A long time ago, in a Hollywood far, far away, moviegoers knew very little about the personal lives of the stars they idolized. In the days of studio moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, publicists worked hard to fashion public profiles that would not detract from the screen images. A touch of scandal could kill a career. Fans, of course, were in on this conspiracy. We wanted to believe that Rock Hudson and Doris Day were a couple. To think otherwise would have taken away from our enjoyment of their romantic romps in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. These days, older and wiser, we watch those films knowing that Hudson was gay and died from AIDS while Day, suffering through three disastrous marriages, wasn’t the sunny personality we thought she was.
Times have changed. We have People, Star, In Touch, Perez Hilton, The Insider, Extra, Inside Hollywood, and the New York Post. A public gaffe is immediately put on YouTube for millions to see. And what the gossip columnists don’t dig up about stars, the celebrities themselves are only too quick to reveal on Oprah or, heaven help us, in a reality show.
I bring all this up because lately I have sensed a backlash against certain stars because we are annoyed with their personal lives. Perhaps no one is feeling this unlove more strongly than Tom Cruise. His new movie, Knight and Day, finished third last weekend to a bunch of animated toys and a dim comedy about men acting like boys. In fact, Knight and Day is a great film, the perfect summer escape. Cruise is at the top of his game and has real chemistry with his costar, Cameron Diaz. The special effects are terrific, the plot filled with enough twists and turns to keep up interest, and the foreign locations (Salzburg and Seville, for example), beautifully photographed. So, what’s not to like? Well, Tom Cruise. And not Tom Cruise the actor, but Tom Cruise the Scientologist, anti-medication, domineering husband, and blowhard know-it-all. Jumping around on Oprah’s couch didn’t help.
Remember the old Tom Cruise, the one who danced around in his underwear and became every young girl’s fantasy? Whether he was flying jets, racing cars, or matching wits in a courtroom with Jack Nicholson, we loved him. We loved his sexy smile and the way he wore those dark glasses. How many young studs imitated that look hoping to score? In the early stages of his career, we didn’t know that much about his personal life so we could embrace whatever character he portrayed on the screen.
Then Tom lost his way. Fame does that to some people. He began to think that being a star turned him into an expert on a wide range of topics. (“I didn’t become an actor to have power, but it just happens that I have it and so I have a lot of opportunities.”) He could criticize Brooke Shields, during an interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, for speaking out on postpartum depression (“There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in a body”), try to convert the world to Scientology (“People are really interested in Scientology and every day ask me about it”), and rhapsodize about falling in love (“I look at Kate and my admiration and love and respect for her, although I didn’t think it could get anymore, became more”). TMI!! Where are those old time studio publicists when you need them?
No doubt Tom Cruise is his own worse enemy and he probably deserves the beating he’s taking at the box office. But it’s not too late for him to turn things around. Here’s some advice:
For Tom—Shut up! We don’t care about your views on religion, psychiatry, drugs, parenting, or love. We are more than happy to hear about your career, the roles you take, your approach to acting, the directors and stars you love to work with. But your fame does not make you an expert on politics, science, space (“Of course [I believe in aliens]. Are you so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe?”) or anything else.
For fans—Give Tom another chance. Knight and Day is a fun thrill ride showcasing what Cruise does best—act. On a sweltering summer day, you could do much worse.