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Fond memories of 'Magnum' last 30 years after TV debut

By A.J. McWhorter

LAST UPDATED: 2:15 a.m. HST, Dec 12, 2010

Thirty years ago at this time we had just elected a new president, found out who shot J.R. and mourned the death of John Lennon. Earlier in the year, Jack Lord had said his final " Book 'em" as Steve McGarrett and a new show was making its national debut on CBS and filming on location in Hawaii: "Magnum, P.I."

The two-hour premiere aired on the mainland on Dec. 11, 1980, and locally on KGMB eight days later.

"Magnum, P.I." also brought us into a new decade with new hairstyles, music and fashion. The series also brought forth a new type of detective. Gone were the 1970s-era TV sleuths, often middle-aged men with beat-up cars. You had a handsome leading man in Tom Selleck, who wore a Detroit Tigers cap and drove around in a shiny red Ferrari 308 GTS.

While earlier shows, for the most part, ignored the Vietnam War, Thomas Sullivan Magnum served in Vietnam, and so did his friends Rick Wright (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley). Their friendship and bond with one another served as the strong base for the series.

When asked what the key ingredients behind the success of the show were, Manetti said: "Hawaii was the big star, Tom Selleck and the combination of all of us together. ... We were all great friends on and off the set."

The series also cast local talent, including Kwan Hi Lim, Glenn Cannon, Elissa Dulce Hoopai, Joe Moore, Branscombe Richmond, Jimmy Borges, Dick Jensen and Linda Ryan in a number of episodes.

Ryan recalled that unlike the "Hawaii Five-0" squad, the lead "Magnum" characters "were three-dimensional, with social lives, relatives and back stories. Magnum the jokester was the diametrical opposite of McGarrett the authoritarian; however, both characters were genuinely reflective of their eras. The mood on a set starts with the star; Jack's sets were tense, Tom's were relaxed."

Former "Hawaii 5-0" stars Zulu, Al Harrington, Kam Fong, Herman Wedemeyer, Doug Mossman, Harry Endo and Moe Keale each appeared in at least one "Magnum" episode.

A bevy of well-known movie and TV actors also appeared on the series, naturally wanting a chance to film in the islands. They included Dennis Weaver, Ernest Borgnine, Morgan Fairchild, Jill St. John, Ted Danson, Carol Channing, Gwen Verdon, Cesar Romero, Angela Lansbury and Sharon Stone.

Some celebs were fans of the show. Carol Burnett, a Hawaii resident at the time, appeared twice. Another fan was Frank Sinatra, who appeared in the 1987 episode "Laura."

Manetti said he loved working with Sinatra. "It was a dream come true and I think about it all the time. Terrific experience," he said.

CBS aired 156 episodes of "Magnum," with six two-hour special episodes. All eight seasons of the show have been released on DVD by Universal for fans to enjoy, and the series is rerun locally on KWHE weekdays at 6 p.m. Both Selleck and John Hillerman (Jonathan Higgins) won Golden Globe and Emmy awards during the series.

"Magnum, P.I." was a consistent ratings winner, ranking as high as fourth in the Nielsen ratings during its third season in 1982-83. The show meant a great deal to the state; in 1986 Variety reported the series spent $22 million in Hawaii.

The 1986-87 season ended with Magnum dying from a gunshot wound, his spirit saying goodbye to everyone and walking off into TV heaven. But there was an outcry from loyal fans who wanted the show and the character to live on, which it did for one final season, bowing out after eight years in May 1988.

Tom Selleck is now starring in the new CBS series "Blue Bloods." A big-screen version of "Magnum, P.I." has been rumored for several years, but most fans would like to see Selleck play the title role he made famous.

Selleck also talked about this recently in TV Guide: "I keep hearing about a movie. Universal has the rights, and they don't call and they don't write. That said, if you took a poll tomorrow as to who should play him, I can almost guarantee I would win. ... Magnum's in the Smithsonian, and for a very good reason. It was the first show to portray Vietnam veterans in a positive light. I'm very proud of that."

A.J. McWhorter, a collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for both local and national media. E-mail him at

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