8 Facts About Tom Selleck
By Jake Rossen
Aside from Sam Elliot, no actor may be more renowned for their mustache than Tom Selleck—the former star of Magnum, P.I., 1987’s Three Men and a Baby, and the long-running CBS hit Blue Bloods. While you likely know he was once up for the role of Indiana Jones, there’s quite a bit more to Selleck’s life and career. Take a look at some lesser-known facts about Selleck (who was born in Detroit on January 29, 1945), including his military service and the time he suited up for the Detroit Tigers.
1. Tom Selleck was once on The Dating Game.
Born on January 29, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan, Tom Selleck grew up in Los Angeles and earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he also entered a management training program for United Airlines. While he was a talented athlete, Selleck was more interested in the performing arts. Selleck worked as a model and was later able to secure commercial spots, including one for Safeguard deodorant, where co-star Teri Garr announced, “He smells just the way a man should smell—clean.” Prior to his commercial success, in 1965, he appeared on The Dating Game, at the time a popular way for aspiring actors to gain exposure. (Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Andy Kaufman all made appearances.) Despite his future status as a screen hunk, Selleck lost on the show—twice.
2. Tom Selleck served in the military.
Selleck was drafted during the Vietnam War. He joined the California National Guard in 1967 and was placed in the 160th Infantry Regiment, achieving the rank of sergeant and serving until 1973. At the time, Selleck was under contract with Fox. After serving full-time for six months, he returned home in 1969 and found out the studio had fired him. Later, Selleck was used in promotional material for the National Guard and has been a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
3. Tom Selleck got a big break courtesy of Mae West.
Though he would continue to film television commercials throughout the 1970s, Selleck’s first major big-screen role came courtesy of Mae West. The legendary actress hand-picked Selleck to play one of her “studs” in 1970’s Myra Breckinridge. Selleck credited West with helping him get noticed. “Mae was a wonderful woman,” Selleck told The Morning Call in 1997. “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.”
4. It turns out that Magnum, P.I. wouldn’t have kept Tom Selleck from playing Indiana Jones.
One of the most notable bits of trivia in Selleck’s career is that he auditioned to play globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, got the job, but was forced to turn it down because CBS wouldn’t let him out of his contract to star in the private eye drama Magnum, P.I. That’s accurate, though it turns out that Selleck could actually have done both. Just as Magnum, P.I. was about to start shooting in Hawaii, a writer’s strike held up production, and Selleck was forced to work as a handyman to pay his rent until the show resumed. To add insult to injury, Raiders started filming around the same time—in Hawaii.
One lesser-known but intriguing bit of Selleck trivia is that Selleck turned down the lead role in 1985’s Witness, a drama about a cop who befriends an Amish family, which went on to star Harrison Ford.
5. Tom Selleck initially “hated” the role of Thomas Magnum.
When Selleck was offered the role of Thomas Magnum, he had already been in a string of failed television pilots. While a starring role in a big network show was welcome, Selleck told GQ in 2014 that he initially disliked how the role had been written. “I hated it,” he said. “He was James Bond-like. He was perfect. He had girls on each arm. He owned a Ferrari.” Selleck wanted to play a character more in line with the downtrodden Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, in which he had guest-starred. Producers agreed, and Magnum became more of an Everyman character. The series ran for eight seasons.
6. Tom Selleck once played for the Detroit Tigers.
Fans of Magnum, P.I. noted that Selleck was fond of wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap throughout the series, a nod to his birthplace. The actor is such a fan of the team that he joined spring training in 1991 as part of his preparation for a role as a baseball pro in 1992’s Mr. Baseball. Selleck even played in one exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds that April, striking out in the eighth inning.
7. Tom Selleck is an accomplished volleyball player.
While filming Magnum P.I., Selleck often played volleyball with members of the Outrigger Canoe Club senior (over 35) team in Honolulu and was even named honorary captain of the U.S. Olympic men’s team in 1984. Selleck agreed to pose shirtless for a poster because the proceeds went to the athletes.
8. Tom Selleck was offered the David Hasselhoff role on Baywatch.
After wrapping up Magnum, P.I., Selleck pursued a film career, including films like 1989’s Her Alibi and 1990’s Quigley Down Under. He was offered a return to television in the form of Baywatch, the NBC series about lifeguards. Selleck passed on the role of Mitch Buchannon, which eventually went to David Hasselhoff. Selleck returned to series television with a recurring guest spot on Friends and the police drama Blue Bloods, which is now in its 10th season.