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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 6)

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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