Welcome to issue seven of the Gossip Reading Club!
First, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has subscribed and read this newsletter. I’m still flabbergasted that one thousand people, and more are supporting this dog and pony show. I hope you continue to enjoy our club and please feel free to get in touch with me if you have suggestions, critiques, or just want to chat gossip. Today’s issue is one that’s been requested more than once. It's not hard to see why.
It's easy to downplay just how omnipresent the power couple of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise was when they first got together in 2005. They were everywhere and everyone had an opinion on the pair. We were hardly short of things to discuss at the time, especially when it came to the indomitable megastar Cruise's decision to double down on his public devotion towards both his fresh-faced younger third wife and the Church of Scientology. This was an age of couch-jumping, uncomfortable morning talk-show interviews, motorcycle arrivals at movie premieres, and endless conspiracies. And it all happened so quickly. They met in April 2005, got engaged in June of the same year, then their daughter was born on April 18, 2006, the first anniversary of their first date! The entire thing was a public performance, every development seemingly made available for audiences to consume.
Except for the birth of Suri Cruise. The child, who was born into the unenviable position of being one of the most famous kids on the planet, was kept out of the public eye for five months. She became a mystery to dissect, with Xenu theories a-plenty swirling around the gossip-sphere. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt was born a month after Suri and was everywhere after their parents sold their first images and helped to make millions for charity. Those photographs are still some of the most expensive celebrity images ever sold. The contrast between the two was stark, and at a time when the celebrity baby boom was at a new peak. This was also the year of the births of Jayden Federline, Kingston Rossdale, and Moses Martin, as well as Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s adoption of David Banda Ritchie. 2006 kicked off a year of the celebrity offspring industrial complex, and Suri Cruise was a jewel in its seriously dubious crown. Five months after her birth, she was unveiled to the world, and what more prestigious way to introduce Suri to her adoring public than via Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair? By contrast, doing a cover piece with People seemed positively gauche.
Jane Sarkin, the writer of the piece, was invited to stay with the clan at their 400-acre retreat in Telluride, Colorado, wherein she said she became "virtually a part of the extended Cruise family." Sarkin is there to pay witness to the rose-tinted and profile-ready perfection of the Cruise family life. She even describes the pair "taking on their latest roles—as the Ultimate Hands-On Mom and Dad." Immediately, the piece wants to put nosey readers at ease: No, there's nothing weird going on here. Just a regular mother and father doting on their baby as they're surrounded by family, including 15 members of the Holmes lot (see, she's not a prisoner, all you #FreeKatie folks!) Sarkin is hanging out with Cruise's kids from his marriage to Nicole Kidman, theorizing about the "remarkable bedtime story" she'd have to tell them, "a parable about family, privacy, and fame in an age of media overload." This is a totally normal family who is also utterly abnormal in ways that feel almost uncanny.
Sarkin waxes lyrical with her fairytale, "a story about a beautiful baby girl" and "the curious chronicle of how a three-and-a-half-month-old (now going on five months)—previously unseen by the media—became so sought after by the prying public eye that her first pictures have metamorphosed from a collection of family photos into a bona fide pop-culture event." It’s certainly a unique way to start a narrative as wholly unusual and obsessed over as the TomKat saga had become. These moments of typically mundane new parent talk – both Cruise and Holmes think Suri looks like the other, the family are all crowded together in one home – can’t be viewed in the expected manner because this is TOM CRUISE. Sarkin seems to struggle with how to quantify that while writing a piece that is intended to be demystifying and relatable. And, as we’ve seen over the past 16 years or so, demystifying Tom Cruise makes as much sense as Xenu.
Cruise has been noted frequently for his intensity, for that ever-wide smile and hearty laugh that seems to unnerve as many people as it charms. Other actors have noted the somewhat surreal experience of working with a man who is simultaneously a committed professional and a somewhat unreal individual. It always seems like he’s putting on a performance, whether it’s on a chat show, via a magazine interview, or when he’s yelling at crew members on a Mission: Impossible movie over COVID protocols. You definitely get the sense that he’s extremely full-on in the Vanity Fair piece, creating this idyllic family life in the mountains where he can golf with his future father-in-law, have a cookout over Wilson Peak, and race the kids on the motor-cross track he made. You want an ice-cream? Don't sweat because there are 39 flavours to choose from!
