A flyaway golf ball almost caused Tom Selleck to meet James Garner long before they appeared together on The Rockford Files. “At a little par-three golf course, I hit an errant shot — which was my customary golf shot — and it flies up in the air and almost hits Jim Garner,” recalls Tom. “I never told him that!”

Tom is telling a lot of never-before-revealed tales in his new memoir, You Never Know, where the Sherman Oaks, California-reared star traces his life from indifferent USC college student to one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors on the big and small screens. “I certainly didn’t want to be an actor. I never thought of that in my life,” admits Tom, 79, who chatted about his life during an appearance at New York 92nd Street Y.

Tom was already 35 when CBS offered him his breakout role on Magnum, P.I. in 1980. “Nobody knew who I was. [They thought I was just] a guy on a Salem billboard smoking a menthol cigarette,” he says. Most unknown actors would have broken out the champagne, but Tom hated the original Magnum script and felt trapped into agreeing to the job.

Fortunately, he was appearing on The Rockford Files as private investigator Lance White at the time. “I just love James Garner,” Tom says of the late Rockford star, who offered sage advice in his thoughtful, mild-mannered way. “He said, ‘I’m not telling you what to do, but I’ll tell you this: You don’t have any power. But if they want you, you will never have more power than you do right now.’”

Tom took those words to heart and turned down Magnum. Eventually, the network agreed to give Tom more input into the character of Thomas Magnum and the shape of the Hawaii-based private detective series. “If that little ultimatum I gave Universal hadn’t worked out, I never would have worked again,” Tom admits. “But risk is the price you pay for opportunity.”

On the other hand, sometimes taking advantage of a lucky break also requires sacrifice. Before Magnum, P.I. went on the air, Tom was invited to talk to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas about playing Indiana Jones in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tom held out hope that he’d be able to do the movie as well as Magnum, but the network nixed the possibility, and the film role eventually went to Harrison Ford. “It was OK. Magnum wasn’t like a consolation prize,” says Tom today. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me — until Raiders came along.”

Tom Selleck didn't want to be an actor
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Tom Selleck Is a Family Man

In 2010, Tom returned to television full time as Blue Bloods’ Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, a father who doesn’t always have all the answers but always tries to do what’s best for his family.

Looking back over the long road he’s traveled, Tom can’t help but be grateful for the wisdom his own father, Robert, gave him when he was contemplating a career in show business. “He really thought for a moment and said, ‘Look, it’s one of those occupations that is kind of special. You don’t want to get to be 35 and wonder what if,’” he recalls.

As young Tom left the room, his father said one more thing. “I don’t think he said this for me to hear, but I heard it. He said, ‘Just don’t let them change you.’ I realized how hard that advice was for him because he’d heard all the horror stories, but his advice was ‘Take the risk.’”