Tom Hanks has been around as long as I can remember. I first saw him in the movie Splash (1984). He’d been in a TV sitcom for two years before but that was back in the days when I never watched TV so I wasn’t aware of him. Then he was a leading man with women like Meg Ryan. I wasn’t sure I understood, but the movies were always good, and I didn’t question casting choices. I remember when he suddenly became ‘a son of Oakland, Ca ‘because he had lived in Oakland and, for a brief time in his young life, gone to Skyline High School. Then he played a washed-up, hard drinking baseball legend coaching a girl’s team in A League of Their Own (1992). Loving baseball as I did, I fell in love with him and, from then on, if Tom Hanks was in a movie, I went to see it.
Then I was middle-aged and Hanks was middle aged. He’d been married to Rita Wilson since 1988 (they have 2 children), and there had never once been a scandal associated with him. At some point, we both had graying hair and I realized that I had watched the rise and staying power of a true Hollywood giant. Last year, he and wife, Rita, caught Covid-19 on a visit to Australia. They went public with it, they were honest about how horrible it was, and I’m sure the rest of the world besides myself were praying for their recovery.
Today, needing an escape from the chatter in my head, I went looking for a movie to watch, and up popped A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), a movie I’d wanted to see but it hadn’t come to Paris as far as I know. Within ten minutes, I was once again thinking with awe about Hanks, his acting, and his amazing career. But mostly what appears to me to be his humility. Mr. Rogers wasn’t around when I was growing up and I don’t believe I have ever seen a single episode. I’ve seen enough paradies to know that there is a chunk of America that is too cynical to think he was for real. As the movie started, I was one of those people. I thought to myself, “only Tom Hanks could pull this off.” Twenty minutes later, I was a Mr. Rogers cheerleader (Fred Rogers died in 2004 at the age of 74).
The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the friendship of Fred Rogers and journalist, Tom Junod . Mr. Junod wrote a wonderful essay for Esquire magazine, published in 1998. If you are interested, I encourage you to see the movie first, then read the article. It was re-published in 2017. It is a remarkable piece of writing.
People like Mr. Rogers are unique and exceedingly rare. People who want the world to be a better place. They are people who remember what it is like to be a child. Usually these people who know that it all starts with how one treats children, your own and everyone else’s, become therapists, buddhist monks, writers of children’s books, but to create and sustain a TV show that lasted from 1968-2001 and never veered off-course is an amazing feat. And that the great Tom Hanks can bring him to life for someone like me shows the talent of a truly gifted actor.
Usually someone has to do something bad, create a scandal, be a Republican, to have one’s name in the papers and become famous or infamous. But Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks share in common being famous for being kind. They are quiet presences in our lives. They go about doing their jobs. They don’t seem to need to create buzz and bring attention to themselves. I don’t know how they do it. At one point in the movie, the protaganist, Lloyd Vogel (based on Tom Junod) asks Mrs Rogers what it is like being married to a saint. She looks at him and says “I hate it when people call him that. He is human. He gets angry, sometimes really angry. He practices at being (the man you see). He swims. Every morning.” So, in fact, I do know how they do it, they practice. I have learned late in life that doing the right thing does take practice. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a rock in the back yard of my home in Oakland that says ‘May I be the person my dog thinks I am.’ There was a time I thought that was unattainable. Now I think ‘May I be the person I know I’m capable of being….if I practice at it every day.’
Every once in a while, something passes in front of each one of us that reminds us that there are still people out there trying their best to make the world a little bit kinder. They aren’t praying for World Peace. They are putting into action small steps that will impact their “neighborhood”. Many of us hope that the Hundreth Monkey theory really exists and that one day…. Meanwhile, this author is forever grateful for the inspiration of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks to remind me that one little action today, an intention of kindness, will make a difference …. to someone.
PS–a small Tom Hanks movie that may have gotten lost in this year of the amazing availability of streaming shows is News of the World on Netflix. I watched it in February and was glad to see that it received a number of Oscar nominations. But I heard no buzz. So I’m buzzing now!