If there’s suddenly a litmus test for insanity to be administered by the owners of Hollywood movie studios, then start with the executive suites. That’s my reaction to the are-you-shitting-me pronouncement by Viacom Inc. chairman Sumner Redstone today that his Paramount Pictures is terminating its 14-year relationship with Tom “Crazy” Cruise’s production company because the actor’s controversial and erratic off-screen behavior hurt the theatrical grosses of “Mission Impossible 3. Of course, the studio’s publicity department worked overtime all summer to dispel just that notion whenever entertainment business reporters questioned whether Cruise’s loony tunes might affect his appeal. “As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal,” Mr. Redstone said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.”
Granted Redstone was on a Rocky Mountain high, making his remarks in the thin air of Aspen Summit 2006 where his company was presenting before the digital world. And, granted, the octogenarian was seen wandering dazed and confused into the kitchen of The Grill in Beverly Hills not long ago. But, for the moment, I’ll assume he had all his mental faculties intact when he made his statement to the Journal. So, if I were a Viacom shareholder, I’d be asking Ol’ Sumner right now: Are you nuts? Fine, don’t do business anymore with the freakish dwarf actor who’ll never own an Oscar unless he buys one at auction and who gets an exorbitant amount for each movie. But why the fuck are you setting up his legal piranha (Bert Fields, who’s never lost a case) for what could well be the biggest lawsuit ever to hit Hollywood? (UPDATE: Bert’s saying he won’t sue.)
Already Cruise’s producing partner Paula Wagner called Redstone’s remarks “outrageous and disrespectful” and disputed his account of what happened during the negotiations to renew their studio pact. Not only did she claim Cruise / Wagner Productions terminated their talks with Paramount earlier in the week, but she said the time had come for Cruise and her to strike out on their own with an independent production deal financed to the tune of $100 million by two hedge funds. This might even be true. Meanwhile, everyone inside Paramount was diving for cover after Redstone’s remarks hit the wires, referring reporters to Viacom’s mealy mouthpiece Carl Folta. Studio chief Brad Grey, always the most politic mogul as well as the smallest, is now a eunuch, too, because his geriatric jerk of a boss cut off his balls to cut down Tom Terrible.
C’mon, fire the grinning actor idiot because he’s lost his box office appeal, or because his first dollar gross is so disgustingly huge that no studio has a prayer any more of making money on his motion pictures, or because of any other business reason. And fire him in the usual Hollywood way: with a bland-but-dignified press release about how much these 14 years have meant to both parties, ad nauseum. But, jeez, don’t fire him with this lame stuff that Sumner didn’t like the way Tiny Tom behaved. If that’s true, then no Hollywood studio can ever hire anyone. Drugs, sex, harrassment, mendacity, fraud: Paramount like most major studios has a rich history of horrible behavior by its work-for-hires. I could reel off for you 10 people now with rich studio deals, some at Paramount, who should be in jail or rehab or the Funny Farm but instead are well-paid miscreants.
Far be it from me to judge whether Cruise belongs in a straitjacket or not, or whether Scientology is a cult or a religion, or whether he’s gay or not, or whether MI3 would have done a lot more business in theaters if another big star had been the lead. But it’s absurd for Redstone to make an issue of Cruise’s conduct like he has. My god, Sumner himself was openly shtupping one of his producer girlfriends on the lot for years, and his own son is suing him. And Redstone looked the other way when Les Moonves carried on a long adulterous affair with employee Julie Chen and then married her after dumping his wife in the process. Which are all violations of so many corporate codes of conduct that I don’t think I can count that high. And let’s not forget how the old guy’s studio is still in business with Robert Evans who not only was a hopeless cocaine addict and regular client of Heidi Fleiss’s prostitution call girl ring for years but pled the Fifth Amendment in connection with a murder rap no less. And let’s not forget that Redstone didn’t blink when Brad Grey’s name surfaced in that Anthony Pellicano (the thug P.I.) mess. So lemme get this straight: Cruise’s jumping around on Oprah’s couch is worse?
But the fact is that even Cruise’s recent moves, the ones done after he’d made Scientology the publicly avowed cause celebre of his life personally and professionally, and after he declared Katie Holmes the love of his life and knocked her up without benefit of marriage, are still top earners since 2000. Cruise did better for his studios with MI3, War of the Worlds, Collateral, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky and MI2 than almost any other star, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Adam Sandler. My best guess is only Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp and Mel Gibson did better box office.
Let’s talk about Gibson. Last week, an erroneous report swept the Internet that Disney wasn’t going to distribute Gibson’s Mayan epic Apocalypto because of his drunken anti-Semitic tirade during his Malibu arrest. The corporation’s network ABC already had stopped Mel’s production company from producing a docudrama about The Holocaust. But the truth was that Disney movie toppers Dick Cook and Oren Aviv both called Gibson’s people to reassure that no way were they cutting Mel off at the knees when he was on his knees seeking the Jewish community’s absolution. For crissakes, it’s part of Hollywood lore that Walt Disney himself was an anti-Semite who reformed.
So go ahead, Tom, sue. (Or, better yet, get the litigious Scientology attack dogs to sue first). Get Sumner for all he’s worth. Which may be a lot in monetary terms but not even a penny in human ones.