The ''Three Men and a Baby'' actor recently received an honorary salute at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

By Ben Hellwarth
March 29, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

When you think of big-screen, big-name draws worthy of a prestigious film-festival tribute, you might think of a Harrison Ford or a Meryl Streep. But not a Tom Selleck.

Nevertheless, the dimpled 51-year-old former Magnum, P.I. star recently received an honorary salute at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Although film purists might wince at the thought of paying homage to the small-screen hunk, whose major celluloid milestone was 1987’s talcum-powdered comedy Three Men and a Baby, Selleck proved to be a big draw at the 10-day festival. In fact, a second theater had to be added for the throngs of Selleck fans who shelled out $20 apiece to see the man in person and view his latest effort, Ruby Jean and Joe, a low-profile $4 million road pic about a washed-up rodeo star. (The nearly 600 viewers seemed not to mind that Ruby Jean is actually a made-for-cable movie scheduled to premiere on Showtime later this year.)

”He’s not a movie star like Sigourney Weaver [another festival honoree],” says Phyllis de Picciotto, artistic director and founder of the film fest. ”But he’s such a special actor who’s been all over the place. He’s just tremendously appealing.”

Sadly, there was little discussion (nor any screenings) of Selleck’s less-than-classic filmography, which includes such works as Her Alibi and Daughters of Satan. ”I don’t know how they decided on me,” admits Selleck. ”I was quite flattered they asked.” But why, at this film tribute, did he decide to screen a TV movie? ”It’s on film and it’s projected in a theater,” he says, a bit defensively. ”That makes it a film.”