Of course, the focus is on Suri and refuting the rumours that surrounded her seemingly secretive birth. Nowadays, it seems utterly normal for a major celebrity to never reveal their children’s faces. Consider how hugely famous couples like Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom, and Emma Stone and Dave McCary all gave birth over the past year and revealed nothing beyond maybe an artful Instagram shot of a newborn’s foot. Some didn’t even announce the pregnancy or birth and it only became apparent through paparazzi shots. On the morning of this piece being published, Amber Heard revealed that she’d had a daughter via a surrogate, who was born three months ago, and we didn’t hear even a whisper about that. Granted, one of those couples turned the earliest stages of their courtship into a massive public performance.
And, to put it bluntly, none of those couples felt as weird as TomKat. This is no knock on Holmes, who always seemed kind of awestruck by her own life during this period. Sometimes, it was as if she was a doll that Cruise was showing off. The power balance was never even. How could it be for a Dawson’s Creek star in a relationship with one of the most famous men on the planet? So, when the couple went from being absolutely everywhere, showing it all for the cameras, to hidden in the mountains, the contrast was stark. We could talk for days about ideas of celebrity and public entitlement, and I’ve always found it super-creepy when fans feel like they’re “owed” images of a famous person’s kid (hello, British press and baby Archie Windsor) but Suri came with a lot of baggage nobody could prepare for. Scientology had never been more prominent a part of Cruise’s persona than it was during this time, mostly because he forced the issue. Cruise and Xenu became indelibly connected in the public consciousness, from talk-show gags to South Park’s infamous parody to more serious journalistic examinations of the organization’s reported practices. You simply couldn’t feign ignorance or separate artist from controversy when Cruise was out there attacking Brooke Shields for using antidepressants or calling Matt Lauer “glib”. That was a genie that nobody could put back in the bottle.
Jane Sarkin mentions Scientology once as a brief aside, then it’s never brought up again, but the spooky spectre hangs overhead in every paragraph. It makes it impossible to read this profile as a happy-go-lucky story of an in-love couple and their gorgeous new baby. Even the most optimistic reading of this piece has to feel how weirdly… off the whole endeavor is. When you see moments like this:
"The other family members observe the scene from behind Annie as she focuses her cameras. Soon, a breath-taking sunset descends on the southwest ridges of Wilson Peak, Gladstone Peak, Sunshine Peak, and volcano-coned Lizard Head, which the Cruises have climbed together. Tom's mother, an upbeat, outgoing woman from Louisville, Kentucky, moves in closer. She watches her son and daughter-in-law-to-be kiss. She sees her granddaughter Suri smile for the camera. The sun reddens the peaks in the distance. Tom's mom begins to cry. Others on the hillside start to well up, too."
Do you buy it? The lovers are so besotted with themselves and their baby that the rest of the family starts crying? It feels like an ad for a feminine hygiene product more than a casual family tale. It feels scripted, and it’s that uncanny nature that makes this profile very weird in retrospect. Hell, it was weird at the time.
Suri is the star of the show – and she is super cute here – but this is so evidently The Tom Cruise Hour. Katie Holmes spends a lot of the latter half of the piece defending Cruise and getting angry at the tabloid lies. It must have been very raw for her to see a lot of the more conspiratorial stuff about her own kid. With the Cruise stuff, however, the defences feel a touch strained. He was the one causing the lion's share of the press tensions. Nobody did more to torpedo Tom Cruise's public image than Tom Cruise.
