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A Star Returns

After years of battling rumors and bad scripts, Tom Selleck, the former Star of Magnum, P.I., is poised for a comeback.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 1)

"But they wanted to know how we could create a perception that this is a big movie. So I mulled it over and called Tom Clancy, who is a friend and was a real fan of the show. Magnum's going back to being a Navy Seal was right up Tom's alley. I asked him what he thought would be a hot global issue a year from then--this was a couple of years ago--and he said nuclear proliferation in North Korea," Selleck says. So I went back and asked Universal if having Tom Clancy would create enough of a perception that it's a big movie, and they said yes. And what happened then, in my opinion, was a lot of foot-dragging. What they would have had a year ago was a very timely movie that would have dealt with how the North Koreans got their plutonium, in a very credible Clancyesque way. That's a pretty good movie."

Selleck believes that Universal "thought that things weren't going too well for me--or at least that's how it appeared--and that a much safer bet would be to get me to make four 'Magnums' a year for television. That would reinvigorate the franchise, they thought. But I won't do that, particularly now. The only way they're going to get hold of this Magnum character is to make a feature film."

Selleck stands and, as if to signal intermission, walks into the next room. "Would you like a cigar?" he asks. He was just in Washington, D.C., he says, as part of the promotional tour for his TV movie, and he picked up some pre-Castro Havanas. He has smoked cigars on and off for many years, and on a regular basis for the past five or six.

"Most of the time I smoke Havanas," he says. "Hoyo de Monterrey double coronas, Punch double coronas. I haven't had a Ramon Allones Gigantes. Those are really coveted because they're so hard to get. Cohiba Robusto is the only Cohiba I like. I find the others overrated; they're all overpriced." But he adds, "I have enough Havana cigars. It's kind of neat being a celebrity--a lot of people find out that you like cigars and give them to you. To me, Cuban cigars won't be as much fun when they're not contraband."

Selleck has also been enjoying more and more non-Cuban cigars. "The domestic cigars keep getting better and better," he says. "I'm smoking a lot of La Gloria Cubanas from Miami--when I can get them. The La Gloria Cubana Wavell is a sensational smoke. But because they're so highly rated in Cigar Aficionado, they have become almost impossible to get. I also love Davidoffs. I know they're expensive, but Davidoff Special R's are just excellent. The Special T's are very good, and they're a classic shape. Their Double R's are also consistently high in quality. The Davidoffs are just made so well. And I'm finding that with almost all of the Havana cigars there are a lot of inconsistencies. You're going to get some duds in every box, which is sad. I know the problems, without getting into the politics of Castro; there are huge problems with supply and demand, and the large demand affects the quality control."

When it comes to his favorite, however, Havana wins, with the Montecristo No. 2, a figurado. "I'd rather hold a Monte No. 2 than any cigar," he says. "I just love its shape."

He is not a heavy smoker--perhaps five or six cigars a month, he says, unless he is on location, when he smokes more frequently. "I love to smoke a cigar and read a script. I have a house with a high ceiling, and I also have a room for smoking. I like the contemplative aspect of cigars, the sheer pleasure of a good one. They're just remarkable, and smoking one is such a relaxing thing to do."

Another reason he loves cigars, he says, is because "they're so wonderfully politically incorrect now. The '60s child in me just loves the fact that I'm fighting against the trend. There are a lot of things about cigars I love because of the anarchist in me. A lot of people are doing that. The cigar business is booming, and it's lovely in that sense."

And the antismoking movement? "I wouldn't smoke cigars if I thought they were that detrimental to one's health. Solutions to problems in a free society are messy. There are no magic bullets, no bumper-sticker solutions. If we want an authoritarian state, we can continue to do the kind of stuff we're doing now about smoking."

He also treasures the fact that women are smoking cigars--"and not just those stupid little petite ones that some women think they have to smoke to stay feminine. I don't like cigars that have small ring gauges, unless I'm looking for a quick smoke. Bigger cigars smoke cooler and taste better. When a woman can smoke a cigar like a Cohiba Robusto with confidence, and enjoy it as much as a man, I find it incredibly feminine."

The actor is also a fancier of the finest Ports--Fonseca, Dow, Taylor Fladgate. "I love the Fonseca '63. I have six bottles in the cellar, as well as a couple of other '63s. A glass of that and a cigar is my idea of heaven. A Hoyo double corona would be just about right. And a good book."

