Raised by hardworking parents, Tom Selleck learned the values of the U.S. military from an early age. The lessons bestowed by his mother and father guided his development as an actor, veteran, and man of integrity. Selleck was born in Detroit, Michigan, but his father’s dissatisfaction with carpentry led him to move his family to California where he looked for success in real estate. This move helped pave the way for Selleck’s success as an actor and member of the U.S. military.
Selleck graduated from high school in 1962. He wanted to enroll in the University of Southern California but wasn’t able to afford tuition. He enrolled in Valley Junior college, worked hard, and saved money to enroll in USC in his junior year. He was helped by a basketball scholarship. While attending university, Selleck worked as a model to bring in extra money.
It was at USC that Selleck entered the world of acting. He majored in business administration, but a drama coach suggested he give acting a shot. He appeared on “The Dating Game,” and even earned a roll in a Pepsi commercial. Twentieth Century Fox soon approached him to join their talent program. He signed on, and worked hard to learn the art of acting.
“I think, when I went to Fox, I was on my own with no frame of reference, no connection,” said Selleck. “I’d never done a play in my life. I started at about thirty-five bucks a week, and every six months you either got fired or renewed. If you got renewed, you got a raise on their term contracts.”
During the Vietnam War, Selleck was issued draft orders. To take some measure of control over the situation, he joined the California National Guard in the 160th infantry regiment. He served from 1967 to 1973. He later appeared on California National Guard recruiting posters.
The military left a strong impression on Selleck, who recalls his service with pride, “I am a veteran, I’m proud of it,” he said. “I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.”
Upon returning to civilian life, he was dropped from his contract with Fox.
“And then I was going to be drafted, and I got into an infantry National Guard unit and did six months active duty in the middle of my time at Fox,” Selleck said. “I had my job when I came back, and then they fired me. [laughs]”
Despite missing future opportunities with Fox, Selleck remained unperturbed. He continued to pursue acting and settled down with a family. He worked on six pilots for television shows that were never sold. Although he earned a living, he had yet to find a solid platform for success. That changed in 1980 when he was offered a leading role in “Magnum, P.I.” By that time, Selleck was in his 30s and it had been 11 years since Fox released him.