Count Tom Selleck as another prominent TV star who thinks of the late James Garner as his mentor.
Garner influenced a lot of actors, including NCIS star Mark Harmon. Because Max Baer Jr, who played Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies, looked like Garner, he signed his first acting contract. And Garner also helped with the career of Tom Selleck. Garner, at the time, was the star of the Rockford Files, playing the affable and handsome everyman who worked as a private detective. A lot of the storylines were taken from Maverick, Garner’s first big TV role from the late 1950s.
Meanwhile, Tom Selleck was approaching his mid-30s and looking for a break. He said he’d filmed seven pilots. But the networks passed on each one. Selleck paid the bills with a series of national commercials. His face sold deodorant soap, toothpaste, cologne and cigarettes. But he wanted to be an actor. Finally, Selleck was cast as Lance White in the Rockford Files, appearing in 1978-79.
Tom Selleck Said He Worked with James Garner at ‘Critical Time’
“I worked with Garner at a really critical time,” Tom Selleck told GQ in a 2014 interview. “I had done the leads in several pilots, but nobody saw them because they didn’t sell, and I did this thing on Rockford, and I watched Garner, because I’d been on a lot of shows where everybody was walking on eggshells and there were battles about who was coming out of their dressing room first.
“So I was unemployed for a long time,” Tom Selleck said, mentioning the seven unsold pilots. “And I had a long time to say, “Boy, if I ever get a chance…” and “I’m not going to do that.” Because I was 35 when I got Magnum, which was a real blessing, because I think when I was 25, I looked 35 and sounded 15.”
Selleck Said Actors Could Take ‘Star Lessons’ from Garner
So Tom Selleck said he observed how Garner behaved while he was on the Rockford Files set.
“But I had plenty of time to observe,” Selleck said, “And then, by the time I’m 34, to work with Garner—who I think people, if they could, still take star lessons from. He understood that leads in a show like a television series involved leadership, probably. When you’re not feeling so good, put on a happy face, it’s infectious—these things sound kind of corny and stupid, but this is our life.”
Finally, his career clicked. As a 35-year-old, Tom Selleck found overnight stardom in 1980 playing private investigator Thomas Magnum in Magnum P.I. And now, he’s playing New York police commissioner Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods. He’s the patriarch of a family heavily involved in law enforcement.
And, he can thank James Garner for helping him see how to act when he finally became a star. When Garner died in 2014, Tom Selleck said “Jim was a mentor to me and a friend, and I will miss him.”