We'll talk with actor Tom Hanks on his career, his book and his love affair with the typewriter.
Tom Hanks, acclaimed actor, winner of two Best Actor Academy Awards for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump." Director, screenwriter, producer and author of "Uncommon Type: Some Stories," now in paperback. (@tomhanks)
On what compelled him to write this collection of short stories
"It's an extension of what I do down at the office. We all hang around in each other's doorways and talk about stories that intrigue us, that we've heard about. that have been fed by maybe a newspaper article, or sometimes just something we saw on the way to work. And then we started debating what the best media is for that story. Not everything can be a motion picture, or a multi-part series, or even a TV series or a documentary, and they have just stacked up over — I guess — the better part of 35 years. And getting to the point where — I've written screenplays a lot, and I've written on and off a lot of the projects that have come through the company and made it to the air, and it was just an extension of a desire that required no small amount of discipline. But these stories have all rattled around in my head, and they leaked out."
"I think if you do it right, you can identify -- you can ask yourself the question in every one of these stories, 'Well, what would I do if I was in that circumstance?' "Tom Hanks
On the kinds of stories he's interested in telling
"The stories that I'm attracted to both as an actor and a producer — and certainly as a writer, too — are always about procedure and behavior. Conflict and jeopardy and relationships develop themselves in the midst of what all these sagas are. But the procedure of how to live as either a 7-year-old boy who is suddenly living with his stepmother in the family, or of a World War II veteran in 1953 who is trying to get through a Christmas Eve with his sanity in tact, or four people that have been good friends for a while, that have know each other since high school — there is a wrote performance, there is almost a protocol that goes into all of those circumstances. And in those — which I call procedure — in that procedure, along with the behavior that people exhibit, there is logic that is irrefutable. It doesn't have to be stated too loudly. If you do it right, everybody sort of knows the pace, and the place, and the tempo of everybody's thought processes. All of these end up being about human nature, human behavior, one way or the other. Look, I think if you do it right, you can identify — you can ask yourself the question in every one of these stories, 'Well, what would I do if I was in that circumstance?' "
On learning to write from Nora Ephron
"Nora was one of the — I would have to say she was the first person who said 'You know, you're a writer, do you realize that?' And I had written. Writing on screenplays is kind of like, it's a version of writing, but you're actually just getting down kind of hints of blueprint in order for somebody else to take and make malleable. But as far as writing prose, or really just coming up with the more detailed bones of structure of a story, when we were working on 'Sleepless in Seattle,' I was really cranky about something that had been in the pages, that she and her sister Delia had written, and I went on this big long tear of how they were wrong. I said 'You guys are women, you're moms, you have moms that would just be undone by their son disagreeing with you or not wanting you to go away for a weekend. I'm a man, I'm a dad and I'm not about to let some 11-year-old kid of mind tell me I can't go off for a weekend and enjoy the company of a woman.' And so both of them said, 'Let's do that.' And then when the movie came out she said, 'You wrote that.' I said, 'Nora, I didn't write that, I was just complaining.' She said, 'No, you wrote it, you laid it out, and we put on down just what you had said.' "
From The Reading List
Excerpt from "Uncommon Type" by Tom Hanks
A Month on Greene Street
The first of August is usually only so notable—the start of the eighth month in the middle of summer on what might or might not be the hottest day ever. But this year, yowza, a lot was going on that day.
Little Sharri Monk was sure to lose another tooth, a partial lunar eclipse was due around 9:15 p.m., and Bette Monk (mother of Sharri; her older sister, Dale; and her younger brother, Eddie) was moving them all into a three-bedroom house on Greene Street. The home so picturesque she knew she would live there the moment she saw the real estate listing. Bette had a vision—pop—of herself and the kids in the kitchen for a busy breakfast. She was manning the stove-top griddle, turning pancakes, the kids in school clothes finishing their homework and fighting over the last of the orange juice. Her mental image was so focused, so particular, there was no question the house on Greene Street—oh, that massive sycamore tree in the front yard—would be hers. Theirs.
Bette had visions—was there any other way to put it? Not every day and never with any spiritual glow, but she would sense a flash, she’d see a pop, like a photo of a vacation taken long ago that held complete memories of all that happened before and all that came after. When her husband, Bob Monk, had come home from work one day—pop—Bette saw a full-color snapshot of him holding hands with Lorraine Conner-Smythe in the restaurant attached to the Mission Bell Marriott Hotel. Lorraine did consulting work with Bob’s company, so the two of them had many chances to sniff each other out. In that nanosecond Bette knew her marriage with Bob had gone from just fine to over. Pop.
If Bette were to count all the times she had such visions—from when she was a little girl—and how those visions came to pass, she could have regaled a dinner party for a full evening with examples: the scholarship she would win four years after learning of its existence, the dorm room she would have in Iowa City, the man she would sleep with for the first time (not Bob Monk), the wedding dress she would wear at the altar (opposite Bob Monk), the view of the Chicago River she would enjoy once the job interview with the Sun-Times went her way, the phone call she saw coming the night her parents were hit by a drunk driver. She knew the sexes of her children the moment she saw the test results over the sink in her bathroom. The list went on and on and on. Not that she made a big deal out of any of the visions, claiming no special clairvoyance or an all-seeing mentalism. Bette thought most people had the same kind of visions, they just didn’t realize it. And not all of her visions came to pass. She once saw herself being a contestant on Jeopardy! but that never happened. Still, her accuracy ratio was awfully impressive.
