Before he knew life was “like a box of chocolates,” Tom Hanks’ life was filled with canned tomato soup, burned on the top of a stove.
After his parents split when he was only five, Hanks followed his roving dad, who moved him and his siblings around, wherever he found work.
With little parental supervision, Hanks–now one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors–raised himself, foraging for food in the small apartment where he lived with his big brother and sister, oftentimes feeling “lonely.”
Today, though he lived in 10 different homes before he was 10, the actor speaks fondly of his childhood, saying the experience of being alone was priceless in achieving his success.
Born in 1956, Tom Hanks had several TV appearances before he became a household name as the lucky man who catches a beautiful mermaid, played by Daryl Hannah in 1984’s romantic comedy, Splash.
That was just the beginning of his ascent. He then starred in the hit comedy film Big, a performance that earned him his first Academy nomination, which was followed by back-to-back wins in 1993 and 1994 with Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.
As of Hollywood’s most popular faces, it’s hard to believe that as a youngster, the actor, who voiced Woody in Toy Story, was unpopular in school with both students and teachers.
This kid had another birthday today. This photo seems like yesterday. Hanx. pic.twitter.com/CFviGG6hrj— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) July 9, 2015
“A geek, a spaz. I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy,” Hanks shared with Rolling Stone. “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.”
Learning responsibility couldn’t have been easy for a child who grew up without a fully present adult.
After an almost 11-year marriage, his parents divorced when he was five and he, along with his older sister (Sandra), and brother (Larry), moved out with their father, Amos. His younger brother Jim stayed with his mother, Janet, a hospital worker who was unable to support all four kids on her own.
Janet remarried three times and Amos, a bit of a nomad, remarried twice, constantly uprooting the kids to new homes across California.
“I moved about a million times. I think we moved every six months of my life.” Hanks explained, crediting the instability for priming his future career in Hollywood. “It made me flexible…It gave me confidence to think I can be in any sort of social situation and know how to gracefully get out of it.”
Young Tom Hanks. pic.twitter.com/XZ5H2k2esq— History Photographed (@HistoryInPics) October 22, 2015
Still, being a child, alone at home with other children, had many challenges, like learning about dental hygiene at school because, “no one told me how to brush my teeth.”
Speaking candidly in September 2020 on the In Depth with Graham Bensinger podcast, the Apollo 13 star joked that he had the freedom to drink all the milk he wanted from the fridge. He adds, “Maybe there was a degree of loneliness […] I kind of fell through the cracks, I was not abused…and didn’t really have adults per se that were taking care of me.”
Reflecting on his childhood, the Sleepless in Seattle star shared that him and his siblings would tell time from what was playing on television and that he started seeing movies at the theatre, alone, when he was very young.
Hanks, who said “I mostly just wanted to get out of the house,” was trying to find his place with various extracurricular activities like track, soccer, and even a church youth group.
Big Day for Skyline High School in Oakland, CA! Glad to be a part of it! Hanx, ‘74. pic.twitter.com/XWna7mdiYa— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) May 22, 2020
Then, while watching a friend play Dracula in the school play, he realized that acting was the path he needed to follow: “Up until then I’d had no clue that acting was ever an option.”
Taking drama classes and auditioning for school plays, the star of Saving Private Ryan said, “[I] had more fun than I could possibly imagine.”
While studying theatre in college, Hanks, who admits he did some “idiotic stuff,” was very disciplined, and didn’t do drugs, hardly drank, and was in bed by 10:10 pm.
His hard work paid off when he landed his first role in the low-budget slasher film, He Knows your Alone, followed by a starring role in 1982’s TV film Mazes and Monsters and a leading role in the TV series Bosom Buddies, which ran over two seasons from 1980 to 1982.
While making a guest appearance on Happy Days, he met writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel who were writing a film called Splash.
Today, he is an internationally renowned actor and filmmaker, with a flawless reputation for being a “nice guy.”
Except for that one time a fan almost knocked over his wife, Rita Wilson, and even then, his gallantry is to be commended.
Hanks has been married to second wife, Wilson since 1988 and together, they share sons Truman and Chet, the latter also an actor.
Previously, he was married to Samantha Lewes (1978 to 1987), and with her, he had daughter Elizabeth Hanks and son Colin Hanks, who’s credited with starring roles in TV like Roswell, Dexter and Fargo, and films Orange County and King Kong.
With a large-blended family, Hanks is now a 67-year-old grandfather of three.
“All you gotta do is love those little brats, and they’re better than TV” Hanks said in 2023 about his granddaughter. Quickly correcting himself, the doting grandad added: “They’re not little brats; they’re extraordinary young women. They are extraordinary young women.”
Since growing his own family, and applying what he learned as a child, Hanks has really developed his skills in the kitchen.
“You have [to] make their macaroni and cheese just perfectly,” he said about satiating the appetite of his grandkids, who will never be fed tomato soup.
To this day, the Cast Away star cannot stand tomato soup, a meal he and his siblings were tasked with making for lunch and dinner when they were kids. Oftentimes distracted by “an episode of Leave it to Beaver,” the soup would quickly boil over and burn on the stove top, leaving the lingering smell behind.
“If you scraped the amount of burnt tomato soup off the stove, it would have been like an archeological dig!” the Elvis star joked. Despite a childhood where he often felt alone, he added, “In some ways it was very cool, because we laughed a lot.”
And about his beautiful wife Wilson, Hanks says, “Oh, she gets it. Oh, guess what, I don’t think that I’ll ever be lonely anymore.”
Tom Hanks is such an incredible talent and hearing how he maintains a positive demeanor despite his earlier loneliness, is truly inspiring!
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