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George Clooney Steals Action Thriller From Tom Cruise

George Tops Tom | Stevie Wonder | Gloria Jones

Clooney, Not Cruise, for Action Thriller

The word around Hollywood about Tom Cruise? It’s not so good, thanks to the relative disasters surrounding “Mission: Impossible 3.”

The third part of the “Mission” trilogy is now all about stalled with a domestic box office take of $128 million. Its total budget, I am told, was well over $200 million.

Even though Cruise was just named the No. 1 celebrity on Forbes magazine's Top 100 list for the past year, his star has nevertheless fallen and his career has taken a beating.

Click here for the Tom Cruise Celebrity Center.

Sources say that a hot studio property, an action thriller that Cruise desperately wanted to make in the coming year, has been taken away from him. For the first time ever, in fact, Cruise has not gotten first dibs on a Hollywood project. Instead, the movie will probably be offered to George Clooney if it hasn’t been already.

“There isn’t a major studio that will offer Tom Cruise a $200 million movie now,” one source told me. “There’s going to be a big reconsideration now of what he should do next.”

Many in the business feel that Cruise should just take a year off. But that seems unlikely when you factor in his Type A personality and need to be seen as often as possible.

Cited as a major factor in his career trouble: Cruise’s insistence on making an issue of his involvement in Scientology.

“People who knew him just a few years ago had no stories about Cruise pressuring them to be part of it,” says a source.

Indeed, many people I’ve spoken with who worked on Cruise’s movies from the recent past swore to me that Scientology didn’t come up for discussion. But all of that has changed in the last couple of years, and now Cruise’s carefully honed image is in jeopardy of being destroyed.

What happened? “Obviously they [Scientology] told him it was time to pay up one way or another,” says an old Cruise associate. “They definitely forced him to go public.”

Stevie's a Wonder at Songwriters Dinner

Despite the death of his beloved mother, Lula Hardaway, legendary Stevie Wonder did turn up last night in New York for the annual Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner.

It was only a few days ago in Los Angeles that Stevie eulogized his mom, who raised him on her own and helped nurture him into a superstar.

Wonder was considering not coming to New York for the Songwriters event, but changed his mind because of the honorees: Sylvia Moy and the late Henry Cosby, who wrote Wonder’s early Motown hits either by themselves or with him.

The result was a lovely and touching evening as Stevie revealed to the black-tie audience how Moy taught him to sing songs like “My Cherie Amour” and “I Was Made to Love Her.”

“At first they thought they could write out the lyrics in Braille,” said the blind singer. “But that didn’t work. So Sylvia would sing the words into my head phones from the booth, like this.” Wonder then imitated Moy quietly mouthing the songs, line by line. “And then I would sing them out.”

The trick worked for hits like “Uptight Alright” and “I’m Wondering,” establishing Stevie as a wunderkind long before he turned 20 and began churning out Grammy award winners and No. 1 hits that he wrote himself.

Stevie was so captivated in his reminiscing that he actually did sing Moy and the late Cosby’s songs in their entirety, and even threw in a cold version of “Uptight,” singing just from the podium mike.

It was classic Wonder. But he also talked to me about losing his mother, who authorized an autobiography several years ago that upset Wonder to no end.

“How would you feel giving a eulogy for your mother knowing that book was out there?” Stevie asked me rhetorically at the Songwriters after party.

Because he doesn’t want to give credence to a mostly out of print book, I’m not giving the title here. But suffice to say, Stevie would like his mother to be remembered as a hard-working, generous, loving woman who gave everything to her children. I think he should have his way.

Other honorees last night included Mac Davis, who was genuinely shocked that he’d been inducted and played his great ballad, “In the Ghetto,” which Elvis Presley made into a hit in 1969.

I asked Mac later why he didn’t sing his own No. 1 hit from 1972, “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me.”

“It’s kind of creepy now at this age,” he said, quoting the lyrics: “Girl, you’re a hot blooded woman child.”

“It wouldn’t sound right,” he said, shaking his head. He was impressed though that 15-year-old Cheyenne Kimball attempted to perform another of his hits, “I Believe in Music.”

“She forgot some of the lyrics,” Davis told me, “but she tried hard.”

The audience at the dinner got a big surprise early in the evening when Paul Shaffer, bandleader for David Letterman, did something rare: he sang, for real.

On Letterman, Shaffer often sings novelty songs or fake themes for comedy bits. But to induct the simply incredible R&B pop songwriter Thom Bell, Shaffer sat at the piano and warbled such classics as the Stylistics’ “You Are Everything” and The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.”

Shaffer was so passionate and involved that it worked, and his tribute to Bell was one of many highlights of the night.

Bell loved it, too, although Shaffer was the first to admit later that he missed some notes while trying to execute Bell’s complex melodies.

“I’m working on it,” he told Bell, but really, no one minded, least of all the author of such other hits as “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” “La La Means I Love You,” “Betcha By Golly Wow” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time)?”

By 2 a.m., none of it mattered, as Bell sat on a couch in a 43rd-floor Marriott Marquis hotel suite modestly answering questions from fans about how he became soul music’s answer to George Gershwin while in the background, young pop star Gavin DeGraw played the piano and offered glimpses of songs he’s working for his new album.

Stevie Wonder and his daughter Aisha took pictures with party revelers, while SHOF’s Linda Moran and show music producer Phil Ramone accepted kudos for a job well done.

The SHOF is like the anti-Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, full of intimate moments and genuine emotions.

Case in point: modern pop folk singer John Mayer, who played a new song called “Stop this Train” after receiving a special award as a newish songwriter from last year’s winner Alicia Keys. His speech was so eloquent and hopeful.

“We’re conduits,” Mayer said. “Half the time we’re really, really turned on and the other we’re really, really scared.” He cited a line from a Jimi Hendrix song: “I am who I am.”

“Songwriters are crazy,” Mayer concluded. “You don’t really want them around. There should only be one per social clique.”

And by the way he told me that he wasn’t concerned about Paul Simon having a song called “Fathers and Daughters” that was similar in tone and subject to his own Grammy-winning “Daughters.”

“He actually put out that song before I wrote mine,” Mayer observed. “It was on a movie soundtrack a couple of years ago.”

Other surprises at last night’s dinner: Whoopi Goldberg inducting Peter, Paul & Mary, who performed a rousing version of “If I Had a Hammer”; Pete Yorn pulling off a convincing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Kris Kristofferson, winner of the Johnny Mercer Award, recalling that he’d been most influenced by a 1936 Mercer song, “I’m an Old Cow Hand” and by comic writer Shel Silverstein.

A glorious New York night — unforgettable for the sheer genius of its participants and their generosity of spirit!

A Soldier's Wife; EMI Pays Up

Sad to report that Gloria Jones, the popular 78-year-old widow of famed novelist James Jones (“From Here to Eternity”), died last week in the Hamptons. Gloria was a beloved hostess in Paris and New York, entertaining writers and artists in her homes at many memorable dinners. She was memorialized by her daughter, Kaylie, in the book and movie (played by Barbara Hershey) “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.” She will be sorely missed.…

EMI Music settled with the New York state attorney general yesterday on payola. The fine is $3.75 million, a far cry from the hefty fees anted up by Sony BMG, Warner and Universal Music Group. Of course, EMI has been starved for hits in the last few years. It looks like they weren’t bribing the right people or spending enough money.…

President Bush must have been pretty fatigued after his surprise trip back and forth to Iraq this week. At Wednesday morning’s press conference, he said to NBC’s David Gregory: “That’s a nice scarf, Gregory. Is that what you call it? Very bold.” Actually, it’s called a tie, but sleep deprivation will do that....