Larry Manetti studied acting with the Ted List Players and landed his first role on Emergency in 1972. Sitting in the NBC commissary one day – basically trying to meet girls – Jack Webb entered in a rage after firing the entire cast of a show called Chase. “You’re an actor right,” he grabbed Manetti, and a contract was his the next day. While lasting only six weeks, it left Manetti under contract at Universal Studios, where Robert Conrad took a liking to him. Soon enough, he was on Baa Baa Black Sheep, and that paved the way for his signature role as “Rick” on Magnum PI. But the biggest name that can be dropped in association with Larry Manetti came when he was only seven and officially put a spark to his acting bug.
“My mother brought me to a Humphrey Bogart audition in Chicago for the Harder they Fall, said Manetti. “They picked me, and I boxed in a ring.”
Thus, the novice found himself the recipient of a one-two from the screen legend that insured he didn’t alter his course. “Bogart came up to me one day and said, ‘be a good boy,’” conveyed Manetti
His next big break put him right back in the Bogey timeslot. “Baa Baa Black Sheep is an iconic, legendary show,” said Manetti. “But the violence code took it off the air.”
A contemporary channel surf up can’t help leave him bewildered in retrospect. “Jesus Christ, the violence code - now there’s not even a meter,” he lamented.
However, Manetti’s yardstick definitely caught the eye of executives upstairs. “NBC loved me with Robert Conrad so they developed “The Duke.” I played Joe Cadillac and Conrad played an ex-fighter turned private investigator.
Unfortunately, The Duke turned out to be a victim of Conrad’s success. “The show went well. But Robert Conrad got an offer to do a series for an immense amount of money so Universal let him go. They figured the show had a 50-50 chance, and if it didn't go well, they'd get him back because they didn't want him to be unhappy,” revealed Manetti
This left him seeing double - of sorts - and the possibilities didn’t end there. “I had an offer to do Simon and Simon. I was ready to go, and the next thing I know, I get a script called Magnum PI,” says Manetti.
Beauty was in the eye of the beholder in regards to his decision making process. “I read the script, and said, who do you got in mind to play Magnum. They told me a guy named Tom Selleck, and I said, ‘oh Christ I’m getting on this because he’s prettier than Elizabeth Taylor,’” joked Manetti.
No matter, Manetti had no regrets about letting his clean cuts take a backseat to the raw sexual energy of a mustache the 80s will never forget. “He was a wonderful guy. The consummate actor – everyday a delight but he’s a Texan, not British,” Manetti said of John Hillerman as he laughed off the irony.
As for the delineation between the haughty British character and the actor - the Queen’s English did Manetti’s bidding. “Yeah was a little of stuffy – except with a Texas twang, but of course a great guy. The whole cast of Magnum was mixed in heaven by the angels,” said Manetti.
On such wings, Magnum never waned or jumped the said shark. “We could have gone on for 15 years. That show was bulletproof,” he said. “After the 7th season, the president of Universal Studios came to us and begged us to sign up for another season. We did, and after that season, he begged us again,” said Manetti.
Saying no was definitely not their strong suit. “As an appeasement, we did half a season. And not only that, CBS offered us the chance to do eight two hours movies, but we just wanted to move on,” revealed Manetti.
All told, his only issue was staying dry. “I hate the water. I’m a big fan of land, said Manetti.
Fortunately his character was in agreement, and the same goes for staying grounded in regards to TC’s helicopter. “Rick had nice tailored suits, Gucci loafers, manicured nails and was structured after Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Did you ever see Bogart dance? You think he’s going to go swimming or flying a helicopter – no,” joked Manetti.
He also didn’t have to deal with the time period’s skimpy getup, but has no problem acknowledging how the culture embraced Selleck’s lead. “I never wore that crap, but it was the 80s. Everybody wore those tight shorts, and when Magnum became a hit, the whole world bought red Ferraris and put on Detroit Tiger caps,” he joked.
However, he does dismiss those who think an actor’s life is one of ease.
“Acting is reality, and you got to use your head. There’s a lot critics who’ll come out and say, ‘this guy’s performance stinks.’ Well, I’d like to stick his ass in front of 60 guys, lights beaming, a camera pointing in your face, and say, ‘perform.’ Let’s see how you do and then get the Kaopectate, because there’s going to be diarrhea everywhere,” he asserted. “I mean I don’t know anything that’s harder than becoming an actor and making a living. You can go to college and end up making $50,000 a year. For an actor, that’s like finding diamonds in a garbage can.”
But while Magnum may have left him typecast, the familiarity always left enough luster to keep him going. “I reoccurred on shows like Marker with Richard Grieco, The Raven with Lee Majors, Walker Texas Ranger and Renegade. Things would get tight and then the phone rings,” said Manetti.