Tom Hanks is famous for his illustrious acting career, but he also upholds another reputation. Indeed, among all of Hollywood’s big names, he has been named as America’s favorite film star five times in his career by the Harris poll. Furthermore, Hanks manages to keep himself humble in the face of his celebrity, and has become known for acts of generosity and humanitarianism.
The world-famous cultural icon that is Tom Hanks was born in Concord, California, in 1956. But he wasn’t always the confident figure we know him as today. And in 1988 he gave an insight into his early years in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He said, “I was a geek, a spaz.”
“I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy,” Hanks continued in his interview with the magazine. “At the same time, I was the guy who’d yell out funny captions during filmstrips. But I didn’t get into trouble. I was always a real good kid, and pretty responsible.”
Despite an interest in football – Hanks once expressed a preference for winning an NCAA football Heisman Trophy over an Oscar – he fell in love with the theater. And this passion led to him joining acting school, which seemed like the perfect fit for his personality.
“Acting classes looked like the best place for a guy who liked to make a lot of noise and be rather flamboyant,” Hanks told New York Magazine in 1986. And it turned out to be the right path for him, judging by his stratospheric rise through Hollywood. It all began when the actor moved to New York City in 1979 and starred in his first film, He Knows You’re Alone, a year later. But it was a guest appearance on a 1982 episode of Happy Days which would offer him his first big Hollywood break.
That’s because Happy Days director Ron Howard decided to contact Hanks as a result of his performance on the show. Indeed, the former chose him for the lead role in his 1984 romantic comedy, Splash. In the movie, he plays Allen Bauer, who unknowingly falls for Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character, with chaotic results.
Indeed, Hanks’ performance cemented him as a choice for future Hollywood films over the next several years, albeit with varying degrees of success. Arguably, the rising actor’s breakthrough role was his second fantasy comedy, 1988’s Big, which earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. And though the next few years would see him star in a number of less successful movies, Hanks wasn’t ready to relinquish the limelight.
Then in 1992 Hanks experienced a return to fame with baseball comedy drama A League of Their Own. And in subsequent years, he began to star in an array of consistently successful movies. Hanks told Vanity Fair he attributed this to his work becoming “less pretentiously fake and over the top.” But whatever the reason, he certainly won a lot of movie lovers’ hearts.
Meanwhile, film fans today still fondly remember Hanks’ on-screen relationship with Meg Ryan in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle . And it would seem that in some cases, the actor’s choice in roles also reflected his off-screen standpoints. Take the drama movie Philadelphia, which was about a gay man’s battle against homophobia and HIV/AIDS, for example.
Indeed, Philadelphia became one of the first major Hollywood movies to tackle such sensitive topics, and critics applauded its boldness. And for his part, Hanks fully invested himself in the lead role, from intentionally thinning out his hair to losing weight. He subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and Hanks’ acceptance speech revealed the source of his inspiration.
In his Academy Award acceptance speech, Hanks explained that the subject of LGBTQ issues touched him on a personal level. That’s because both his former high school drama teacher and a fellow classmate were gay. Furthermore, over a decade later the star helped raised in excess of $44 million to support of same-sex marriage.
But there have been other times when Hanks has chosen roles for the potential difference they could make, too. He saw a similar opportunity arise when directors handed him the script for the 1994 movie, Forrest Gump. Indeed, the tone of the film drew Hanks in and appealed to his sentimentality at the same time.
“When I read the script for Forrest Gump,” Hanks was quoted as saying, “I saw it as one of those kinds of grand, hopeful movies that the audience can go to and feel… some hope for their lot and their position in life… I got that from the movies a hundred million times when I was a kid, [and] I still do.”
Meanwhile, Forrest Gump got Hanks his Academy Award for Best Actor for the second year consecutively. And the star’s personal interests then melded with his career in 1995, when he took the lead role in Apollo 13. Indeed, it played into his childhood fascination with the cosmos, which had been an early obsession for him.
“From Apollo 7 on up, I lived this stuff,” Hanks told AMC in 2008. “I knew the crews. I’d run home for the launches. I got A’s in physics, thinking maybe I could be one of those guys. I was Space Boy, I thought I was so lucky to be alive at a time when man was [going to] walk on the moon.”
For its part, Apollo 13 had Ron Howard in the director’s chair again, reuniting him with Hanks for something of a joint venture. The latter continued to AMC, “Tom was a key collaborator in the process. I was thrilled to learn of his interest in the project. When Tom and I met in New York about it, I saw that he had a long-standing love affair with the space program and had always been particularly interested in the story of Apollo 13.”
“Due to his passion for all things NASA,” Howard continued, “[Hanks] was miles ahead of me in knowledge of the basics of space flight and the details of the mission… He came to the project with an incredible knowledge of space.” Indeed, Howard’s words also go some way to understanding Hanks’ support for the U.S. space program.
Specifically, Hanks is on the board of governors for the non-profit organization, the National Space Society (NSS). The organization was founded with the merger of aerospace engineer Dr. Wernher von Braun’s National Space Institute and the L5 society in 1987. The NSS supports space travel, but its ultimate aim is to see people working together to colonize space for the benefit of mankind.
Indeed, such a humanitarian goal is typical of Hanks’ interests, and space is a recurring theme in his projects. And in addition to the actor’s NSS standing, he’s also created several other aeronautic-themed media works. For starters, he’s the co-producer and co-writer on the 2005 IMAX documentary Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D.
Hanks also co-produced an HBO television miniseries in 1998 called From the Earth to the Moon with Howard. And he even narrated the American Museum of Natural History’s space show Passport to the Universe at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. However, though the actor has his eyes on the stars, it doesn’t mean that he has his head in the clouds.