If not a fine Port, Selleck sometimes chooses a good single malt Scotch with a cigar. "A Glenmorangie. A Laphroaig. And the really peaty stuff. It's really hard to beat a good 25-year-old Macallan. Some of them are so good and so expensive I tend not to drink them. Part of me is really this lower-middle-class kid who thinks you should put plastic covers on the couch and not use the good silver."

Selleck also enjoys a good bottle of wine. "I love big, oaky California Cabernets," he says. "I know French wines pretty well, especially the big five Bordeaux, but I haven't been drinking them lately. If I am in an Italian restaurant I will invariably order a Brunello di Montalcino. A lot of my choices are tied to memories. I've had a lot of good Brunello with friends in Italy and in other places. I like repetition. I like a sense of continuity. That happens a lot with wines." He very seldom drinks white wines. "If I'm at a formal dinner and they serve it with the first course, I'll drink it. But I drink red wine with fish. It just doesn't bother me. I know the difference. I can play the game. But red is what I like."

His California ranch, he says, has an excellent wine cellar. "It used to be Dean Martin's ranch. The cellar is a bunker built into the side of a hill. It's also a great temperature for keeping cigars. When I run out of room in my humidors"--he has more than 500 cigars at home--"I keep the cigars in the cellar. The humidity level is not quite right, but it's close enough, and I can put them back in the humidor later and restore them easily."

Also in the cellar is some Château Margaux '82, "and a lot of old bottles I got as gifts. I even have a '74 Mondavi Reserve. I should be drinking it now. Maybe it's even a little past it."

One of his favorite memories is a dinner he gave in the early 1980s for then-president Ronald Reagan. It was at Chasen's restaurant (which has since closed) in Los Angeles, and the guests included William F. Buckley and many other politically conservative luminaries. "I served a 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon to President Reagan," Selleck recalls, "and he had several glasses. I was thrilled when he asked for another glass."

Selleck is known for his own conservative politics. He was a vocal supporter of Reagan and of former president George Bush. Though he now considers himself a "disaffected voter," he registered as an independent in 1992 and contributed money to Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown and Patrick Buchanan "in the spirit," he says, "of creating a legitimate debate." He has been called the successor to Charlton Heston as the leader of Hollywood's right wing, and it has even been rumored that Selleck himself might be considering a run for public office--a rumor that he has always denied.

These days, though, he is playing down his conservative leanings; although he is still very much of the right, he talks more about the politics of consensus than about any contracts with America.

"My reputation as a conservative is valid in a lot of ways," he says, "but what disturbs me is what people think conservatives are. What conservatism represents to me is civil libertarian thought. To me, it's as simple as this: We all agree we need to solve social problems. My leanings tend toward individualist solutions. I don't like to characterize anybody, but I think liberals tend to have collectivist solutions. The twentieth century has been a collectivist century. Most of our solutions to social problems--even the term social problems--are collectivist. We've had this global experiment, and we're starting to see the end of the chain letter. I say let's try new things. I can't guarantee you they'll all work. If 30 percent of them work, I'll be happy. It's just time to reassess things and say that maybe this idea of the common good has to be translated through the individual.

"I've learned by hanging out in Hollywood, where I disagree politically with most people, that most people's hearts are in the right place, and the only thing we have to argue about is the way to solve the problems. So I don't like it if the conservative philosophy becomes an 'anti' philosophy, just sheer negative thought. If that's conservatism, I don't want to be labeled a conservative. If I can be an advocate of individualist solutions to our society's problems that are affirmative solutions, that's to me what conservatism means."

The actor is concerned about consensus with his Hollywood colleagues. When he found out that a recent TV Guide interview had quoted him as saying that Barbra Streisand, a frequent champion of the liberal line, "ought to shut up about that," he immediately called her to apologize. "I'm very fond of her," he says, "and thank God I was able to reach her before she read it." The quote, he says, was taken out of context.

"No matter how much I tell Barbra that's not what I said, that's not what I meant, I'm sure she'll be a little hurt by it, and that's not right," he says. "Maybe I should have been smart enough not to give them a sound bite. I wasn't aware I was giving them one. It would have had to have been said with humor because I know Barbra too well to have done that."

Selleck is honorary chairman of The Skin Cancer Foundation and a volunteer and spokesman for the Los Angeles Mission, "which deals with the homeless situation in L.A. without taking federal funds. They're incredibly effective because they're not constrained the way an organization that takes federal funds would be."

