CODY, Wyo. — Growing up in the planned neighborhoods of California, Tom Selleck could only fantasize about the rugged landscape and characters he saw in the western movies.
Now, as a television and movie actor and producer, Selleck says he's doing his part to preserve the culture and mythology of the West — a legacy that he says is as important to the United States as the legend of King Arthur is to England.
"I'm not a cowboy, but I'd probably like to be one," Selleck said Wednesday morning during a trip through Cody.
The former "Magnum P.I." star was in town for the opening of the firearms exhibit "Colt: The Legacy of a Legend" at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
The exhibit includes more than 800 historically significant Colt firearms and hundreds of accessories.
Selleck appears in a video introduction at the exhibit's entrance and narrates audio voice-overs inside. He also loaned three of his own guns to the exhibit.
He toured the display Tuesday evening, attended a dinner with other lenders and met with reporters Wednesday morning before touring the rest of the museum and leaving town.
Selleck said his childhood fascination with the old West blossomed as he landed parts in westerns, including adaptations of two Louis L'Amour books, "The Sacketts" (1979) and "The Shadow Riders" (1982).
"I really got hooked," he said. "And the fact that I seemed to get accepted in that genre was a huge thrill."
He has since appeared in several other westerns, including "Quigley Down Under" and three most recently that he has produced.
"I grew up on those movies," he said. "The western movie is one of those great American art forms."
Over time, Selleck became increasingly intent on making sure the films were historically accurate. That meant scrutinizing the clothing the characters wore and the firearms they chose.
"The saddle, pistol, that was your whole life as a cowboy," Selleck said. "And a hat."
He became interested in western firearms while researching for movies.
Touring the museum, Selleck said he enjoyed seeing the guns and learning the story behind them, such as the pistols carried by "Wild Bill" Hickok.
"The pistol synonymous with the West was the Colt 1873 Army six-shooter," Selleck. "Colt has such a prominent American name and American legend behind it."
He said the educational component of the exhibit may help curb some people's tendency to "demonize" firearms instead of bad behavior.
"I think that's culturally a mistake," he said.
Selleck said he plans to make more westerns. Even though Hollywood doesn't turn out that many these days, people still flock to the theaters or tune in when a good one comes along, he said.
He's preparing to start shooting a film in Calgary called "12 Mile Road" that takes place in Nebraska and will air on CBS. He called it a "rural piece about family."
Selleck is also preparing another L'Amour movie called "Empty Hand" that will air on TNT.
After speaking with reporters, Selleck offered one more thought about the importance of westerns and western culture, in a quote from writer Anthony Lejeune: "The classic western always has a moral dilemma and a challenge to the human spirit, the resolution of which, as John Wayne said, speaks well of men," Selleck said.
Selleck's loans to the Colt exhibit include an 1860 Richards conversion Colt revolver that he used in the movie "Last Stand at Saber River," a Colt single-action Army revolver used in the movie "Monte Walsh" and a Colt open-top cartridge conversion revolver used in "Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail."
The exhibit runs through early October.