Just when I dusted the glitter from my eyes after Sally Field’s appearance, actor-director Tom Hanks took the 1,300-plus seat audience on a one-man endearing, thought-provoking journey. The Oct. 30 evening was a bit unusual as Hanks kept the crowd waiting 30 minutes – time for mingling – beforehand, but not related to additional security screening based on the recent Pittsburgh tragedy.
The topic of the night was the publication of his first collection of fictional short stories, “Uncommon Type,” but this wild ride was much more revelatory and meatier than that.
In conversation with Pat Mitchell, chair of the Sundance Institute board, Hanks took the traditional humorous shot at Atlanta’s Peachtree streets, ways and circles, and imitated his driver negotiating our expressways. He constantly referred to home-based Chick-Fil-A, as he spent time here shooting “Sully,” in which he starred. Hanks agreed with his publisher to do a seven-city book tour starting with Atlanta. Our luck.
On the personal side, he stated that he ate “s—t” his whole life, which landed him with Type 2 diabetes, and that he has an implanted heart stint. Self effacing at 62, he often referred to his flops: “The Circle,” “One Red Shoe,” “Larry Crown,” “Turner and Hooch;” but we know his hits long outpace those.
Relating to “our crowd,” Hanks spoke of his love for Chaim Potok, whose early books inspired him, as a youth, to appreciate it as a “gold standard.” It allowed the reader to see himself in the story and ask, “what would I do?” After all, Hanks said, “My heritage growing up in California was walking by Woolworths window.” He patted himself on the back for getting the guttural “Chhhaim” sound with a hearty “mazel tov!”
Other authors who inspired him: Uris, Hailey, Cheever, Capote and Salinger.
Back to Hanks’ book, each of the varied segments has the common link of a typewriter often hidden “like an Easter egg for the reader to find.” No question Hanks has love for the written word deeply ingrained in his psyche and joy in the act of story creation. When discussing the creative process, Hanks muses, quoting General Salerno, “When the fire burns, I stoke the mantel,” paired with “I’m sharper in the morning, no good decision is made after 3:30 pm.” His daughter, a writer, gave this advice: “Write until you know what’s going to happen next.”
He summed up his career longevity by quoting Don Ameche, a 1940s actor who made a comeback a decade later, “I feel good until the phone stops ringing.”
“What will I do? Get fat, drown in my own swimming pool? That’s the bad version. The good version is writing books!”
Gary Snyder, partner in Greenberg Traurig law firm, the evening’s sponsor, said of the night, “Hank’s presentation was high energy as he conveyed his sense of decency and humanity for which he is so universally trusted.”
Thanks to readers like those in attendance, Hank’s phone is still ringing, and his typewriter is still clacking.