Chapter 02 - TV Debut

1980 - 1983


While in New York City, Tom Hanks performed in several Shakespeare productions and in 1980, he managed to break into features with a small role in the low-budget horror movie, He Knows You're Alone. It was his first time in front of the camera.

“I didn’t know how to act on camera, I didn’t know what I was doing but they had given me this job to go out in the middle of a freezing December and be some guy in the movie. So I went off and was the best guy in a movie I could figure out how to be.” 1

His character, Eliot, was supposed to die in the movie, as a victim of the serial killer, but the writers decided to cut Eliot’s murder from the script because Tom Hanks was very charismatic on screen.

Tom Hanks then went back to Los Angeles where he gained widespread exposure with a starring role in the short-lived cult sitcom, Bosom Buddies, playing Kip Wilson, an advertising executive who moves into a low-rent female-only hotel with his colleague and buddy, Henry Desmond, played by Peter Scolari, on the condition that they both dress like women.
The show became known for its quirky humor and its frequent use of improvisation, especially between stars Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. The sitcom also starred Holland Taylor, Wendie Jo Sperber and had various guest stars such as director Penny Marshall. It was also on Bosom Buddies that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson first met. Ironically, she played Henry’s girlfriend whom he met at a dating service, in the episode "All You Need is Love" (s02, e07).

The show ran from 1980 to 1982 on ABC, and though the show was cancelled after two seasons, it gave Tom Hanks some exposure and led to his guest performances in such popular series as The Love Boat, Taxi, Happy Days and to a recurring role on Family Ties, for 3 episodes. He also starred in a made-for-tv movie Mazes and Monsters in 1982. 

1 : TV Guide Close-Up (Press junket interview about Forrest Gump), 1995