Rita Wilson became the picture of the perfect mom onscreen and off

She started acting on TV when she was 16 but got thrust in the public eye after marrying Tom Hanks.

Rita Wilson has a presence that seems to warm up the screen, and we felt that from her earliest roles on TV.

When she was 16 years old, she memorably guest starred on The Brady Bunch to kick off her onscreen career, and by the time we saw her on MAS*H a decade later, she was still taking on bit parts despite her seeming “it factor.”

There was at least one person who saw so much more potential in Rita Wilson than TV had given the budding actor so far.

Bosom Buddies star Tom Hanks was married when he first met Wilson on the set of his show, but he told Knight-Ridder News Service in 1993 that she made an immediate impression on him.

“Love at first sight?” Hanks said. “Sure, I guess it exists. I knew I was in trouble when I met my wife.”

Wilson was engaged at the time, but the two actors formed a friendship that blossomed into love after Hanks divorced his wife and Wilson broke off her engagement.

In 1987, Hanks proposed to Wilson on New Year’s Eve and by the next year, they were married.

They’ve been married ever since, becoming an iconic Hollywood couple that epitomizes the ideal marriage, and pretty soon after they had their first son, Wilson said suddenly her image changed.

A critic in 1996 encapsulated this shift when they wrote for Knight-Ridder News Service that “Wilson is everybody’s idea of the perfect mom” because “she’s the first actress filmmakers think of when they’re casting a mother.”

In the Nineties, Wilson played motherly roles in hit movies like Now and Then and Jingle All the Way, and because she never was considered the leading lady type through the beginning of her career, she totally embraced the image.

“I am a mother, in real life,” Wilson said. “In this business, it’s never been my image to be the sex-bomb character who has to maintain an image in that way, otherwise people won’t relate to me sexually. That’s not an issue to me. It doesn’t come up.”

Perhaps this is the most perfect anecdote to show what a picture-perfect mom Wilson had become:

“I went into labor on Christmas night after I’d cooked the turkey and eaten it,” Wilson said. “I was very happy I didn’t have to miss Christmas dinner because you do all that preparation, get the house beautiful, get all the toys. Can you imagine being in the hospital and not being able to open gifts with your kids on Christmas morning?”

In her career, Wilson said people always assumed that she was jealous of her husband for achieving greater success as an actor.

“Oh, people have always thought that about me,” Wilson told The New York Times in 1996. “You know, ‘It must be really hard being married to Tom because he’s so famous and you’re so….’”

But Wilson said she had so much respect for her husband, there was never room for jealousy in their relationship.

She told Knight-Ridder News Service in 1996 that the only problem she had with being so famous for her marriage was that sometimes casting directors failed to realize that she could be more than someone’s ideal mom onscreen.

“If I were just an actress not married to somebody who’s in the public eye and being honored so beautiful by my husband who’s in the public eye, then I would have some sort of anonymity,” Wilson said. “And because the body of work I had is not as public as my relationship with my husband, sometimes people have preconceived ideas about what I am and what I can offer to a role.”

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