Many of us have grown up watching and appreciating Tom Cruise and the 6.5 billion dollars he has generated in ticket sales worldwide. With a domestic average per movie of 97 million dollars, for the last thirty years, Mr. Cruise has been pounding out box office gem after box office gem. Of course, there have been a few bumps in the road (like Lions for Lambs and Rock of Ages--the latter of which I really liked and would be willing to prove it by purchasing an early ticket to Tom’s first full-fledged rock concert if this movie thing doesn’t pan out).
So the question is simple: how many bangs and bruises can Tom’s reputation take before the public turns its back on him and his offerings? But before we answer that question, let’s review the damage previously done. First, back in Roman times, just after Top Gun, Rain Man and Cocktail, there was the 1990 divorce with actress Mimi Rogers, after which she blurted out that Tom was asexual and simultaneously implied he was impotent. Mimi also left him with one other parting gift: Scientology. Though the Cruise-Rogers marriage hadn’t been meant to last, Mimi’s ties to the unusual religion transferred readily to this man who has since taken a public thrumming for his adherence to and outspokenness about those beliefs.
It doesn’t help that Scientology was invented in 1952, by Ron L. Hubbard, a science fiction writer whose roots stem back to the early pulp magazine era. Hubbard’s fingerprints are easily seen on this religion which claims that millennia ago beings were dragged here from another world by an evil leader called Xenu (I swear, I’m not kidding; this is what the science fiction writer claimed, and this is what his Scientologists believe today). Supposedly, 75 million years ago, Xenu then killed most of the aliens by setting off chains of nuclear explosions around the Earth’s volcanoes, but not before the alien souls were stuffed into human forms and primed with all sorts of crazy ideas, including the existence of one or more gods. Of course, all these “little-known” facts will cost you a bundle to learn, because Scientology requires its believers to ascend a ladder of enlightenment before they can realize their own potential and get a peek at this grand space opera-ick history. By some accounts, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to reach even the lower levels of Scientological awareness, but rumor has it if you don’t have the requisite cash you can don a geeky uniform and trade a few years labor for lessons. I encourage my readers to do a few internet searches if you question anything I’ve said or would like to learn more.
Tom Cruise survived the impotence and cult accusations stemming from his 1990 divorce and, scarcely ten months later, went on to marry Nicole Kidman and climb to even greater box office heights as evidenced by A Few Good Men, Interview with the Vampire, The Firm, Mission Impossible and one of my favorites Jerry Maguire. It seemed as though Tom, with his second statuesque wife in hand, had fully recovered his mojo, if it had ever been lost at all.
Of course, like all good-looking leading men, over the years Tom has been peppered with gay accusations, but it wasn’t until the 400-day movie shoot of Eyes Wide Shut in 1998-99 that the rumor mill went into overdrive about Tom and Nicole’s inability to be intimate that the gay rumors hit full tilt. Those rumors were still strong (and I believe wrong) when Tom separated from Nicole two years later in February of 2001. Of course, the whisperings of Scientology being behind the split were even louder than the gay innuendos, but it's important to note that Nicole was pregnant (later to miscarriage) at the time of the split. Since we all know how much Tom loves and dotes on his children, I’m betting that unborn child is a major clue about how and why the relationship suddenly ended.
Once again, however, Tom Cruise bore the storm of public opinion with seeming ease. His box office exploits neither slowed nor dipped in gross sales. Minority Report, The Last Samurai and Mission Impossible II and III were all proof positive that Hollywood’s most dependable leading actor could still carry huge sway with audiences. Even the Steven Spielberg collaboration War of the Worlds had time to become a super-success film before the bottom gave way beneath Tom’s career.
Of course, we’re talking about the period that started with the 2005 private audition and public courtship of Katie Holmes. Tom’s May 2005 couch-jumping incident on the Oprah Winfrey show started tongues wagging about his mental stability, but it wasn’t until he got into a verbal declaration against psychiatry with Matt Lauer and then accused the Today Show host of being “glib” that the wheels fell off the golden celebrity wagon. That’s the day Tom Cruise’s career went into free fall. The next twelve months were like a drumbeat of failure for a man who had once seemed to be impervious to everything, including age. Suddenly, every comedian on the planet took daily pot shots, and for the first time ever Tom Cruise was unable to defend himself against the daily barrage of insults and innuendo that came at him from media outlets in every corner of the globe. When the “chatter” about his sanity and his obsessive ties to the crazy “cult” Scientology had reached a crescendo, in August of 2006, Sumner Redstone chairman of Viacom (parent company of Paramount) broke his fourteen-year-old ties to the actor, because 'Tom had irrevocably damaged his economic value as an actor and producer with his controversial public behavior and views.'
Tom took the news pretty well. After stumbling for only a few months, he acquired financial backing and took an ill-fated stake in United Artists studio, only to preside over two notable big screen flops: Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie. The mistake was to be short-lived, however, and soon Tom moved away from UA toward other movie ventures while also being able to put the cap back on his personal reputation elixer.
His 2008 small but popular bow as Les Grossman in the hit comedy Tropic Thunder pointed the way to better times, and his next film Knight and Day, costarring Cameron Diaz, was a moderate success that further paved the way. Then in 2011, Ghost Protocol, the fourth installment of Mission Impossible series hit theaters and became Tom Cruise’s best-performing movie to date, grossing a staggering 693 million worldwide. All in all, it looked as though the Cruise world had drifted back up to its old level of no boundaries and limitless success…until this week’s news of Katie Holmes’s divorce filing.
Once again, questions about sexuality and Scientology are swirling like seagulls over the trash heap of Tom Cruise’s personal life. Can he weather another public relations storm, or will the movie-going public finally write him off as another “old” actor who has been allowed to feed too long and too well off the forgiveness of the world’s kind audiences?
I, for one, think that the beautiful Katie Holmes will move on to have a comfortable life and a moderately successful career, not unlike the trajectory she was on when she came into the partnership, and certainly not in the least bit hurt by her short relationship with Hollywood’s thrice-married, elite leading man. I also think that Tom Cruise will brush off his Teflon suit, grab the next dozen guaranteed money-making scripts and fly onto thousands of more theater screens, at least until a few creases start to show. That’s good news, too, because though I swear I’m heterosexual, I like a good Cruise flick as well as the next guy.