Tom Hanks may be known for his beloved roles in movies like You’ve Got Mail, Big, Forrest Gump, and Toy Story, but there’s a side of Tom Hanks many haven’t seen. For the last thirty-five years, Tom Hanks has romanced, inspired, and captured the hearts of his audience — both young and old alike.
He’s known as “the nicest guy in Hollywood” but Tom Hanks’ childhood was full of heartache and chaos, and his journey to stardom wasn’t an easy one.
I’ve always loved Tom Hanks, but after learning more about his humble beginnings, my love and respect for him has only grown all the more.
Thomas “Tom” Jeffrey Hanks was born on July 9, 1956, in Concord, California. Tom’s mother, Janet Marylyn (Frager), was a Portuguese hospital worker, and his father, Amos Mefford Hanks, was an itinerant cook whose parents were from the United Kingdom.
Tom had a very confusing childhood. He was only 5-years-old when his parents divorced and Tom’s father took him and his two older siblings, Sandra and Larry, to Reno, Nevada, while his younger brother, Jim, remained with his mother.
Life was hard being separated from his mother and little brother — something a young child could never quite possibly understand. But Tom’s father did his best to raise him and his siblings.
As if life wasn’t already challenging enough, both of Tom’s parents remarried more than once; his mother remarried three times, while his father remarried twice.
Tom’s first stepmother had eight children of her own, and eventually divorced his father. Tom’s second stepmother was an Asian woman named Frances Wong, who had three children of her own, two of which lived with Tom growing up.
In school, he was unpopular with both peers and teachers alike. He later told Rolling Stone magazine:
“I was a geek, a spaz. I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy. 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.”
Because of his father’s job as a traveling Chef, Tom and his siblings were moved around often. By the age of ten, young Tom had attended at least five different grammar schools and lived in more than ten houses. Eventually, in 1966 they settled down in Oakland, California.
But Tom’s optimistic outlook considers all of his early moving an excellent primer for the actor’s life. “It made me flexible,” he told Rolling Stone. “It gave me confidence to think I can be in any sort of social situation and know how to gracefully get out of it.”
While Tom’s family religious background was Catholic and Mormon, he has characterized himself as being a “Bible-toting evangelical” as a teenager.
At Skyline High School, young Tom finally felt at home. He was gifted in athletics, but everything changed the day he watched a friend perform in the school’s production of Dracula and began daydreaming of becoming an actor.
After being inspired by his friend’s performance, Tom joined the Thespian Club and began acting in his junior year of high school. His first ‘acting’ role would be behind the scenes — working as a stage manager for the school’s production of My Fair Lady.
It was long hours and hard work, but the young, aspiring actor didn’t complain. Instead, Tom set out to learn all he could about acting and theater — both on and off the stage.
Finally, he went on to earn roles in Skyline’s productions of Night of the Iguana, Twelfth Night, and South Pacific. As a senior, he was honored with Skyline High School’s prestigious award of Best Actor. This award would later prove to be a foreshadowing of what was to come when he would be awarded his first Oscar, twenty years later.
After graduating high school, Tom promptly left Oakland and set off to explore the idea of studying theater. He explains that he graduated from high school as “an underachieving student with lousy SAT scores” and in no way able to afford college. Chabot College in Hayward was the perfect answer to Tom’s question of what to do with his life after high school “..because it accepted everyone and was free.”
While there, it didn’t take long for Tom to realize that God had indeed created him to inspire audiences. By the time he graduated with his Associates degree, Tom had made the community college’s dean’s list. He then transferred to California State University in serious pursuit of acting.
He told New York magazine in 1986, “Acting classes looked like the best place for a guy who liked to make a lot of noise and be rather flamboyant. … I spent a lot of time going to plays. I wouldn’t take dates with me. I’d just drive to a theater, buy myself a ticket, sit in the seat and read the program, and then get into the play completely. I spent a lot of time like that, seeing Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and all that.”
During his years studying theater, he met Vincent Dowling, head of the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Dowling immediately recognized Tom’s God-given talent and suggested that he become an intern at the festival.
The young Tom agreed, and his internship stretched into a three-year experience that covered most aspects of theater production, including lighting, set design, and stage management, prompting him to drop out of college.
During the same time, Tom won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his 1978 performance as “Proteus” in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona — one of the few times Tom Hanks would ever play the part of a villain.
In 1979, he took a leap of faith and moved to New York City. Two years later, he received his ‘big break’ when he landed one of the lead roles as “Kip Wilson,” on the ABC television pilot of Bosom Buddies.
He and Peter Scolari played a pair of young advertising men forced to dress as women so they could live in an inexpensive all-female hotel.
Though a bit corny at times, Bosom Buddies was genuinely hilarious and Tom’s humor did not disappoint.
Sadly, the show was cancelled after two seasons, but it gave Tom the exposure he needed to land several guest roles on popular shows like Happy Days (1974-84), Taxi (1978-83), The Love Boat (1977-87) and Family Ties (1982-89).
In 1988, Tom was finally cast in the movie that would forever change his career: Big. In the movie, he played a 13-year-old boy transplanted overnight into the body of a 35-year-old man.
Tom Hanks’ performance charmed both critics and audiences alike, and Big earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
In 1993, Tom emerged with two huge hits: Sleepless in Seattle, and Philadelphia.
The hugely popular film Sleepless in Seattle rematched Tom with his Joe Versus the Volcano co-star, Meg Ryan. In the movie, he played the role of a recently widowed father, whose son calls in to a radio station in an attempt to find him a wife.
