We’ve All Had One – A Tom Cruise Moment

Every reporter who covered Hollywood in the golden age that spanned roughly Risky business (1983) at Top Gun: Maverick (now) had a Tom Cruise moment. I got mine in 2002.

My father had just died. It was a brutal death, not a quick one, and as I returned for the last time from his visit to Sacramento, I made a promise to myself: I would be at peace with everyone for a while. No fight. No arguments. What someone asked me, as far as I could, I would do.

Luckily, the first test took place somewhere around Bakersfield. On the road I got a call from Maer Roshantoday editor of Los Angeles Magazinethen editorial director of Tina Brownit is Talk.

We have a problemexplained Maer. Talk had planned some kind of themed issue – something about business and/or working life in America. But Tina had managed to promise Tom Cruise the cover. Maer couldn’t see a link. But maybe I could understand. The interview was already scheduled. Be at the Bel-Air Hotel in about three days, interview Cruise and write something, if not brilliant, at least sensible.

Right. No fight. No arguments. Just interview Tom Cruise.

When I got home, my 14-year-old son’s first words were, “I’m so sorry, Dad. I heard of Tom Cruise. We had long since dealt with my father’s decline; and he knew how I felt about celebrity interviews. I didn’t like them.

But there it was. So I went to the library in Santa Monica, which was more of an information repository than a homeless camp at the time, and studied. Most of the time, I read some largely empathetic old books on Scientology, including what seemed like an oversized encyclopedia of Scientology terms, beliefs, and “technology.” I figured it couldn’t hurt. Just in case the topic comes up again.

This is where things got interesting.

I actually met Cruise at Bel-Air. It was one of those crisp, bright Southern California winter mornings when you don’t see why anyone would live anywhere else. Tom was charming. Of course, he smiles. But I got straight to the point.

We have a problem, I said. The next issue is devoted to business and professional life. But we have a movie star on the cover: you. If we don’t want to look ridiculous, both of us need to understand what you, the Risky business guy, Jerry Maguire, the Superior gun punch, Impossible mission (with Minority report then on the bridge), can teach doctors, lawyers, investment bankers or whoever Talkthe ad-hungry editing team might have in mind.

To his eternal credit and my eternal gratitude, Cruise didn’t even blink. Instead, he struck up an intelligent, structured conversation about his films, his career, his goals, and the principles that had seen him through ups and downs in a slippery and treacherous industry. After getting ready at the library, I was able to follow the basic Scientology parts. Most of the time it was direct, genuine and he did all the work.

God bless him.

Because there was more to the adventure. For one thing, Talk folded before publication of the article. But Pat Kingsley, Cruise’s publicist at the time, wasn’t one to let a magazine’s disappearance rob her of coverage. She somehow managed to ship it all to Squirewho published it in May under a disturbing title: “The most dangerous place”.

Cruise never became a pal – professionally distant, I didn’t fool myself into thinking I had friends at the movies. But he must have been worried for a while. Once, he sent a Plexiglas stand-up on which were inscribed the essential maxims of Scientology. My son kept it as one of his pop cultural artifacts, along with a Charles Bukowski poster and a Stooges album he found in the pile. At one point Cruise even invited my wife Judi and me to a big banquet at the Celebrity Scientology Center.

We went. It was weird, especially because we were sitting at a table with a couple of creative talent agents and the top brass of Primordial Photos, which did not look comfortable. In fact, a certain Paramount officer sitting to my left was so agitated that Judi and I quietly agreed to leave halfway through the proceedings. “This guy makes me nervous,” she said.

When we slipped away, the valet gave me a shock. “I’m sorry you had to leave early,” he said. “We have all read your article.”

Cruise sent a note, saying he, too, was sorry we couldn’t stay, but he hoped we’d have a chance to talk someday.

But we never did. My Tom Cruise moment was over.


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