Tom Hanks

« Back to Glossary Index

Tom Hanks is a name that resonates with nearly every moviegoer on the planet. As one of the most beloved and iconic actors of our time, his influence on the world of cinema is immeasurable. Hanks has not only graced the silver screen with his remarkable talent for over four decades but has also made an indelible mark as a director, producer, and screenwriter. His enduring appeal and consistent success make him a true American cinematic legend. In this comprehensive biography, we will delve into the life and career of Tom Hanks, from his humble beginnings to his rise to stardom and his continued impact on the world of entertainment.

Early Life and Family Background

Tom Hanks was born Thomas Jeffrey Hanks on July 9, 1956, in Concord, California, USA. He is the third of four children to Amos Mefford Hanks, a cook, and Janet Marylyn, a hospital worker. Hanks’ ancestry includes a mix of English, Portuguese, and Welsh heritage. His family moved frequently during his childhood, which meant he attended ten different schools in five years. This early nomadic lifestyle would later influence his ability to adapt to various roles and environments as an actor.

Hanks’s parents divorced when he was just five years old, and his father’s subsequent marriage to Frances Wong resulted in Hanks gaining two more step-siblings. Despite the challenges of a broken family, Hanks has spoken fondly of his upbringing, emphasizing the importance of close-knit family relationships and the values instilled in him during his formative years.

Early Career and Education

Hanks attended Skyline High School in Oakland, California, where he showed an early interest in theater. He participated in school plays and even won the Best Actor award for his role in the play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” After graduating from high school in 1974, Hanks briefly attended Chabot College in Hayward, California. However, he soon transferred to California State University, Sacramento, where he continued to study theater.

In 1977, Hanks dropped out of college and decided to move to New York City to pursue an acting career. This bold move marked the beginning of his journey towards stardom. In New York, he struggled to make ends meet, working a variety of odd jobs, including selling popcorn and peanuts at the Oakland Coliseum, and working as a hotel bellman. These experiences would later provide him with valuable insights into the lives of everyday people, which he would draw upon in his acting career.

Early Acting Career

Tom Hanks’s early acting career in New York City was characterized by small roles in television and theater. He made his acting debut in the low-budget slasher film “He Knows You’re Alone” in 1980, which went relatively unnoticed. His breakthrough came in 1980 when he was cast in the cross-dressing sitcom “Bosom Buddies.” Hanks played Kip Wilson, a young advertising agency employee who, along with his roommate, dresses as a woman to live in an affordable women-only apartment building. The show ran for two seasons, giving Hanks his first taste of television success.

Transition to Film and Breakthrough

While “Bosom Buddies” was a moderate success on television, it was Hanks’s transition to the big screen that would solidify his place as a Hollywood star. In 1984, Hanks landed the role of Allen Bauer in the fantasy romantic comedy “Splash.” The film, directed by Ron Howard, paired Hanks with Daryl Hannah as a mermaid who comes to land and falls in love with him. “Splash” was a commercial success, grossing over $69 million at the box office, and it marked Hanks’s emergence as a leading man in romantic comedies.

However, it was the 1988 film “Big” that truly catapulted Tom Hanks to stardom. Directed by Penny Marshall, “Big” told the story of a young boy who makes a wish to be “big” and wakes up in the body of an adult. Hanks’s performance as the child trapped in an adult’s body earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. “Big” was a massive critical and commercial success, and it remains one of Hanks’s most iconic roles.

Academy Awards and Critical Acclaim

After the success of “Big,” Tom Hanks continued to gain recognition for his acting talent. In 1993, he delivered a remarkable performance as the lawyer Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia,” a film that tackled the sensitive issue of AIDS and discrimination. Hanks’s portrayal of a man suffering from AIDS earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor, and the film was widely praised for its handling of a significant social issue.

Hanks’s second Academy Award win came the following year, in 1994, for his role as Forrest Gump in the film of the same name. “Forrest Gump,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, became a cultural phenomenon and is considered one of the greatest films in American cinematic history. Hanks’s performance as the lovable, slow-witted protagonist endeared him to audiences worldwide, and he won his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar.