Tom charmed audiences and before long, hearts across the world fell in love with him.
In Philadelphia, he played a lawyer fired from his high-paying firm because he has AIDS; delivering a courageous performance that earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The following year, Tom achieved what had never been done before by bringing home his second straight lead actor Oscar, for his iconic role in Forrest Gump (1994), becoming the first person in 50 years to accomplish that feat.
In Forrest Gump, he played the title role of a simple man with a low I.Q. and good intentions, who runs through childhood with his best and only friend “Jenny.” His ‘Mama’ teaches him the ways of life and leaves him to choose his destiny.
Whether dominating on the gridiron as a college football star, fighting in Vietnam, or captaining a shrimp boat, “Forrest” inspires people with his childlike optimism. But one person Forrest cares about most may be the most difficult to save — his childhood love, the sweet but troubled “Jenny.”
Tom’s emotional performance both inspired Americans and taught the world that even the most unlikely heroes can make a difference.
Tom went on to capture hearts across the globe in his phenomenal lead roles in several box office hits like Apollo 13 (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and the romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail (late 1998), once again co-starring with Meg Ryan for the third time.
In You’ve Got Mail, struggling boutique bookseller “Kathleen Kelly” (Meg Ryan) hates “Joe Fox” (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate Fox Books chain store that just moved in across the street. When they meet online, however, they begin an intense and anonymous online romance, oblivious of each other’s true identity.
Eventually Joe learns that the enchanting woman he’s involved with is actually his business rival. He must now struggle to reconcile his real-life dislike for her with the cyber-love he’s come to feel for.
Widely recognized as one of the highest-earning actors in movie history, it’s no secret that Tom Hanks has found unparalleled success in Hollywood.
But along the way, Tom has established himself as one of the finest and most respected actors of his generation, as well as “the nicest guy in show business” and “the most trusted celebrity”.
But for Tom, there’s more to life than lights, cameras, and action. On this side of eternity, he considers his wife and family his greatest gifts — and his actions prove it.
On April 30, 1988, Tom married actress Rita Wilson, with whom he co-starred in Volunteers.
Tom and Rita have two sons together, Chester (Chet) Marlon and Truman Theodore. Hanks also shares two children (Colin and Elizabeth) with his college-sweetheart, Susan Dillingham, and is undoubtedly a family man devoted to raising his children right.
Over the years, Tom’s love and devotion to his wife has been made perfectly evident to all.
Whether they’re walking the red carpet hand-in-hand, or casually attending a hockey game and get caught on the kiss-cam, Tom’s actions consistently reveal his devoted love and affection for his beautiful wife of over 28 years.
The couple recently revealed that God is their marriage secret.
Rita revealed, “God is a part of our life. Every single day, I prayed to God for I don’t know how many years that he would bring me somebody that I loved […] that loved me in the same way, and he brought me Tom, so I believe in that.”
But just before their anniversary last year, Tom and Rita revealed their heartbreaking reality: Rita had secretly been battling cancer.
In a heart-wrenching and emotional post Rita shared, “Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma.”
But throughout the scariest season of their lives, Tom and Rita put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. And despite the unimaginable battle, Rita pulled through with her supportive husband faithfully by her side.
“Who knew it would make you even closer?” Rita told The New York Times. “You never know how your spouse is going to react in a situation like this. I was so amazed, so blown away by the care my husband gave me. It was such a normal, intimate time.”
Throughout Rita’s battle, Tom refused to leave her side. And last year the adorable couple announced the miraculous news that thanks to God, Rita overcame and was announced cancer-free.
Tom was overjoyed and expressed his relief, “God bless my wife – and her courage. We’re very lucky.”
Recently, Tom revealed that he has has also been facing a health challenge — Type 2 diabetes.
He told David Letterman, “I went to the doctors and they said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been living with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated. You’ve got Type 2 diabetes.'”
But Tom isn’t concerned. Instead, he has made the firm decision to surrender his life to the Lord. When a reporter cornered Tom and Rita and asked if they believed in the power of prayer, the unashamed Christian couple revealed that they pray often, and encourage others entrust their lives to the Lord as well.
When Tom was asked if he believed in God, the brilliant actor replied,
“I think you’ll be foolish not to believe in God.”
In addition to his faith, Tom is also known as one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth guys in Hollywood. He is so laid-back in fact, that he once insisted that his newly-befriended cab driver attend an event with him.
It’s simply amazing to see how far the Lord has brought Tom Hanks. From a chaotic childhood and humble beginnings, Tom’s life reminds the world to smile, trust God’s plan, and keep your chin up.
“As long as you as an individual… can convince yourself that in order to move forward as best as you can, you have to be optimistic, you can be described as ‘one of the faithful,’ one of those people who can say, ‘Well, look, something’s going to happen! Let’s just keep trying. Let’s not give up.'” – Tom Hanks
Tom’s iconic roles in movies like The Green Mile (1999), Cast Away (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2006), Captain Phillips, and Saving Mr. Banks (both 2013), as well as for his work in the animated films The Polar Express (2004) and the Toy Story series have brought hope to countless souls across the globe. And there’s no doubt that Tom Hank’s life has inspired Americans of all ages.
While listening to Tom’s inspiring story, I just couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 41:10, which reads,
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Tom’s humble and approachable demeanor sets him apart, while his faith and trust in the Lord is just a beautiful sight to behold. Thank you Tom Hanks, for your unashamed faith and unwavering character. Tom Hanks will forever be one of the world’s most beloved actors. America needs more men in Hollywood like Tom Hanks, please share if you agree.