Hanks, Tom (1956—)

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Hanks, Tom (1956—)

One of only two men to ever win back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor, Tom Hanks has proven that he is one of the most talented and versatile actors of the twentieth century. From his early days as cross-dressing Kip in the television show Bosom Buddies, Hanks went on to win Oscars for two vastly diverse roles. First, he won Best Actor for 1993's Philadelphia, in which he played Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer dismissed from his law firm after being diagnosed with AIDS. In 1994, Hanks brought home a second statue for his portrayal of the title character in Forrest Gump, an amiable Southerner with questionable intelligence and the good fortune to be present at a number of important historical events. For his role as Andrew Beckett, Hanks lost so much weight that he lent grim reality to the deteriorating physical condition of the gay lawyer. In Forrest Gump, Hanks developed a slow drawl that perfectly presented Gump's drawn-out mental processes and childish naivete. Not one to be satisfied with making history, Hanks followed up the two wins with an Oscar-worthy performance that allowed him to bring a life-long dream close to reality by playing astronaut Jim Lowell in Apollo 13 (1995). Hanks was also nominated for his performance in 1998's Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's gripping World War II drama.

Tom Hanks was born July 9, 1956, in Concord, California. When he was only five years old, his parents divorced. Hanks and his older siblings lived with his father, while the youngest child remained with his mother. The divorce was followed by multiple sets of step-parents and frequent moves. As the perennial new kid on the block, Hanks learned that people liked him when he made them laugh, so he became a clown. In 1978 he married Samantha Lewes, with whom he has two children, son Colin and daughter Elizabeth. They divorced in 1985. In 1985, while filming the comedy Volunteers, Hanks met Rita Wilson and they were married in 1988. Hanks and Wilson have two sons, Chester and Truman. While accepting the Academy Award for Forrest Gump in 1994, Hanks brought tears to many eyes with his acknowledgement of their mutual love and respect.

The years between Bosom Buddies (1980-82) and his two Academy awards were full of both successes and failures for Hanks. Director Ron Howard gave Hanks his first shot at superstardom by casting him opposite mermaid Darryl Hannah in Splash (1984). He followed these movies with comedies, such as The Man with One Red Shoe (1985) and The Money Pit (1986), that endeared him to fans but which were panned by critics. However, in 1988 Hanks won over the critics with the role of Josh Baskin in Penny Marshall's Big. This story of a young boy who gets his wish to grow up overnight was the perfect vehicle for Hanks because it allowed him to combine his youthful appeal with a mature performance, garnering a Best Actor nomination. Unfortunately, Hanks followed up his success in Big with less successful roles in Punchline (1988), Turner and Hooch (1989), and The Bonfire of the Vanities and Joe Versus the Volcano (both 1990). His return to critical acclaim came in 1992 with the role of Jimmy Dugan in Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own. While the female stars were the focus in this tale of a women's baseball team, Hanks more than held his own as the bitter, tobacco-chewing, has-been manager of the team.

Hanks' versatility is the key to his success as an actor. The physically and mentally draining role of the gay lawyer in Philadelphia was immediately followed by a love story that was to become a classic: Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Sleepless drew on the earlier classic love story of An Affair to Remember (1957) for its plot. Instead of star-crossed lovers, Hanks and Meg Ryan play potential lovers who never get together until the final scene, which takes place at the Empire State Building in New York City. The phenomenal success of Forrest Gump was followed by the Disney favorite Toy Story (1995). Hanks lent his voice to Woody, a computer-generated cowboy puppet displaced in his boy's affections by spaceman Buzz Lightyear (the voice of Tim Allen). Even in this children's tale, Hanks presents a character to whom his audience can relate and offers friendship as a moral lesson and proof of character development.

Adding producer, writer, and director to his list of accomplishments, Tom Hanks created his own movie with That Thing You Do (1996), a charming, simple story of a one-hit 1960's rock band. From the Earth to the Moon, a 1998 mini-series, proved to be even more ambitious. In several installments, the mini-series followed the entire history of the space program.

Tom Hanks has frequently been compared to Jimmy Stewart, an actor who was so well loved that the Los Angeles airport was renamed to honor him after his death in 1997. Hanks and Stewart are, indeed, similar in their appeal to both men and women and in their versatility. It is likely that Tom Hanks will go down in history as the most popular and the most critically acclaimed actor of the latter half of the twentieth century.

—Elizabeth Purdy

Further Reading:

Nikart, Ray. Tom Hanks. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Passero, Kathy. "That Thing He Does: The Perpetual Appeal of Tom Hanks." Biography. July 1998, 30-37.

Pfeiffer, Lee, and Michael Lewis. The Films of Tom Hanks. Secaucus, New Jersey, Carol Publishing, 1996.

Quinlan, David. Tom Hanks: A Career in Orbit. London, B. T. Botsford, Ltd., 1998.

Trakin, Roy. Tom Hanks: Journey to Stardom. New York, St. Martin's, 1995.