Gremlins Almost Cast Tom Hanks as Gerald the Sleazy Bank Manager

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Tom Hanks was a television star in 1982 and, 42 years ago, if what you really wanted was to be a movie star, that was a problem.

Actors had made the transition from small-screen success to big-screen stardom before, but Hanks’ claim to fame was as one-half of the cross-dressing duo living in an all-women’s apartment building on the ABC sitcom “Bosom Buddies.” Though the show was initially a hit, the gimmick quickly wore thin, and Hanks found himself back on the casting market.

Post-“Bosom Buddies,” Hanks’ sole film credit was in the 1980 slasher flick “He Knows You’re Alone,” and, to his credit, he was so charismatic that the filmmakers opted not to kill him off onscreen. Still, that’s not much to hang your hat on, nor was, unfortunately, two years of mild television notoriety. The biggest sitcom stars of the 1970s roughly in Hanks’ age range (e.g. Henry Winkler, John Ritter, and Robin Williams) were getting star vehicle shots but failing to deliver an audience commensurate with their TV fame. So Hanks read for whatever was available.

And in 1983, one of these parts was in a Steven Spielberg-produced horror-comedy called “Gremlins.” Spielberg was red-hot coming off his 1982 with “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and producing/writing “Poltergeist,” so this had to be considered a plum leading man role, right? It was, but the production might’ve liked Hanks more for a different part.

Hanks was no Billy, but was he a Gerald?

The vindictive widower Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) is by far the cruelest character in “Gremlins,” but the slimiest resident of the film’s fictional small town Kingston Falls is by far Gerald Hopkins. Yes, the obsequious bank manager saves Billy’s job after his run-in with Mrs. Deagle, but he makes a big show of it and treats our hero as an unambitious nothing while trying to lure Phoebe Cates’ sweet Kate Beringer to his bachelor pad via the promise of premium cable television (which wasn’t a boast-worthy deal, even in the Midwest, in the mid-’80s).

According to a 40th anniversary oral history on the making of “Gremlins” at The Ringer, loads of up-and-coming young actors were brought in to read for the leading role of Gizmo’s good-hearted keeper Billy Peltzer. Hanks was one candidate. So was Emilio Estevez. But according to Frances Lee McCain (who played Billy’s mother Lynn), the part firmly belonged to the “angelic”-faced unknown Zach Galligan.

But Yuppie-scum Gerald was still up for grabs. So what happened there?

Hanks still managed to make a Splash in 1984

“Gremlins” Producer Michael Finnell remembers this process well and also recalled Hanks coming back to pester him about it later on in their careers. As he told The Ringer:

“Tom Hanks [also] read for Gerald — the slimy bank manager — that Judge Reinhold played. He bugged us, when we did ‘The ‘Burbs,’ he said, ‘You didn’t hire me for that.’ But the reason was is he looked too much like Zach Galligan, and we thought he had the same curly hair and everything.”

Hanks would’ve nailed that role, and that might’ve been a huge, unforeseeable career misstep. In missing out on “Gremlins,” Hanks was available to star in Ron Howard’s “Splash,” which opened to good reviews and a terrific box office performance two months prior to Dante’s movie. He was also freed up to topline Neal Israel’s highly problematic 1984 romp “Bachelor Party,” which, at the time, received a pair of surprisingly favorable notices from Roger Ebert and The New York Times’ Janet Maslin.

Hanks needed those two movies to prove he was, if nothing else, a lethally funny comedic leading man. He was so good in those movies, he was able to survive a number of stumbles (which included the poorly reviewed “The Money Pit,” which, I’m sorry, really does stink on ice) before landing his breakthrough, Oscar-nominated role in Penny Marshall’s 1988 “Big” (which, it should be noted, is also highly problematic).

Meanwhile, Judge Reinhold had a brief flirtation with stardom before finding his groove as a supporting actor (peaking, ironically, in 1988 with the pre-“Big” age-swapping comedy “Vice Versa”). 40 years later, Dante and company passing on Hanks worked out pretty well for everyone.

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