For more than two years he has also been the national co-spokesperson, with Barbara Jordan, the liberal former congresswoman from Texas, for the Character Counts Coalition, an organization that seeks to instill in young people--and adults--qualities such as respect, caring, responsibility, trustworthiness and citizenship.

"She's certainly no conservative," Selleck says of Jordan, "but I learned a long time ago that when you're talking about values you have to do it in a nonpartisan way, you have to achieve a consensus, because otherwise somebody is going to assume there's a hidden agenda. And besides, because of all she has accomplished, Barbara Jordan has always been a hero of mine."

The conversation turns from politics to passions. Selleck is the proud owner of a 1928 Bentley 4.5 liter Le Mans, in British racing green, the type of car built for racing. "It's an open cockpit, helmet-and-goggles kind of car, with a little windscreen," he says. "They call them racing trucks. It's out at the ranch. The 1928 Bentleys took the first four places at [the 1929] Le Mans. At the end, they finished in team order. They lined up their cars 1, 2, 3, 4--that's how much they dominated. Mine didn't race."

He is not a collector, he says, nor is he a racer; he gets his pleasure from owning the car and from "having the nerve to drive it. If you buy an expensive thing and you never use it, I don't think there's a point to it. I've even driven it on the freeway to my offices. It'll do 90 miles an hour if you have a lot of nerve and nobody in front of you--because you'll need some room to stop."

Another passion is accumulating handmade shotguns. "I'm not much of a hunter," Selleck says. "I shoot a lot of clay targets. To me, the excitement is in ordering a fine shotgun, going through the process that everybody who has bought one has gone through for 100 years. You order it, you make a significant down payment, and then you wait three or four years for the gun to be custom-made for you. They're not making these guns much differently from the way they were made in 1920. That's why it takes so long."

He will often order a shotgun to celebrate a major achievement in his life. "We ought to commemorate our wins," he says. "We tend to forget them and remember other things." As "Magnum" was coming to an end, for instance, he ordered a pair of shotguns from Holland & Holland, "one of the finest makers in the world." He also has three Purdey shotguns and a shotgun from Beretta, the Italian gun maker founded in 1530. A basic Holland & Holland or Purdey, he says, starts at around $50,000.

"I know shotguns are politically incorrect," he says with a laugh, "but it's too late for me to be concerned about such things. And the shooting sports are very misunderstood nowadays. Shooting clay targets is a very cleansing experience. It's very relaxing. It takes a lot of concentration. It's also very social, since you're usually shooting with friends. You can talk and forget about almost anything else that's on your mind."

What attracted Selleck to the Bentley and shotguns, as well as to cigars, is their tradition and history, the sense that they have withstood the test of time. "I knew about most of these things well before I could afford them," he says. "Now I'll have them to pass on to my children."

Thomas William Selleck was born on Jan. 29, 1945, in Detroit. His father, a real estate salesman, moved the family to California when Tom was four. Tom was the second son; there would later be a third, and a daughter.

"I had a strong, really good upbringing, not puritanical," Selleck says. "Growing up was troubling, like it is for everybody. But I had a pretty good time of it. I didn't drink or smoke. I didn't grow up in any kind of affluence. My mom and dad were less well-off than I would have realized. My dad's a risk taker. He moved us out to California with very little money and went into a straight commission job, and what I found out when I grew up was that he didn't sell a house for about two years. But I wasn't aware of this at the time. I had a very stable family, and we had food on the table. And that's pretty good at four."

Selleck played basketball in high school, junior college and at the University of Southern California. "I was never a very good student, but I was smart enough to get by," he says. "I always wanted to go to USC, but even though I was a good athlete no one was breaking down the doors for me. I didn't go to USC on a basketball scholarship, but I said, 'If I make your team I'm going to need some help,' because my parents were borrowing money to send me there. Which to this day is a source of enormous guilt, because I left with three classes to go in the business school to sign a contract with 20th Century Fox."

Acting, he says, was almost an afterthought, a result mostly of living in the city that was the capital of the movie business. "If anything," he says, "I wanted to be a professional baseball player, which probably came out of Little League. I really hadn't thought out life at that point. I was a second son, and I pretty much did everything my older brother did. I studied business in college because my father was in business. Years later, the dean of the business school looked at my transcript and said, 'Tom, this is the most remarkable record of mediocrity I've ever seen. You never got higher than a C in your major.'"


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