Tom Hanks Signs at Village Books

December 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton famously declared that it takes a village to raise a child. Last Wednesday, it took an internationally recognized, Academy Award-winning movie star to help raise Village Books during these difficult economic times.

Tom Hanks appeared at the Swarthmore Avenue-based independent book store, where the longtime Palisades resident and star of 'The Da Vinci Code' signed sets of DVDs and book sets related to his various movies.

'This is the neighborhood book store,' Hanks told the Palisadian-Post. 'I've been buying my books here for years.'

Despite cold, blustery weather, people (and one canine named Murphy) turned out in droves to greet the popular actor. At any given point, a line of about 30 fans snaked inside the cozy store to Hanks' table in the rear for a chance to meet the celebrity, who twice won the Oscar (for his portrayal of the AIDS-afflicted Andrew Beckett in 1993's 'Philadelphia,' and as Forrest Gump in 1994).

In his familiar animated, rapid-fire staccato, Hanks told the Post that he and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have long been loyal to Katie O'Laughlin's idiosyncratic reader's nook.

'I came in one day and asked Katie, 'How's business?' and she said, 'Well',' this, that, and the other. She and I had coffee and I asked what I could do to help.'

A bemused Hanks recalled how they some potential legal snafus arose regarding the idea to stage a special screening of his 1998 romantic comedy, 'You've Got Mail,' because such a fundraiser would be supporting a business rather than a charity.

'And so I sat down with my people and we looked at the calendar and chose the coldest, rainiest, windiest day of the year to hold this signing on,' he joked.

In fact, the December 17 event, officially slated for 7 to 9 p.m., started a half-hour early after Hanks asked his 'crack team' (as he kept teasing them) of PR and security personnel to let the first of the customers, shivering outside the store, in from the cold. As they entered, Hanks facetiously shouted, 'Come on in! Big celebrity in the back of the store!'

Like so many book stores these days, the 11-year-old Village Books has struggled to stay afloat. So the irony of the signing by Hanks, who portrayed an aggressive book-chain baron out to squash Meg Ryan's tiny bookshop in 'You've Got Mail,' was not lost on O'Laughlin.

'I've kidded him that he wants to reverse the 'bad' his character did in 'You've Got Mail,'' said O'Laughlin, who pointed out another similarity to her big-screen counterpart: Ryan's character in 'Mail' is named Kathleen Kelly, while O'Laughlin's full name is Kathleen Ryan O'Laughlin. How's that for cosmic?

Indeed, the spirit of the feisty little bookstore that could resonated that evening, as Village sold many copies of 'Mail.' Also flowing out the door like the night's downpour were copies of David McCullough's 'John Adams,' inspiration for the award-winning HBO mini-series, starring Paul Giamatti, on which Hanks served as executive producer.

The star of numerous Oscar-nominated features, Hanks doesn't play favorites, as every film represents 'singular experiences,' he said. 'I remember the day, the people, the good times. They're all great, I just have a great time getting to play in a movie.'

Amid the chatter of the cash register ringing up books and DVDs and the party atmosphere of a store staying open after hours, Hanks'looking Hollywood-regal in a black suit, matching ring, and a white dress shirt, sans tie'cheerfully kibitzed with fans.

'I'll sign any book,' Hanks mock-boasted, surveying the shelves. 'I'll sign Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings. I'll sign Marlon Brando.'

Almost immediately, a pair of young siblings pushed forward, each offering a Dr. Pepper bottle adorned with a red Christmas ribbon. Hanks signed a 'Catch Me If You Can' DVD and the 'Polar Express' children's book, chatting the kids up like some celebrity Santa. He teased the youngest, a shy little girl who hadn't said a word: 'Isabelle, I wish you would give other people a chance to talk.'

Many customers were locals who had walked over to meet and greet their world-famous neighbor, packing the cozy store with some much-needed holiday cheer. To the adults, whose excitement and high spirits were palpable, meeting Hanks seemed the equivalent of children lining up to sit on Santa's lap at the town's 'Holiday Ho Ho Ho!' event. Interestingly, about nine out of ten customers were female.

Kate Montgrain came with her friend, Joan, and got a copy of 'The Road to Perdition' DVD signed for her husband, Mike.

'That'll be a good surprise,' she said of her Christmas gift.

Mary Louise Piccard made it a point to appear with her 13-year-old twin daughters, Emily and Grace, in tow.

'It's very important to support an independent book store,' she said. 'So as long as Katie stays open, we'll keep coming.'

Gayle Elliott, a local who teaches literature at Cal State Dominguez Hills, bought the 'Da Vinci' book.

'He's persevered in his career,' Elliott said. 'He's literate, intelligent, and he understands that a community has to live with literature.'

Christine Ofiesh bought a 'Da Vinci' paperback (even though she already owned the book), along with its sequel, 'Angels and Demons.'

'He was warm and wonderful and unpretentious and kind,' she said, glancing at her copies, signed by Hanks.

Naz Sykes got her copies of 'Mail' and the 'Polar Express' book signed to Liam, Luka, and other friends and relatives.

'He's so funny,' Sykes said, moments later. 'This'll make such a unique gift for the holidays. And, of course, I'm supporting the store.'

Hanks even got to shake the paw of Murphy, a 'woodle' who came down with his guardians, Patrick Hart and Lynette Guy. Hart, who owns an audio/visuals facility, said that 'Apollo 13' has 'some of the best audio/visuals ever made.'

Moments later, Maddy Leshner and Juliette Boberg, both 14, gushed about meeting the star. Boberg's favorite Hanks film is 'Gump'; Leshner picks 'Saving Private Ryan.'

USC student Cagri Bicici learned of the signing via his Palisadian host, Mary Tuncer. As Tuncer and Bicici were leaving to eat at the neighboring Village Pantry, the latter, a native of Turkey, expressed, in his limited English, much excitement over his brush with Hollywood.

'It was very surprising to see him. This is my life's opportunity!' he said, smiling.

Mark and Diana Holden drove all the way up from Palos Verdes to bring daughter Payton, 7, to meet Hanks. They bought so many copies of 'Polar Express' (about 10 books) that they could have used the titular train just to haul their purchase back home. At 120 copies purchased, 'Polar' proved the evening's best-selling item.

At one point, Hanks was about to dedicate a copy of 'Angels,' a film adaptation of which he will star in come May 2009. At a loss for what to inscribe, Hanks turned to his 'crack team.'

'What's a good phrase for 'Angels and Demons?' I need something thematic!'

Not getting any takers, the Post chimed in, 'How about 'Coming soon!'?'

'There you go,' Hanks smiled, his Sharpie scribbling away. ''Coming soon!''

The next day, O'Laughlin said she was impressed with Hanks and pleased with the turnout.

'He gave personal attention to every single person,' O'Laughlin said. 'The highlight was just experiencing his warm, giving, generous, and extremely funny spirit! He is as wonderful as you hope he would be! I am eternally grateful!'

Ultimately, actor and customers alike delighted in supporting O'Laughlin's enterprise.

'I love the personal touch and the sense of history,' Gayle Elliott said of Village Books. 'If a town loses its book store, it's lost its soul.'

By Michael Aushenker

Source : Palisades Post