FAIRBORN, Ohio — Tom Hanks has a new starring role.
He’s the leading man in a $150 million fundraising campaign for Wright State University in southwest Ohio. What’s called the “Rise.Shine” effort is being co-chaired by Hanks and Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandniece of the aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright for whom the school is named.
The school says the campaign has already attracted major gifts and pledges, with 10 Wright State graduates each pledging at least $1 million. The funds will go for more scholarships, attracting new faculty members and constructing state-of-the-art facilities.
Hanks has supported the school for years. He has long ties to its current Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures chairman, W. Stuart McDowell. McDowell’s Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York gave Hanks one of his early career breaks.
“We cast him right off the street in the lead of Machiavelli’s ‘The Mandrake,’ ” McDowell said. “He had an incredible sense of improvisation and stage presence. He would come out during the opening of the show and riff with the audience, do an improv.”
Earlier, Hanks had performed at Wright State in a Shakespeare festival tour.
The fundraising drive formally began Saturday. The Academy Award-winning actor recorded a video message for the official campaign launch – Hanks is working on the upcoming Steven Spielberg-directed Cold War thriller “St. James Place.”
“Wright State is a rising leader in 21st century higher education,” Hanks said. “From groundbreaking research to world-class fine and performing arts, this university truly has a mission that matters.”
Hanks in 1998 donated to Wright State for a scholarship fund in his name. The school near Dayton says 67 students in acting, dance and other theater studies have benefited. Hanks has also donated autographed movie posters for an annual ArtsGala event at Wright State.
The star of such major movie hits as Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan met with Wright State officials last year when they came to New York while he was performing in the play “Lucky Guy.”
“We cracked a lot of jokes about those early days,” said McDowell. “He remembers his roots.”