... 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."