In one of the earliest roles of his career, Tom Hanks was put in a dress, wig and lipstick to play one of two male characters trying to con their way into an all-women’s apartment building. The ABC sitcom was titled Bosom Buddies (1980-82), and it put drag front and center. It was an immediate smash, before burning out just as fast.
Bosom Buddies was an immediate hit
Bosom Buddies came from the minds of two of television’s greatest sitcom creators, Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett. In the 1970s, they’d succeeded in bringing sitcoms like Happy Days (1974-84), Laverne & Shirley (1976-83), and Mork & Mindy (1978-82) into American homes.
When they earned a pilot with ABC, there was one stipulation – the series had to feature drag. The debut season centered around two friends who together worked in advertising, Kip Wilson (Hanks) and Henry Desmond (Peter Scolari). The only building they could afford to live in was condemned, so the two had to search for somewhere else.
After searching, they found the only place they could afford to live was an all-women’s building. As such, Wilson and Desmond assumed female alter-egos named Buffy and Hildegarde. As they were still heterosexual men, the show followed the difficulties of living in a building exclusively filled with women. The two even showed up as their true selves to try their hand at asking out some of the other tenants.
Tom Hanks thrived as Kip Wilson
Bosom Buddies notably served as Hanks’ big break. He was just 24 years old when he got the role, and was already showing a lot of promise. Director Joel Zwick said of the actor, “One of them was this kid they found out of New York who was understudying off-Broadway. This was a guy with no real experience, but he knew exactly what he did well, and he just did it.”
Starring alongside Hanks was Scolari, who was just starting out himself at the age of 25.
The second season of Bosom Buddies was a bust
Unfortunately, Bosom Buddies only lasted two seasons. The storyline that had made the first season popular practically dropped off in the second; the concept of these two men dressing as women was pretty much abandoned altogether.
Early on in the second season, the pair’s ruse was revealed to Wilson’s love interest, Sonny, played by Donna Dixon. Her character forgave him pretty quickly, allowing the two to begin dating, and both men were allowed to continue living in the building. For the most part, there was no drama over them getting caught – they went on to open their own commercial production company.
Over the course of just two seasons, Bosom Buddies went from being a hilarious sitcom to an average show about friends. It’s no surprise, then, that the show wasn’t renewed. That being said, it was a very important part of Hanks and Scolari’s lives, and the two remained longtime friends up until the latter’s death from Leukemia in October 2021.