I recently saw a conversation on Twitter about silver screen icons of the present generation. The general idea was that the current crop of Hollywood stars and starlets lack the panache and presence of classic Hollywood icons like Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. A lot of names were mentioned as possible icons from the current batch in Hollywood. The name that I put forth was Tom Hanks, who turns 56 today. You see, not many actors have played as large a role in my personal movie-watching experience as Tom Hanks has.
Before I had even reached high school, I had seen Splash; The Money Pit; Dragnet; Big; The ‘Burbs; and Turner and Hooch. I saw half of those on the big screen, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. After Big, I started to recognize who he was, and decided that I should watch whatever else he would make. Tom Hanks was sort of the first Hollywood star that I recognized and sought out. Then my high school years brought Joe Versus the Volcano, A League of Their Own, and Philadelphia. A League of Their Own spoke to my inner baseball and history nerds, while Philadelphia spoke to my inner liberal. By that point, he had firmly established himself as one of my favorite actors.
Then came my college years, which were the years that saw Tom Hanks explode on the national scene. The first movie I saw as a college student was Forrest Gump. Hackneyed sentimentality or not, I enjoyed the film immensely at the time and even went to see it twice since it was free. Then came Apollo 13, Toy Story, and Saving Private Ryan. I saw Toy Story with my niece, who was 5 at the time. A whole new generation was getting an introduction to my generation’s most likable actor, and that made it more special for me.
Even into my adulthood, in my post-graduate years, Hanks has continued to amaze. He remains the kind, trustworthy, generous uncle of every movie-goer born from 1960 until 2005 or so. His career has dovetailed with my life, and he has provided quality throughout. 15 of the 24 Hanks titles that I’ve seen have been nominated for either a Golden Globe or an Oscar. He has personally had five Oscar nominations, two Oscar victories, seven Golden Globe nominations, and four Golden Globe victories. The AFI awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. As a producer, he made Band of Brothers, my favorite miniseries. In the kindest, most unassuming and respectful way, Tom Hanks’ career has dominated my lifetime.
It’s become vogue in recent years to needle his likability, particularly with the elderly, because of the sentimentality of his films. Basically, he’s viewed in some circles as the actor equivalent of friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg. That’s all well and good but it’s not really fair because he has made an effort to avoid being typecast. For instance, Private Ryan was awfully visceral. He was anything but likable in The Ladykillers and Charlie Wilson’s War, at least not in any sort of dopey sentimental way. He played a mafia killer in Road to Perdition and slightly bumbling but hardass FBI agent in Catch Me If You Can.
Of course, all of the opinions are moot. After growing up on his movies for 28 years, there’s little that can be said that would sway my overwhelmingly positive opinion of Tom Hanks. For my money, he’s as close to a living legend as we have today. Happy birthday, Mr. Hanks.