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Eddie McIlwaine tells how a Belfast Telegraph story led to an unusual correspondence from Hollywood legend Tom Hanks

I've got mail today, from one of Hollywood's top stars - Tom Hanks. The actor who starred in the romantic movie You've Got Mail sat down and wrote me a letter in his California office in Santa Monica.

Or to be more accurate double Oscar winner Tom tapped out his friendly epistle on an Underwood Golden Touch typewriter.

How do I know this? Well, he told me so in his letter.

"This letter comes to you," he typed, "via my Underwood Golden Touch, made in the USA sometime during the Golden Age of Typewriter manufacturing."

You see Tom, star of hit films like Saving Private Ryan and Sleepless in Seattle to name but two, is fascinated by typewriters. He collects them from all over the world and has more than 80 at the last count.

So I wrote a feature in the Belfast Telegraph recently telling readers about his unusual hobby - and suggesting that Tom doesn't have an Irish Gaelic machine.

The celebrated star was delighted when my article was pointed out to him. "I loved your story," he wrote, "though it came to my desk via the Internet and a Laser Printer. Not very glamorous ."

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I take it from that sentence that the internet, the web and computers haven't endeared themselves to this actor who carries a portable typewriter with him everywhere in his world travels on which to type out his personal correspondence.

It was Sooki Raphael, Tom's executive assistant in his Playtone company in Santa Monica, who drew his attention to my story and she sent me his personal letter. Being at pains to point out Hanks typed it.

However, Tom signed this unexpected correspondence with the words in blue ink `All good things - Tom Hanks'.

In his letter he emphasises that my sources were correct. "I have no Gaelic language typewriter," he reveals.

"Alas. Your story in the Belfast Telegraph showed me my own hole in my `collection.'

"I am open to any eBay offering of such a wonderous machine, or will have to tramp the streets of Belfast in search of that perfect shop with a typewriter in the window. Don't laugh, it happened to me in Tel Aviv ."

Now let's be clear about one thing. Tom Hanks won't mind me pointing out that he is no brilliant touch typist. He has smudged out one word in the letter and the whole epistle is slightly ragged and unsmooth.

But then you can't be a great movie star and a fast, accurate typist at the same time.

I'll spend the next few months trying to pick up a reasonably-priced Gaelic machine for Hanks who will hopefully be in town come September.

I know he would simply love to receive one when he arrives for the launch of his blockbuster City of Ember, which was filmed in Belfast last year starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins with fledging actors Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan as two children who are central to the tale of a city being plunged into darkness as its power source fails and life grinds to a standstill.

I'm sure he knocked out some of his changes to the script on his battered old portable.

This article was first published in the Belfast Telegraph on the 3rd July 2008.

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