Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Revisiting Tom Hanks in LARRY CROWNE

If you know me, if you've followed my blog posts for an appreciable amount of time, you know that Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors and has been since I landed my first professional TV job -- working at the ABC TV affiliate in Milwaukee. This was back when Milwaukee was popular because of the HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY sitcoms. Another ABC sitcom, one that introduced me to Tom Hanks and made me an immediate fan ever since its premiere episode, was BOSOM BUDDIES. I followed him from when he dressed in drag every week on that sitcom to his made-for-TV work in MAZES AND MONSTERS to his big screen work. I not only watch him for entertainment and enlightenment, I study his acting choices and on-camera technique. I learn from them. In fact, some lessons I've learned helped me book work in TV commercials and get callbacks for bit parts in TV features.  One of his early films enabled me to get a laugh on CBS Late Night. I was a semi-regular on THE PAT SAJAK SHOW. Pat asked me if I'd seen the new Tom Hanks movie and I lovingly opined, "It took one man to write the book WAR AND PEACE. It took five men to write the movie TURNER & HOOCH."
As I got older, it dawned on me that I could connect a Tom Hanks movie to certain memorable moments, major events and/or turning points in my life. Rosie O'Donnell and I worked together on VH1. She called me from location while shooting A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and said, "Press follows me into the ladies room because Madonna decided I'm her new buddy."  One of my sweetest dates with my late partner was when we attended a preview screening of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. I saw PHILADELHIA when my partner had been diagnosed. I was in love with a man had who AIDS. Tom Hanks does not know it but he helped me through one of the most heartbreaking days of my life when he was promoting FORREST GUMP in Los Angeles. I interviewed him one hour after my partner's doctor in Manhattan called my L.A. hotel room to let me know that I should prepare his family. He was in the hospital for a few days stay when I flew to L.A. for the press interviews. His doctor felt positive he'd be ready to return to our apartment when I returned from L.A.  She told me not to worry and have a good trip. But his condition took a sudden, unexpected turn and he was not responding to any medical treatment. "I'm afraid we've done all we can do," she said tenderly on the phone. Mr. Hanks warmth and humor helped me focus and proceed with my work before making arrangement to fly back to New York City. Years later, on a red carpet for the premiere of THE GREEN MILE, he recognized me and came over to give me a short interview. I was with a local cable show then and we didn't even expect to get him on camera. There were high-tone network press members present. My crew and I were dressed like a garage band that had just arrived out a van. Tom Hanks' recognition of me just about made us openly weep with glee and surprise. We were shooting the celebs on that red carpet to use as closing credits footage for our Christmas edition of my local show called METRO MOVIES, a guide to new films opening in town.

Last month, I caught the last hour of LARRY CROWNE on cable TV. Tom Hanks co-wrote and directed that genteel feature. Granted, it wasn't a big box office hit like FORREST GUMP or YOU'VE GOT MAIL, nonetheless it is the kind of movie that would be most satisfying Saturday night entertainment for the family or for a date night. Julia Roberts was his co-star.
Today, I watched the entire 2011 movie. Wow! I saw some of my life from that last 10 years reflected in LARRY CROWNE. He's a middle-aged single guy who lives alone and has a job that he loves. Unfortunately, he gets downsized. He's unemployed in an era that now puts job ads online and trying to get someone on the phone in person who will book you for an interview is a headache. Larry is so broke that he'll lose his home. I was so broke after I got downsized in two consecutive broadcast jobs in New York City that I could no longer afford my once-affordable studio apartment of 500 square feet. I lost my apartment, lived with a buddy in San Francisco and started nine frustrating and fruitless months of seeking employment, applying for jobs that ranged from restaurant busboy to local TV broadcaster.

A lesson I got from my first partial viewing of LARRY CROWNE still applies. Larry lives in Southern California. After he's let go, he decides to enroll in a local community college. Learning new skills will help him reinvent himself. Julia Roberts plays one of the college teachers. Twenty minutes into the film, we see her class and one of her lovably loopy students. He wants to do a class presentation on toaster waffles. When we see him for the first time, those twenty minutes into the movie, he's in a scene with the stars -- Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

He's a bit player whose name wasn't even listed in the opening credits of that 2011 comedy/romance. We know his name now because, earlier this year he joined the same club that has Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts as members. He won an Oscar for a performance. Two months ago, Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.
If I have the privilege to interview Tom Hanks again, I've got to ask him about hiring that then unknown actor named Rami Malek. Watch this short video to see a little bit of me with Hanks.

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