Why Tom Hanks is light years ahead of every other celebrity

The latest manifestation of Hanks’ goodness is a message he sent to Cork’s formerly conjoined twins, writes Terry Prone.

IT’S appalling. Outrageous. Unacceptable. Deeply disrespectful. Disgusting. You know all the words, like they were the chorus of a familiar song, which, in a sense, they are, because they are to be heard or read all day, every day, in newspapers, on radio, or on Twitter. 

They are usually deployed against someone famous, who, rightly or wrongly, deliberately or by accident, has stuck their head in the crosshairs of national or international reprehension.

The media live on a constant flow of shock/horror and condemnation. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good condemnation as much as anybody else does. 

Sets you up for the day, it does, to roundly denounce someone who needs a good, round denouncing. That wonderful, dead right-wing writer, Christopher Buckley Jr, once defined his columnist’s job as “Inveighing we will go”. 

Back in the day, he was something of an exception in his relentless inveighing, whereas, now, a columnist who doesn’t find someone to decry, chastise, or upbraid is not going to keep their job for long, because we know that fury evokes reader response.

That said, how about this for a proposition? Could we, this bank holiday Monday, pause the blame and shame for just one day and, instead, praise someone unreservedly? Not that this is an easy task.

Fifty years in journalism haven’t taught me much, but they have taught me that there’s less than meets the eye to most famous people, once you get a chance to examine their details. 

In Ireland, the only celeb I’ve ever encountered who doesn’t have even the hint of a downside is Larry Gogan, he with the teenager’s voice still enthusing away on RTÉ Gold. 

Which is an appropriate location, really, since that’s what he is. Solid gold. Pure sweetness and light. Professional, always delighted to be with you, always fascinated by life and by music, always modest about himself. 

Not a mean bone in him.

Tom Hanks is the Larry Gogan of international show business, odd though that may sound. 

The latest manifestation of Hanks’ goodness is a short video message he shot and sent to Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf, the formerly conjoined twins from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork. The two have not only survived the operation to separate them, but 52 other surgeries.

Hassan and Hussein have brought toys with them for each trip to London for surgery, and those are dolls based on the characters Woody and Buzz from the animated feature Toy Story.

According to writer Stefanie Preissner: “Toy Story was the first movie that legitimised the nostalgia of childhood for pre-teens. It was like we were too young to mourn our youth at 13, but when that film came out, it totally explained the feeling of wanting to be ‘grown up’, but being sad for having to let go of playing with your toys.”

The Benhaffaf children are several years shy of that rite of passage, so Buzz and Woody (the character to whom Hanks lent his voice in the movie) are integral to their lives. 

Which gave a friend of the family the idea that Tom Hanks might reach out to the two children, to encourage them in their challenging lives.

Now, even when a star is reached, the odds are nine to one against that they will respond. If the request to Hanks trumped those odds, it was possible that he might send a card with a scrawled signature. If, that is, he were cut from standard film star cloth.

Instead, Hanks gave the whole thing time and thought. He took the Toy Story theme song, ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me,’ took versions of the two toys, set up his phone (we presume) to film himself, and launched into a completely personalised video message for the children. 

White-bearded (again, we assume for whatever role he’s currently taking), he looked straight into the camera. No smiles. 

Serious face on him while he moved in time to the music and made sure the soles of the two toys’ boots were visible. On each, he had Sharpie’d ‘Hassan’ and ‘Hussein’.

The twins pictured last year.

It was inevitable that the video would go viral, which will bring its own challenges for Hanks. 

Any star known to contribute in any way to an individual or individuals gets snowed-under with requests from relatives and friends of similar cases, and can become a hate figure if they don’t go along with dozens of other demands. 

Interestingly, though, Hanks, while endlessly generous, for example, to his fellow performers, won’t let himself be pushed into accepting a cast member he doesn’t think can act or into sharing information about his family life — including, for many years, the names of his children. 

He doesn’t seem to have the overweening need to be loved that characterises many actors. He just does his job.

Part of his job, according to Steven Spielberg, who directed him in Saving Private Ryan, is being an old-fashioned father who does the whole car-pooling and barbeques thing, while “completely, unerringly” loving his wife.

It’s easy to underestimate the nice guys by assuming their niceness is in some way accompanied by a low IQ. 

The word “intelligent”, whether applied to comedy or to anything else, tends to be associated with a streak of nasty, as if one could not exist without the other. 

Hanks doesn’t seem to do nasty, but he’s no intellectual slouch. Nor does he lack ruthless insight. His delightful volume of short stories, linked by the theme of a typewriter, is full of such insights. 

Just one example: “Being Anna’s boyfriend was like training to be a Navy SEAL, while working full-time in an Amazon fulfillment centre in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season.” 

Hanks also applies that ruthlessness to himself. He says he is not good at being constantly available, over the long-term, to friends.

“And that’s not fair to them,” he acknowledges. “I don’t hold up my end of the friendship bargain with an awful lot of people.”

He does, however, seem to have a genius for extending his famous hand in simple, effective ways, where it matters.

Visiting the White House, he sympathised with the press corps, who, since Donald Trump became president of the US, have found that what used to be an exciting, occasionally gruelling job is now just gruelling. 

Noting that they didn’t have a working coffee machine, according to Gavin Edwards’ The World According to Tom Hanks, he sent a high-end coffee maker to the press room, accompanied with a note reading, “Keep up the good fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Especially the Truth part.”

On a weekend filled with murder and mayhem, Tom Hanks’ brief video, made for twins he’s never met, is a reminder of the power of simple kindness.

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