Disney is such an all-consuming, slickly mechanized corporate beast that it is easy to forget that, just a few decades ago, it was a family business that had fallen into disrepair and was painfully uncool to the rest of Hollywood.
Thankfully, Tom Hanks is here to remind us.
Hanks was a guest on Sirius XM’s “The Jess Cagle Show,” and when Cagle brought up the fact Hanks once appeared on “Happy Days,” it led to a fascinating story about how that brief appearance (where Hanks played a guy who kicks Fonzie through a plate-glass window) would lead to the biggest break of his nascent career – his role in “Splash.” Watch above.
As it turns out, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel were the head writers on “Happy Days” when Hanks filmed his episode. Ron Howard had already left “Happy Days” and was working on what would be the 1984 hit “Splash” with the film’s writers.
“It was at Disney. No one wanted to work for Disney and no one would take the job,” Hanks said, appearing on the show to promote his new movie “A Man Called Otto.”
And it’s true. During the time “Splash” was being developed, Disney had fallen pretty low (even its animated movies were struggling). A new division of the company, Touchstone, was instituted to try and push edgier, more modern fare and “Splash” was the first movie and the shingle’s trial balloon (they would go on to release hits like “Pretty Woman,” “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”) Even after the installation of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells in 1984, the joke around town was that Disney was so cheap they’d hang around outside the Betty Ford Center waiting for a star that had just dried out and was in need of work.
Since nobody wanted to work with Disney at the time, eventually Ganz and Mandel were reminded of the guy who kicked Fonzie through the plate-glass window.
“I remember going over to the Disney Studios lot,” Hanks recalled. “And it had not been refurbished. They had built it in like 1958 and it hadn’t changed a wit. It looked like a Greyhound bus station in Selma, Alabama.”
Again, Hanks’ recollection is correct. At the time the lot was largely disused, and animators were still working out of the same cluster of low-slung buildings that Walt’s animators had used (some of them were still employed at the company at the time). The Burbank studio was actually built in 1940, after Disney outgrew its Hyperion Studios location (which they moved to in 1926). In 1990, after Eisner and Wells successfully turned the company, once again, into a cultural and commercial powerhouse, a new corporate headquarters opened on the lot designed by postmodern architect (and Eisner favorite) Michael Graves. So the lot did get cleaned up relatively soon after “Splash” opened – and was a huge success. The rest is history!