Sunday, April 15, 2007

How to get Tom Hanks to star in your movie

This is a true “Hollywood” story of how my writing partner and I got Tom Hanks to star in our 1985 movie, VOLUNTEERS.

We wrote the first draft five years earlier (so far this is a typical Hollywood story). The movie centers around a preppy Yalie who ducks a gambling debt and winds up in the Peace Corps. Hilarity ensues (at least on the page). Sergeant Shriver, then the head of the Peace Corp, read it and said it was like spiting on the flag. I knew we were onto something.

The producer asked whom we thought might be good to star and we suggested this guy who at the time was in BOSOM BUDDIES on ABC – Tom Hanks. The producer scoffed. Tom Hanks couldn’t get a movie made.

We were at the same agency as Tom so for grins and giggles we sent him the script anyway. He loved it but reluctantly agreed the producer was right.

Flash forward a few years. VOLUNTEERS has gone through two studios, two directors, and nine drafts. HBO/Tristar greenlights it. Time to look for stars.

Tom had just done SPLASH. It was a huge hit. He was the Will Ferrell-of-the-month. Offered every project in town. He couldn’t find anything he liked (even BACHELOR PARTY II). So he said to his agent he had read a project about the Peace Corps several years back. What about that one? The agent said he would try to track it down but without even knowing the title it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

ONE HOUR LATER the agent gets a call from our producer. Would Tom be interested in a Peace Corps movie? The agent almost fell on the floor. He said to messenger it right away. We did. Tom skimmed it, recognized a Margaret Dumont joke we had in there, said “Yep, this is the one” and a half hour later the deal was closed.

Pretty cool, huh?

The person really responsible for making this deal happen was Cupid because it was on VOLUNTEERS that Tom met his wife, Rita Wilson.


Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!


17 comments:

shecanfilmit said...

That really should be a movie. I love Rita.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I always knew Margaret Dumont, aka "My Dear Mrs. Hemoglobin," as Mr. William Clause Dukenfield called her, was romance personified.

One remembers Groucho's proposal to her in DUCK SOUP: "Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first."

That always chokes me up.

Cheers.

Tallulah Morehead said...

That's "Claude" of course. Not Clause.

Paul Duca said...

If you don't mind my asking, Ken...what exactly was Tom's relationship with his FIRST wife at the time? I'm not one of those fanatics about "the sanctity of marriage", but I just think claims about true love between two people isn't quite as magical when other spouses and children are left behind, especially when it involves public figures--then the hype machine starts pumping out the hearts and flowers about the new relationship (the same thing with the Amy Grant/Vince Gill and Susan Clark/Alex Karras pairings).

fitzthecat said...

The main thing I remember about Volunteers is Tom Tuttle from Tacoma's sub- ten second holdout from Communist brainwashing. John Candy's Chairman Mao has to be one of the greats.

stephe1605 said...

Actually, before "Volunteers," Rita Wilson appeared in an episode of "Bosom Budddies" as a blind date for Tom Hanks who seems Ok until she mentions her devil-worshipping. Very funny.

Ken Levine said...

Tom was separated at the time.

Rashad Khan said...

"Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!"

And chances are, it would star Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (thus, guaranteeing I'll never see it).

Seymour said...

Don't be silly, Rashad, Tom Hanks is FAR too old to play Tom Hanks. It will be Shia LeBouf and Reese Witherspoon.

Anonymous said...

I think it's kinda cool that Ken, who has ran MASH and Cheers out, thinks its pretty cool that he might have had something to do with Tom Hanks' marriage. And that he goes to American Idol as a fan.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a few months now, but never realized that you were in fact one of the men behind "Volunteers." That movie has achieved cult status around these parts, and for no other reason than John goddamn Candy himself singing the WSU fight song. All incoming freshman are required to watch at least that part of the movie, so they know that that comedic genius sang the very same fight song they do. You sir are to be commended.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about Tom Hanks? If Ken is answering questions on his CV now, then the big mystery has to be what does the environmental production advisor to Flipper actually do.

The Franchise said...

Would it be weird if Colin Hanks played the role of Tom Hanks in this movie? If Rita Wilson plays herself the buzz on this movie alone would make 50 Million.

benson said...

Or how about this premise.... Greek-American woman meets, falls in love with, and marries WASP. All that and great product placement for Windex...

benson said...

And Ms. Tallulah...

Another favorite Groucho to Margaret Dumont line in Duck Soup: We're fighting for your honor, which is more that you ever did.

rob! said...

weird...you wrote for M*A*S*H, and Rita Wilson did a few episodes of it, and here you guys are again on a movie...small world, eh?

Tallulah Morehead said...

"benson said...
And Ms. Tallulah...
Another favorite Groucho to Margaret Dumont line in Duck Soup: We're fighting for your honor, which is more that you ever did."

Dear darling Maggie Dumont. How I adored her. Actually that line was third person, as Julius said it to his brothers, "We're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did."

Ever spot Maggie in "Auntie Mame"? She's hard to notice, but she's in there. Look for her in the play within the play.

I loved her in her last movie, as Shirley MacLaine's mother in WHAT A WAY TO GO, when she sics Shirley on Dean Martin with "He has money! You go and GET IT!" And her simple, hilarious reading in that movie of the line, "I hate her guts!"

They always say she didn't get the jokes, that she was who she played, but it's not true. She was one of the best comic foils of all time, and she knew exactly what she was doing. They don't make them like Ms Dumont anymore.