Tom Cruise Set to Play Nazi

Tom Cruise | Paula Zahn | TV Notes

Cruise Set to Play Nazi

There are bad ideas in Hollywood, and then there are bad ideas. Kevin Costner as a futuristic water avenger with gills? Terrible. Demi Moore as a stripper? Yikes. Tom Cruise as a samurai? Even worse.

But no one says no in Hollywood when a star says yes. So Cruise, unable to stop his career suicide, has picked one more impossible mission: He is set to play a Nazi who tried but failed with a group of other resistors to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944.

The character, if depicted correctly, will have a heavy German accent. He will also have lost his left eye, his right hand and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand by the time of the film's climax. He will then be murdered by Hitler.

You had me at "Auf Wiedersehen."

Cruise's desire to play this hotsie-totsie Nazi — to quote a Mel Brooks line from "The Producers" — is questionable at best. Germany, which doesn't acknowledge Scientology as a religion, gives him a tough time whenever he goes there to promote a film.

It can't be too far from Cruise's calculating mind to think that by playing a man who some Germans consider a hero, he'll win over the country.

But the family of the man he wants to play feel very much otherwise.

Relatives of Count Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg — who led the Operation Valkyrie assassination plot — recently told the Scotsman newspaper that they weren't so excited about Cruise playing someone so famous that a street is even named for him and a museum commemorates the resistors.

Cruise, many feel, has selected the material as a way of reversing his and Scientology's negative standing in the country.

"I have nothing against him [Cruise] and can even separate his work from his beliefs in Scientology," the soldier's grandson, Count Caspar Schenk von Stauffenberg, told the paper. "But I and other family members are worried that the picture will be financed by the sect and be used to get across its propaganda.

"Unfortunately the family Stauffenberg can do nothing about this," he continued. "My grandfather is a figure from history."

The Stauffenbergs are also staunch Catholics, which doesn't help matters. Cruise has renounced Catholicism for Scientology, pulling with him all the members of his family, including his mother.

"You can be Catholic and a Scientologist," Cruise told one interviewer in 2005. "We are just Scientologists."

Unlike in America, where Scientology is considered a religion, in Germany it's a different story. The country does not acknowledge what they call a "fake religion." Germans believe Scientology is on a financial, rather than spiritual, mission.

Stauffenberg joined a group of conspirators in 1944 who participated in Operation Valkyrie. They wanted to take down Hitler not because of the Holocaust or any other horror in particular, just because they felt he was destroying Germany's legacy.

According to many published reports, Stauffenberg wrote to his wife, Nina, that Poland contained "many Jews, many people of mixed blood ... who are only happy when they are dominated."

Nevertheless, Stauffenberg managed to plant a bomb in a briefcase near Hitler during a military meeting on July 20, 1944. It exploded, killing several officers. But a large oak table in the room saved Hitler.

Stauffenberg was caught and executed that night, as were 7,000 other sympathizers. Some were said to have been strangled with piano wire. Hitler had the whole thing filmed and watched it later in a screening room.

That would be the final scene in a movie neither you, nor I, want to see.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said the Church of Scientology is banned in Germany. This was incorrect. Germany simply doesn’t acknowledge Scientology as a religion.

Paula Zahn: Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

CNN's Paula Zahn, if you haven't heard, is in the middle of a messy divorce. Her wealthy husband, a Boston real-estate developer named Richard Cohen, cut her loose when he discovered her affair with another man.

Well, Paul J. Fribourg is not just your average "other guy." He is a multibillionaire. Strangely, little has been written about him over the years. And yet, Fribourg is a name worth knowing.

His company, ContiGroup, was known as Continental Grain for many decades. They are one of the international leaders in global agribusiness, controlling most pork and poultry production and cattle feeding in the world. The whole world. And they've been doing this for more than 150 years.

Indeed, the Belgian-bred Fribourgs are one of the wealthiest families in the world. Paul Fribourg, now 53, took over the company a dozen years ago from his father, Michel.

Michel Fribourg died in 2001 at age 87. In his New York Times obit, he was described as "the premier figure in world trade in food of the 20th century.''

We are not talking Donald Trump here. This is a world of money by far unknown to you and me, hence, the secrecy. Until this business with Paula Zahn, the Fribourgs were notable for never getting any publicity. But they would be a great subject for a multigenerational saga and movie.

Michel Fribourg's grandfather, Simon, started the company in Belgium in 1813. He moved it to Paris, but escaped World War II by moving again to America in 1940. Simon's son, Jules, took over and made even more money.

But it was Michel who opened up trade in 1964 with the Soviet Union. He convinced Richard Nixon to let him do more business there in 1972 and sold the Russians 10 billion tons of grain.

Nevertheless, Paul Fribourg is a huge Democratic donor, giving as much as he can — hundreds of thousands of dollars according to public records — to every Democratic candidate, including New York senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer. He also gave $37,000 to the campaign of New York's new governor, Eliot Spitzer.

In the 2006 cycle, the Fribourgs (including Paul, wife Josabeth and brother Charles) donated $81,000 to Democratic causes, including $45,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Fribourgs are also charitable, giving away about $1 million a year to various groups. And while they are wealthy beyond almost definition, it's unclear how Paul Fribourg has fared as head of the company. He advised his father to sell the grain operation to their competitor, Cargill, in 1994. According to the New York Times, his father only agreed when he was assured his employees would be safe.

When Paul Fribourg took over completely in 1996, and he immediately ramped up a division called ContiFinancial, which dealt in subprime lending on mortgages and leases.

Within two years there was trouble, and by the end of 1999 ContiFinancial — with no mention of Fribourg attached — had filed for bankruptcy. They claimed more than $1.3 billion in debt, including $700,000 to Norwest Bank of Minnesota. They wound up laying off 2,700 employees before disappearing entirely in 2001.

Fribourg now runs ContiGroup, a spin-off of the original company. He sits on the boards of Vivendi Universal, The Public Theater and Loews Corporation. He and his Moroccan-born wife, Josabeth, live in a palatial townhouse near the Guggenheim Museum with their seven children.

On the ContiGroup's Web site, Fribourg concludes his CEO's letter saying that he's excited about: "forging strong partnerships and moving ahead in promising new directions."

Will they be with Paula Zahn? The betting money says no, a divorce would come at an astronomical price. But then again stranger things have happened.

Tomorrow: A quiz! (Just kidding!)

TV Notes: Sunday Surprises

Yes, that was Dave Brubeck's jazz classic, "Take Five," playing in the background as counterpoint to Tony and Bobby's fight last night on "The Sopranos."

And then on top of it, Tony was singing The Drifters' "Under the Boardwalk." Brilliant. ...

And Margot Kidder is back, playing Sally Field's wacky friend on "Brothers & Sisters." Nice to see her. ...

Edward Mallory died over the weekend. The genial 76-year-old actor was the original star of "Days of Our Lives," the NBC soap, when creators Ted and Betty Corday knew how to write a story for good actors. He will be missed. ...

If you liked "Entourage" last night, the next two episodes are just as funny and smooth. Next week, real-life movie producer Joel Silver gets a credit for making an appearance and not saying a word of dialogue. That's why he's Joel Silver. ...