‘There’s more to me than the moustache’

Jillie has excused herself (‘Well, I’ll let you boys go ahead and talk…’) and leaves Selleck in a reflective mood. During lockdown, he began jotting down his life story. Four years later, the product of those sessions is here in the form of a memoir called You Never Know

It is the story of ‘an accidental career’: Selleck never dreamed of being an actor, and still can’t quite believe how things turned out. The second child to Martha, a housewife and later charity coordinator, and Robert, who worked in property, he was born in Detroit but the family moved to Sherman Oaks, just north of Hollywood, when he was three.

Completed by older brother Bob, younger sister Marti and younger brother Daniel, the Sellecks were a happy clan. ‘Yeah, I could go into analysis for 20 years and not blame my parents for anything, so for a while I didn’t know what I was going to write a book about.’

‘Terrible’ at school, he enrolled at the University of Southern California on a business major, ‘but if I had a fantasy, it wasn’t to be a star, it was to be a professional baseball player’. His siblings all went into real estate, but it took Selleck a while to discover what he’d learned from his parents. ‘My dad always said, “Risk is the price you pay for opportunity,” and I kind of knew that.’

An inveterate ‘yes’ man, friends convinced him to appear on a game show called The Dating Game. Tall, strapping, chiselled, bashful – the camera, and producers, loved him. It led to opportunities in adverts, which led to the Fox New Talent programme, a training school for new acting talent. He soon dropped out of college.

‘All of it happened so quickly, I never once stopped to ask myself, why? Why am I doing this? I’m not sure I can answer that even now,’ he writes. Today, he doubles down. ‘It’s true, I was never interested in becoming an actor. I don’t have any lightbulb moments.’ It’s why he had no qualms about serving six years in the United States Army Infantry, rising to sergeant, in the middle of his time at Fox. (Despite a close call, he was never sent to Vietnam.)

The book is a collection of reminiscences from a man who seems to see his work as more an honest trade than an art. He refers to building a career as ‘bricklaying’, each job a useful contribution to the overall structure. He has no memory of many credits on his CV.

Early roles made the most of his looks. He played ‘Young Stud 4’ opposite Mae West, his childhood pin-up, in the 1970 adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge. West, who was born in 1893, became a friend. She later told a journalist that ‘Cary Grant had a look’, then: ‘Tom Selleck has a look.’

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