Friday, January 11, 2008

Books of The Times
Tom Cruise and His Bully Pulpit

By Janet Maslin
Writing in The New York Times January 10, 2008

If Andrew Morton’s “Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography” is published peacefully next Tuesday, one of its basic assertions will be undermined. That is because if Mr. Morton is right about the litigious fervor of either Mr. Cruise, who is the book’s ostensible subject, or the Church of Scientology, which is its real one, the publication will be met with dirty tricks, messianic anger and relentless harassment. If Mr. Morton is wrong about that, there will be fewer fireworks. After all, among this biography’s revelations is the fact that Tom Cruise was a cute kid.
An Unauthorized Biography
By Andrew Morton
Illustrated. 344 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $25.95.

Mr. Morton, “a leading authority on modern celebrity” (according to this book’s jacket copy) and the mouthpiece for 1992 payback to the royal family by Diana, Princess of Wales (“Diana: Her True Story”), is best equipped for one thing: treating the travails of the famous as matters of earth-shaking consequence. He has gravitated to subjects who either appreciate (Monica Lewinsky) or wield (Madonna) some form of intoxicating power.

In the case of Mr. Cruise, Mr. Morton sees a domineering, aggressive character who has joined forces with Scientology to catapult his activities beyond the realm of mere glitter. “More than any star today,” Mr. Morton writes, “Tom” — naturally he’s on a first-name basis — “is a movie messiah who reflects and refracts the fears and doubts of our times, trading on the unfettered power of modern celebrity, our embrace of religious extremism and the unnerving scale of globalization.” The book asserts that “the relentless expansion of the organization and its front groups has been made possible by the charm and persuasiveness of its poster boy, whose modernity, familiarity and friendliness mask the totalitarian zeal of his faith.”

It goes without saying that biographers do not ordinarily assail their subjects’ religious beliefs with impunity. Nor do investigative reporters seize on Scientology as frequently as they might. Yet Mr. Morton has found a number of former Scientologists who are willing to speak freely, and in some cases vengefully, about the group’s purported inner workings. Mr. Morton’s eagerness to include their voices leads him to push the limits of responsible reporting. In the absence of any hard information whatsoever, for instance, he notes that if Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, now his wife, fed their daughter Suri the barley-based baby formula recommended by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, “they kept it secret.” And that despite Mr. Cruise’s legal victories over publications that have described him as gay, that assertion lives on in the form of widespread Internet rumors.

The Tom Cruise of this book is emphatically, unremarkably heterosexual throughout its tedious opening chapters about his boyhood. “I was black and blue from the gearshift, I can tell you that,” says a high school girlfriend who spent time with him in a car. Mr. Cruise is also said to have collected model airplanes, impersonated Woody Woodpecker and done a standout job of playing the Sun in a fifth-grade pageant. “Even 30 years later it still gives me goose bumps,” one of his schoolteachers recalls about the budding star’s performance.

“The film will never sell and Tom Cruise will not be an important actor,” a Fox executive once memorably said. Still, the book describes Mr. Cruise’s speedy rise from walk-on obscurity (“Endless Love” in 1981) to the Hollywood stratosphere (“Top Gun” in 1986 ) while placing more emphasis on the evolution of his private life. By 1985 he had become involved with Mimi Rogers, his first wife, who provided entrée into the world of Scientology. Even though Scientology abhors psychiatry, Mr. Morton plays doctor by speculating that Mr. Cruise made an especially receptive recruit because he is “an uncertain child waiting for an undeserved blow from his father.”

Although Mr. Morton is readily assailable for making such facile remarks, he is in some larger sense an astute observer. His overall impression of Mr. Cruise makes sense. He provides a credible portrait extrapolated from the actor’s on-the-record remarks and highly visible public behavior. This book describes a controlling, fervent figure (“He was like a walking light bulb,” recalls one observer) whose personal needs dovetailed with the strict hierarchical structure of his newfound faith and who, at some point, decided to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to proselytizing spiritually, emotionally and politically on its behalf. The book surmises that it was a small leap from this outlook to jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey’s sofa.

1 comment:

LL said...

Andrew can't-get-any-lower Morton's on-the-record sources — grade-school ''friends,'' former neighbors, disgruntled ex-Scientologists — are many rings away from his chosen bull's-eye. The lack of fresh material is manifest in desperate stretching (Cruise went to high school in Glen Ridge, N.J., and a decade later, there was a rape case involving...Glen Ridge high schoolers!), family arcana (Cruise's grandfather's cousin's academic works fill 8.3 cubic feet in a library — noted!), and the uncategorizably bizarre (after reading that Church leader David Miscavige is ''two years older if two inches shorter'' than Cruise, I felt two seconds older if two IQ points dumber).


Ah, another know-nothing bio about Tom. Thanks to EW for saving me time and money.