Monday, June 20, 2005

Everybody's talking....

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... about Tom Cruise and what's up with him lately. Those outside "the biz" are asking me, "What's the real story?" Those of us inside "the biz" are saying to each other, "Okay, we knew he was weird, but how did we totally overlook 'crazy?'" The answer to the latter question, of course, is that trying to pinpoint specific "crazy" in this town -- in this business -- is like trying to find one particular leaf of seaweed in the kelp beds off Monterey. (For the unititiated, that's whole lotta kelp, my friends.)

So, what's with Cruise? And what do we think of it. Since I truly have no personal knowledge or experience with Tom Cruise, everything I say is based solely on my observations of the business at large, and what I see it do to people. As I said in the comment section of my previous post, my personal opinion is that he's just simply been famous too long. This was corroborated this weekend, when I was hanging out with my dad, the retired screenwriter. He brought up the undeniable point that fame creates two things that stunt someone's growth.

First, the need to protect yourself and any semblance of private life kind of forces you into this hermetically sealed world. Sure, you can travel, you can play tennis and ski, you can go to the grocery store if you want (but if you didn't have to, why would you want to, is all I'm asking?). It's like floating around on the ocean, sealed in a ziploc baggie. You can see the water, you can see the weather, but because you are not actually in the water or in the atmosphere, you are in an environment all it's own. It's lonely in a very real way. You will never know who likes you for you, and who truly has your best interests at heart, apart from what your best interest can do for them. Just thinking about it has driven a lot of stars a bit bonkers (Gene Tierney and Vivien Leigh come to mind). So most movies stars -- Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, and many others -- choose simply to ignore it all and pretend they're living a normal life. So, in one respect, being famous makes life harder and less manageable, in a "big picture" kind of way.

The second aspect to fame that makes it hard for people to grow, actually is the opposite of the first. Little things in life -- day-to-day mundanities like bills, and housecleaning, and laundry, and car buying and shoe shopping for the kids -- become easier, because you have someone else handling them out of necessity. In addition, everywhere you go, people are trying to be nice to you, trying to make you happy, trying to appease you. No one says "no." No one says, "Me, first." It's "Yes, Mr. Cruise." And "No problem, Mr. Cruise." And "We'll see to that for you, Mr. Cruise." No one ever says, "Excuse me, Mr. Cruise, but I believe I was standing in line before you were." Or "Pardon me, but I believe that last knish is mine, Mr. Cruise."

If author Robert Fulghum is right, and all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten, then famous people are the only ones entirely exempt from those unspoken rules. They don't have to share well with others. They don't have to put things back where they found them. They don't have to play fair. They get to hit people with impunity.

The trouble is that conflict, obstacles, dispute and resolution -- these are the things that mature us, that teach us, that mold and shape us. Without these things, we stay as children. We speak as children, we play as children, we refuse to put away childish things. It is difficulty, hardship and contention that teach us the most important things about ourselves.

Robbed of that opportunity, without the depth and sensitivity to seek it out, celebrities can end up being frozen in emotional stasis. Some celebrities do have the character to fight it, by surrounding themselves with the "before people" -- the people who knew you when you were nobody, and consequently will tell you to your face that you're a nitwit. Oprah Winfrey has Gayle King. Stephen King has his wife Tabitha, who, according to his book, On Writing, is one of the few people these days he can trust to tell him when his writing is less than incandescent. Meryl Streep lives in a tiny little New England community that doesn't give a crap how many Oscars she's won, as long as she drives the carpool once a week and keeps her lawn mowed. The list goes on -- Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, Ron Howard, Sandra Bullock -- people who make it a point to live some place where they are surrounded by people who will make it a point to say "no." People who knew you when you had to put your shit away and share the red crayon and you got benched for hitting, so they're not so impressed with your ass. Because those few know that "no" is good for you from time to time. It keeps you human.

