Tom Selleck Once Gave Away an Insane Amount of Money to ‘Magnum P.I.’ Crew

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Tom Selleck fought to make Magnum P.I. more authentic to the average American. The show was his big acting break and he took pride in the series.

That’s why he pushed the studio to make Thomas Magnum less like James Bond and more like an everyman, albeit one who lives outside Honolulu on a beach-front estate. He told them to think of James Garner in Rockford Files with a Hawaii vibe.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to be Rockford, but I want to do something like that, where the guy is fallible,” said Selleck, who had a recurring role on the Rockford Files.

Selleck also wanted writers to showcase Vietnam vets and allow Magnum to reference his Navy SEAL history. So, in other words, Tom Selleck had ownership in Magnum P.I. and it meant more to him than other parts.

And he shared that enthusiasm in a very real and countable way. Back in 1987, the studio gave Tom Selleck, who also was a producer on the show, a $350,000 bonus for coming in under budget. The show also had been picked up for another season, what would be its final one.

So Tom Selleck turned around and shared $150,000 of the bonus with the Magnum P.I. crew. Every person received a $1,000 check. In 2021 dollars, that’s about $2,300.

Tom Selleck as the titular investigator in the television series ‘Magnum, P.I.’, circa 1985. He is posing with his red Ferrari 308. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Tom Selleck Worked Hard For His Career

Selleck seemed like an overnight success when he landed the role of Thomas Magnum in 1980. It was a plush assignment. The character lived in the guest house on an ocean front estate on Oahu. Magnum, driving his boss’ Ferrari, worked security and solved crimes as a private investigator. The show ran from 1980-88. The first five seasons it ranked among the country’s top 20 programs. The third and fourth seasons were the most popular and ranked among the top 10 most viewed in the nation.

Tom Selleck actually had been an actor since he was in college. He appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game, twice. He wasn’t picked either time. Throughout the 1970s, he appeared in major national commercials. But he still was a fresh face in 1980 to a nation of TV viewers.

“The luckiest thing that happened was that I didn’t get a real job until I was 35,” Selleck said. “When I was 25, I looked 35 but sounded 15. There are a lot of very good actors who make it as younger leading men but don’t graduate — because the audience won’t accept them as grown up.”

After Tom Selleck handed out the $1,000 checks to the crew, he decided to stick with Magnum P.I. for one more season. He married actress Jillie Mack in August 1987. And he settled with his new family on their avocado ranch in California, mostly keeping out of the public eye.

“I had given the show an extra year,” Selleck said. “I had done the No. 1 movie in the world, (Three Men and a Baby). I was tired (and) I was doing 90-hour weeks for eight years. I wasn’t tired of (Magnum P.I.). It was time. What a nice way to go off. What a nice way to pay homage to the show; it was still so popular.”

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