My father just died. It was a rough death, not a quick one, and as I returned for the last time to see him in Sacramento, I made a promise to myself: I would be at peace with everyone for a moment. No fighting. No arguments. Whatever anyone asked, how much I could, I would just do.
As luck would have it, the first test took place somewhere around Bakersfield. Along the way, I got a call from Maer Roshannow editor of Los Angeles Magazinethen editorial director of Tina Brown‘s Talk.
We have a problemexplained Maer. Talk planned a topic — something about business and / or professional life in America. But Tina managed to promise the cover to Tom Cruise. Maer could not see a connection. But maybe I could figure it out. The interview has already been arranged. Just be at the Bel-Air Hotel in about three days, interview Cruise, and write something, if not brilliant, at least sensible.
That’s right. No fighting. 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’ve heard of Tom Cruise. “We’ve been dealing with my father’s decline for a long time; and he knew how I felt about celebrity interviews. I didn’t like them.
But there it was. So I went to the Santa Monica Library, which was more of a repository of information than a homeless camp in those days, and studied. For the most part, I’ve read a few old, mostly empathetic books about Scientology, including what appeared to be a huge encyclopedia of Scientological expressions, beliefs, and “technology.” I figured it couldn’t hurt. In case the issue has arisen.
Which is where things got interesting.
I did meet Cruise on the Bel-Air. It was one of those bright, cool Southern California winter mornings when you can’t see why anyone would live anywhere else. Tom was charming. Of course, he smiled. But I went straight to the point.
We have a problem, I said. The next issue is about business and professional life. But we have a movie star on the cover — you. If we don’t want to look ridiculous, we both have to figure out what you, the Risky Business ulo, Jerry Maguire, la Top Gun hot shot An unattainable task (with Minority Report then on deck), can teach doctors, or lawyers, or investment bankers, or whoever Talk‘s ad-hungry publishing may have in mind.
To his eternal merit, and my eternal gratitude, Cruise did not even blink. Instead, he began an intelligent, structured conversation about his films, his career, his goals, and the principles that saw him through up and down in a slippery, treacherous industry. Having prepared at the library, I was able to follow the basic Scientology parts. For the most part, it was straightforward, genuine, and he did all the work.
God bless him.
Because it was more to the adventure. First, Talk folded before the piece was released. But Pat Kingsley, a Cruise publicist at the time, was not the one to let a magazine disappear without her cover. She somehow managed to send the whole thing to Esquirewhich published it in May under a premonitory title: “The Most Dangerous Place.”
Cruise never became a comrade — professionally distant, I was not mistaken in thinking that I had film friends. But he must have been careful for a while. Once, he sent a plexiglass stand inscribed with the essential maxims of Scientology. My son kept it as one of his pop culture artifacts, along with a poster by Charles Bukowski and an album by Stooges that he found in the crowd. Occasionally, Cruise even invited my wife Judy and me to a grand banquet at the Scientology Celebrity Center.
We went. It was weird, mostly because we were sitting at a table with a couple of Creative Artists agents and the highest brass of Most importantly Images that didn’t look comfortable. In fact, a senior officer sitting to my left was so excited that Judy and I calmly agreed to leave halfway through the proceedings. “That guy makes me nervous,” she said.
When we slipped out, the valet shocked me. “I’m sorry you have to leave early,” he said. “We’ve all read your article.”
Cruise sent a note saying that 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 is over.