In the land of Tinseltown, some celebrity duos become intrinsically and forever associated with each other. Take Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller for example, or Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Those teams have linked up more times than we can count.
And how can we forget about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? How many times have they teamed up for essentially the same rom-com set in a slightly different locale? Too many times if you ask us. Seriously though, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle are almost the exact same film!
But then we have Tom Selleck who had the pleasure of seeing his fellow actor Sam Elliott grow in his career as they co-starred in countless roles Westerns together over the years.
In fact, even when both actors were still young and very different looking – while Selleck was still busy trying to find himself – Elliott already seemed to be on the Western path he was always destined to travel down.
Selleck and Elliott Join Forces For The First Time
Sometimes ‘matches made in heaven’ take a little time to develop. For Tom and Sam, their first run-in with each other wasn’t particularly eventful, but at least it laid the groundwork for an enduring professional relationship that would blossom and grow into something unparalleled in the Western genre.
Flashback to 1969 when the western television series Lancer was well into its first season. Episode 14 was titled Death Bait, and two minor characters named Dobie and Renslo were played by two relatively unknown, baby-faced men that were trying to find their place in the industry. Those two roles – albeit minor – were of course portrayed by Selleck and Elliott respectively.
The episode opened with an almost unrecognizable and distinctively mustache-less Tom Selleck. Sam appeared later on in the episode but for even less screen time than his buddy Tom. Selleck ends up getting his horse stolen at some point and that’s about it. That’s how their little team first came to be.
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And don’t you dare think about going anywhere so soon. Stay tuned to find out why young Tom Selleck thought that Sam Elliott was more prepared to fulfill his Hollywood destiny than he was. Honestly, he had a lot of thoughtful things to say about his co-star.
Sam Elliott Was The ‘More Formed” Actor Between The Two
Over the decades, Tom Selleck would branch out into other genres and entertainment mediums. Most recently he has starred in the police drama Blue Bloods. But his career actually started off just about as varied and nuanced as it ended up becoming today. He did however have a pretty lengthy stint in the middle of his career made up exclusively of Western credits.
During that chapter of his life, Selleck looked at his friend Sam Elliott as someone who had a much more cohesive idea of where his life was heading and what sort of direction his career would likely take. Tom freely admits that at the time, he was still learning the ropes while Sam had a fully realized vision of what his future might hold.
During the filming of that Lancer episode, Selleck was 24 years old and Elliott, who was one year his senior, was 25. And even back then, Selleck could already see that Elliott’s vision for himself was much more focused and refined than his own. It was something that he picked up on pretty much immediately after meeting him.
Tom Selleck Kept It Real During A Key Moment For Lancer
Tom was presented with a genuine moment of truth while auditioning for that minor role on Lancer. One of the key skills that recruiters look for while looking for new talent for Westerns is the actor’s ability to ride a horse. Unfortunately, Selleck, who was still very much so new to the genre at the time, did not have that particular ability in his arsenal.
While some stars like John Schneider of the Dukes of Hazzard infamously lie to get the role, Selleck took a very different approach. He decided that it would be to his benefit to just be honest with director Bob Totten about his lack of experience in that department.
When asked if he could ride a horse, he bit the bullet so-to-speak, and told Totten that he could not but added that he wasn’t afraid of the majestic animals. He then shared that he was a decent athlete and that he would be happy to learn how to ride a horse if he were given the opportunity.
The auditions were held at the historic Randall Ranch. All of the finalists were then put to the test by being instructed to get on a horse and ride over to the grandstand. Fortunately, Selleck did well enough despite lacking equine experience and got the role. And just like that, a spark was lit that day that inevitably led to Tom developing an accomplished acting career that is still going strong more than 50 years later.
Tom Selleck Was Once On The Dating Game
Selleck, a Detroit native, was born on January 29, 1945. After his family made the move to Los Angeles when he was still young he went on to earn a basketball scholarship to the University of Southern California. While studying there he entered a management training program for United Airlines.
