Thomas Magnum

Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV is a fictional character on American television series Magnum, P.I.. As the title suggests, the character Magnum is a private investigator. In the original series, Magnum was portrayed by Tom Selleck. Jay Hernandez portrays the character in the 2018 reboot series. This article discusses the original iteration of the character.

Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV
Magnum, P.I. character
First appearance
Last appearance
Portrayed byTom Selleck (1980–1988)
Jay Hernandez (2018–present)
  • Former Navy SEAL
  • Naval Intelligence
  • Private Investigator
  • Thomas Sullivan Magnum III (father)
  • Katherine Magnum-Peterson, née Courier (mother)
  • Thomas Sullivan Magnum, Jr. (grandfather)
  • Everett Wendell Courier (grandfather)
SpouseMichelle Hue (former)
ChildrenLily Catherine Hue (daughter)
  • Phoebe Sullivan (aunt)
  • Frank Peterson (stepfather)
  • Joey Peterson (half-brother)


Early life

The character Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV was born 8 August 1943. [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, he evinced an intense fondness for the annual Army–Navy Game that often worked its way into plotlines), 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.

Magnum was originally envisioned as a Bond type but at Selleck's request[3] was made into more of an average "everyman" with numerous character flaws including immaturity, talking in a whiny voice when stressed, over confidence, being manipulative towards his friends, and often losing many smaller character conflicts in sometimes humiliating ways before solving the case.

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"

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 Commercial version of the standard military-issue M1911A1 pistol (in actuality, a similar-looking 9mm Star Model BM, as .45 ACP 1911s of the time could not reliably cycle blanks). A genuine Gauguin hung on the wall of the guest house he occupied (in actuality, a composite of two real Gauguin paintings), 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. Magnum's father was a Naval Aviator killed in the Korean War when Magnum was only five (something that is an anachronism, as the GMT Master was introduced in 1954, too late for both active combat missions and Magnum to have been five when his father died). 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.


Magnum's birthdate has been given on multiple occasions, nearly all conflicting:

  • In the second season episode "Memories are Forever", his driver's license notes it as January 5, 1946. Magnum's PI license is also shown in the fifth season episode "Murder 101", using this date.
  • In the second season episode "Try to Remember", Magnum, waking up in the hospital with a serious head wound, gives his birthday as August 8, 1943.
  • In the fourth season episode "Letter to a Duchess", Magnum gives his age as 38, putting his birth date between November 1944 and November 1945, assuming the airdate of the episode corresponds to the in-show date.
  • In the fourth season episode "On Face Value", Magnum makes a point of being ten and not yet eleven in a flashback to August 4, 1956. This would put his birthday between August 5, 1945 and August 3, 1946.
  • The seventh season episode "Forty" centers around Magnum's 40th birthday, putting his birth in February 1947, assuming the airdate of the episode corresponds with the in-show date.


United States Navy


Magnum attended the United States Naval Academy, Class of '67[4] 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."[5]

Active Duty

He served ten or more years as an officer in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant before resigning from the service in disillusionment in 1979.[6] 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

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


Private investigator

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 been hired by to test on a semi-regular basis the security of his estate, and the astuteness of his estate's major domo, Jonathan Quayle Higgins. 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 pleated 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 anything more than ankle socks. He often wore battered baseball caps of his favorite sports team, the Detroit Tigers, and sometimes one from his service in Da Nang (VMO-2).



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,[7] 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.


  1. In Season 2, Episode 5, Magnum’s driver’s license is shown.
  2. "China Doll". Magnum, P.I.. Season 1. Episode 2. December 18, 1980. 30 minutes in. CBS. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
  3. Sivan, Dana. "29 facts about Tom Selleck and Magnum P.I." Kiwi Report. Retrieved Dec 2, 2019.
  4. "Lest We Forget," Episode 1/10
  5. "Mixed Doubles". Magnum, P.I.. Season 3. Episode 9. December 2, 1982. CBS.
  6. "I Witness" In Magnum's opening narration he mentions the year he resigned and started as private investigator.
  7. "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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