Larry Manetti on Bringing More ‘Magnum’ to ‘Blue Bloods’ & Acting in Wheelchair After Stroke
Fans of the original Magnum P.I. who can get their minds off the hunky Tom Selleck in his shorts and Hawaiian shirts, probably fondly remember his former Marine buddy turned beach club manager Orville “Rick “Wright, the comic relief, mob-connected brawler played by Larry Manetti.
Manetti has shown up in several episodes of the rebooted Magnum series in a new role as retired crooner Nicky Demarco (with one more appearance slated). But it’s taken him 13 years to film an episode of his still great friend Selleck’s Blue Bloods. The 75-year-old actor tells us all about the episode and his time on the show and offers an exclusive update on his health.
How did your guest spot in the April 21 episode, “Family Matters” come about? Why did it take so long for you to show up on Blue Bloods?
Larry Manetti: First of all, Tom did not want to put me on the show because he thought it would confuse the audience because of Magnum. Finally, about 1.5 years ago, he told the exec producer/writer Kevin Wade, “You know, I’d love to get my friend Larry Manetti on Blue Bloods.” Kevin said he’d think about it and, while he was recuperating from a neck problem, while he surfed TV, he saw a few episodes of other shows I did and told his writers to “find something for Larry Manetti — he’d be good for this show.”
Larry Manetti, Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley, John Hillerman in Magnum P.I. (Everett Collection)
Your character is introduced in a very dramatic fashion. Who is he?
He’s a retired police sergeant named Sam Velucci. His grandson was put on narcotics by doctors after he had a football accident severing some vertebrae. He got hooked [on the painkillers] and wound up buying drugs from a dealer that was laced with fentanyl and it killed him. Sam went totally ballistic and when he first appears, he’s out to kill [the dealer]. Officer Eddie Janko (Vanessa Ray) arrives in time to arrest him.
Tom really wanted you on the show, but you don’t appear in any scenes together. What did he tell you about that?
Again, he thought it might confuse the audience because of our relationship on Magnum P.I. But we’ve been friends for close to 45 years so we went out to dinner together with my wife Nancy every night for the week I was in New York. I first met Tom when we were cast on the same episode of James Garner’s show The Rockford Files in 1978. Tom’s character beat me up at the end of the show. Tom and I are like brothers, we speak once a week.
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How was the Blue Bloods experience?
Wonderful! I love the show and I watch it religiously. I worked with Vanessa Ray and she was so wonderful, giving, and a great actress. We got along like bread and butter. Selleck and everybody on the show bent over backward for me, treated me like a king. I never did a show as a guest star that I was so enthused and excited about.
It seems that the retired cop was in a wheelchair. Can you talk about that?
I am [in a wheelchair], too. I’ve never said this before in an interview, but I had a stroke seven years ago. I’m pretty capable, except that I have a very, very difficult time walking. It was extremely courageous of them to use a handicapped actor, not knowing what his capabilities are, and putting him on the show. But I had a good time zipping around in that thing on the set.
We didn’t see you in a wheelchair on your Magnum episodes, right?
No. I did those [episodes] and a movie, but nobody wanted me in a wheelchair. They hid it. Then Kevin Wade says, “We want Manetti in the wheelchair.” Tom knew I was very capable in it. Have wheels, will travel. I’m hoping that people watching that are handicapped or stroke-ridden like me, to take good advice from me: If you want to do it, you can do it. I got on an airplane, made it to New York, to Hawaii, with my wife Nancy’s help. But doing that gave me the greatest feeling. I hope anybody out there can get that. It makes you feel like you’re worth something here on Earth.
What was a Blue Bloods highlight?
I was blown away when I was asked to come in on my day off and get into wardrobe. I said, “Why am I here?” And they said that wanted to take a picture of me. Next thing I know I zip onto the set and there’s the whole cast sitting at the famous dinner table. and Tom said, “Pull that wheelchair over here and sit next to me.” There were cameras and I freaked out. No one had said one word about this.
What’s the storyline for your next Magnum P.I. appearance?
[My character Nicky DeMarco is] at a baseball game with Zach Knighton, who plays Rick, my old character. It’s very comical. I couldn’t ask for a better guy and a better actor to take over my part.
When the new series first premiered, Tom was not thrilled with the idea of the remake. Did you check with him before you agreed to the recurring role?
I did. I wasn’t thrilled either. I didn’t think that anybody could ever duplicate Magnum P.I., but the truth is it’s a totally different show except for the character names and the helicopter. I love all the actors in it, and I wish them the best, but it’s sort of like redoing Gone With the Wind. [Laughs]
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I was so happy about working on Magnum with Tom, I wrote a book called Aloha Magnum, about the show and all the people who appeared on it like Frank Sinatra and Carol Burnett. There are many behind-the-scenes stories. The book’s very funny. It’s available on my website.
Blue Bloods, Fridays, 10/9c, CBS