Before the two best-actor Oscars, the hit movies and other distinguished projects that catapulted him into Hollywood’s elite ranks, Tom Hanks was an un-pretty woman.
In 1980, Hanks got one of his first breaks with “Bosom Buddies,” an ABC show in which he and Peter Scolari played bachelor ad men who move into an all-female apartment house after their building is condemned. The actors donned wigs, bras, pantyhose, wigs and skirts as they hung out with their neighbors, including a blond bombshell (Donna Dixon) who was the object of Hanks’ affections.
The theme song, “My Life” by Billy Joel, was a major hit, but “Bosom Buddies” flopped with critics and viewers, flaming out after two seasons. Hanks would emerge unscathed; two years later he starred in the man-loves-mermaid comedy “Splash” that launched his meteoric film career.
Instead of treating “Bosom Buddies” as a footnote best forgotten, Hanks embraced his past with open arms Saturday during a gleeful reunion with Scolari and the cast at Sony Studios for the “8th Annual TV Land Awards.” The show, which will air Sunday on the cable network, marks the first “Bosom Buddies” reunion since the show went off the air.
“You can look back and say, ‘You know, we really did some great shows,’ ” said Hanks backstage after accepting the TV Land honor with Scolari, Dixon, Telma Hopkins and Holland Taylor. The cast gave a special tribute to costar Wendie Jo Sperber, who died in 2005 of breast cancer.
Life after “Bosom Buddies” brought varying degrees of good fortune to cast members. Scolari, who shared top billing with Hanks, later joined the cast of “Newhart” for six years and has worked steadily in film, TV and theater. Hopkins, who had beeen a member of the hit group Tony Orlando and Dawn, has appeared in several television shows (“Family Matters”). Taylor has been a regular on several series and currently plays the mother of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer on “Two and a Half Men.” Dixon married actor Dan Aykroyd and made a memorable appearance in “Wayne’s World.”
Taylor said that during the “Bosom Buddies” days, there was something about Hanks that set him apart. “I called my mother after filming the pilot and said, ‘There’s a boy on this show that is freakishly talented.’ ”
“Tom’s talent as a comedic actor was more than evident,” added Scolari. “But no one could have predicted what he would be capable of as a dramatic actor in the years to come.”
Though Hanks achieved success far beyond his “Bosom Buddies” mates, he was as giddy with excitement as his former colleagues as they reconnected and teased each other. The memories flowed: the time a live tiger who was part of a storyline got loose on the set; the “computer dating” episode with a guest appearance of an actress named Rita Wilson, who would later become Hanks’ wife; long days of camera blocking and rehearsals where the exhausted, frazzled cast would improvise material that would become part of the finished episode.
There were also tough times behind the camera. Both Hanks and Scolari were in troubled marriages at the time and frequently cried on each others’ shoulder while in women’s garb. Hanks had no car and had to borrow money from the producers: “I was stone-cold broke,” he recalled.
Asked how it felt to get back together, Scolari quipped, “I feel a bit gassy,” while Dixon countered, “No, I noticed that you had a tear in your eye.” Added Hopkins: “Yeah, he gets very emotional.”
In fact, the show’s lack of success helped cement their obvious warmth for each other. “Occasions like this makes me want to see everyone more,” said Taylor. “We were not a hit, we were not anything. We were virtually invisible. As a result, it just came down to us enjoying each other, and we really did. It was like kids fooling around in the backyard.”
“Except we got paid,” chimed in Hopkins.
The cast credited executive producer Chris Thompson with expanding the show beyond its basic gimmick. They also praised the shows’ producers, writers and director Joel Zwick, a veteran of numerous TV shows (“Family Matters,” “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper”).
Said Hanks: “We really owe those guys our careers.”
Still, being in drag was a bit of a drag for Hanks and Scolari.
“We hated it,” said Scolari. Piped in Hanks: “We would tell the writers, ‘Aren’t we strong enough as clever guys with our banter? Isn’t that enough?’ And then there would be the next episode and we’d have to dress up.”
Added Scolari: “We really took a beating in the press, got hammered for it the first few weeks. But when Dustin Hoffman comes out with ‘Tootsie,’ everyone goes, ‘Ooooh, masterpiece.’ ”
Hanks and Scolari, along with their once, present and future friends, roared with laughter.