This impossibly charming exchange is one of the new entries in the updated edition of Letters of Note, in which you can also see the originals of both letters. Huge thanks to Tom Hanks and the Estate of George Roy Hill. Tomorrow (16 Dec) we’re closing the Letters of Note shop for a few weeks, so if you urgently want to order copies of the books directly from us, today is the day. Thanks!
In 1974, five years after directing the widely adored Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American filmmaker George Roy Hill received the Academy Award for Best Directing for his work on The Sting, a heist film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford which in total won seven Oscars. Later that year, as the dust settled, Hill received an enthusiastic, handwritten letter from a 17-year-old aspiring actor keen to break into Hollywood, who just so happened to go to school with Hill’s nephews at Skyline High School in Oakland, California. Hill soon replied. Five years later, Tom Hanks made his movie debut in the horror film He Knows You're Alone. He has since become one of the most successful film stars of all time.
Dear Mr. Hill,
Seeing that I am very close, dear, good, and long-lasting friends with your nephews Kit and Timothy, and your niece Kate, and that I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film ‘The Sting,’ starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford and enjoyed it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should ‘discover’ me.
Now, right away I know what you are thinking (‘who is this kid?’), and I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me, but I figure if I change my name to Clark Cable, or Humphrey Bogart, some people will recognize me. My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can’t even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films (‘The Exorcist,’ for one) they will pay to see me.
Let’s work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me, and — BANGO — I’m a star. Or perhaps we could meet on a bus somewhere and we casually strike up a conversation and become good friends, I come to you weeks later asking for a job. During the last few weeks you have actually been working on a script for me and — Bango! — I am a star. Or maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.
All of these plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it makes no difference to me! But let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some big time, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown, American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford ‘Bob’.
I hope you have read through all of this, and have enjoyed it.
Your Pal Forever,
Thomas J. Hanks
Congratulations on your Academy Award for Best Director. I was rooting for you all night. We would be very honored to have you present at our Evening of One Act Plays on May 3rd. I will be appearing in one of them and so will your niece, Kate.
Your Good Old Buddy,
Thomas J. Hanks
April 26, 1974
Or how about this Scenario? —
I am driving wildly down Broadway Terrace trying to escape from my insane nieces and nephews when I hit a boy commuting to Skyline High on his pogo stick. Before he slips into unconsciousness I tell him of my good fortune in finding someone for my next movie who has not stunning looks, is not built like a Greek God, can’t grow a mustache and is willing to change his name to Humphrey Bogart. The whole part is to be played in a cast up to the neck and BANGO — you are a star!
GEORGE ROY HILL