Jackie Gleason's final role boosted Tom Hanks' career
Gleason saved one of the best for last.
Herbert Walton Gleason, Jr. was The Great One. Better known to viewers by the first name Jackie, Gleason was a bona fide legend of TV and film for decades prior to his death in 1987. He'd transcended comedy to become a beloved fixture in music as well, composing and releasing dozens of best-selling "mood music" albums.
There was The Honeymooners, obviously, where he was Ralph, driver of buses and dispenser of catchphrases. There was The Jackie Gleason Show, his talk show which rose from the ashes of the abysmal You're in the Picture. He had Hustler, and Requiem for a Heavyweight. Then, Smokey and the Bandit, and both of its sequels, in which he played Buford T. Justice. He starred alongside Richard Pryor in The Toy.
His final movie not only secured Gleason's legacy but also elevated another actor to A-lister status.
In Nothing in Common, Jackie Gleason did the unthinkable: He became unlikable. Despite his ailing health, Gleason delivered as powerful a performance as any. He was selfish, depressing, and cantankerous. His portrayal of a dying old man paralleled his own battle with cancer. That he managed to harness his decline to deliver one last knock-out was nothing short of a Hollywood miracle.
Tom Hanks plays David Basner, an ad agency yuppie who's more concerned with work than he is with his personal life. As his parents' marriage crumbles, David comes to the aid of his dying father, Max, as played by Jackie Gleason.
Gleason so perfectly conveys a sad life of regret that viewers initially rejected the performance. But it wasn't his career that was most affected by Nothing in Common. The movie marked a turning point in Tom Hanks' filmography. Prior to '86, Hanks was mostly entrusted with light-hearted, comedic roles. This was when he was mostly known as "Tom Hanks from Bosom Buddies." He received praise for fun, but ultimately inconsequential movies like Bachelor Party, Splash, and The Money Pit. But the realistic, relatable conflict of Nothing in Common was the first time Hanks shouldered that level of earnest drama.
Nothing in Common turned Tom Hanks into a serious actor, and it featured one of Jackie Gleason's best performances.