Bob wanted to marry Lorraine as soon as their affair was discovered, so he paid for the privilege, assuring Bette’s financial security until the kids were off to college and the child support ceased. Buying the house on Greene Street required hoop jumping with the bank, glowing inspections, and a six-month escrow, but the deed was signed. The lawn, that sycamore, the front porch, all those bedrooms, and the minioffice attached to the garage made for a Promised Land, especially after the narrow, split-level condo in which she had first parked her money and where the four of them lived like kittens in a box, all on top of each other. Now they had a backyard, so deep and wide! With a pomegranate tree! Bette saw her kids—pop—in T-shirts covered in purple dribble spots come October!
Greene Street was isolated, with almost no traffic except the residents, making it safe for street play. On August 1 the kids begged the movers to unload their bikes and Eddie’s Big Wheel before anything else so they could cruise their new turf. The moving crew was a bunch of young Mexican guys who had kids of their own, so they were happy to oblige and to watch the children play, carefree, as they unpacked and carried a household’s worth of stuff.
Bette spent the morning testing her high school Spanish, sending boxes to the right rooms, and having furniture placed according to her intuition—the sofa facing the window, bookshelves bordering the fireplace. Around 11:00 a.m., Dale came running in with a pair of chubby boys, maybe ten years old, probably twins, both with the same bashful look and matching dimples. “Mom! This is Keyshawn and Trennelle. They live four houses over.” “Keyshawn. Trennelle,” Bette said. “Howdy do?” “They said I could have lunch with them.” Bette eyed the boys. “Is that true?” “Yes, ma’am,” said either Keyshawn or Trennelle. “Did you just call me ma’am?” “Yes, ma’am.” “You, Keyshawn, have good manners. Or are you Tren-nelle?” The boys pointed to themselves, saying their names. Since they dressed differently, not like twins in some movie, Bette would always know who was who. Plus, Keyshawn had his hair in perfectly tied cornrows while Trennelle’s head was shaved nearly clean. “What’s on the menu?” Bette asked. “Today we have franks and beans, ma’am.” “Who is making this lunch, exactly?” “Our Gramma Alice,” Trennelle told her. “Our mother works at AmCoFederal Bank. Our father works for Coca- Cola, but we’re not allowed to drink Coca- Cola. Only on Sun-day. Our Gramma Diane lives in Memphis. We don’t have granddads. Our mother will come to your house when she comes home and will bring you flowers from our garden to say ‘welcome wagon.’ Our father will come by, too, with some Coca- Cola, if it’s allowed, or Fanta, if you prefer. We didn’t ask Gramma Alice if there is going to be enough food for Eddie and Sharri, so they can’t come.”
“Mom! Yes? No?” Dale was just about to burst.
“Have something green with the franks and beans and I’m thinking yes.”
“Would apples be good with you, ma’am? For something green? We have green apples.”
“Apples would do the trick, Trennelle.”
The three kids lit out of the house, off the porch, down the steps, under the low-hanging limbs of the sycamore, and across the lawn. Bette followed just far enough to watch them rush through a front door four houses away. Then she hollered for Eddie and Sharri to park their bikes on the front lawn and come in for the sandwiches she would make as soon as she found the fixings.
Excerpted from UNCOMMON TYPE by Tom Hanks. Copyright © 2017 by Tom Hanks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
New York Times: "Tom Hanks: By the Book" — "Tom Hanks, the actor, producer, director and author of a story collection, 'Uncommon Type,' has no desire to read novels of murder and conspiracy."
NPR: "Tom Hanks Lays Out A Kinder, Gentler World In 'Uncommon Type'" — "Tom Hanks has heart. It's no news to his fans that empathy fuels his acting — including his back-to-back Oscar-winning portrayals of an AIDS victim in 'Philadelphia' and the endearing hero of 'Forrest Gump.' So it should come as no surprise that empathy also drives his first collection of fiction. While all of the 17 stories in 'Uncommon Type' feature a different antique manual typewriter (Hanks is an avid collector), they are linked by something greater than typewriter ribbons: a decidedly benign, humane view of people and their foibles.
"In a world where the news is unrelentingly bleak and much fiction tends toward the dystopic, post-apocalyptic, dark, or edgy, this is a gentler, sweeter kind of storytelling than we've come to expect. Some of the stories are whimsical, some funny, some downright sentimental. Even when Hanks writes about somber subjects like the durable distress of combat or the high stakes for immigrants fleeing persecution, he finds a sweet spot."
Actor, producer, director and seemingly all-around decent guy Tom Hanks has written a collection of short stories that plumb themes of memory, childhood, nostalgia, melancholy and decency — much like Hanks' work on screen. Hanks joins us for the hour today to talk about his book of short stories, his film career, his love affair with the typewriter, the moment in Hollywood and his affection for the press.
This hour, On Point: a conversation with Tom Hanks.
— David Folkenflik
This program aired on November 23, 2018.