Mary Dunning was about to walk down the aisle when her life became a box of chocolates.
Standing outside the Carteret Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort — wearing a silk wedding gown with baby seed pearls and holding a bouquet of long-stem white and soft pink roses — she was photo-bombed by Hollywood star Tom Hanks.
That photo, taken by Fridrik Tiedemann Photography during the filming of the “Forrest Gump” movie, became an instant classic in Beaufort lore.
This Sept. 11, that photo turned 25. And Mary Dunning Chapman and David Chapman of Florence remain happily married.
“It comes up all the time,” Mary said of the photograph she has framed and signed by Hanks:
“Congratulations! The only bride more beautiful was the one I married ... I’m just sorry I missed the ceremony! God bless, Tom Hanks”
Mary recalls walking down the side street toward the church’s front door with her attendants dressed in mint green suits.
Someone was hanging out of a baby blue Lincoln at the corner, honking the horn and hollering.
Mary said she didn’t think much of it until a guy she didn’t recognize runs up and says he’s Tom Hanks. He said he wanted to wish her good luck. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. The bridesmaids were losing it. Mary had the presence of mind to round up the wedding photographer.
A local legend that Beaufort’s tour guides have kept alive was born.
That moment remains a snapshot of the serendipity of life. And it perfectly captures Beaufort’s long flirtation with the sirens of Hollywood with the filming of “The Prince of Tides” and “The Big Chill” and “The Great Santini.”
The wedding ceremony itself, Mary said, became a blur, but she’s certain she answered all the right questions of the Rev. Ron Pettit.
The reception was at the Dataw Island Club, where Mary worked before she became a school teacher. The newlyweds spent the night there and laughed to themselves at breakfast in the morning when everyone was talking about the Tom Hanks photo bomb for some lucky bride.
Mary grew up in Beaufort (Beaufort High class of 1983), and when it turned out Tom Hanks wanted a copy of the photo, his driver found her parents, Carl and Mary Jo Dunning. They rushed out two prints: one for Tom Hanks and one that he signed and returned.
“I was the first bride,” Mary says. Since her wedding day in 1993, Hanks has done the same thing to two other couples, and they were all featured not long ago in US Weekly magazine, she said.
In the wee hours of the morning after the wedding, Hanks was hard at work on a film that would bring him an Academy Award and, to everyone’s surprise, attach itself to the American heart.
At 4 a.m. on that Sunday, they filmed the hurricane scene in Forrest Gump’s shrimp trawler, the Jenny. It took place at the Port of Port Royal when a jet engine was turned on it, and the crew yanked ropes to make the boat toss and turn, and a rainmaker had been lifted above by a crane. Hanks was at the wheel and Gary Sinise, playing Lt. Dan, was perched in the crow’s nest.
The newlyweds were invited to come watch filming at a historic rural church, where Hanks would sing in a choir that included the Hallelujah Singers of Beaufort’s Marlena Smalls.
“I had already been out of school for a week,” Mary said, “but I hate that we could not go.”
They went to the premiere, and then went about their lives.
Mary teaches first grade, and David runs a company in Columbia started by his father. Their 24-year-old daughter is a University of South Carolina graduate, and Mary comes home to Beaufort often to visit her mother.
As for Hanks, the US Weekly magazine reported he paid $35 to get a license so he could officiate the marriage of actress Allison Williams. He’s quoted as giving this advice to all spouses: “Don’t be stupid. I think that anybody that gets married is partaking in an act of bravery.”
This year, Hanks and Rita Wilson also celebrate a milestone anniversary. They’ve been married 30 years.
Nobody could have dreamed it all on that warm September day when Tom Hanks planted himself in the heart and soul of Beaufort at Mary and David’s wedding.
“David and I talked about it after it happened and we just thought that what Tom Hanks did just sealed the deal,” Mary said last week. “That he and I were meant to be. It’s always been a special thing for us.”