Thomas Magnum

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Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV
Magnum, P.I. character
First appearance Season 1 Episode "Please Don't Eat The Snow in Hawaii" Part One
Last appearance Season 8 Episode "Resolutions" Part Two
Portrayed by Tom Selleck
Occupation Former Navy SEAL
Naval Intelligence
Private Investigator
Family Everett Wendell Courier (grandfather)
CAPT Thomas Sullivan Magnum, Jr. (grandfather)
LCDR Thomas Sullivan Magnum III (father)
Phoebe Sullivan (aunt)
Katherine Sullivan-Peterson, neé Courier (mother)
Frank Peterson (stepfather)
Joey Peterson (half-brother)
Spouse(s) Michelle Hue (former)
Children Lily Catherine Hue (daughter)

Military decorations worn (Season 1)

Navy SEAL pin
Navy Cross Purple Heart National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal Republic of Việt Nam (RVN) Campaign Ribbon Republic of Việt Nam (RVN), Gallantry Cross, Unit Award

Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV is the fictional main character and namesake of the popular American television series, Magnum, P.I., which aired from 1980 to 1988. Magnum is portrayed by Tom Selleck. As the title suggests, he is a private investigator in Hawaii.


Early life[edit]

The character Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV was born between 1943 and 1947, with August 8, 1943 fitting the most references.[1] Both his father and grandfather were naval officers. He was born in Detroit, but raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia. In high school, his football team won a Virginia State football championship. Some members of his family, including his mother, still reside there (as seen and referenced in various episodes). In addition to English, Magnum speaks Vietnamese and French.[2]


Magnum was endowed with a rich assortment of personality traits, quirks, and preferences. He was an avid sports fan, not only of baseball (he was a lifelong Detroit Tigers baseball fan), but of American football (having been a former quarterback for the U.S. Naval Academy and coached by Steve Belichick[citation needed], he evinced an intense fondness for the annual Army–Navy Game that often worked its way into plot lines), and during varied episodes he tried out for a professional football team, coached and played both basketball and softball, and participated in the Ironman Triathlon. Magnum regularly worked out on a surf ski and participated in local competitions, and enjoyed daily swims in the tidal pool off Robin's Nest.

It became apparent during Season 1 that Magnum was a fan of the bands Styx, Jefferson Starship and Blondie but also admitted to owning cassettes of Bach and Beethoven, mainly to appease Higgins.

His "Stuff"[edit]

Magnum's drink of choice was Old Düsseldorf beer in a long-neck bottle, as well as Scotch on the rocks; also he enjoyed sneaking fine wines out of Robin Masters's wine cellar when he believed Higgins was not looking. Among his trademarks was his "stuff," souvenir possessions collected over the years such as baseball bats and gloves, a disturbing looking gorilla mask, and a yellow rubber chicken. He also owned a Beta tape of Stalag 17, his favorite movie. His personal weapon, seemingly carried only when deemed necessary, was a Colt Government Model .45 ACP handgun (as stated in several episodes), Colt's commercial version of the standard military-issue M1911A1. A .45 was not used by Tom Selleck to depict this gun, however (as at the time, .45's could not reliably cycle blanks). Instead, a 9mm Parabellum (loaded with blanks) was used, which looks very similar to the Colt .45. A genuine Gauguin hung on the wall of the guest house he occupied, he had free use of Masters' Ferrari 308 GTS, and he often bartered with Higgins for use of expensive cameras, the tennis courts, and other accoutrements of wealthy living.

Perhaps his most valued possession was his late father's Rolex GMT Master aviator's wristwatch.[citation needed] Magnum's father was a Naval Aviator killed in the Korean War when Magnum was only five. In early seasons Magnum also wore a Chronosport Sea Quartz 30. He, along with Rick and T.C., wears a team ring with a Croix de Lorraine on it from their time in Vietnam.


United States Navy[edit]


Magnum attended the United States Naval Academy, Class of '67[3] or '68, depending on the episode referenced. While at the Naval Academy he dated Ginger Grant, no relation to the Gilligan's Island character, who became a professional tennis player and re-entered his life in the episode "Mixed Doubles."[4]

Active Duty[edit]

He served ten or more years as an officer in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander before resigning from the service in disillusionment in 1979.[5] Magnum was a Vietnam War veteran and a former POW who believed his wife Michelle died in bombing during the final pull-out from Saigon. He served in both the SEALs and Naval Intelligence during his Navy years, and as such maintained many contacts in both "communities." By the final episode of Magnum P.I. in 1988, Thomas had decided to return to active duty in the Navy at the rank Commander (O-5).

Military Decorations and awards[edit]

On his Navy uniform, Magnum wore service ribbons for the Navy Cross, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.

Private investigator[edit]

After leaving the Navy, Magnum became a largely penniless private investigator "beach bum" in Hawaii who, despite irregular employment, managed to secure a cushy job offer about six months after leaving the Navy and live a comfortable existence thanks to celebrity author Robin Masters whom Magnum had never met. The job perks included use of the guest house on his Hawaii estate "Robin's Nest" and use of his red Ferrari 308 GTS in exchange for quality control of the estate security. In the course of the series, Magnum and his friends became involved not only in typical "P.I." cases but also a wide variety of adventures involving espionage, covert operations, paramilitary escapades, and "lifestyles of the rich and famous." The blending of private investigator and beach bum characteristics allowed the frequent addition of a strong comic element into the action-drama-comedy series.