Indeed, Hanks may be fascinated by space, but he also has wider concerns closer to home. He is very aware of environmental issues, especially when it comes to the promotion of renewable energy sources. Not only has he invested in electric vehicle production, he also owns some of them himself. Hanks currently has two electric cars – an AC Propulsion eBox and a Toyota RAV4 EV.
What’s more, Hanks is just as philanthropic on a more personal level. For example, when he learned that members of the White House’s Press Corps lacked a coffee machine, he provided one himself. And he repeated the pattern in both 2010 and 2017, leaving a message with the most recent gift.
“To the White House Press Corps,” Hanks’ note said. “Keep up the good fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Especially for the truth part.” And the star is likewise just as amicable with his fans, to the extent that many call him “America’s dad.” For example, he assisted a couple’s engagement at a Texas book festival in 2017.
For his part, Hanks was at the book festival chat with waiting admirers about his book of short stories, Uncommon Type: Some Stories. But he turned attendee’s expectations around by taking a break from questions, and pulled out a piece of paper he had. The star then proposed to fan Nikki Young on behalf of her boyfriend, Ryan McFarling – and, fortunately, she said yes.
Meanwhile, Hanks has even touched hearts in the armed forces. Indeed, in 2006 he became an honorary member of the United States Rangers Hall of Fame thanks to his performance in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning war epic Saving Private Ryan. And, interestingly, Hanks is the only actor to have received such an accolade.
Hanks and Spielberg then renewed their partnership for the HBO war series Band of Brothers. In addition, Hanks is an honorary member of the D-Day Museum Capital Campaign and has served as the national spokesperson for the the World War II Memorial Campaign. However, despite all his public philanthropy, Hanks still has a few secrets up his sleeve.
Hanks addressed his charity work when the New York Public Library presented him with an Arts for Humanity Award in 2012. He explained, “I have this instinctive thing that I do that’s turned into a pretty good career and it puts me in the public eye in a certain way. And along with that come a massive amount of pluses that I certainly never imagined would be possible, and if it wasn’t for that we couldn’t give the support that we give.”
“I’m proud of the work that I do,” Hanks continued. “We work very hard in a business that deserves and earns every bit of ridicule we heap upon it. But at the of the day you’ve got to wake up in the morning and try to make the world a better place. That’s the way I was raised, that’s what my mom and dad and my caregivers I ever had kept pounding into me. We’re Americans, and Americans take into account the common good.”
Hanks also said the charity work was a team effort for both he and his wife Rita Wilson. For her part, Wilson – an actress in her own right – also added something revealing. She said, “I’ve always been proud of the work [Hanks] does. He’s very discreet; he doesn’t make a big deal about it.”
“And [Hanks is] very consistent about his passions and the charities, or the people, that he’s giving to,” Wilson elaborated. And linking back to his military connection, one of those causes Hanks champions is called Hidden Heroes, an organization founded by Senator Elizabeth Dole to help war veterans and their caregivers.
“Hidden Heroes brings vital attention to the untold stories of military caregivers,” its mission statement confirms. The group says it also “seeks solutions for the tremendous challenges and long-term needs they face.” And not only does Hidden Heroes have Senator Dole’s backing, but Hanks also acts as the campaign chair.
“Unseen and undefined, there are millions of heroes who are caring for our wounded veterans each day,” Hanks writes on the Hidden Heroes website. “I join with Senator Dole in this important national campaign to make us all aware of these hidden heroes. To acknowledge what they do… to connect them to valuable resources. Military caregivers rarely ask for help, but they deserve our support.”
Meanwhile, in November 2018 Hanks appeared on The Today Show as a representative of Hidden Heroes to surprise one such family. Jimmy Ochan and his wife Pat hail from Uganda, but arrived in America as refugees to become citizens. And the former had subsequently served as a U.S. Marine on three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And as a consequence of Ochan’s tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’d received shrapnel wounds and a brain injury, but that’s not all. The soldier’s experiences also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, his wife was forced to abandon her education to look after her husband and their son.
Meanwhile, Hanks took Ochan and his wife Pat by surprise when he welcomed them in a hotel room in a clip from The Today Show in November 2018. America’s sweetheart hugged both of them warmly on their arrival and spoke to them at length about their experiences. Pat spoke openly about how difficult things were for her before benefitting from Hidden Heroes. But, thankfully, things have been looking up since she was put in touch with the organization.
Indeed, because of the Hidden Heroes network, Ochan’s wife Pat has had enough time to pick up where she left off chasing her PH.D. Meanwhile, the former is also going back to education and working towards a Bachelor’s degree. And after sharing their story with Hanks, the couple joined him for an evening’s celebration at the first annual Hidden Heroes gala.
“If you are a military caregiver, there’s no uniform. There’s no camouflage jacket or battle ribbon, not even a cape. But you do serve our country,” Hanks explains in a Hidden Heroes promotional video. He then explains how volunteering with the organization can make all the difference to a military caregiver.
“Everybody can write a check, without a doubt. But it is not a substitute for one on one connection,” Hanks explains in the video clip from the Today Show. So when he’s not reinforcing his reputation as America’s sweetheart, what is Hanks up to these days? Well, his most recent movie appearance was as Ben Bradlee in 2017’s political historical thriller, The Post.
But that doesn’t mean Hanks is taking a break from Hollywood. In fact, he’s been behind the camera on several recent projects. He was executive producer on 2018’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and a documentary series called The 2000s. Hanks was also in 1968: The Year That Changed America, a series highlighting the titular year’s monumental changes.
Hanks also has an appropriate film role scheduled for 2019 called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Hanks steps into the shoes of wholesome TV personality Fred Rogers, who became renowned for his kind, friendly nature. Indeed, it seems like the perfect role for a generous man such as Hanks. Or, as the late Rogers used to tell his viewers, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are.”