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Magnum Opus

In "Las Vegas" and the Jesse Stone series, Tom Selleck reminds us why he is one of America's best-loved actors.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

It's his voice. With the possible exception of some classic cartoon characters, there aren't many performers who can claim the kind of voice that multiple generations can recognize within a sentence or two.

W. C. Fields had such a voice, as did George Burns. Bob Dylan's singing voice has that same unique quality and Fran Drescher's nasal tones are, uh, unmistakable. The inimitable Mae West—in whose Myra Breckinridge a young actor by the name of Tom Selleck once earned screen credit as "Stud"—had that kind of voice too.

Of course, so does Tom Selleck. Whether he's playing Hawaiian private investigator Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV in "Magnum, P.I."—the role that made Selleck a household name, the owner of the most famous mustache on film since Burt Reynolds and the pin-up poster boy for women all over the globe—or characters as diverse as a bachelor architect diapering an infant (Three Men and a Baby), an American athlete playing baseball in Japan (Mr. Baseball), a gay newsman (In & Out), a roguish ex-husband ("Boston Legal") or a hired cowboy let loose in Australia (Quigley Down Under), the actor's voice is instantly recognizable. You can change the story's locale, the character's career and even the facial hair, but you're going to know it's Tom Selleck's voice no matter what.

On the first day of this interview and still in Los Angeles, that recognizable voice is a little strained; Selleck had been filming earlier in the day on the set of "Las Vegas," the four-year-old NBC drama that he joined this past season in which he plays mysterious and wealthy A. J. Cooper, a Wyoming cattle rancher who buys the fictional Montecito Resort & Casino out of bankruptcy. He's managed to slot in an hour and a half in a hotel suite for the interview but has another meeting at the studio, this time with a network executive, immediately following.

With any luck, the weary Selleck will make it home to his ranch 90 minutes north of Los Angeles by nightfall and just in time to say hello to his wife and his daughter and go to sleep in order to start all over again in the morning.

And, he adds, he's got to start packing. A week or so earlier Selleck had received notice that he'd scored an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his role playing troubled police chief Jesse Stone in Jesse Stone: Sea Change. The CBS television movie, the fourth in a series based on the best-selling books by Robert B. Parker, features Selleck not only as the lead actor but as the co-executive producer. Between his nomination and the actual Emmy Awards show in mid-September, he needs to wrap his work on "Las Vegas" and leave for Halifax, Nova Scotia, to begin the fifth movie in the franchise, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice.

Acting is a competitive sport in Hollywood and if Selleck's schedule is brutal at the moment, it is a scheduling game that hundreds— maybe thousands—of actors would love to be playing.

At 62 and nearly two decades after the insane success of "Magnum, P.I.," Selleck is clearly still in the game, still selling tickets and still filling the stands.

Even better, he's still hitting them into the bleachers.

Growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, a Little League—playing Tom Selleck dreamed of a career in Major League Baseball, but it was to be a different ball—basketball—that led the 6 foot 4 inch "Valley Boy" into acting, albeit inadvertently.

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