When the avocado trees on Tom Selleck’s 65-acre Ventura, Calif., ranch began dying from the drought, he replaced them with hardy oaks. “I’ve dug the holes myself for probably 1,000 California native oak trees,” the Blue Bloods star says. “Watching them grow is not something you can do in five minutes … but it’s very gratifying.”
At 77, Tom knows what works for him and what does not. “I think a man’s got to grow into himself,” says this husband, father and working actor of more than 50 years. It has taken trial, error and persistence to get to this point. “It’s not all about success,” says Tom. “It ’s mostly about failures.”
The second of four children, Tom moved with his family from Detroit to Southern California when he was 3. “I had a great dad and a great mom, and I could go into analysis for 20 years and not blame them for anything,” says Tom, whose father encouraged him to put aside his business studies at USC and take a chance on acting. “My dad just said, ‘Look … If you don’t give it a shot, you might get to be about 35 and wonder.”
Though Tom didn’t have acting experience, his classic good looks won him a contract at 20th Century Fox. “I started at about 35 bucks a week,” recalls the star, who found auditions daunting due to his inherent shyness. “I couldn’t do Vic Virile very well,” Tom admits. He also felt that a lot of the dumb jock roles he was being offered were degrading and humiliating. “Most of the smaller parts were idiots,” he says.
Tom kept at it. He starred in seven television pilots that never aired, and he mostly paid the rent doing commercials. He finally got his big break — two of them, actually — when he was 35. But it still didn’t come easily.
When Tom was offered the lead in Magnum, P.I., he “hated” the script. He felt the character of Thomas Magnum was too “James Bond” and “perfect” to be relatable, so he suggested playing him as a flawed hero, like The Rockford Files’ Jim Rockford. “[Magnum] was more of a private investigator, owed money to his friends, was the least responsible guy,” Tom says.
Around the same time, Tom auditioned for the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Unfortunately, by the time Tom was offered the movie, he had already signed the contract for Magnum and he had to turn the future blockbuster down. “Some actors, that kind of thing might’ve killed them,” he admits. “I did the right thing. I kept my word. I lived up to the contract.”
He didn’t wind up with the career of Harrison Ford, but it wasn’t a terrible trade-off. Magnum, P.I., which ran from 1980 to 1988, would make Tom a household name and open up a world of new opportunities. “I think if Magnum hadn’t worked out, I’d never have worked again in this business,” he admits.
Tom, who’d had one early marriage, met his future wife, Jillie Mack, when she was appearing in a West End production of Cats. He was in London filming the 1984 movie Lassiter during a Magnum, P.I. break and was captivated by her beauty. After more than 30 years together, they’re still perfectly in sync. “I don’t think the infatuation stage of any relationship lasts forever, but it can grow into something,” Tom says. “It just grows more satisfying. You become true partners.”
The couple have maintained their Ventura ranch, which once belonged to Dean Martin, as their home base since 1988. Daughter Hannah, 33, grew up there. “She is an only child, so she has always been extremely close with her parents,” says a family friend.
The land has long been Tom’s personal paradise. “He literally does not like to go out,” says the pal. “When he’s home, he likes to spend quality time with Jillie, watching movies and having dinner. They love to walk their dogs together and do farming and gardening projects. They’ve never been happier.”
A combination of hard work and good fortune has allowed Tom to create his happy life, but like anyone, he’s prone to worry. Career uncertainty can still keep him up at night. “Every actor I know thinks their last job is their last job,” says Tom. “You finish a job, and nine times out of 10 you’re just unemployed and you don’t know where the next one is. It’s stressful.”
To counter those feelings, Tom keeps busy. In addition to Blue Bloods, he’s got several other acting projects in the works. He has also been writing a memoir about his upbringing and career. “The book is lending itself to a real voice, my voice,” he says. “I’m just trying very hard to have a personal conversation with the reader.”
Tom hopes to pass on some wisdom, but admits he doesn’t know everything. He does recognize that nothing lasts forever and it’s important to appreciate the good times while they last. “I’ve been very fortunate,” Tom says. “I never wanted to be an actor, I never did a play, I never did anything. I got lucky.”
—Reporting by Natalie Posner
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