Before Magnum P.I., before Quigley Down Under, and definitely before Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck was just a bit-part in Lancer.
Over 50 years on from his on-screen debut in the western show, Tom Selleck now has a track record few can match. Tackling many different genres, topics and roles, the now-76-year-old actor focuses on Blue Bloods as Frank Reagan.
But before he narrowed it down to one of the most beloved shows on television, Selleck was known for being gruff and versatile. A large part of that was his extensive work in westerns, which, as mentioned, started with Lancer.
The 1969 episode opened with a mustache-less Tom Selleck (crazy, we know.) Not far into an episode, an actor with a similar repertoire, Sam Elliott, also appears in the episode, but for even less time than Selleck. The western icon has his horse stolen, and, weirdly enough, also doesn’t have his trademark mustache.
And even beyond that, truewestmagazine.com shares a quote from Tom Selleck that the pair already knew each other. However, the actor said Elliott’s path was a bit more clear than his own.
“Sam and I were already good friends,” Selleck said. “Fox had a new talent program, like the old studio system; were in it. I’ve always said Sam was more formed in those days, [knowing] exactly what he wanted. I was still learning the craft.”
Tom Selleck Kept it Honest in Key Moment for Lancer
There came a literal moment of truth for Tom Selleck while auditioning for the role. A key skill in western acting is being able to ride a horse, and the then-green-behind-the-ears actor did not have that in his arsenal.
But while actors, such as Dukes of Hazzard legend John Schneider, famously lie to get the job on set, Selleck said he went a different route.
“I’m glad I was honest with [director] Bob [Totten] because most actors lie,” Tom Selleck said. “He asked, can I ride a horse? I told him, ‘No, but I’m not afraid of them. I’m a good athlete, and I can learn.’ All of us finalists had our audition at the Randall Ranch. He had us get on a horse and ride over to the grandstand. And in the grandstand were Glenn Ford, Ben Johnson, Sam Elliott, Jeff Osterhage and Bob Totten.”
Sure enough, Selleck did well enough and got the role. It was the spark that eventually led to an acting career that is still going strong half a century later.