Fun Magnum, P.I. Facts From Tom Selleck’s Memoir — Including Why He Thought the Show’s Title Was ‘Sh–ty’

There’s a reason why Tom Selleck refers to the original Magnum, P.I. television series as just “Magnum” — and it has nothing to do with it being simple shorthand.

Selleck’s 352-page memoir, You Never Know, was released earlier this month (days after the 36th anniversary of Magnum, P.I.’s series finale), and when rummaging for something to read outdoors on a lazy Memorial Day Weekend afternoon, I remembered that I had been floated an advanced copy. Before I knew it, I had plowed through the entire back half of the book, which covers the shooting of the Magnum pilot, the dilemma that presented itself when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas offered Selleck the role of Indiana Jones, and then the shooting of Magnum‘s eight-season run.

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‘You Never Know’ by Tom Selleck




Though I can’t speak for the first 150 pages (yet), You Never Know is a breezy read, and a “must” for any fans of CBS’ original Magnum, P.I. series. I have fuzzy memories of the island drama that also starred John Hillerman, Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley, and somewhat frustratingly, the full series isn’t streaming “free” anywhere, but Selleck’s candid storytelling pulls you in. (Each season of the series can, however, be purchased on Amazon.)

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Magnum, as the series was originally titled, had its first pilot penned by Glen Larson, whom Selleck was no great fan of. Fortunately, not long after, one Donald P. Bellisario — who would go on to create Quantum Leap, JAG and (with Don McGill) NCIS took a crack at a two-hour movie pilot for Magnum, which Selleck in his memoir hails as “the best script that had ever crossed my path.”

An early hiccup when shooting the pilot revolved around the fact that when Magnum goes to “borrow” a Ferrari from Robin Masters, the 6-foot-4 Selleck’s head touched the roof of the sports car, so they had to write in a scene where Thomas pulls over to take the top off ahead of his joy ride.

The conflict that arose when Selleck was asked to read for Raiders of the Lost Ark, as he waited to hear whether CBS would order Magnum to series, has been well chronicled. Long story short, there was some confidence that since Universal co-produced Magnum, P.I. and also had a stake in Raiders, all parties would find a way for Selleck to do both. Alas, one CBS bigwig worried that Selleck, once a movie star, would endeavor to wriggle free of his commitment to the network’s highest-testing pilot, so the film role was iced.

The painful irony is that, due to the Screen Actors Guild strike of 1980, production on Magnum, P.I. Season 1 was delayed long enough that, as Selleck notes, “I coulda done both.” (In fact, Raiders came to Hawaii to wrap filming while Selleck was there waiting for the SAG strike to end.)

Magnum’s Detroit Tigers ball cap was Selleck’s choosing; he also approved of the character’s go-to floral shirts, because they spoke to Thomas embracing this new phase of his life.

What Selleck did not care for was the title change that got handed down once Magnum landed on CBS” schedule. Basically, because the title character had been named Harry Magnum in Glen Larson’s original pilot, there was concern that Clint Eastwood and/or Warner Bros. might get litigious, because of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character in the movie Magnum Force. Selleck deferred to Bellsario’s judgement, “but it really was a sh–ty title,” he writes — partly because he knew, from his brief time in Hawaii, that “P.I.” was a “less than flattering abbreviation for Philippine Islander.”

Again, nearly 200 pages of Selleck’s memoir span his time starring on Magnum, so there are anecdotes aplenty — about why he refused to go undercover as a gigolo in an early episode, how he re-choreographed a fight scene with a villain played by Ted Danson, how Carol Burnett guest-starred not long after Selleck chose her as his plus-one for the Emmys, how Selleck brought production to a costly halt so he could fly to Los Angeles and compel Bellisario to not entirely bail on the series to showrun Airwolf, how The Cosby Show sank Magnum‘s ratings, and how Frank Sinatra very much wanted to be on the show but insisted that Selleck ask him.

Sinatra (right) in the Season 7 <em>Magnum, P.I.</em> episode ‘Laura’
Sinatra (right) in the Season 7 Magnum, P.I. episode ‘Laura’

Selleck toyed with leaving Magnum after fulfilling his original seven-year contract (ergo the seemingly deadly Season 7 finale titled “Limbo”), but ultimately agree to one more, final season, at the close of which he surprised his crew with a most generous gesture.

You Never Know appears to have been completed while last year’s SAG strike was still going, and Selleck shares his thoughts on such work stoppages and whether, in the end, they’re good for the industry. The memoir ends with some laudatory Reagan’s Law Blue Bloods talk, but if you’re looking for a play-by-play on Selleck’s current CBS series akin to how deep he goes on Magnum, that is not to be found.

‘You Never Know’ by Tom Selleck




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