Even though he was a gifted athlete, Selleck found that he had a much greater interest in the performing arts. For a while, Selleck worked as a model before successfully finding himself work doing commercial spots for products like Safeguard deodorant.
Before landing the commercial work, however, Selleck previously had been a contestant on a 1965 episode of The Dating Game. At that time, appearing on dating shows was a popular way for young, attractive actors to gain a bit of exposure. Folks like Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger all made appearances on that show as well.
Despite the fact that he would one day become a distinguished A-lister, Selleck lost on the show – not once, but twice.
Tom Selleck’s Military Service
Much like many other young, able-bodied men his age, Selleck was drafted during the Vietnam War. He ended up choosing to join the California National Guard in 1967 and was placed in the 160th Infantry Regiment. Eventually, he was able to achieve the rank of Sargent before being honorably discharged in 1973.
After serving active duty for six months, Selleck returned home to find that Fox had relieved him from his contract. He later was called upon to appear in promotional material for the National Guard and has been a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Mae West Helped Tom Land A Huge Break
Even though he would continue to appear in dozens of television commercials throughout the 70s, Selleck’s first major film role came to him thanks to Mae West. The prestigious and highly—celebrated actress hand-selected Selleck to play one of her love interests in the film Myra Breckinridge.
Selleck is well aware of the fact that it was West who helped him get noticed. He told The Morning Call in 1997 that he attended several premieres with her and that she did quite a few interviews where she mentioned him in the same sentence as Cary Grant. If it weren’t for her, Selleck’s career likely would have taken a very different path.
Tom Selleck Almost Played Indiana Jones
One of the most fascinating tidbits of trivia from Selleck’s storied career is the fact that he once auditioned to play the Nazi-killing, snake-hating, archaeologist Indiana Jones in Raiders of The Lost Ark.
According to legend, Selleck got the job but was forced to turn it down because CBS wouldn’t let him break from his Magnum PI contract. While that rumor turned out to actually be true, it turns out that Selleck could have done both if he wanted to.
When Selleck was gearing up to start shooting Magnum PI in Hawaii, a writers strike held up its production, and Selleck was forced to work as a laborer to pay his bills until the show’s production resumed. To add an extra dose of insult to injury, Raiders started filming right around the same time in – get this – Hawaii.
Do you think there’s an alternate reality where Selleck ended up being chased by a giant stone ball in the middle of a crumbling temple? I don’t know about you, but I’d watch that movie.
Tom Selleck Almost Was Offered The David Hasselhoff Role On Baywatch
Speaking of alternate universes, there very well could be another one where Selleck was the hunky star of NBC’s Baywatch.
After wrapping up production on Magnum PI, Selleck pursued a successful film career which included roles in films like 1989s Her Alibi and 1990s Quigley Down Under. But he briefly entertained the idea of returning to television to take on the starring role of Mitch Buchannon on the hit series about ripped lifeguards. Ultimately the role went to Hasselhoff, but Selleck did return to TV eventually with recurring guest spots on Friends and in the police drama Blue Bloods which was just renewed for its twelfth season.
Sam Elliott’s Career Is Still Alive And Well
We’ve focused a lot on Selleck’s career but Sam Elliott’s is also going strong. In 2002 he appeared in a supporting role in the Academy Award-winning film We Were Soldiers. He followed that up with a part in 2003s superhero film Hulk and 2007s Ghost Rider. In 2015 he guest-starred on the neo-Western crime drama series Justified which earned him a Critics Choice Television Award. In 2016 he starred in the Netflix series The Ranch and followed that up with a leading role in the 2017 comedy film The Hero.
In 2018 he portrayed the character Bobby Maine in the highly celebrated musical A Star Is Born and in 2019 he provided the voice of Trusty in the remake of Lady and the Tramp. According to IMDB he’s slated to provide the voice of Ward Hill Lamon in the upcoming historical documentary film The Gettysburg Address.