His ability to seamlessly transition between comedic and dramatic roles showcased his exceptional versatility as an actor. This period of his career solidified Hanks as one of the most celebrated and respected actors in the industry.

Directing and Producing

As Hanks’s acting career continued to flourish, he expanded his involvement in the film industry by exploring directing and producing. In 1996, he made his directorial debut with “That Thing You Do!,” a comedy-drama set in the 1960s music scene. The film received positive reviews and marked Hanks’s successful entry into the world of directing.

Hanks also ventured into producing, founding the production company Playtone in 1998, which has since been responsible for producing numerous successful films and television series. Notable productions include the Emmy-winning miniseries “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010), as well as films like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) and “The Polar Express” (2004).

Late 1990s and Early 2000s

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a period of continued success for Tom Hanks. He starred in a string of acclaimed films, including “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), directed by Steven Spielberg. Hanks’s portrayal of Captain John H. Miller earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. “Saving Private Ryan” was a critical and commercial triumph, and Hanks’s performance was a key element of its success.

In 2000, Hanks starred in “Cast Away,” a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. In the film, Hanks played Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. His performance, particularly his physical transformation for the role, garnered widespread praise. Hanks received his fourth Academy Award nomination for his work in “Cast Away.”

The 2000s and Beyond

The 2000s marked a continuation of Tom Hanks’s cinematic dominance. He starred in a diverse range of films that showcased his versatility as an actor. Notable films from this period include “Road to Perdition” (2002), “Catch Me If You Can” (2002), “The Terminal” (2004), “The Da Vinci Code” (2006), and “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007).

Hanks also lent his voice to the character Woody in the immensely popular Pixar animated film series “Toy Story.” The first film in the series was released in 1995, with subsequent installments following in 1999, 2010, and 2019. Hanks’s portrayal of Woody, a beloved cowboy doll, endeared him to audiences of all ages.

Humanitarian Work and Philanthropy

In addition to his successful film career, Tom Hanks is known for his philanthropic efforts and humanitarian work. He has supported various charitable organizations, including UNICEF, World Food Programme, and Stand Up to Cancer. Hanks and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have been active in raising funds and awareness for a variety of causes, including cancer research, disaster relief, and education.

In 2002, Hanks was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and he has since been involved in numerous campaigns aimed at improving the lives of children around the world. His dedication to humanitarian causes reflects his commitment to using his fame and resources to make a positive impact on society.

Personal Life and Family

Tom Hanks’s personal life has been largely free from the scandals and controversies that often plague celebrities. He married actress Samantha Lewes in 1978, and the couple had two children, Colin and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, their marriage ended in divorce in 1987. Hanks then married Rita Wilson in 1988, and they have two sons, Chester and Truman.

Hanks’s family life has been characterized by a strong sense of unity and love. He often speaks about the importance of family and the values instilled in him by his parents. Despite the demands of his career, Hanks has maintained a close-knit family and is known for being a devoted husband and father.

Legacy and Impact on Cinema

Tom Hanks’s contributions to cinema extend beyond his acting and directing. He has left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. Hanks’s ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level, his dedication to his craft, and his versatility as an actor have earned him a place among the greatest talents in the history of film.

His work in iconic films like “Forrest Gump,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Cast Away” has left a lasting impact on popular culture, and his role as Woody in the “Toy Story” franchise has made him a beloved figure for multiple generations. Hanks’s continued success and acclaim have solidified his status as a Hollywood legend.


Tom Hanks’s journey from a young aspiring actor to an iconic figure in American cinema is a testament to his talent, dedication, and versatility. His performances in both dramatic and comedic roles have resonated with audiences around the world, and his impact on the film industry goes well beyond his acting abilities. As a director, producer, and humanitarian, Hanks has made invaluable contributions to various aspects of the entertainment world and society at large.

Hanks’s enduring popularity and universal appeal have solidified his status as a beloved American cinematic legend. His influence on the industry and his ability to touch the hearts of millions will continue to be celebrated for generations to come. Tom Hanks remains an inspiration to aspiring actors and a role model for those seeking to use their fame for the greater good.

« Back to Glossary Index