A Remembrance of Magnums Past

Tom Selleck in Magnum, PI
Mustache, Ferrari and shirt…oh, my!
I remember Magnum, P.I. very fondly.  First, there were the elements that anchored the series from year to year:  A red Ferrari, Higgins and his guard dogs, Magnum’s aloha shirts and Detroit Tigers cap and distinctive moustache.  Second, there were the sidekicks:  Higgins again, as Magnum’s opponent and foil; Magnum’s old Navy buddies, T.C. and Rick; and the array of other recurring characters that ebbed and flowed throughout the series, including my favorites, Lt. Yoshi Tanaka and “Mac” MacReynolds. 

Dennis Weaver guest stars with Tom Selleck on Magnum, PI
The cowboy and the PI: Dennis Weaver guest stars with Tom Selleck on Magnum, P.I.
The series featured an incredible list of guest stars:  both June and Anne Lockhart, Manu Tupou, Carol Burnett, Sharon Stone, Ernest Borgnine, Pat Morita, Tyne Daly, Scatman Crothers, Cesar Romero, Robert Ito, Frank Sinatra, Carol Channing, Dennis Weaver, and (in voiceover) Orson Welles.  It even had crossover episodes with both Simon and Simon and Murder, She Wrote, which were airing at the same time. If you didn’t have enough Magnum in one episode during the week, you might find him carousing on another show you followed.

I loved the mixture of drama and humor on the show, as well as the fantasy elements…well, not fantasy to some people, but certainly to me, who had never been to Hawaii, never ridden in a fancy sports car, and never lived on a beachfront estate, let alone free of charge.  It’s worth watching just for the gorgeous scenery.  Plus, I must admit I never found Tom Selleck difficult to look at. Ahem.

TC and Rick all dressed up for the Derby
TC and Rick, all dressed up with no place to go.
Although the list of my favorite episodes is far too long to recount in a single blog post, I always loved it when the history and culture of Hawaii was used as a basis for stories. “Lest We Forget”, for example, revolves around a judge whose new wife disappeared after the Pearl Harbor bombings. “Almost Home” also uses events at Pearl Harbor in its plot. “Never Again… Never Again” featured an elderly couple whose past during World War Two leads to trouble in the present; the episode also provided a little more information about Higgins’ own participation in the war and its aftermath. “Flashback” is a little different; it’s a fun episode in which Magnum dreams he (and all his friends) live in 1936.

Who is Don Luis Higgins?
Who is Don Luis Higgins?
Recurring gags rewarded the longtime viewer. “The Elmo Ziller Story” features John Hillerman in a dual role as both Higgins and his Texan half-brother (for which he used his own real accent); it’s a silly episode, but a real hoot to watch!  Later on, Hillerman also plays an Irish Higgins half-brother in “Faith and Begorrah” and a Spanish one in “Who is Don Luis Higgins, and Why is He Doing These Terrible Things to Me?”

“Did You See the Sunrise,” a two-parter, references events that occurred when Magnum, T.C. (Roger E. Mosely), and Mac served in Vietnam; it features many flashbacks to their time in captivity and explores elements associated with veterans like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s acknowledged to be one of the best episodes of the series, and is notable for its ending, which I won’t spoil here.  Also notable for addressing the results of war is “Heal Thyself,” about a former nurse whom Magnum knew when she served in Vietnam; now a doctor, she’s been accused of poisoning patients, and her case is complicated by her PTSD.

Tom Selleck in Magnum, PI episode
Tom Selleck attempts to make it home from the sea.
“Home From the Sea” is another unusual episode, involving Magnum being capsized from his surf ski in the middle of the ocean. He treads water for twenty-four hours, remembering important events in his past, all of which come together clearly for the viewer at the story’s end. It’s a great episode for deepening the audience’s understanding of Magnum himself and his motivations.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes fans would definitely enjoy “Holmes in Where the Heart Is,” an unusual use of the famous detective stories.

Oh, Magnum, where have you gone? Writing about the show is tempting me to rewatch it again from the beginning!

Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.


  1. Paulette

    I adored this show. Named my cat Magmun! This reminds me that I have never seen the series ender (VCR died that week) so I will accomplish that today. Thanks for allowing me to feel self actualized. Some of my favorite episodes involved the back story in Viet Nam with his wife, Michelle.

  2. Oddmonster

    And while we’re here, let’s just all take a moment to be thankful for those plum-smuggling shorts of Magnum’s.

    Run, Magnum run! Run after that bad guy! 🙂

  3. Deborah Lacy

    I loved this show when it was on. And I must admit I stockpile Magnum re-runs on the DVR for dark days when I just need to know that Magnum, TC, Rick and Higgins are going to solve all the world’s problems in under an hour.

  4. Terrie Farley Moran

    One of the best series ever!! It pops up on Retro TV once in a while and I watch over and over again.

  5. Victoria Janssen

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. Louise321

    Loved Magnum and Tom Selleck with the cast of zanies as well as the back story of why he remained a Peter Pan character for so long.

    Love how Tom Selleck matured in Quigley Down Under and his subsequent Louis Lamour adaptations up to his recurring mini-series of the Jesse Stone character. And I gotta admit, he adds not only gravitas but compelling mature male beauty to Blue Bloods. His voice has also matured much deeper than on Magnum. But thank the powers that be, the mustache survives!

  7. Kim in Hawaii

    Aloha, Victoria! I vaguely remember watching Magnum during its regular run. Now I watch it on a local cable station as part of a double header – Magnum at 6 pm and the original Hawaii Five-O at 7 pm.

    I agree that the Magnum episodes that focus on Hawaii are extra special. Every now and then, Magnum refers to “Five O” when he needs police back up! Even more fun, some of the original Five O cast members have made guest appearances.

    While it is fun to watch these TV classics, at times I do cringe, especially Magnum. The eighties are often cringe worthy.

    Kudos for refering to Magnum’s wardrobe as Aloha shirts. Most mainlanders called them Hawaiian Shirts which makes the kama’aina (locals) cringe. And yes, locals do wear them for work and pleasure!

  8. Charlayne

    Oh, did I have a crush on that man. Still do, he’s aging very well.

    I have a whole list of “favorites” but the one that makes me laugh the most is the “practical jokes” episode where he blows up Higgins’ bridge. OMG, that is just wild.

    And the dogs….those wonderful dobermans.

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