The turning point in Tom Hanks's life came when he enrolled at Chabot College in Hayward, started studying theater and watched a performance of Eugene O'Neill's “The Iceman Cometh.” The title role played by Joe Spano, later of “Hill Street Blues” fame, blew Hanks away. He decided then he would become as good as Spano.
Hanks first role as a student at Chabot College was George in “Our Town.” His two years at Chabot left an indelible impression on him.
In a 2015 New York Times opinion piece, Hanks wrote: “Classes I took at Chabot have rippled through my professional pond. I produced the HBO mini-series “John Adams” with an outline format I learned from a pipe-smoking historian, James Coovelis, whose lectures were riveting. Mary Lou Fitzgerald’s Studies in Shakespeare taught me how the five-act structures of “Richard III,” “The Tempest” and “Othello” focused their themes.”
Hanks spent two years studying theater at Chabot College before enrolling at Cal State Sacramento, but later dropped out. Instead, he told USA Today, “I got an offer to go off and do the thing I was studying to do.”
That offer was to become an intern at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland. His internship stretched into a three-year experience that covered most aspects of theater production, including lighting, set design and stage management.
Hanks' career track is the stuff of showbiz legend. After two seasons on the television sitcom “Bosom Buddies,” the affable actor came to prominence with the 1984 romantic comedy “Splash.” In 1988, he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as an overgrown kid in the dramedy “Big,” but several flops soon followed. By the mid-1990s, however, Hanks had scored a slew of commercial and critical hits, earning two consecutive Oscars, first as a gay lawyer dying of AIDS in 1993's “Philadelphia” and then as a mentally challenged man in 1994's “Forrest Gump.” In 2002, at age 46, Hanks became the youngest actor to receive the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hanks’ concluding line about Chabot College in The New York Times op-ed: “I drove past the campus a few years ago with one of my kids and summed up my two years there this way: ‘That place made me what I am today.’”