It was Tom Hanks' 46th birthday yesterday, but he gave out the gifts last night at a gigantic bash for 500 of his "closest friends."
The occasion was the premiere of his fine new movie, Road to Perdition, which opens Friday. DreamWorks, which has a major critical and box office winner in Sam Mendes' (American Beauty) second feature film, took over the Vanderbilt Avenue waiting room of Grand Central Station and welcomed Hanks' fans. It didn't hurt that costar Paul Newman was also there, as well as executive producers Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Mendes brought along his stupefyingly beautiful girlfriend, actress Kate Winslet, who looks better than ever — and actually seemed to be glowing. Motherhood, she told me, agrees with her. Her daughter (by ex-husband Jim Threapleton) is now two years old.
"She's at that point where she's mimicking what I say. I've taught her one thing," Winslet told me. "I say 'What are you?' And she says, 'Gorgeous!'"
But back to Hanks. What gift did he give the crowd, composed mostly of donors to Paul Newman's important Hole in the Wall camp? Autographs and pictures. There wasn't a single person in the room who asked and didn't get one from Tom, who is so affable it's almost something he needs to discuss with a shrink.
"What are you running for, Tom?" I asked him when he (not I) sat down to chocolate cake. "President of all celebrities?"
Hanks laughed. "There's so much noise in here you can't actually have a conversation," he said. "So I thought I'd just sign away." He was actually holding a black magic marker in one hand and a fork in the other.
I reminded Hanks of an interview we'd done some years ago in which he discussed his childhood. His father had literally stolen him and two of his siblings from his mother when he was quite small — they'd been sneaked out either a back door or window. The two halves of the family were not reunited for many years. Hanks and his dad were suddenly on their own.
A lot of his own story went into Hanks' riveting portrayal of Michael Sullivan. The central story in Road to Perdition, ironically, is about a father and son who are also abruptly thrown together after living under the same roof but not knowing each other at all. In fact, Michael Sullivan's boys are 11 and 9 years old, and neither of them is sure what their dad does for a living (he's a hit man).
"I remember being in the backseat of my dad's car," Hanks said. "I would look at the back of his head and wonder, Who is this man? There was a scene like that in the script, and that's what sold me on it."
In fact, there is another scene, in which the older son tells Hanks he knows his father always loved his younger brother more. It's a scene that will win Hanks many awards and nominations next winter. He told me, "As a father, just the thought of that, of one of your children saying that to you. I would be crushed if one of my kids said that. It would mean I hadn't done my job at all."
Hanks has one more film coming out this year — Catch Me If You Can, directed by Spielberg and co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Beyond that, he said he has "no plans," and posed for more pictures with happy strangers who wanted to wish him well on his birthday.
More tomorrow on Perdition and the birth of movie producer Rita Wilson (Mrs. Hanks)...
Just in case you were wondering, we know it from the source: DreamWorks SKG will not be bailing out the Universal Music Group.
There has been much speculation in the last few days that, with the disaster at Vivendi Universal, the company would spin off its profitable and successful music division (home to Eminem, Nelly and Ja Rule, among others). The thinking was that DreamWorks would wind up taking Universal/Interscope/Def Jam/Motown etc. and moving it into its own house.
Not so, Jeffrey Katzenberg told me at the Perdition premiere.
"We have enough on our plates, and we're having fun. We already have a great record division. Are they having fun over there?" he asked, rhetorically.
They're having a lot of success, I countered.
"But no fun," he replied.
In fact, Katzenberg is probably having more fun than he has a right to in cynical Hollywood. DreamWorks has produced 2.5 Best Picture Oscars in the last three years (American Beauty, Gladiator and their share of A Beautiful Mind). Shrek was a phenomenal hit, and also won an Oscar. Now Perdition, Catch Me If You Can and a non-violent Jackie Chan movie will make 2002 a huge year for them. Not bad for a studio just celebrating its seventh year in business.
What is Katzenberg looking forward to next? July 2, 2003 — Sinbad. Brad Pitt is the main voice. The others belong to Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joseph Fiennes and Christine Baranski. "We've proved we can make serious hits in live action, now we're going to do it with animation," Katzenberg said.
Circle that date — because he will, rest assured.
After 21 years of tabloid headlines announcing that their marriage was on the rocks, you'd think there would be fireworks when Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen finally called it quits. Instead, hardly anyone noticed.
You've got to give this couple credit. I think they stayed together just to spite the naysayers. When I visited them in 1993 at their Bavarian French country manse in Studio City they were happy as clams. Of course, Eddie was dealing with constant rehab issues and Val was adjusting to not being the star of a TV series, but it looked like they were going to make it after all.
The last couple of years were spent with Eddie struggling with cancer (he's clean now, thank goodness). Bertinelli, ordinarily a work horse, has been pretty absent from the small screen for the last five years. For a while she was turning out a blockbuster TV Movie once a year, but now it seems that maybe all those things were working against them. Or maybe the thought of Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth touring together was the straw that broke the camel's back. Either way, look for little Wolfgang B. Van Halen to star in a sitcom about a teen garage band led by a kid from a broken home in Hollywood by the 2006-07 season. They'll call it One Riff at a Time.