The first time Hollywood gave its highest accolade to an actor two years in a row, Franklin Roosevelt was president, the Depression hung over the land and Luise Rainer was Oscar’s two-time winner for “The Great Ziegfeld” and “The Good Earth.”
Now, in an era when career ebbs and flows seem to occur even more quickly, Tom Hanks has pulled off this rare accomplishment. If the Oscar is a bellwether of the American psyche it indicates the actor has touched a national nerve.
Indeed, responding backstage after the awards Monday night to being called the Jimmy Stewart of this generation. Hanks said, “I would never make a claim to that but if anyone wants to label me in that way I think I could not afford higher praise.”
A closer comparison might be to Spencer Tracy, whose roles for I937’s “Captains Courageous” and 1938s “Boys Town” spoke to hard issues of the time, questions of social class and individual struggle. Hanks’ two winning roles in “Philadelphia” and “Gump” similarly tackle painful issues of discrimination and individual survival in difficult times.
Tracy was best known for playing fundamentally decent characters whose innate wisdom won the day in spite of outward flaws. Hanks also is one of the few American actors of recent times to reach such a career pinnacle without having slaughtered masses of onscreen foes.
Hanks is the fifth actor to win back-to-back Oscars after Rainer in 1936-37, followed by Tracy in 1937-38, Katharine Hepburn in 1967-68 and Jason Robards (for supporting actor) in 1976-77.
With Oscar in hand, Hanks was in a generous mood, noting that Paramount at first was reluctant to pay for a wrap party, due to the film’s $55 million price tag.
“It was a very expensive movie,” said Hanks. “I didn’t know anything about the wrap party, but believe me, we’re all evened out right now.
When asked about the biggest event of the day leading up to the awards ceremony. Hanks told the press, “Well, the upstairs bathroom started leaking for some reason. It was coming down right in the kitchen. It was leaking because my daughter was taking a bath upstairs and had too much water. I used literally a Bubba Gump Shrimp ice chest to catch the water. Thank God for Bubba Gump Shrimp.”
Hanks will next portray astronaut Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” directed by Ron Howard. Howard helmed “Splash,” the 1984 hit that was Hanks’ breakthrough film.
Looking forward to the Universal release this summer. Hanks was Gumpishly enthusiastic last night: “It’s wild, man, wait till you see some of the stuff we did. You won’t believe your eyes.”
Monday night’s win posed the most crucial question of all to Hanks: Does this second Oscar pretty much eliminate the possibility of a “Bosom Buddies” reunion? “No,” replied the former sitcom star cheerfully. “I’m hoping it’s paving the way.”
As for the possibility of making it a hat trick. Hanks cracked, “I think if I am nominated for anything next year, there will be a collective wave of suicide jumpers from the third tier of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I don’t think they’ll allow it to happen.”
Anita M. Busch contributed to this report.