Sinatra on Magnum, P.I.

Frank Sinatra and Tom Selleck during production of "Laura" (Episode 7.18 of Magnum, P.I.)

Frank Sinatra and Tom Selleck during production of “Laura” (Episode 7.18 of Magnum, P.I.)

Vitals

Frank Sinatra as Michael Doheny, experienced and tough retired New York police sergeant

Hawaii, Spring 1987

Series: Magnum, P.I.
Episode: “Laura” (Episode 7.18)
Air Date: February 25, 1987
Director: Alan J. Levi
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen Larson
Costume Supervisors:
James Gilmore & Charlene Tuch

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Twenty years after he played Tony Rome, Frank Sinatra returned to the world of private eyes in warm locales with his final major acting role, a special appearance in “Laura”, a seventh season episode of Magnum, P.I. The Voice was already over 70 when the episode was produced, but he’s still as charismatic, wiry, and tough as his reputation had preceded him for the better part of a century. On this summertime #SinatraSaturday, let’s take a deeper look at Frank’s final screen role.

“Laura” begins with a brief yuletide prologue New York City, where NYPD detective sergeant Michael Doheny’s retirement dinner is juxtaposed with an ominous scene of an 8-year-old girl playing in the hallway of her apartment building and encountering a sinister pair of red Adidas sneakers. Three months later, we’re back in the series’ familiar environs of sunny Hawaii, where reliable Rick (Larry Manetti) is trying to talk Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) into taking a missing persons job that should net him $10,000 after only two days of work. Magnum suspects it’s too good to be true, and—of course—it is, when their first tip on the trail for the missing Kenneth Geiger is soon waylaid by the gun-wielding ex-Sergeant Doheny, whose Panama hat and Aloha shirt can’t disguise Ol’ Blue Eyes’ distinctive voice as he offers Magnum some “constructive criticism”:

So far, you run a lousy investigation!

Sitting in a jail cell later that day, Doheny suggests to Magnum that they may have gotten “off to a bad start” and hopes to rectify things with the investigator he’s already antagonized. Once Doheny proves his earnestness and expertise and with renewed sense of mutual respect between them—not to mention Rick’s urging—Magnum agrees to help Doheny out in his search for the two vicious killers who had raped, beaten, and murdered the girl from the opening sequence before escaping to Hawaii… who is revealed to be Doheny’s own granddaughter, Laura.

What’d He Wear?

Tom Selleck may be famous for Thomas Magnum’s colorful Hawaiian shirts, but he wears a subdued stone-colored snap-front shirt for the majority of this episode, apropos its darker themes, while special guest star Sinatra steals the sartorial show in his festive Aloha garb.

As one would expect of FS, he makes his first appearance in Hawaii wearing a hat. The rest of his outfit may not differentiate him from the typical ’80s tourist in Hawaii, but Doheny’s classic Panama hat crafted from densely woven toquilla palm straw establishes him as a gent with old-school values. The fedora-styled hat has a narrow black band.

Even on Magnum, P.I., there's no stopping the Chairman of the Board from sporting a natty hat, adapted to the show's Hawaiian setting.

Even on Magnum, P.I., there’s no stopping the Chairman of the Board from sporting a natty hat, adapted to the show’s Hawaiian setting.

Doheny clearly doesn’t buy his tropical shirts at the same place as Magnum, wearing a very unique long-sleeved style that differs from Magnum’s typical Aloha shirts as far as cut, collar, pockets, and almost every other detail.

These shirts have four silver-toned metal buttons up the plain (French placket) front, which squares away at the chest where the shirt opening cuts away to a dramatically wide take on the “Lido collar”. Often associated with resort wear or the leisure class, the permanently open-necked Lido collar was popularized during the interwar years by Hollywood royalty like Gary Cooper, giving rise to the synonymous names “Hollywood collar” and “Cooper collar”. Doheny’s shirts lack that elegant tapered roll associated with the traditional Lido collar and may be best accurately described as a hybrid between a Lido collar and a classic camp (revere) collar.

While we're playing "Guess that Hawaiian island on Doheny's shirt?", Kenneth Geiger is getting away!

While we’re playing “Guess that Hawaiian island on Doheny’s shirt?”, Kenneth Geiger is getting away!

Doheny’s first shirt has an indigo ground, covered with an all-over print of white-sketched tropical scenes, occasionally accompanied with Anglicized versions of Hawaiian islands and locations such as Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, and Diamondhead Honolulu.

I’ve tried in vain to track down who would have made this distinctive shirt during the 1970s and ’80s timeframe that it would have been produced with no promising leads aside from this royal blue polyester/cotton vintage shirt from Royal Creations (via Etsy) that borrows the concept and color scheme but differs in the detail of the pattern and the layout of the shirt itself.

Cut straight around the hem and meant to be worn untucked, Doheny’s shirts have a narrow split vent on each side. A matching patch pocket on each side of the chest closes with a single button through a pointed flap.

With both shirts, Doheny wears cream-colored flat front slacks that provide a tropically appropriate balance to his vibrant shirts. These trousers have side pockets, jetted back pockets, and a straight leg down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. He wears a black leather belt that coordinates with his black leather loafers with their squared plain toe and high vamps. His black socks are likely the same “Gold Toe” black socks as we see folded in the top of his suitcase.

