HOLLYWOOD, June 5 (UPI) -- Tom Hanks joins Hollywood's pantheon of movie legends next month as the youngest honoree in the American Film Institute's hall of fame.
On June 24, television viewers of the USA Network will see Hanks, a back-to-back Academy Award best actor winner, honored as the 30th recipient of the AFI's Life Achievement Award..
At 46, Hanks is the first member of his generation of stars to be honored with a Life Achievement Award when possibly his best professional years are still ahead of him.
This consummate actor has demonstrated immense versatility starring in drama, comedy, action, farce and fantasy films in a career that has spanned only 20 years, compared to, say, Cagney's five decades.
All the same, Hanks has starred in 22 major movies from his debut as the lead in "Splash" (1984) playing a young man in love with a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) to "Cast Away" (2000).
His Academy Awards were won for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump." Spencer Tracy was the most recent actor before him to win consecutive best actor Oscars.
Hanks is a box-office star of astonishing proportions and is paid commensurate with his popularity: $20 million per picture.
He has earned more, however, by participating in gross profits of his films: $40 million for "Private Ryan" and $70 million for "Forrest Gump."
The tall (6-foot-1), dark-haired, engaging Hanks is most often compared to Jimmy Stewart -- who was honored with the AFI Award in 1980.
Like Stewart, Hanks is amazingly versatile on camera, but more endearing still is his personal dignity and role-model deportment off-screen. He is America's ideal average man incarnate.
Hanks rarely induces gossip, makes no political statements or involves himself in public confrontations with anyone for any reason.
Although he has been married twice, Hanks has avoided revealing personal matters or throwing his weight around on movie sets or in social situations.
There is a modest quality about him that is at once attractive and endearing.
Hanks is the father of four children, son Colin and daughter Elizabeth by his first wife, Samantha Lewes; and sons Chester and Truman by his current wife, Rita Wilson.
His choice of movies has not been infallible. For instance, he starred in the mega bomb "Bonfire of the Vanities" (1990) and "Turner & Hooch" (1989).
But he has been enormously successful in light romantic comedies: "Sleepless In Seattle," "Big" and "You've Got Mail."
Hanks added 40 pounds of blubber to play the boozy, tobacco-chewing washed-up baseball player in "A League of Their Own" and became a bearded, bedraggled survivor in "Cast Away," playing most of his scenes alone.
Along with Harrison Ford (a former AFI honoree) and Tom Cruise, Hanks is a throwback to an earlier era -- a sure box-office attraction superstar.
Previous AFI honorees were singled out as recipients who "whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art, whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public, and whose work has stood the test of time."
The prerequisites were amended in 1993 when Hollywood ran short of qualified legends.
To accommodate current honorees, AFI trustees extended the criteria to encompass "individuals with active careers and work of significance yet to be accomplished."
Because the AFI Awards are conferred at a banquet and taped for a television special, it has been the custom to honor only living men and women.
Katharine Hepburn is one of very few living performers who has asked to be excused from participating in the AFI honors, which are only 30 years old this year.
The first honoree was director John Ford in 1973. The most recent was Barbra Streisand in 2001.
Among old-timers in-between were dancers Fred Astaire (1981) and Gene Kelly (1985); directors Orson Welles (1975), William Wyler (1976), Hitchcock (1979), Capra (1982), John Huston (1983), Billy Wilder (1986) and Sir David Lean (1990).
Only five actresses have been voted AFI Life Achievement Awards over the years. But the organization has not been accused of slighting the fairer sex, possibly because its director and CEO is one of Hollywood's most prominent women, Jean Firstenberg.
Scheduled to appear with Hanks on the USA Network broadcast of the banquet: colleagues and friends Tim Allen, Jim Carrey, Melissa Ethridge, Ron Howard, Helen Hunt, Steve Martin, Denzel Washington, Sharon Stone and Charlize Theron among others.