Tom Selleck Once Revealed How a Major ‘Gunsmoke’ Figure Left a ‘Big Impression’ on Him

by Josh Lanier

Tom Selleck grew up watching westerns, and they left a major mark on his life. He’s one of the few remaining actors still pushing for the genre today, even though they’re incredibly hard to get made.

And a lot of reasons for that stems from his first big break in the film The Sacketts. The film follows three brothers as they seek their fortunes after the Civil War. Along with Selleck, it features a young Sam Elliott as one of the Sackett brothers as well as Jeff Osterhage.

Robert Totten directed the film. He was one of the most influential directors on Gunsmoke and a big influence on Selleck, he told True West Magazine. Selleck said he had to fight for the role because he had no experience riding a horse or using a rope. But he promised Totten he was a quick learner.

As a final audition, he had to prove it and ride against the other actors who were up for the role. The Blue Bloods star landed the part, and it started his love affair with westerns.

“Bob Totten left a big impression on me,” Tom Selleck said. “He commanded a lot of respect. He’d done more Gunsmokes than almost anybody. Totten assembled a Western stock company like John Ford had, people who did one-day bit parts: Slim Pickens, Pat Buttram, and Jack Elam.

“Glenn Ford was an actor ahead of his time; his acting style was very naturalistic, like early Brando. Ben Johnson would be embarrassed if I called him a mentor, but he was — everybody looked up to Uncle Ben. … I got hooked on Westerns with The Sacketts.”

Tom Selleck’s Drink From a Boot Led to Later Film

When they’d finished filming The Sacketts, Selleck and the rest of the cast celebrated at the wrap party. But as a tradition, Selleck had to pass one of Totten’s rights of initiation.

Totten took off one of his boots, “poured Jack Daniel’s in it, said, ‘This is tradition: you need to drink out of this.’” Tom Selleck recalled. “But the big thing out of that party was Sam, Jeff, Ben and I all said if we ever get a chance to do this again, we’re there. And that was the germination of Shadow Riders.”

It wouldn’t be long before they make good on their promise.

The beloved 1982 TV movie features all three actors. Louis L’Amour, who wrote the book The Sacketts was based on as well as countless other westerns, penned the novel Shadow Riders used as inspiration, as well.

Selleck and Elliot would go on to become staples of the western genre.