THE TV ICON REVEALS HOW FAME NEARLY DESTROYED HIM — AND HOW A SIMPLE LIFE WITH HIS FAMILY BROUGHT HIM JOY
How Tom Selleck turned his back on fame and fortune to make his family his greatest priority.
Tom Selleck will soon celebrate his 50th anniversary in showbiz. On Jan. 14, 1969, he made his acting debut opposite a German shepherd in the obscure TV Western Lancer. “The dog wasn’t looking vicious enough, so they had me hide a piece of steak in my fist and put my fist up to it, and they said, ‘Then the dog will really come for you,’ ” Tom recalls. “And he did, and it was terrifying, but my performance was quite good!”
That may not have been the most auspicious beginning, but Tom, 73, has enjoyed a remarkable run, with hits on TV (Magnum P.I.) and in film (Three Men and a Baby) alike. He’s currently shooting his ninth season of CBS’ Blue Bloods and shows no signs of slowing down. Yet he’s happiest far away from the spotlight, at the restored 1910 hunting lodge where he lives on 65 acres in Ventura County, Calif.
“This ranch is a great counterpoint to the acting business, which is an abstraction — you do something, it’s up on a piece of film, and everybody argues whether it’s good or bad,” Tom says. “You dig a hole and plant an oak tree — and I’ve probably planted a thousand of them — it’s real. It’s there, and you can watch it grow. It’s a lot different from being famous, and it keeps me sane.”
Tom bought the place from Dean Martin in 1988, when he was just wrapping his eighth and final season on Magnum and preparing for the birth of his daughter, Hannah, with wife Jillie. “I quit Magnum to have a family,” he says. “It took me a long time to get off the train, but I try very hard to have balance, and this ranch has helped me do that.”
More than 30 years later, Tom and Jillie have no regrets about their decision to leave Hollywood. “This is the best place to raise a child,” she says. “It was such the wisdom of Tom. He knew he needed to buy back his anonymity, to replenish the soul.”
JUST PLAIN FOLKS
Tom’s tireless work ethic came to him naturally. When he was 3, his dad, Robert — a former World War II B-29 mechanic — moved the family from Detroit to LA to pursue a career in real estate; he ultimately became a VP at Coldwell Banker. “I had a great dad and a great mom,” says Tom, whose parents were married until his father’s death in 2001 (his mom passed away last year). “I could go into
analysis for 20 years and not blame them for anything, so I’m very fortunate that way.”
Though he was more interested in athletics than acting while he was growing up, Tom got into the industry after he was recruited by a talent scout who’d seen him lose — twice! — on The Dating Game. He struggled to find steady work for more than a decade, but his family backed him up all the way.
“My dad said, ‘Look, it’s a kind of opportunity where, if you don’t give it a shot, you might get to be about 35 and wonder,’” he remembers. “Then he said, ‘Just don’t let them change you.’ ”
Tom didn’t, and when he was 35, he landed the role that would change his life: Vietnam vet-turned-Hawaiian P.I. Thomas Magnum. “Being 35, I didn’t take success on Magnum for granted,” says Tom, who worked hard to ensure his character wasn’t a one-dimensional superhero but rather a flawed yet pro- foundly decent human being.
“Magnum was recognized as the first show to portray Vietnam veterans in a positive way,” says Tom, who donated pieces of his wardrobe to the Smithsonian Institution. “I’m very proud that my silly Hawaiian shirt and Detroit Tigers cap are in their collection.”
But after eight seasons, Tom was tired of appearing in nearly every scene of the action-packed series, so he retired to his ranch. He’d already seen his punishing work schedule contribute to the demise of his first marriage, to actress Jacqueline Ray (from 1971 to 1982), and he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. “I worked 90 hours a week and did a movie every break,” Tom says.
He downshifted his career, taking guest spots on TV shows like Friends and supporting roles in films like In & Out, so he could
“The nice thing about acting is you never get it figured out. I keep learning.” — Tom
spend more days on the ranch with Jillie and Hannah. “My first priority is time with my family,” says Tom. “It’s important to nurture your marriage. I think wanting time away from work has been good for that.”
HOME ON THE RANGE
Tom and Jillie are proof that opposites truly do attract. “There’s a lot of yin and yang in us,” says Tom, who met his better half when she was dancing in the original London production of the musical Cats. “I’m kind of quiet. She’s got this joie de vivre. I don’t know what our secret is, but I’m happy.”
Even though Hannah will soon turn 30 (and is an accomplished equestrian, thanks to her years on the ranch), Tom remains an involved father. “You don’t stop being a dad, even though your kids are grown,” he says.
Not coincidentally, he’s become a father figure on the set of Blue Bloods, where he plays NYPD commissioner Frank Reagan, the patriarch of a law-enforcement family. “Tom is such an influence and mentor in my career and life,” Sami Gayle, who plays his granddaughter, tells Closer. “He’s an omniscient person in my eyes — I can ask him about anything and he will give me the greatest answer in one second, so it’s amazing.”
Tom only agreed to return to TV after CBS arranged his Blue Bloods schedule so he could shoot only a few days a week in NYC, then fly back to his ranch. “This is a different deal than Magnum,” he says. “I don’t work every day. I don’t love the commute, but that’s OK. I’ve got a job right now that I love.”
At home, he’s finally found a sense of inner peace. “I work this ranch every day,” he says proudly. “I do the grunt jobs because it saves me money. And it’s good for my head.”
It also helps him keep his fame in perspective. “I’m not saying I’m remarkably talented — I’m saying my talent may happen to be where my dreams are,” he says. “Part of that talent, I guess, is that my appetites seem to blend with what the audience wants to see me in. It doesn’t always work that way. Actors have appetites, and audiences say, ‘I don’t want to see him in that; I want to see him in that. ’”
And his daily chores on the ranch prevent him from dwelling on his success. “You don’t have time to reflect — you just keep moving,” he says. “I feel very fortunate, and I feel I’ve earned it.
That’s just as important for me.”
Tom with wife Jillie and their daughter, Hannah
“Tom fell into the dad role immediately,” says Bridget Moynahan, with Blue Bloods’ Will Estes, Len Cariou, Tom and Donnie Wahlberg.
CBS recently launched a reboot of Magnum P.I., but Tom says he doesn’t plan to do a guest shot: “I just stepped back and said, ‘I won’t get in the way.’ I have an obligation to my version, but I wish them the best.”