But -- and here's the news flash, folks -- most celebrities, regardless of their talent in front of cameras or onstage, are fairly shallow, self-involved people. They're not very interesting. They're not very good with "people skills." And they're kind of... dare I say it?... boring. And this is their worst fear -- that deep down, below the superficial glitz and glitter, lies nothing more than another layer of glitz and glitter. And I think this is Tom Cruise's problem. He's a smart, charming guy, surrounded by people who do nothing all day long but say, "Yes, Tom," and "No problem, Mr. Cruise." He isn't challenged, he isn't confronted, he has no need to learn how to be a diplomat or a mensch. It's not in his list of learned attributes. Consequently, he has no way to triangulate with normal behavior anymore, so he's out there, sailing around on choppy waters, with no idea of where he is or where he's going. He has lost vision and focus, and now he's just kind of this oddball guy who thinks he's somebody. No, Tom... Mahatma Gandhi was somebody. Winston Churchill was somebody. The Dalai Lama is somebody. You're just a guy who pretends to be other people for a living, and if you would simply open your eyes and see the world the way it is for most people, you'd know that. Which brings us to the last, most important thing that Robert Fulghum ever learned in kindgarten.

"... Remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you ever learned -- the biggest word of all -- LOOK."



  1. I think you're right.

  2. This is far and above the best essay I have read on the disease of uber-celebrity (and a mighty gracious one, if you ask me). What you write of is precisely the reason I removed myself from the industry - I loved the art, but I didn't have the stomach or the thick skin required to deal with the behavior (and why I may be one of the few that refuses to lawd the so called hilarity of the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - big whoop, a show about yet another industry person behaving badly, quel surprise) - yes there are a SMALL handful who, regardless of status, remain gracious to all, and capable of hearing the word "no" without imploding (Nicole Kidman being one of them) - but then there are those that are no longer capable of even lighting their own cigarette - that's for the assistant. I was at a function over the weekend honoring the college graduation of a couple industry types that, despite their success, decided to go back to school and get a degree. One had less status than the other, and when politely asking a certain uber-producer if he could move back a little so she could take a photo of some family members, he neither responded, nor moved. He simply ignored her dismissively, sipped his drink, making the entire group adjust to accomodate his rudeness. (Nor despite his millions could he apparently afford to dress in anything more appropriate for the occasion than ripped jeans and a dirty tee-shirt with a sport coat thrown over the top). I've been in line at Whole Foods where one simply started yelling at cashiers to open a new lane, and then proceed to cut in front of a senior citizen. Since I don't care, I said, "Wow, so it's your world and we just live in it, huh?" He had no idea what I was talking about. I said, "Unless you're rushing out of here to save someone's life or deliver a baby, get in line like everyone else." He turned to another person in the line and said, "She's crazy." Perhaps, perhaps.

  3. frstlymil -- I walked away from any stab at the biz because I knew that I couldn't handle it. It would have been worse for me mentally if I'd actually had any real success, I think. It takes a more level head than mine to traverse the course of celebrity undamaged. I've always hated Larry David, personally. I can't believe that Kramer -- that sweet, idiotic lunkhead -- was actually based on him.

    About Nicole Kidman -- there are rumors that as Tom got more and more into trying to push the kids toward Scientology, she became more and more resistant (she's not a Scientologist and never has been). Maybe the result of saying "no" to Tom Cruise is the bum's rush out the door. She's had the last laugh,though, God bless her.

    And as to the celebrity's diagnosis of your mental state... I think we all know the truth about that, now, don't we?



  4. Wow...great, great post. Very insightful. I read on CNN this morning something about how Steven Spielberg was complaining how the media treated Tom Cruise in his odd behavior on Oprah's show...and it made me wonder a lot of the same points that you just brought up. I was decidedly odd behavior--didn't seem very genuine (at least as reported...I didn't see the show)--and the media caught on to it. And now Spielberg is complaining that Cruise isn't being given his usual "yes Mr. Cruise" treatment. It is quite an insular world, isn't it?

