By Kyle Shea
In the 1980s, a wave of great action television shows hit the small screen. “The A-Team,” “Airwolf,” “Knight Rider,” and “MacGyver” have become iconic to audiences of all ages and have cult followings even today. But the most iconic, remembered, and well-loved is without a doubt is “Magnum P.I.” starring Tom Selleck. The show was a big hit on television and even won a number of awards. It also has a modern remake starring Jay Hernandez, though it is not as good as the original.
The show follows Thomas Magnum, a private investigator who works as a security expert at a private beach villa owned by a wealthy writer. He shares the property with a World War 2 British veteran named Jonathan Quayle Higgins the 3rd. The two rarely get along, with Higgins’s two security dogs constantly chasing Magnum and Magnum constantly borrowing and destroying things under Higgins’s protection, as well as getting dragged into a number of cases. Magnum’s two best friends are Theodore “T.C.” Calvin, the owner of a helicopter tour company, and Orville “Rick” Wright, the manager of the King Kamehameha Club. Magnum often recruits T.C. and Rick in his cases, with T.C. flying him to spy on people and Rick using his underground contacts to get important information.
In the show, Magnum’s gun of choice is an M1911A1. The one he used throughout the series is in the NRA Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. The gun that is photographed is the second, and was also used by other actors in the show (There are always duplicate hero guns to keep from slowing the show if there’s any problem). It has the serial number just above the trigger on the right side and has the name of the factory to the upper left just above it. Above it on the slide is where the words Colt’s Government Model are engraved. On the other side, the words are Colt’s MK IV / Series ’70 Government Model 9mm Luger Caliber. (Movie 1911s are frequently 9mm, easier to blank).
The M1911A1 first entered service in 1926 and has become of the America’s favorite firearms. It was in service until the 1990’s, where it was replaced by the Beretta M9. Some elements of the armed forces still use it, including some elements of the Marine Corps. The M1911A1 and other variants have also been adopted by other nations around the world, including large numbers of Latin American countries, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and a few others. Today, it is popular with civilians and veterans, though it can be a bit expensive.
The M1911A1 is actually an improved version of the M1911 pistol. The original gun is good, but there were some issues on the battlefield and a number of improvements were needed. The front sight was widened and the trigger was shortened. The hammer is enlarged slightly and the spur above the grip is made longer. These improvements were small but helped the gun quite a bit. Both pistols shoot .45 ACP from a 7-round magazine. They both weigh just over three pounds.
There were other guns used in the series to include a number of pistols like the Walther PPK, Colt Detective Special, and Smith & Wesson Model 15. In one episode, Rick takes out a hitman with a Mac-10 Submachine gun. In one episode, a Mac-10 is made to look like an Uzi submachine. Why they did this the author has no idea, as in a later episode an Uzi is seen. In flashbacks to Vietnam, M-16A1 Rifles are seen being carried by US soldiers. In some flashbacks, Vietnamese soldiers are seen carrying Valmet Rifles, instead of the AK-47s, since Hollywood did not have ready access to those guns in that timeframe.
“Magnum P.I.” is one of the greatest television shows of all time. Tom Selleck is great as Thomas Magnum and will probably be remembered best for this role. John Hillerman plays Higgins and is great in the role, especially since he is not British. Roger E. Mosley and Larry Manetti are also good in their parts, as well as the guest stars like Kwan Hi Lim, Gillian Dobb, Kathleen Lloyd, and Jeff MacKay. Special praise is reserved for Eugene Roche, who does a great job playing St Louis private detective Luther H. Gillis. The action in the show is great and some of the mysteries are well done, though some stories can be a bit predictable. If you want a great show to binge watch though, “Magnum PI” is one of the best and it will have you wanting to go to Hawaii and drive a Ferrari at top speeds around those beautiful islands.
SAR would like to thank the Weapons Department of Independent Studio Services in Sundale, CA for allowing us to photograph and record the history of these Movie Guns.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V25N10 (December 2021)|