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In new memoir, Tom Selleck looks back at the hard years that made him a star in ‘Magnum, P.I.’

FILE - Actor Tom Selleck arrives at the 15th Annual Entertainment Industry Foundation Revlon Run/Walk For Women in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)

Tom Selleck starts his memoir in the middle of a car crash. He is 17 and in the passenger seat when he and two friends go airborne in his mom’s red Chevy Corvair, tumbling off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. Everyone would be eventually fine, but it’s a harrowing moment and a unique way to kick off a look back.

“That’s an unusual way to start,” the “Magnum, P.I.” and “Blue Bloods” star admits in an interview. “It seemed like the perfect way to go back a little bit and talk about my upbringing through the bad accident and the ramifications.”

“You Never Know” takes readers through Selleck’s years at the University of Southern California, in the Army, being bachelor No. 2 on “The Dating Game” and small roles and commercials before earning an Emmy and lasting fame as Thomas Magnum.

“I didn’t have one of those headline-grabbing lives,” the 79-year-old actor tells The Associated Press. “The only way I could make the book entertaining — and I think my primary job and goal in this book is to entertain — was to get into these stories in a way that the reader got inside my head.”

Selleck spent four years writing the book longhand on yellow legal pads, quoting from George Will and Raymond Chandler along the way. He would write in the afternoon and read what he’d written to his wife at dinner.

The self-portrait that emerges is of an actor who put his head down and worked at his craft — he did six unsold pilots and his first big movie was in the unfortunate “Daughters of Satan” — until hitting the big time in his mid-30s.

“If Selleck has one thing to sell its authenticity,” says Ellis Henican, Selleck’s co-writer. “He is a guy who knows who he is. He has managed to make a very successful career in a rough business over many decades by finding a way to be himself.”

Selleck says he had no intentions of writing a tell-all or sharing salacious details of his life, though he does reveal details about his secret marriage to his second wife, Jillie Mack, who he first spotted onstage in “Cats.” (Yes, he fell in love with Rumpleteazer.)

“There’s plenty of stuff I have not talked, about and there’s plenty of stuff that everybody else has talked about and it isn’t really accurate,” he says.

Readers will learn that Selleck — known for his 6-foot-4 matinee-idol looks and build, sense of humor and effortless style — was often racked by insecurity and doubts, writing, “That critic on your shoulder is a formidable opponent.”

“I wanted to speak the language of our business to young actors,” he says. “It’s not an easy road. The product you’re selling — when somebody says no, which is 99% of the time — is you.”

Famously, his shooting schedule for “Magnum, P.I.” forced him to decline an offer to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a part which went to Harrison Ford. A Hollywood strike actually made it possible to do both, but Selleck is at peace, writing “my only regret was that the what-if was there from time to time.”

The role of Magnum — a Vietnam war veteran-turned easygoing detective who zipped around Hawaii in a red Ferrari — aired from 1980-1988.

Selleck earned an Emmy in 1984 for the episode “Home from the Sea,” in which Magnum treads water alone in the Pacific Ocean until he is rescued, talking to figures in his past. “I made it, Dad. Why didn’t you?,” the character deliriously asks his father, who was shot down over Korea in 1951. He was thrust into hosting the Emmys on the year he won one.

“A part of me was still in host mode. I grabbed my Emmy and ran across the stage to my host podium. I put down my Emmy and looked out at the applauding audience for the first time. When I did, I gotta say, the applause grew louder and stayed that way for quite a bit longer than I expected,” he writes.

Selleck bet on himself throughout his career, turning down a steady gig on “Young and the Restless” and showing up for work on the 1979 TV miniseries “The Sacketts” even though the director made a point of saying he didn’t want him.

“I’m most proud that I, as a person, was willing to take risks. They didn’t always pay off, but many times they did,” he says. “Risk is the price you pay for opportunity itself.”

Portraits of other stars also make appearances, like Carol Burnett, Princess Diana and Frank Sinatra, whose last acting job was on “Magnum, P.I.” and who showed off his temper as well as his acting chops while navigating a colostomy bag.

Fans of “Blue Bloods” have to wait for the last few pages to discover that Selleck initially fought for it to be a character-driven show and not a procedural, as the pilot had been. He won and the show is in its 14th season. He writes “I can’t be that lucky twice.”

Selleck writes that he approached his career as a bricklayer, making sure each role was done with the highest quality and then moving on to the next. If that meant pushing back on scripts or budgets, so be it.

“Just showing up and getting a paycheck wasn’t my idea of the work,” he says. “I tried to always do it in a businesslike way. You know, not throw tantrums and throw scripts against the wall.”


Mark Kennedy is at

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press