Kenneth Geiger turns out to be a dead end.

Kenneth Geiger turns out to be a dead end.

That night, Doheny changes into another purple-toned long-sleeved Aloha shirt, similarly styled as his previous shirt but with a lilac ground and a more familiar all-over floral print of purple hibiscus. This shirt also seems to swap out the earlier shirt’s metal buttons for more traditionally Hawaiian brown wood buttons.

As the latest houseguest at Robin's Nest, Doheny is shown to his new quarters by the estate's proud majordomo Higgins (John Hillerman).

As the latest houseguest at Robin’s Nest, Doheny is shown to his new quarters by the estate’s proud majordomo Higgins (John Hillerman).

Doheny wears no visible jewelry or accessories, save for the gold wristwatch he was gifted upon his retirement from the NYPD at the start of the episode, secured to his left wrist via flat, shining gold bracelet with a jewelry clasp. The watch has a gold rectangular case and a minimalist gold rectangular dial with a raised bump at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions.

According to Tom Selleck during a September 2016 segment of Live! with Kelly, Sinatra's only condition for appearing on Magnum, P.I. was: "Just make sure I get to beat somebody up!"

According to Tom Selleck during a September 2016 segment of Live! with Kelly, Sinatra’s only condition for appearing on Magnum, P.I. was: “Just make sure I get to beat somebody up!” Steven Keats looks like he wouldn’t mind if the Chairman had made a more genteel request.

The Gun

“The gun gets ’em to tell the truth, then they haven’t got time enough to think up a lie,” explains Doheny of his gun-happy techniques. The weapon in question appears to be an early Colt Detective Special, likely Doheny’s backup piece from his NYPD service. The rounded “half-moon” front sight and rounded butt suggests that this may be a “first issue” Detective Special, produced between 1927 and 1946 before the front sight would be ramped and serrated. The Detective Special would undergo far more extensive cosmetic changes in the early ’70s but it remained at its core a reliable and easily concealed revolver packing six rounds of .38 Special ammunition.

Sinatra seems to spend a substantial amount of his screen time giving Steven Keats hell.

Sinatra seems to spend a substantial amount of his screen time giving Steven Keats hell.

Despite his propensity for pulling his gat perhaps more often than a situation requires, Honolulu PD Lieutenant Page (Joe Santos) still arranges for his fellow officer Doheny to receive a permit to legally carry his Detective Special concealed while in Hawaii. (I’m not familiar with the Hawaii firearms ordinances in 1987, but it seems that Doheny would not be so easily extended that courtesy today as a non-resident.

How to Get the Look

Frank Sinatra as Michael Doheny in Magnum, P.I., Episode 7.18: "Laura"

Frank Sinatra as Michael Doheny in Magnum, P.I., Episode 7.18: “Laura”

More than three decades after he wore his “loose, flowing sports shirt” as Maggio in From Here to Eternity, Ol’ Blue Eyes proved he was as comfortable as ever in a tropical-printed aloha shirt… just the item anyone would want to have on hand when guest-starring on Magnum, P.I.!

  • Purple all-over tropical-printed long-sleeved Aloha shirt with wide “Lido collar”, four-button extended-tab plain front, two matching chest pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), button cuffs, and straight hem with side vents
  • Cream-colored flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black leather belt
  • Black leather squared plain-toe high-vamp loafers
  • Black “Gold Toe” socks
  • Gold rectangular-cased wristwatch with gold rectangular dial on flat gold jewelry-clasp bracelet

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the series. Of course, Magnum P.I. is fantastic and fun in its own right, but “Laura” provides a fitting swan song for Sinatra in a role that showcases not only his characteristic toughness but also substantial depth… considerably more dignified and on brand than Orson Welles’ somewhat more ignominious cinematic farewell in The Transformers: The Movie the year prior.

In fact, “Laura” received Magnum, P.I.‘s highest ratings in more than two years, ostensibly saving the show and extending it into another season. While there were plans for Sinatra to return during Magnum, P.I.‘s eighth and final season, the shortened run of episodes due to Tom Selleck’s scheduling conflicts meant there wouldn’t be an opportunity for Ol’ Blue Eyes to make a smooth return to the series and “Laura” remains his final on-screen acting role.

Tom Selleck, Larry Manetti, and Frank Sinatra on set of "Laura" (Magnum, P.I., Episode 7.18)

Tom Selleck, Larry Manetti, and Frank Sinatra on set of “Laura” (Magnum, P.I., Episode 7.18). It was reportedly though Manetti that FS first signaled his interest in taking what would be his final acting role.

The Quote

Well, like I always say… anybody can make a mistake.

4 comments

  1. Corinth Arkadin

    There’s nothing wrong with Transformer’s the Movie! Orson Welles himself likened parts of the script to Hamlet! (his notes in the margins state as much).

    It also introduced thousands of kids to Welles’ work if only through name recognition. TF is as 80’s as Magnum and just as popular and fun.

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