Yesterday I speculated that Hollywood force Steven Spielberg must have been apprised of Tom Cruise’s ousting from Paramount before it happened.
But last night Spielberg’s longtime flack and genial soul Marvin Levy rang me up to say it ain't so.
“Steven was totally surprised by what happened,” said Levy. “He had no forewarning at all.”
In this world of Oliver Stone-like conspiracy theories, you have to take Levy at his word. And that gives more credence to the theory that 83-year-old Viacom chief Sumner Redstone acted alone in his "assassination" of Cruise.
There were no accomplices. It’s possible that he didn’t even tell his chief lieutenants in this field, Tom Freston and Brad Grey.
If so, Redstone has created a difficult situation for Spielberg, who must live in the world of Creative Artists Agency, which in turn has no doubt by this time marshaled its troops against Paramount in not-so-subtle ways.
Cruise’s production partner, Paula Wagner, is a former CAA agent and is the wife of CAA top agent Rick Nicita, who represents Cruise.
At the same time, as long as Dreamworks — Spielberg’s studio — is part of Paramount, Spielberg forfeits any chance of having Cruise in another of his movies.
And don’t be fooled by those stories that Spielberg would never have worked with Cruise again anyway, simply because Cruise proselytized Scientology on the set of "War of the Worlds."
Spielberg is a canny businessman. Cruise proved an effective star in both "Minority Report" and "War of the Worlds," making a lot of money for Spielberg in the latter. The director most assuredly would have put him in another movie without question.
In addition, one of Cruise’s most effective movies in years was Michael Mann’s "Collateral," also a Dreamworks offering. The recently purchased mini-studio will suffer from being cut off from such a big star in the end. After all, "Shrek" isn’t getting any younger.
However the Redstone announcement came to be, I can tell you that by August 4 the people at Paramount had the sense that Cruise and Wagner were gone.
At the premiere's post-reception for "World Trade Center" that night, a Paramount rep said in an off-handed comment to me that doing business with Cruise was in the past.
At the time I thought the comment was merely an oblique reference to news that had leaked out about Cruise’s deal being renegotiated. Alas, it was not so.
In fact, to fully understand what happened to Cruise and Wagner, you simply have to go back to Claudia Eller’s July 31 piece in the Los Angeles Times.
Most, if not all, Hollywood contracts have 30-day notice periods. Cruise/Wagner’s deal expired on August 31, so I would presume that on July 31 Paramount leaked it to Eller that the party was over. They likely informed Cruise/Wagner as well their attorney, Bert Fields. It was a deadline, and the studio made it.
I told you yesterday that Paramount’s assertion that they were paying Cruise/Wagner $10 million a year was a put-up, too. My very inside source at the studio reports that it was $3 million, plus a typical discretionary fund for expenses.
In the Eller article, Wagner said: “We don't receive $10 million or $11 million a year. We do not see anything near that.”
She was correct. But as my source observed, “Paramount put out that number so people would think they [Cruise/Wagner] was getting an egregious amount.”
Anyway, it’s quite clear that on July 31— for whatever reason — the reality of the situation became known to both sides, and the relationship was over. Redstone’s ambush was certainly unexpected.
For Cruise, life will go on. If he makes a charming, "Jerry Maguire"-like romantic comedy, he’ll bounce back from all this without fail.
But will this episode be the wake-up call he needed? Will he realize how much damage he’s done to himself in the last year and a half?
As I’ve said before in many columns this year, a new generation of movie fans think of him as an out-of-control nut and eccentric who funds a religious cult. His name is a punch line for jokes on sitcoms. He went from being "cool behind Ray-Bans" to "crazy man on a couch."
Maybe Redstone did him a favor.
No, I'm not talking about Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant (who, by the way, still deserve each other). I'm talking about the great Liz Smith, who has a terrific item today on 84-year-old actor Hugh O'Brian — a matinee idol in the '60s and '70s — marrying 54-year-old literary agent Virginia Barber.
For some reason, they got married at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood. Hugh told Liz it was to save friends an extra trip in the future! Hilarious! I do hope Ginny gets a book out of it …
Pat Baird, one of the leading lights in the music biz and a staple at BMI, has died after a long battle with cancer. This breaks my heart. Pat was a publicist and journalist during her long and stellar career, and worked on acts like Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad and Isaac Hayes in the '70s.
How did you think they got all those hits? Pat helped me a lot in the late '80s when I was writing about the music business for the first time, and was always there when I needed anything — including a ticket for the Grammys, when there was a glitch in the system! This is a lady who really will be “sorely” missed ...