It’s the show that established Tom Selleck as TV’s ultimate mustache wearer, brought the red Hawaiian shirt back into fashion and made every ’80s kid watching suddenly want to be a private investigator. Here’s a look at 20 things you may not know about classic crime drama Magnum, P.I.
20. It featured a Rat Pack legend’s final acting appearance
Intriguingly, Frank Sinatra had his last acting role in Magnum, P.I. Specifically, Ol’ Blue Eyes played a former New York cop who asks Magnum to help him find his granddaughter’s murderers. And the Rat Pack legend came up with the idea to star in the show after meeting Tom Selleck in Hawaii.
19. A film legend was the voice behind Selleck’s landlord
Alongside Sinatra, another Hollywood legend also made an unlikely appearance on the show – albeit one more hidden. Indeed, the owner of Magnum’s beachfront guesthouse, Robin Masters, was voiced by none other than Orson Welles. Sadly, though, plans for the character’s identity to be revealed were thwarted when Welles died in 1985.
18. Selleck’s mustache became a star in its own right
One of the most memorable things about Magnum, P.I. is undoubtedly Selleck’s bushy mustache. And the iconic facial hair actually became a star in its own right in 2015 when it entered the International Mustache Hall of Fame. Yes, that’s actually a thing.
17. And Magnum’s wardrobe has also been preserved in a museum
Magnum’s attire, meanwhile, is almost as celebrated as his mustache. In fact, the character’s most famous colorful Hawaiian shirt, the crimson-colored Jungle Bird, has even been preserved for posterity at the Smithsonian. His cherished Detroit Tigers baseball cap and symbolic ring were also donated to the museum in 2011.
16. Magnum was supposed to drive a very different car
And almost as famous as Selleck’s mustache is the red Ferrari he drove across the show’s Hawaii location. However, that car nearly didn’t appear in the series, as Magnum was initially supposed to have a Porsche. Indeed, producers only looked elsewhere for a vehicle when Porsche declined to customize any of its motors to accommodate Selleck’s 6’4” frame.
15. The show cost Selleck an iconic film role
Tom Selleck’s loss proved to be Harrison Ford’s gain when filming for Magnum, P.I. ruled him out of playing Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ironically, though, production was postponed on the TV show due to a union strike, which would actually have enabled Selleck to take on the iconic action hero role without a clash of commitments.
14. Selleck took a break from acting to do a $7-an-hour job
That same strike also forced Selleck to find an everyday job in order to make ends meet. The actor spent several months as a handyman – earning just $7 an hour – to help pay the rent at his new Hawaii home until filming was finally allowed to begin.
13. And Selleck didn’t like his character at first
But while Selleck may have rued missing out on Indiana Jones, he was never particularly enamored with the idea of playing the James Bond-esque character initially written into the Magnum, P.I. scripts. And the actor had to fight with writers to change Magnum from a suave, 007-type figure to the more average Joe we all came to know and love.
12. Hawaii Five-O was partly responsible for the show’s location
Ever wondered why the show was set in Hawaii? Well, apparently, producers CBS didn’t want to close down its production offices on the island when Hawaii Five-O came to an end in 1980. And Magnum, P.I. just happened to come along at the right time to help keep them open.
11. The show was nearly adapted into a movie
Magnum, P.I. very nearly made it to the big screen in the ’90s, but a change of ownership of Universal Studios meant that, to date, it has never materialized. In 2013 Selleck even confirmed that he had worked on a script with author Tom Clancy for a movie adaptation of the hit show.
10. Many cast members played more than one character
Eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted that several recurring cast members first made their debuts on the series as entirely different characters. Jeff McKay, Lance LeGault, Kathleen Lloyd and Elisha Cook Jr. were just some of the actors who pulled double duty during Magnum, P.I.’s run.
9. The show was a Selleck family affair
Meanwhile, Selleck certainly wasn’t short of familiar company on the set of Magnum, P.I. Both his first and second wives, Jacqueline Ray and Jillie Mack, had roles on the show, while dad Bob, mother Martha and adopted son Kevin had brief cameos as well.
8. Globe-trotter Magnum actually only left Hawaii once
Magnum, P.I. may have had episodes set in places as far-flung as Kenya, Japan and Italy, but the cast and crew very rarely left its familiar Hawaii setting. In fact, the London-based season six episode “Déjà Vu” was the only instance in which they actually filmed at an international location.
7. Selleck quit the show for his family
Having spent 90 hours a week filming Magnum, P.I. for most of the ’80s, as well as starring in several films, Selleck decided to adjust his work-life balance in 1988. In particular, the actor called time on the show after he and his wife Jillie welcomed newborn daughter Hannah that year.
6. Acting isn’t Selleck’s only talent
The rare downtime that Selleck had while taking part in Magnum, P.I. was certainly put to good use. Indeed, the multi-skilled actor won two national championships as a member of Hawaii’s Outrigger Canoe Club’s senior volleyball team. And that’s an achievement that, interestingly, Selleck has said is on a par with his Emmy win.
5. The show’s most recurring star had never acted professionally before
Jonathan Higgins’ pal Agatha Chumley was the show’s most used recurring character, appearing in no fewer than 29 episodes. But the actress who played her, Gillian Dobb, was actually the show’s most inexperienced cast member as, unusually, she had had no other professional roles on screen before Magnum, P.I.
4. Selleck fought to keep two regulars on the show
Zeus and Apollo, the two Dobermans that Higgins used to guard his home, were supposed to be written out as a cost-cutting measure in season four. However, both Selleck and Higgins actor John Hillerman fought to keep their canine friends in the show. And, happily, the dogs remained regulars for the rest of the series’ run.
3. Selleck had to wait for his success
Tom Selleck could never be described as an overnight success – and he’d probably agree with that assessment, too. Indeed, the actor filmed not just one but six TV pilots that never made it to air, before finally landing the Magnum, P.I. role that would establish him as a household name.
2. Magnum P.I. initially had a completely different theme tune
Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s Magnum, P.I. theme tune proved to be so popular that it charted at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released as a single in 1982. However, viewers for the show’s first 11 episodes were treated to an entirely different and somewhat jazzy opening theme composed by Ian Freebairn-Smith.
1. Several Hollywood stars appeared in the show before finding fame
Several stars made a visit to the Magnum, P.I. set while trying to make their name in Hollywood. Ian McShane and Ted Danson both guested on the show, for example. Sharon Stone, meanwhile, played identical twins – one of whom was a romantic foil for Magnum – in a two-part 1984 episode.