Monday, August 8, 2022

RIP Roger Mosley

L-R: John Hillerman, Tom Selleck, Larry Manetti, Roger Mosley
I saw that Roger E. Mosley has died.  For most who knew of him, especially from my generation, he was Theodore Calvin - T.C. - the chopper pilot friend of Thomas Magnum in the 1980s mega-hit Magnum P.I 

His character was an important one in those days, and it was mentioned then that his role was not merely of a token black man.  He was not Magnum's black friend as much as he was Magnum's friend, who just happened to be black.  A big difference since many shows back then that featured black characters made it clear their main purpose on the screen was being black.  He also played against stereotypes.

One of the show's running theme-gags was that the high cultured British gentlemen Jonathan Quale Higgins (played by Texas born Jonathan Hillerman), was a man of class, culture and sophistication.  This was set in juxtaposition to Magnum's beach bum, beer and chilidog and baseball cap persona.  While it was clear Magnum was educated and culturally aware, it seldom interested him. Rick, the other main character, was altogether culturally ignorant.  

The character of T.C., on the other hand, was - next to the Higgins character - the most culturally sophisticated of the regulars.  On more than one occasion he could quote literature, appreciated music, loved the ballet and could reference opera.  In addition, while Rick was a philanderer and Magnum's morals were considered cutting edge in those days (though seldom shown), T.C. was the man who spent his off hours helping kids and coaching little league and being a mentor to the down and out in his neighborhood. That went a long way, in the early 1980s, toward breaking old Hollywood stereotypes. 

It's also worth noting that the show itself used T.C. to build on some of its main themes.  In those days, an uber-theme of our society was reconciliation.  That was big in the early 80s 40th Anniversary of WWII.  On multiple occasions I remember the lessons of the war being about reconciling and putting the ills of the past behind us.  Magnum P.I. had more than one episode where that was the point, including stories about past racism, bigotry, wrong doing and persecution.  And they weren't afraid to put the character of T.C. into the mix as both victim and survivor of such wrong doing, but always ready to forgive and reconcile. A different world to be sure. 

Like all characters in high profile parts, T.C. became Mosley's chief identity. But there was more to him than that.  I heard years ago that, in a way similar to his on screen alter ego, he dedicated himself to coaching and mentoring young people in Los Angeles.  While he continued to act and perform, I can't help but think of his work with youth as his significant accomplishment.  How keeping in character can you get? 

RIP Mr. Mosley, and thanks for the memories. 

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