Magnum extremely disliked being referred to as a 'P.I'., 'Private Eye', or 'Private Detective', by people and quickly corrected them by saying he was a 'Private Investigator'. He often appeared in either khaki shorts or blue jeans (Navy-issue swim trunks, or Levis), an Aloha shirt, and Sperry boat shoes or white Puma Easy Rider Sneakers, usually without socks. He often wore battered baseball caps of his favorite sports team, the Detroit Tigers.



Magnum regarded friendship as perhaps the most important element of life for him, and the theme of friendship ran throughout the many episodes. His most enduring friendships were with his former Vietnam comrades, Orville Wilbur Richard "Rick" Wright and Theodore "T.C." Calvin, and their friendship not only survived but flourished under the eccentricities each showed the others, and the extreme, sometimes perilous stresses they shared. His other close friendship, of a love-hate nature, was with Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (referred to by T.C. as "Higgy-baby"), the ostensible majordomo of the estate where Magnum was a perennial guest (or in Higgins’ view, moocher). Magnum persistently tried to foil Higgins’ efforts to impose an orderly regimen on Magnum’s disordered lifestyle, as they traded verbal jabs and one-ups-manship games with each other.

Magnum lived in the guest house on Robin Masters' estate, Robin's Nest, as part of his being in-charge of security on the estate, which likely explains the almost unlimited access to the Ferrari.

Other friendships were woven throughout his encounters in the series. He continuously took advantage of Lieutenant "Mac" MacReynolds, a Navy officer and intelligence source for many of his cases, but was devastated when Mac was killed in an assassination attempt on Magnum by "Ivan," a Soviet intelligence operative who had also overseen the torture of Magnum when he was a POW in Vietnam. For almost every season in the series, Magnum's investigations paralleled and sometimes crossed those of Honolulu Police Lieutenant Tanaka, with the obvious respect they held for each other going well beyond a shared enjoyment of the Detroit Tigers. Magnum maintained friendships with women as well, most notably Assistant District Attorney Carol Baldwin and Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Maggie Poole, MacReynolds' successor. Magnum was no less apt to exploit his friendship with Carol or Maggie as he was his male friends, and no less loyal. Numerous episode plots featured "old friends" calling on Magnum for help, requests he always honored, even when helping conflicted with his best judgment.


After Magnum's father's death, his mother Katherine married Frank Peterson. They had a son Joey, who ran away for reasons unknown before dying while serving in Vietnam. Magnum also has an aunt, Phoebe Sullivan, who is a novelist,[6] and a cousin named Karen.

In "Memories Are Forever" (November 1981) Magnum reconnected with his once presumed dead wife Michele. Unbeknownst to Magnum at the time, they conceived a daughter during that meeting. The girl, Lily Catherine Hue, was raised as the daughter of Michele's second husband, and appeared in four episodes ("Little Girl Who", "Limbo", "Unfinished Business", and "Resolutions"). By the end of "Resolutions", Lily's mother and adopted father were dead, and she was reunited with Magnum, who intended to return to his career as an officer in Naval Intelligence to provide her with a more stable home.

Personal details[edit]

  • Personal details: In "Memories are Forever" (Ep.2.05), Magnum’s drivers license was shown briefly on screen giving the viewer the following . Hair BRN, Weight 205, Height 6'4", Eyes BL, DOB 1/05/46, and his old address (pre Robin’s Nest) of 11435 18th Ave., Honolulu, HI 96816.
  • Age/Birthday: The first episode to reference Magnum’s birthday was "Memories are Forever" (Ep.2.05, aired November 5, 1981) which listed it as on his driver's license.
    • "Try to Remember" (Ep.2.15, aired February 4, 1982) Magnum— waking up in the hospital with a serious head wound—gives his birthday as August 8, 1944.
    • "Letter to a Duchess" (Ep.4.06, aired November 10, 1983) Magnum gives his age as 38, putting his birth date between November 1944 and November 1945, assuming the air date of the episode corresponds exactly to the date in the fiction.
    • In "On Face Value" (Ep.4.19, aired March 15, 1984) Magnum makes a point of being ten—not yet eleven—on August 4, 1956 when he attended his first Tigers game during their pennant race. This would put his birthday between August 5, 1945 and August 3, 1946. (August 8, 1945 fits in the "Duchess" range, matches the year Selleck was born, and would fit with a wounded Magnum having simply misspoken the year in "Remember". On-the-other-hand, January 5, 1946—also in this episodes range—would match his driver's license.)
    • "Murder 101" (Ep.5.8, aired November 15, 1984) Magnum's PI license is shown, which lists his date of birth as January 5, 1946.
    • "Forty" (Ep.7.17, aired February 2, 1987) is about Magnum’s 40th birthday, putting his birth in February 1947, assuming the air date of the episode corresponds exactly to the date in the fiction, which does not fit with any of the above dates.
  • Narrating Catchphrase: "I know what you're thinking...," "And you're wrong/right..." is one of Selleck's starring character's all time favorite narrating voiceover catchphrase throughout 8 seasons.


  1. ^ a b See the five episodes discussed in the notes above. The earliest date is August 5, 1943 and the latest is February 1947.
  2. ^ "China Doll". Magnum, P.I. Season 1. Episode 2. December 18, 1980. 30 minutes in. CBS. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 
  3. ^ "Lest We Forget," Episode 1/10
  4. ^ "Mixed Doubles". Magnum, P.I. Season 3. Episode 9. December 2, 1982. CBS. 
  5. ^ "I Witness" In Magnum's opening narration he mentions the year he resigned and started as private investigator.
  6. ^ "The Aunt Who Came to Dinner". Magnum, P.I. Season 7. Episode 147. March 18, 1987. CBS.  Guest starring Barbara Rush as Phoebe Sullivan.

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