Selleck has maintained his interest in sports. According to Wikipedia, he was once a minority owner of the Detroit Tigers (his favorite baseball team since childhood -- remember that Magnum cap!). He practiced with the Tigers in preparation for his role in the movie, Mr. Baseball (1992), and even played in a Tigers' exhibition game.
  • Tom Selleck spent four years writing out his memoir longhand on yellow legal pads. He'd write in the afternoon; in the evening, he'd read the notes to his wife.  
  • The memoir is not a tell-all kind of book but does lay out the fascinating story of Selleck's life in show biz. The book opens when he was a teenager in a car accident which sent him tumbling off Mulholland Drive. Along the way are portraits of other stars he's encountered, including Sam Elliott, James Garner, Carol Burnett, Princess Diana and Frank Sinatra, whose last acting job was on Magnum
  • When he was called in for a role on the 1979 Western miniseries, The Sacketts, the director told him to go saddle a horse and ride out to the arena. He was not a horseback rider and had no idea what to do, but faked it with the help of one of the wranglers.
  • It was his experience on The Sacketts with Sam Elliott that got him hooked on Westerns. He told Country Living magazine, "It's where I realized that, if I ever could afford it, I'd like to have a ranch and some land and horses. It brings a spontaneity to the work that I just love." He and his wife now live on a 63-acre ranch.
  • Tom Selleck has been in several Western-themed projects. Below he is seen with his buddy, Sam Elliott, on the set of the 1979 miniseries, "The Sacketts." In 1982, the two worked on another Western, "The Shadow Riders."



  • Tom Selleck's large frame made it hard to find Hawaiian shirts that fit him. He had to have them custom made.
  • That same large frame made it hard to fit into a Ferrari, which was regularly featured on Magnum. They had to remove the padding and bolt the seat as far back as it would go to have him fit. Three different Ferrari models were featured in the series.
  • Robin Masters, Magnum's benefactor and owner of the estate where he lived, was never seen on the show. But his voice was heard... it was Orson Welles.
  • Viewership of the final episode of Magnum had a huge audience, perhaps in part because a tabloid had gotten ahold of a copy of the last scene, with an angry note that said Magnum dies. "I guess someone must have written a counterfeit scene because Magnum doesn't die at the end," writes Selleck in his memoir. "The tabloid didn't do their research and published the story. "You know what? It created an enormous appetite and curiosity to see our show... I know what you're thinking: How could I possibly know about the note? Well...I just do. So don't ask. Let's leave it at that. Oh...all right. Can't tell a lie. I not only knew about the note, I wrote it."

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