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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

(continued from page 1)

Selleck studied business in college, first at a junior college and later while playing basketball at Southern Cal. His grades, Selleck admits a bit sheepishly, were dismal and his basketball not a whole lot better. Still, friends talked him into a theater arts class by telling him that it was an easy way to score an "A" and an instructor encouraged the strikingly tall, handsome student to try out for a commercial or two. Selleck did and, like a lot of USC and UCLA students at the time, landed a role on "The Dating Game." Twice.

The results, Selleck laughs, weren't much better than his college grades; he didn't get the girl either time. "Oh man, 'The Dating Game,'" Selleck says, groaning. "I was a total non-pro and I was a shy kid. I did two of them...they had me back on for some reason even though I gave lame answers and lost. The one thing I remember, because I was terrified, is that they had this revolving stage. You come out and it goes," Selleck whistles the show's theme tune, "and there you are sitting in your chairs. They said, 'Don't forget to smile when you come out.' Well, I just remember it freaked me out so that my heart was thumping, the revolving [stage] comes around and I remembered to smile. I forced a smile and my heart was beating so fast that my lip goes..." and Selleck, laughing, starts twitching his lip madly.

As an adult Selleck mimics the almost painful-to-watch shyness of a college kid, unsure of women and ill at ease in front of a camera, it's hard to reconcile the assertive, notoriously "calls it like he sees it" man of today—and certainly the heartthrob-y bachelor of Thomas Sullivan Magnum—with the image he's re-creating.

Actually, Selleck says, his shyness around women extended far beyond college, no matter what persona he may have taken on just a few years later in shows like "Lancer," "The Young and the Restless" or "Marcus Welby, M.D." Or, in the case of "Magnum, P.I.," nearly 14 years later.

Hell, he admits, he still finds the fairer sex a little perplexing.

"In college I was always 'uh, I really like that girl' and then I'd ask a friend to fix us up. I was pretty shy [and] I was a little slow. Until when? Until always, I think, or until I grew up a little. It takes men a long time to grow up," Selleck smiles, "or at least it did this guy."

Apparently at least one woman was able to overlook Selleck's shyness; he married model Jacqueline Ray in 1971 and, together, they raised Ray's toddler-aged son, Kevin. Selleck spent the '70s getting small roles on television dramas and modestly larger roles in films, some fairly awful (Daughters of Satan, Terminal Island) and some a little better, such as Midway.

But most of all, it seems, Selleck made television pilots. During his first decade or so acting, Selleck made seven pilots—only one of which ever sold—and spent 11 years doing bit parts and struggling. It wasn't until he had a small, recurring role in "The Rockford Files" that things started to click.

In fact, he points out, he wasn't cast in the Hawaii-based "Magnum, P.I." until age 35 and the irony isn't lost on him as to how easy some people thought his success must have been based on his looks. "I became an overnight success," deadpans Selleck, "at age 35."

Although he felt more than a little jinxed when it came to pilots, he at least loved the locale of Hawaii and, having separated from his wife, was open to the idea of a little time away from Hollywood.

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