Tom Cruise sold himself out yesterday.
Desperate to be able to sell his movie "Valkyrie" when it comes out on Christmas Day, Cruise made a rare appearance at Friday’s Friars Club roast of the "Today" show's Matt Lauer.
Remember: In 2006, Cruise had a bitter moment with Lauer on NBC's "Today" about Scientology and the evils of psychiatry. It happened during the promotion of "Mission Impossible 3." In that live interview, Cruise called Lauer "glib" and famously told him he knew nothing about the history of psychiatry.
Subsequently, Cruise lost his standing at Paramount Pictures and, to some extent, his career. He’s now on the hook for over $100 million with "Valkyrie," a movie in which he plays the real-life failed assassin of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. The film has caused the collapse of Cruise’s longtime business partnership with producer Paula Wagner and could end the short run of the revived United Artists, an offshoot of MGM.
At the roast — where Lauer had daily press banned from the actual lunch — Cruise delivered a slide show message to Lauer that made it seem like they were old buddies. "Believe it or not, Matt and I are friends," Cruise told the crowd that included Lauer's "Today" show co-hosts, as well as ABC's Diane Sawyer from competitor "Good Morning America."
Actually, it isn’t to be believed. Sawyer, for one, must have been surprised. She and "GMA" have had a long-standing reciprocal arrangement with Cruise in which he’s been allowed to promote anything in exchange for softball questions about his personal life and religious beliefs.
But for "Valkyrie," Cruise obviously realizes he needs the higher-rated "Today" show. A return match with Lauer would certainly be a ratings-grabber, but what remains to be seen is whether the roast appearance can help that happen. Lauer definitely would ask Cruise difficult questions in such a session, the kind that might dig "Valkyrie" a deep hole.
Meantime, insiders are starting to wonder what the nontaxable-income-producing Friars Club roasts are really all about. According to federal tax records, the Friars last year had gross receipts of a little more than $866,000 and net assets of $1.5 million. They gave away just $72,000 in charitable donations. Spokesman Richard Rubenstein did not return calls.
More interesting: They claim their restaurant and gym are tax-free as part of a separate foundation that in 2006 earned over $5 million. It’s against that fund that the mostly elderly Friars write off most of their expenses including cemetery maintenance ($7,000) and "flowers, obits, and condolences" ($21,000).
Someone had better tell Michael Jackson that his lawyers are starting up again ... even if he doesn’t know it!
Sources tell me that Thomas Mundell, who represented Jackson in a lawsuit he more or less lost to former partner Marc Schaffel, thinks there’s more life to this story.
Mundell is said to be on the verge of filing a motion for a new trial in the case that earned Schaffel $900,000 from Jackson for unreimbursed expenses.
Jackson, they say, has no idea this is going on and should be furious when he hears it. A new trial means new depositions, which also means more revelations about the singer’s life. When he was deposed the last time, this column reported rather thoroughly about Jackson’s internal chaos. The huge volumes read like a Russian novel.
Mundell writes in an e-mail: "The appeal in the Schaffel case has been pending for quite some time. We believe that based on the evidence and certain findings made by the jury and the referee, the overall net judgment should have been in favor of Mr. Jackson.
"By way of a brief example, Judge John Ouderkirk, who heard several days’ worth of testimony in the case, made an express finding that Marc Schaffel was not only responsible for fabricating documentary evidence, but that Schaffel lied under oath about it when he was caught.
"Bet you haven’t heard anything about that aspect of the case until now," the e-mail continues. "Mr. Schaffel’s appellate brief is due on December 22, 2008, and we are looking forward to seeing what his attorneys have to say."
Howard King, lawyer for Schaffel, takes a dim view of Mundell’s arguments. He responded: "Mundell made this argument at trial before the jury, after trial before the presiding judge Jacqueline Conner, in post-trial proceedings in front of the court-appointed referee, retired Judge Ouderkirk, and again in front of the presiding judge.
"Each and every time the response has been that Michael Jackson owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Marc Schaffel, and whatever peccadilloes each of them may have been accused of, they did not detract from the conclusion that money was owed," King continued. "Michael Jackson paid the judgment in full earlier this year. In the unlikely event an appellate court orders a new trial, we believe Marc will likely obtain a higher verdict against MJ than the 900k awarded by the last jury."
Otherwise Jackson remains low key in his new home in Las Vegas. There is absolutely no sign that he’s working on anything, a new album or tour. And it may be that the time has passed to re-start any career, or that anyone is particularly interested.
I told you the other day that Benny Medina wouldn’t go long without work. He just announced that he’s folding his Handprint Entertainment, and everyone wants to work with him!
Sources say that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony have asked Benny to come run their company exclusively, and devote himself to managing their recording, movie and branding careers.
But Medina has another offer apparently, from DefJam’s L.A. Reid. Medina has been asked by Reid to come over and run all the movie tie-in marketing for the DefJam artists.
It’s nice to be popular!
Another source says neither deal is done, but that the result could be a compromise where Medina does both jobs.
Why didn’t he just stick with Handprint? I’m told it was a legal move to disconnect himself from a less famous, annoying partner — sort of like Prince changing his name to a symbol to ditch the old Warner Music.
Warner Music Group’s stock dropped to an all-time low Thursday, $3.75, before finishing the day at $3.82.
Back on Aug. 11, the stock price was $8.45. That’s when CEO Lyor Cohen cashed out almost $7 million and bought himself a house in the Hamptons.
A year ago the stock price was $11.60.
On the upside, WMG sold its stake Thursday in Irving Azoff’s Front Line Management to Ticketmaster for $120 million. So now it’s completely out of the business that chief Edgar Bronfman supposedly wanted to get into. Last year he lost $30 million on Bulldog Entertainment, a luxury concert promoter.
And all this time WMG has developed few acts and had almost no hits under its Warner label. They’ve gotten by with Kid Rock and Metallica, who were with the previous company’s owners. And only their Atlantic division continues to operate as a record company.
Bronfman and Cohen have pretty much fired everyone they can and gotten rid of most of the acts. They sold Front Line. They still have interests in Frank Sinatra’s catalog and P Diddy’s moribund Bad Boy Entertainment. There may not be much more to do other than sell the office furniture. Tag sale, anyone?