You Never Know: A Memoir

Book review by Deane Barker tags: television, memoir

I enjoyed this quite a bit, largely because it felt like it was written by Tom Selleck himself. I was nervous when I saw a co-author credit, because I was afraid it was going to be glossy and sanitized, but it’s not. In fact, it’s even a little awkward in places. It genuinely feels like it was written by someone who isn’t a professional writer.

(Also, see The Storyteller by Dave Grohl. That had the same vibe.)

The book covers very little of Selleck’s personal life. It’s really a discussion of his career, from the development program at MGM, through years and years of commercials and bit parts, and all the way through Magnum P.I..

(Trivia: he hated the “P.I.” suffix. The producers added it because they were concerned about a lawsuit from the producers of the Dirty Harry films, because Magnum Force had been in theaters. Additionally, an early version of the script had the lead character named Harry Magnum. Selleck claims that he has never once used the “P.I.” suffix, preferring to call the series simply Magnum.)

Selleck put in a lot of work early in his career, especially in commercials in the early 1970s.

He spent 13 years as a working actor, and did lots of failed pilots before Magnum came along. He has great memories of them all.

The book is very much a paean to the craft of acting. Selleck goes deep into how it works – how he approaches the character, the things he does to deliver the role, etc. If you’re a working actor, this would be a great book to read.

I had always had this idea of Tom Selleck as just a really good-looking guy that got lucky – like, he just stumbled into acting; he was a dilettante. Maybe I got that from the Thomas Magnum character and projected it onto Selleck? But, that’s the exact opposite of the truth, it turns out. Selleck worked very hard for a long time. His career was very intentional and planned.

In the book, he dissects Magnum pretty deeply. Not only the nuts of bolts of how the show got made, but also the philosophy of the show. He talks about Magnum’s motivation, and the relationships between the characters. If you’re a Magnum fan (guilty), this book is a wonderland.

(A little weirdly, the book ends right after his stint on Magnum. There’s just a tiny mention of Blue Bloods, even though that show has run for twice as long.)

Also, his political inclinations shine through a bit. He’s known as a rare Hollywood Republican, and he checks off some boxes about his disdain for the news media and for striking workers. He also has a fair amount of hero worship in there, for legends like Frank Sinatra (who guest-starred on Magnum), James Garner, and Mae West.

I enjoyed it. It was always interesting, and it felt very genuine.

Book Info

Tom Selleck
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