    And has anyone else noticed that in whichever picture is shown of Katie and Tom together, at least one (if not both) of them is looking at the camera, even while kissing? No wonder most people think this is a publicity stunt.


  5. Tracey, I saw the Oprah show (okay... I DVR it every damned day -- SO SUE ME! I love her!), and I agree with you about his level of sincerity. I think the first time he jumped up on the couch, then did the slamdunk thingie, it seemed kind of impetuous and cute. After about Time No. 6, I think even Oprah was feeling it was a little strained and uncomfortable. There was also a moment toward the end, where he went backstage to the green room and almost literally dragged her onstage. He wasn't violent or anything... just determined, and seemingly oblivious to her blatant discomfort with the whole thing.

    No doubt about it -- and I think Mil will back me up on this -- this is a cynical, cynical town that scoffs at real emotion. I'm thinking in particularly of Sally Fields' "you like me... you really like me.... " acceptance speech that took such a scewering in the press. Sure, it was overwrought, but it was also clearly genuine and heartfelt. And though the press lambasted her, most people who saw the speech live were actually quite moved by it. (Not that they'd admit it now, of course...)

    Not so much in this case, though, I fear.... It was beyond overwrought and well into over-the-top. Also, I still think that it might have died down rapidly on its own, had Cruise not turned his rancor and bitterness on Brooke Shields, who is currently under consideration for living sainthood after coming out about all her post-partum issues. Hell hath no fury like a bunch of women who think someone with a penis is telling them what to do with their bodies.

    Brooke's alright, though. She can take care of herself. She was quoted as saying to a reporter, "I don't take seriously anything said by someone who worships aliens."

    BAH-hahahahahahaha! Don't you just want to take her to lunch?


  6. Not to parrot everyone else (you want conflict? I'll give you conflict!) but this was very well-written and interesting.

  7. Them's fightin' words, missy....

    Oh, wait... you said something nice...

    Never mind.

    Thanks, KtP.


  8. Facinating. Perhaps that is why the famous people we love and relate to the most are those that had to pay the bills, that cried on the floor for a man, that had shitty Ms. Oprah. People like Tom Cruise are interesting the way the cat with two heads is interesting. Can't wait to see how his story (With Katie Holms)ends. Any religion that tells you it is okay to go through wives and leave children and heartache in your wake, is not of the "holy" variety.

  9. Gosh! Sure am glad I'm not the only one that thinks that dude is cracked...

    Great explanation by the way.

    Oh!...and I DVR Oprah daily too (much to my hubby's disgust) but because God was smiling down on me that day I accidently deleted that show without watching it. I didn't find out about the whole couch jumping fiasco until later.

  10. Omg! Brooke Shields is my new favorite actress! lol!!!!! I had heard about TC dissing Brooke around the same time that I heard about the couch jumping incident, and felt really, REALLY bad for her. Kind of pizzed me off too, he being a man having NO FREAKING CLUE what it's like to watch a friend suffer through it (undiagnosed, unfortunately, until much later) for over two years.

    But damn..."someone who worships aliens" bwahahahahah! You GO Brooke!

    I don't know if celebrities realize that at least a few of us out there vote with our pocketbooks when it comes to our distaste for their behavior. I will personally never give another dime to celebrities like Jennifer Lopez (who allegedly got a maid fired once for "not addressing her properly") or Tom Cruise and his ridiculous, mysogynistic, alien-worshiping (lol), FAKE self. Now if I could only figure out the horrible celebs in Millicent's comments, there would be two more people added to that list. lol

    And Oprah is cool...I just never got into her show.

  11. You guys crack me up! I'd stay and chat, but I'm off to watch Oprah on the DVR!

    A big XOXO to you all!


  12. I found your site through TOK. I adore her in a very big way. I spent most of the weekend reading your archives and other sites. It's wonderful...just simply wonderful! I'll be back!

  13. My grandpa said on the subject of stardom and fame: "they all pull their britches on the same way." Words I believe and live by - good for me and good for them! :)

    Happy Solstice!



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