Also Credited As:Thomas William Selleck
|Thomas William Selleck on January 29, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan, USA|
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The man who would spend a decade inextricably linked with bright Hawaiian shirts was born in the decidedly un-tropical city of Detroit, MI, on Jan. 29, 1945. Four years later, Robert and Martha relocated their young family to Sherman Oaks, in California's San Fernando Valley. Selleck enjoyed a stable upbringing and excelled in baseball and basketball, harboring dreams of playing professional sports; instead enrolling in business at a local junior college after graduation from Grant High School. He was trying to build up grades to transfer to USC when a friend suggested that an acting class would be an easy "A" on his transcript. With the encouragement of the teacher, Selleck began auditioning for commercials, which he continued to do even after he was accepted into USC and landed a position on the USC Trojans basketball team. In 1967, just three classes short of graduating with a business degree, Selleck quit USC and signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. While waiting for that contract to turn him into a star, he joined the National Guard and was scheduled to ship off to fight in Vietnam when the infamous riots broke out in Watts. Selleck was fortunately reassigned to the Los Angeles neighborhood for riot control.
Selleck resumed commercial auditions, did print and fashion modeling, and continued training with famed acting coach Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Fox eventually dropped him, but Selleck worked tirelessly to support himself in search for that big break. In 1970, he launched his film career by playing the "Stud" ogled by Mae West in the notorious "Myra Breckenridge" (1970) campfest. He also landed a recurring role in the primetime drama "Bracken's World" (NBC, 1969-70). A slew of B-movies like "Daughters of Satan" (1972) and Russ Meyers' "The Seven Minutes" (1971) followed, while the late 1970s were marked by half a dozen failed pilots but also a co-starring role opposite Sam Elliott in the Western miniseries "The Sacketts" (NBC, 1979).
By 1980, the strikingly good-looking and admirably hard-working Selleck had appeared in over 50 commercials, had over a dozen film and TV credits to his name, and was feeling confident about the increasing quality of his acting work. That is why when Universal called on him to anchor yet another action series pilot, Selleck was boldly honest about his opinion of the script for "Magnum P.I." He wanted something more from the clichéd main character - a flawless, James Bond-type womanizer - so negotiated rewrites that transformed Thomas Magnum into a fallible, goofy, and much more endearing private detective. Selleck's instinct to imbue a tall, handsome, heroic-looking figure with humility, humor, and an admitted lack of all the answers, was spot-on and the script came to life. So did Selleck's career. Before shooting had even begun on the pilot, Selleck was offered the lead as Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). Taking the role would have meant reneging on a freshly-inked contract with CBS, and after much soul-searching, the ethical actor decided to honor his commitment to the network. The rest was history, for both Selleck and the penultimate Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford.
"Magnum, P.I." debuted in the fall of 1980 and quickly rose to the top of the ratings charts for its compelling blend of mystery, action and comedy. The show chronicled the life of former Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran Thomas Magnum, who lived on the lush Hawaiian estate of a famous novelist and was responsible for its security. The undemanding job allowed the charming adventurer plenty of free time to locate missing persons and break up drug smuggling rings; it also allowed him free use of a Ferrari 308 GTS. The estate's live-in manager - a by-the-book former British sergeant major Jonathan Higgins (John Hillerman) - was also part of the deal, and the love-hate relationship between the polar opposites was an endless source of entertainment. Also crucial to the show's appeal was Magnum's camaraderie with veteran buddies T.C. (William Moseley), who operated a helicopter shuttle service, and Rick (Larry Manetti), manager of a local bar with handy ties to the underworld. The show was notable for being among the first to feature characters who were Vietnam veterans, and regularly included references to their experiences both during wartime and readjustment to civilian life. Selleck earned an Emmy award for "Magnum" in 1984, a Golden Globe award in 1985, and People's Choice Awards in 1984 and 1985.
"Magnum" catapulted Selleck into stardom practically overnight, and despite the fact that he was well into his thirties, his face graced the covers of teenybopper magazines. Hot off the success of his TV gig, he ventured back into feature films several times during his show's run, delivering a dashing performance as a hard-drinking pilot in the period adventure "High Road to China" (1983), and - in one of his biggest box office roles - as an unwitting co-father to an abandoned baby in the comedy "Three Men and a Baby" (1987). For the most part, Selleck's cinematic turns in "Her Alibi" (1989) and "Mr. Baseball" (1993) were neither critical nor audience favorites, though 1990's "Quigley Down Under," where he played an Aussie-bound American gun-for-hire who discovers that his target is tribal Aborigines, were cited as his best feature work then to date.
