Tom Cruise and His Bully Pulpit
An Unauthorized Biography
By Andrew Morton
Illustrated. 344 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $25.95.
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.
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.
Among the pivotal players in this slow-starting but eventually scalding book are Stanley Kubrick, whose manipulative treatment of Mr. Cruise and his second wife, Nicole Kidman, during the marathon filming of “Eyes Wide Shut” is made to seem especially damaging here; Ms. Kidman herself, though her troubles with Mr. Cruise have been dissected by other biographers; and David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s powerful leader. Mr. Miscavige is presented as someone whose outlook and gestures Mr. Cruise has visibly appropriated and who himself shares Mr. Cruise’s gung-ho proclivities.
It is the nature of this book to depict Mr. Miscavige also as a kind of mustache-twirling villain, complete with the requisite B-movie dialogue. After Mr. Cruise agreed to visit the church’s heavily guarded Gold Base compound in the California desert in the summer of 1989, the book says, Mr. Miscavige “gleefully announced to his closest staff, ‘the most important recruit ever is in the process of being secured. His arrival will change the face of Scientology forever.’ ” Mr. Morton would be on much more solid ground had he backed that quotation with direct or even second-hand attribution.
If “Tom Cruise: The Unauthorized Biography” attracts as much flak as it does interest, the fuss will be less about blind quotations than about interpretation. The terminology and precepts of Scientology (“Teegeeack,” “Xenu,” “MEST”) can be treated as exceedingly weird. And at times the book seems to go out of its way to misunderstand them. The phrase “merchant of chaos” has been used by Mr. Cruise to excoriate his father, and Mr. Morton treats it as a sinister epithet. Maybe it is. But it is also used by the literature of Scientology to describe those who profit by promulgating disturbing thoughts. Authorities on celebrity are not immune to this accusation.