BY BOB VICKREY
When my friend Katie owned Village Books in Pacific Palisades, local resident Tom Hanks was a regular customer and visited the store often.
One year during the Christmas holidays, Katie told him that the store was struggling to stay afloat. He asked what he could do to support the store, and they both came up with the idea of him reading The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, at the store on Christmas Eve as a fundraiser. (He had also asked if he could make a large donation to help keep the store going, but Kate wouldn’t accept his generous offer, since she knew that it would be only a stop-gap measure and wouldn’t likely be the ultimate solution.)
The local paper covered the upcoming Hanks’ event the week before, and when Tom showed up at the back door for his reading, he asked, “What’s that long line down the street for? They couldn’t all be here for the reading; Right?”
Katie and her staff had been so busy getting ready for the event, they were completely unaware of what was happening on the street out front — other than noticing a few customers staring in through the front window. Tom walked us outside and we were stunned to see the long line of people lining Swarthmore Avenue, which almost reached all the way to Sunset Blvd. In Tom’s own inimitable way, he yelled out to the customers in line. “It’s cold out here, why don’t you all come inside where it’s warm. Besides, I hear there’s a famous movie star inside!”
That night he reluctantly signed Van Allsburg’s book upon request. He looked up at me at one point and said, “You’re in publishing; Is Chris going to sue me for signing his book?” I told him that Chris would most likely be honored. (And sure enough, when Chris got the news about Tom signing his book, he was absolutely thrilled.)
Hanks is such an entertaining and engaging guy that he charmed the crowd and told them he would sign just about anything if they’d spend some money in the store that night.
He made us all laugh throughout the evening, which reminded me that he had begun his career as a stand-up comic. He never once used the same line twice with customers as he sat for hours in his chair entertaining them. He was particularly good with children. He had something different to say to each one, which always drew laughs from them.
After all the customers were gone, he stayed and chatted with us while Kate finished her paperwork well after midnight, and until she finally closed the back door. As he was getting in his car, he yelled out “I had lots of fun tonight. I hope they did!”
After Village Books closed in 2011, we all agreed that Tom Hanks’ appearance that evening had been the highlight of the store’s 14-year history. Not surprisingly, his appearance set a one-day sales record for the store.
Everyone in attendance that evening was left with wonderful memories– some of which I eventually wrote about in later years.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.