Last week WBEZ Chicago and the University Club of Chicago hosted An Evening with Tom Hanks: In Conversation with Peter Sagal at the historic Auditorium Theatre to celebrate the debut novel by legendary actor and best-selling author, Tom Hanks.
Hanks was joined by Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, for a conversation about Hank’s first novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece. The novel explores the making of a star-studded multimillion-dollar superhero action film — and the humble comic books that inspired it. It’s funny, touching, and wonderfully thought-provoking, while also capturing the changes in America and American culture since World War II.
Tom Hanks is a cultural icon and American treasure who has won 2 Academy Awards, 7 Primetime Emmy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, plus he was the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, 2 Chicago Film Critics Association awards, and was nominated for a Tony Award!
Hanks has been making a “splash” in Hollywood since 1979 and has made films in the Chicago area including Nothing in Common, Sleepless in Seattle, Road to Perdition, and his own favorite Tom Hanks film, A League of Their Own where he played Jimmy Dugan, a washed up former Chicago Cubs slugger who was originally called upon to coach the women’s team, the Rockford Peaches, but lacks the seriousness required.
Hanks sat down with Segal for approximately 90 minutes not only discussing the book, but also to answer Segal’s prepared questions. After bonding with the audience over his knowledge of Chicago by making comments like, “I didn’t realize that Tesla — not the car guy — and Booker T. Washington had once appeared at the Auditorium,” and exclaiming, “We call it Sox Park and the Sears Tower!” Segal and Hanks got right down to business discussing many subjects in addition to promoting his book.
Hanks acknowledged Nora Ephron for inspiring the courage he needed to write the book. The two have a long history together. Ephron directed 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and also wrote the play Lucky Guy, which was the play Hanks starred in that earned him his Tony Award nomination. Unfortunately the play hit the stage in 2013, a year after she passed away. It was Ephron’s final work, and marked Tom Hanks’ Broadway debut. In the book’s acknowledgements Hanks wrote, “These pages would not exist were it not for Nora. We all think of her. We do. Every single day.”
The book itself is divided into sections, which includes three comic books. The first section takes place in 1947 where a troubled soldier, returning from the war, meets his talented five-year-old nephew, leaves an indelible impression, and then disappears for twenty-three years. The second section fast forwards to 1970 where the nephew, now drawing underground comic books in Oakland, California, reconnects with his uncle and, remembering the comic book he saw when he was five, draws a new version with his uncle as a World War II fighting hero. The story then moves to the present day where a super successful director stumbles upon the 1970 comic book and decides to turn it into a contemporary superhero movie. We are then introduced to the film’s extremely difficult male star, his wonderful leading lady, the eccentric writer/director, the producer, the gofer production assistant, and everyone else on both sides of the camera. Hanks felt that it was necessary to also write the complete script for the film which is produced in the book, that was inspired by the comic so he included a QR code on the right-hand inside leaf of the book jacket where you can scan the code and view the entire script for yourself.
Before penning this novel, Hanks has written screenplays and in 2017, he released a collection of short stories titled Uncommon Type. He explained to Segal, “This stuff rattles around in my head and I can’t stop it,” he said. “I have always written in some form. I’ve always wanted to write prose.” He continued, “It’s easy to write a novel, you just have to put in the time and the blood, but writing a novel that everyone wants to read, that’s another story.”
The book seems to poke fun at egotistical leading actors while paying homage to those behind the camera. Hanks candidly admitted that he might have been similar to the leading man in his book stating, “I have done most of exactly what that guy did. I’ve made a fool of myself many, many times.”
Sagal asked Hanks what he plans to do next, now that he has written a novel. After all, the mega-star probably has his pick of projects. Hanks disagreed. “The truth is, I don’t get to make any movie I want. I have to go in and fight tooth and nail.” Nonetheless, he intends to continue making movies that still matter to audiences.
Tickets to the event included a copy of The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece artfully stashed beneath the seats. Hanks joked, “We thought about shooting them into the audience with a T-shirt cannon, but we reconsidered.” The event was presented in partnership with The Book Stall.
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