This is the fifteenth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
This week is a special “Tom Hanks” theme week! All legends involving Hanks or the films of Tom Hanks!
MOVIE LEGEND: FedEx paid to have their products appear in the film Castaway.
In the Tom Hanks’ film, Cast Away, Hanks’ character works for the shipping company Federal Express (FedEx).
We see Hanks early in the film working with the company…
And when Hanks’ character (Chuck Nolton) is stranded on the deserted island, it happens after he is riding on a FedEx delivery plane.
As a result, he uses what FedEx packages that he can scavenge from the crash to help him survive on the island.
Later, when he returns to the “real” world, he is taken to a FedEx headquarters (here we see his former fiancee, who is quite emotional about his return, especially since she has since remarried and had a kid)…
We even meet the actual CEO of FedEx at this point.
In any event, most folks naturally assumed that FedEx had a product placement arrangement with the film.
As it turned out, though, that was not the case.
Director Robert Zemeckis explains:
There was absolutely no product placement. We weren’t paid by anybody to place products in the movie. I did that in the past, and it wasn’t worth the little bit of money that they give you, because then you end up with another creative partner, which you don’t need. However, it just seemed to me that the whole integrity of the movie would be compromised if this was some phony trans-global letter delivery service, with some Hollywood fake logo and all that. It wouldn’t seem like it would be real. So very simply, we asked Federal Express for their permission to use their logo, and they could’ve said no. And that was it.
In fact, when FedEx was asked about the film, their first instinct was to say no, because it DID revolve around one of their planes crashing, after all.
However, they realized the opportunity this would give them in name recognition, so they went along with it.
And Zemeckis is being slightly misleading – sure, FedEx didn’t pay them, but FedEx supplied lots of resources to the filmmakers (uniforms, trucks, boxes, etc.). Heck, as I mentioned, their CEO even appeared in the film! So while yeah, it wasn’t product placement in the traditional sense of the term, but it was still product placement.
The same could be said for the famous Wilson volleyball that became a major character in the film (“Wilson”).
Yeah, Wilson might not have paid for the inclusion of said volleyball (this is even more believable than the FedEx example, as how many famous volleyball makers have a name that turns into a person’s name like Wilson?), but it’s still product placement.
MOVIE LEGEND: Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech at the Academy Awards inspired the movie In & Out.
In 1994, Tom Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film, Philadelphia, where Hanks plays a lawyer who was fired from his firm for having AIDS.
As Hanks accepted the award, he mentioned, among others, his high school drama coach Rawley Farnsworth, and his former classmate John Gilkerson, “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with”
Hanks had asked permission of both men to mention them, but I’m unsure if he specified to Farnsworth that he was going to mention that Farnsworth was gay – I find it extremely difficult to believe that it was a surprise to Farnsworth that Hanks was going to reference his being gay (just like I find it hard to believe that Hanks wouldn’t have mentioned to Farnsworth that he was going to mention it).
In any event, the speech DID strike a nerve with producer Scott Rudin (who produced Philadelphia), who thought, “What if the teacher in question was still working?”
He commissioned a screenplay by Paul Rudnick (who also had similar thoughts when he heard Hanks’ speech) on the subject, and three years later, the film In & Out was released!
In the film, Kevin Kline plays a high school teacher whose former student (played by Matt Dillon) thanks him in an Academy Award acceptance speech, but also “outs” him.
Kline’s character believes himself to be heterosexual (he’s engaged to be wed), but soon realizes that he is, in fact, gay, which causes problems with the school where he works.
Then again, he does get to kiss Magnum P.I., so that’s some good news!
MOVIE LEGEND: An actor was almost denied appearing in the film Philadelphia because of his HIV status.
Ron Vawter does not have a very large role in the film, Philadelphia, but he has some key scenes (he plays a partner who acknowledges that he suspected/knew that Hanks’ character had AIDS and did nothing about it).
Vawter also appeared in Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme’s previous film, The Silence of the Lambs.
However, Vawter almost did not get the role in Philadelphia, and for a movie about a man being treated unfairly because of having AIDS, it was for an odd reason – Vawter was HIV positive.
Because he was HIV positive, the insurance company for the film would not insure him, and because he was not insured, TriStar (the company that made the film) refused to cast him.
Demme, though, stood up for his choice, and insisted that he be included, not only because he was Demme’s choice, but because the irony of turning him down was just too much for Demme to live with. TriStar eventually backed down.
Vawter actually WOULD become ill right as filming began, but Demme actually re-schedule the filming of the movie so as to give Vawter time to recover, which he did.
Sadly, Vawter was just too weakened from various treatments over the years, and in 1994, just a month or so after Hanks won the Academy Award for the film, Vawter suffered a fatal heart attack on a flight to New Yoek from Switzerland.
All in all, of the 50 or so openly gay people cast in the film Philadelphia, at least 40 of them were dead by 1995.
That’s pretty damn tragic.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org