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Tom Selleck Recalls His Start in Fox Talent Program

With an acting resume that starts with such gem parts as “Stud” in the 1970 farce “Myra Breckinridge” and proceeds to his Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning work on the ’80s TV series “Magnum, P.I.,” Tom Selleck is marking his sixth decade in the biz. Currently co-starring in the fifth season of CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” Selleck recalls how United Airlines’ loss became American film and TV fans’ gain.

You were first mentioned in Variety when you were accepted into the 20th Century Fox “New Talent” program in 1967. Had you worked hard for this?

I was in my last semester of business school at USC. I was in management training for United Airlines. I had done a couple of commercials and was on “The Dating Game,” but I had never done a play in my life. My acting experience was zero.

But someone spotted your potential.

My commercials agent Don Schwartz sent me to Fox, where I think the feeling was, “He’s pretty green but maybe could have a career.” They needed the OK from Richard Zanuck. Well, Zanuck was a huge fan of UCLA basketball and when he learned that I was on the USC team, and that I played the Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) position when we prepped and studied opposing offenses for games, it was “Done!”

Anyone else we might know from that Fox New Talent program?

There were Linda Harrison, who also became Mrs. Richard Zanuck, and James Brolin, Linda Dano (who was then Linda Peck) and Sam Elliott.

Did the program help you land roles?

As the power of the independent producers grew and the studios waned, it was definitely less of an advantage. Producers were not always that courteous on interviews. I remember one producer said to me, “So you work the big triangle.” And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “You go from the talent school to the commissary to the pay window.”’

That sounds humbling.

I had two advantages. One: My dad was a risk-taker. Both my parents encouraged taking risks. So I think they instilled in me the courage to try things. And I played sports. So that taught me to work under pressure. And I’ve been fortunate to turn that into a long career.

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