Tom Hanks’ Movie Career Was Launched by ‘Happy Days,’ but It Wasn’t Ron Howard

It seems inevitable now, but Tom Hanks’ movie career was not always a given. Hanks began on stage and got some TV work before his big break in Splash. It was a guest starring spot on Happy Days in 1982 that actually led to Hanks’ movie career. And not because Ron Howard was on Happy Days, although Hanks made many movies with Howard as director.

Tom Hanks wears a Karate gi and blackbelt while Henry Winkler puts his hand on his shoulder
L-R: Linda Purl, Ted McGinley, Henry Winkler, and Tom Hanks | ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Hanks was a guest on the Smartless podcast on Nov. 1. When hosts Sean Hayes, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett asked him about Happy Days, Hanks explained how it led to bigger and better things. 

Before Tom Hanks’ movie career

Hanks was performing Shakespeare on stage, something he returned to in 2018. On-camera works started to come in 1980 with a small role in the movie He Knows You’re Alone and also a Love Boat episode. In 1980, Hanks and Peter Scolari landed the lead roles on Bosom Buddies. They played roommates who dressed up as women in order to land an apartment in a female-only building. 

Bosom Buddies was canceled after two seasons but Hanks continued to work in television. He played alcoholic uncle Ned in two episodes of Family Ties, an episode of Taxi and also the TV movie Mazes & Monsters as a college student addicted to role playing games. When the Smartless hosts asked about Happy Days, Hanks pretended to be indignant.

RELATED: ‘Happy Days’ Almost Changed Its Name in Season 3 — but Ron Howard Refused to Let Them

“You IMDB reading sons of bitches,” Hanks joked on Smartless. “How dare you come at me with this?”

Hanks played Dr. Dr. Dwayne Twitchell, a nemesis of Fonzie (Henry Winkler) who comes looking for a fight. A fistfight as Dr. Twitchell practices Karate.

‘Splash’ was the first hit Tom Hanks movie 

By 1982, Howard was no longer part of the ensemble cast of Happy Days. He was focusing on his directing career and would have the movie Night Shift out that same year. 

“I did not meet Ron Howard on Happy Days,” Hanks confirmed. “Ron had left the series by then.”

Howard’s next movie would be Splash. Hanks played Allen Bauer, a man who falls in love with a woman (Daryl Hannah) he doesn’t know is a mermaid. 

“The guys I met were Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel who were the staff writers on Happy Days who wrote Splash, the screenplay of Splash,” Hanks said. “Ron was directing and he said, ‘Take a look at that guy who got fired from Bosom Buddies.’ Bosom Buddies was canceled.

‘Splash’ was only the beginning 

Splash was a big hit. After that, it was nothing but Tom Hanks movies for the actor. They’re even developing a gender swapped remake of Splash which would star Channing Tatum as the merman and Jillian Bell as the human love interest.

RELATED: Tom Hanks Can’t Believe These ’80s Movies Are Now ‘Cult Classics’

Hanks went on a run of ‘80s comedies culminating in 1989’s Big. That was his first Oscar nomination, too. Hits like A League of Their Own and Academy Award winners Philadelphia and Forrest Gump followed. Tom Hanks movies exploded in the ‘90s with the likes of Apollo 13, Toy Story, Saving Private Ryan, You’ve Got Mail, and The Green Mile.

Ganz and Mandel went on to big things too. They wrote Parenthood, City Slickers, A League of Their Own, and many more.