Selleck had served as executive producer on the last two seasons of "Magnum," so in 1989, he resumed that title for eight "B.L. Stryker" (ABC, 1989-90) TV films starring Burt Reynolds. He also produced a number of other TV movies including "Revealing Evidence" (NBC, 1990) and "Silverfox" (ABC, 1991). After his show went off the air in 1988, Selleck kept a low profile for the next few years, unsatisfied with the roles he was being offered and enjoying the freedom to spend time with wife Jillie Mack and their young daughter.
But in 1996, he surprised and delighted audiences with a return to series TV in the recurring role of Richard on the hit sitcom "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), playing a family friend-turned lover of Monica Geller's (Courteney Cox-Arquette). The well-received run (critics and fans commented on how well preserved he was, still sporting his omnipresent moustache) reinvigorated Selleck's career, ramping him up for another round of Westerns - his favorite genre - with executive producer and star status in "Ruby Jean and J " (USA, 1996) and "Last Stand at Saber River" (USA, 1997). Selleck found himself in the headlines that same year when he took a supporting role in the big screen comedy "In & Out," starring Kevin Kline as a college professor desperately trying to set the record straight after being "outed" during the Academy Award acceptance speech of a former student. For Selleck's role as a gay newspaper reporter who shares an onscreen kiss with the film's star, a real life newspaper tabloid inaccurately proclaimed Selleck to be gay. Selleck successfully sued the tabloid and donated his settlement to a university program promoting ethics in journalism, but it was not his only run-in with an unkind press. Several years prior he had been forced to hold a press conference confirming his heterosexuality after a gay magazine falsely outed him.
But his most notorious battle came years later in 1999, when during an appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (syndicated, 1996-2002), he and an emotional and opinionated O'Donnell sparred over gun control issues in an interview segment, following Selleck's appearance in a National Rifle Association ad for the powerful organization. The interview had occurred shortly on the heels of the Columbine school shooting that had shocked a nation. So unsuspected was the on-air attack from O'Donnell, that after the dust had settled, the card-carrying NRA member denied accusations that he was the right-wing heir to NRA president Charlton Heston's throne, citing his support of a wide variety of non-partisan organizations and maintaining political identification as a registered Independent. The situation soured him on life in the public eye.
Selleck's continuing popular appearances as Monica's ex on "Friends" led CBS to cast him in his first sitcom, "The Closer" (CBS, 1998), in which he co-starred with Ed Asner as a pair of advertising executives. The show had its charm - not to mention an unusual song and dance fantasy sequence with guest star Bernadette Peters who earned an Emmy nomination - but the show was short-lived at only 10 episodes. Selleck retreated to tried-and-true Western territory with "Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail" (USA, 2001), which reached the largest audience (7.7 million homes) ever for an original cable movie, and "Monte Walsh" (USA, 2003); both of which he executive-produced. More unexpected than Selleck's appearance as Monica's boyfriend on "Friends" was his totally bald appearance as General Dwight D. Eisenhower in "Ike: Countdown to D-Day" (USA, 2004). Selleck's portrayal of the great military strategic thinker navigating through one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history, helped garner the production six Emmy nominations.
In 2005, Selleck began a long-term role as executive producer and star of a series of TV movies based on the "Jesse Stone" detective novels by Robert B. Parker. Selleck was proudly responsible for the gritty, film-like feel of "Stone Cold" (USA, 2005), "Night Passage" (2006) and "Death in Paradise" (2006), and earned an Emmy nomination for playing the restless, demon-haunted, small town cop in 2007's "Sea Change." Selleck's positive reception led to a long overdue return to prime drama - in fall of 2007, he was slated to join the cast of "Las Vegas" (NBC, 2003-08), taking over as the new owner of the Montecito Resort & Casino. Ironically, just as Selleck was enjoying the peak of his post-Magnum career - and at an age where many actors would be resting on their laurels - Imagine Entertainment announced the 2009 release of a big screen version of "Magnum P.I.," starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role. Selleck turned down an offer to participate in the film, feeling that audiences had finally allowed him leave the role in the past and move on to other, just as rewarding parts. As he continued the popular "Jesse Stone" string of TV movies, he returned to the big screen in the romantic action comedy "Killers" (2010) as Katherine Heigl's good-natured father (and Catherine O'Hara's patient husband), oblivious to the fact that his daughter marries a secret spy (Ashton Kutcher) with a killer past and future.