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Trading Card Set of the Week (Special Mustache and Chest Hair Edition) – Magnum, P.I. (Donruss, 1983)

June 2, 2013


Magnum. P.I is right next to Twin Peaks on my personal Mount Rushmore of television shows. I make no apologies for this. You really couldn’t find two series more different in their approach than the long-running Hawaii hijinks of the eminently likable Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV and the short-lived odd splendor of David Lynch’s murder mystery masterpiece, but they nevertheless both arrive at the point of awesome — if by different routes. And make no mistake, Magnum, P.I. was all kinds of awesome. It’s aged well. You revisit it, and it’s like you’re basking in the warm Hawaiian sun, right alongside the Ferrari-driving Magnum. Top down, baby.

And, by God, it had bubble gum cards. Really.  

It’s easy to forget what a wonderful show Magnum was, and to simply lump it in with similarly themed cop/detective/doc predecessors (Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-0, etc.) and successors (House, M.D., The Mentalist, etc.). Yes, they’re all procedurals in their way, solving conundrums of the week with the help of an assemblage of supporting characters, but few ever had the mix of light-hearted fun, humor, and more than occasional drama that Magnum did. While the acting from Roger Mosely as T.C. (who was always ferrying the mooching Magnum in his rainbow-colored chopper) and Larry Minnetti as Rick Wright (who was always using his shady underworld ties to chase down leads for Magnum gratis) could be dodgy at times, the interaction between Tom Selleck and John Hillerman’s Higgins was spectacular. It evolved from a mainly adversarial relationship at the start of the series, with Higgins’ majordomo duties on the Robin Masters estate conflicting with live-in security chief Magnum’s free-wheeling Bohemian ways, to a warm, cranky friendship. Higgins’ enraged “Oh. My. GOD!” after discovering Magnum raiding the wine cellar or accidentally trampling prize roses never got old.

It was their common ground — that they were both veterans, Higgins in the Second World War, Magnum in Vietnam — that gave the show its serious underpinning. Magnum, a Navy Seal, wasn’t haunted by his service (in fact, this was an early TV portrayal of a well-adjusted Vietnam vet), but he, along with Rick and T.C., also veterans of that war, carried the baggage. Some of the most potent moments of the series — the return the evil KGB agent Ivan, who had tortured Magnum and T.C. as POWs, the reappearance of Magnum’s Vietnamese love and the daughter he never knew he had, both of whom were later (apparently) killed by a Viet Cong assassin — were from that old war on the other side of the world. So while the show was often light-hearted, filled with the eminently likable Magnum bedding babes, car chases, brightly-patterned shirts, beer, surf-skis, fights, occasional gunplay and the best title sequence going, it was about more.

Speaking of that opening sequence:

As I said, I’m a fan. The only thing you can knock the show for is that it didn’t have a strong overarching narrative thread, as modern marvels like Breaking Bad do. But that was something that Magnum was never meant to be, so….

Yet I’m not as nuts about the Magnum trading cards. I’m ecstatic that they exist, don’t get me wrong. But they’re (partially) duds in execution. Released in 1983, early in the show’s run (it would last for eight seasons), this Donruss product glommed onto the widespread popularity of the mustached, chest-haired adventures of Mr. Magnum. It was a show kids could like just like the grownups, hence the theoretical salability of a Magnum kids’ product. (Though I, a man in his mid-thirties, sit here rhapsodizing about them.) I bought a box early this year for a little over twenty bucks, and just the mustache- and Ferrari-laden box top you see above is worth the price of admission. So are the wax packs themselves:


Some vintage boxes get stuffed in a corner, never to be opened (my Close Encounters box among them). As you can see by the flattened state of the wrapper above, I couldn’t resist tearing into these. The big negative of this? The gum, always an x-factor in these old packs, had fused with the adjacent card in almost every one, meaning I only got seven non-obliterated cards a pack (one of those with minor wax stains on the back). I managed to put together a few sets with a couple of packs to spare, but this was still a bummer. But still, the cards fronts are enough to make any fan of the series smile, as they do with this classic shot of Higgy-Baby doing some of his morning karate drills:


The first twenty of the cards, reproducing publicity shots and stills from first season episodes, attempt to tell an original Magnum “story.” I put the term in quotes because said story appears to be crafted by someone who’s never seen a Magnum, P.I. episode, or hell, a TV show for that matter. It’s like the card backs were written by a robot. Or translated into Mandarin Chinese and translated back to English by the Google utility. The dialogue rings about as untrue as it can — though the cartoony Magnum, Ferrari and babes are a positive:


I have extensive knowledge of the show. Perhaps not the encyclopedic knowledge of a Talmudic scholar, but knowledge nonetheless. I can safely say that not only did Higgins never utter a line even approaching that one, he never even thought such a thing. (Also, Higgins and Magnum both live at Robin Masters’ estate, so the geography is all wrong. Oh well.)

There are plenty of beefcake shots of Selleck as Magnum, though. Here’s Magnum in action:


Here he is (from the great intro), about to peel out in his hot car. I’m green with envy:


Here’s the smiling, dimpled Magnum (and that shirt again), in the shot that tagged the opening credits montage from the beginning of the series to the end:


The remainder of the 66 card backs are pieces of two Magnum puzzles (a Donruss staple). I now present you with the two most relevant portions:



The original Hawaii Five-0 shared a universe with Magnum (McGarrett was referenced several times on the latter), and currently has a modern update airing on CBS. I don’t know whether that means a new Magnum is in the not-too-distant pipeline — there was a movie version (with Matthew McConaughey attached) in development not so long ago, which remains mercifully unmade. As an ardent magnum partisan, I’m perfectly content to let this sleeping dog lie, and let the glorious eight seasons stand as the Alpha and Omega of Magnum. With an imperfect but delightful set of cards thrown into the mix.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Edo Bosnar permalink
    June 3, 2013 4:07 am

    I share your love for Magnum – or at least shared it back then (I watched a few reruns a while back, and for me it didn’t hold up as well). I watched it religiously from season 1 to the end, and even ignored the “cooler, sexier” shows that became all the rage in the meantime – I’m looking at you, Miami Vice. And yes, I especially loved the bickering and (largely affectionate) antagonism between Magnum and Higgins – that was a real highlight of any given episode.
    By the way, I didn’t know there were plans for a Magnum movie, with someone else cast in the title role no less – to me, it seems silly to cast anybody but Selleck to play Magnum, regardless of his age.

  2. Al Noce permalink
    January 22, 2014 12:53 am

    Just found some of my dad’s cards, four of the mini packs. They are rad, and in good condition.

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