In October 2012, Vanity Fair put a stock image of Holmes on the cover with the headline "What Katie Didn't Know." Only three months earlier, Holmes had shocked everyone by filing for divorce from Cruise, a development that turned all preconceptions about poor trapped Katie on their head. It's a classic juicy report into something that will never be 100% confirmed to the masses, but the fact that Vanity Fair even did it –then put it on the front cover – is a surprise. Doing so basically killed any chances they had of ever working with Tom Cruise again, a man who had been their cover star on more than one occasion. He doesn't go deep with a lot of publications these days, having eschewed any form of relatability for an untouchable mega-human persona, but now he's definitely not going to return to VF, even if they promised a profile as fawning as the Suri reveal. The magazine and then-editor Graydon Carter must have known that this would be the inevitable consequence of going with the Holmes piece, but they went for it anyway. Was the story just too big to ignore?
Tom Cruise remains an invincible figure of sorts. While his allegiance to Scientology and implicit support of its extensively detailed abuses dented his image, he’s still a megastar. His films make lots of money, his international audiences have stuck by him, and he’s one of the few A-List mainstays of the ‘90s who has the money and creative clout to basically do whatever he wants. He’s abandoned trying to be “normal” and it’s working with audiences.
Holmes, meanwhile, is basically living the life she probably would have had if she’d never married Cruise and continued her career as is. She works consistently but not in anything especially glamorous or prestigious. She’s got a pleasant Instagram presence and gives nice enough interviews. Yet I still find her deeply fascinating. She outsmarted Scientology! She kept a five-year-long relationship with an Oscar-winning actor out of the public view! She seems pretty normal! And so does Suri, who is now 15 and seemingly living a good life in New York with her mother. Every now and then, I see sporadic paparazzi shots of her being a teenage girl and I’m surprised anew by how mundane it all seems.
Suri Cruise was one of the children whose birth sparked a new kind of obsessive tabloid coverage of celebrity offspring. Blogs detailed her outfits as if she were a runway model. She was treated like a character in a soap opera, along with the other literal toddlers whose parents happened to be famous. It all became so heightened and blatantly ludicrous that writer Allie Hagan created the satirical blog Suri's Burn Book in response. As she told Anne Helen Petersen for The Hairpin way back in 2014, "Suri’s Burn Book (I hope) points out the ridiculousness of (A) celebrities dressing their toddlers in $200 shoes and (B) us knowing that Suri Cruise wears $200 shoes. Because it’s all part of this bizarre industry of crafting and selling children’s personalities." A lot of money was made in this new market, a kind of precursor to the mommy influencer sphere that permeates your Instagram feed to this day. There have been major changes to the law in the state of California since then, severely limiting paparazzi access to kids, but plenty of celebrities still wield their parenthood as a kind of branding opportunity. How many times have you seen someone shilling #sponcon with their kids by their side? I swear, we’re about five years away from a slew of tell-all memoirs written by the children of family vloggers and momfluencers.
Cruise has reportedly not seen his daughter since the divorce, with rumours swirling that Scientology views her as a “suppressive person”, meaning that their golden boy must disconnect from his own child. Every now and then, we hear brief gossip about Cruise dating co-stars like Vanessa Kirby or Hayley Atwell, but they don’t stick. Nobody seems to buy Cruise anymore as an ideal husband or even fun fling. It’s more believable to see him leap from the world’s tallest buildings than go steady with a reasonably age-appropriate woman (I’m not sure Cruise knows how old he is anymore – there’s a moment in The Mummy, a truly terrible movie, where Russell Crowe refers to him as a young man despite being one year younger than Cruise in real life? I think about that moment a lot.)
Scientology’s public image has never been more battered, thanks in large part to books like Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear and Leah Remini’s dogged pursuit of the institution that smothered her life for decades. A lot of the big names formerly associated with the Church have either left or denied ever being a part of it. Cruise is still top dog, along with the likes of John Travolta, Elisabeth Moss, and Michael Peña. Yet none of them seem as wholeheartedly defined by Scientology as Cruise. You can’t really separate the two because we’ve all seen those images of Cruise hanging out with David Miscavige and we’ve all heard the stories of Sea Org abuses and the actress Nazanin Boniadi being set up as a potential future wife for Cruise. That puts Cruise in the position of realizing that he can’t be loveable movie-star Tom Cruise anymore. Instead, he’s Invincible, more an abstract concept than a tangible human being. It’s doubtful he’ll ever do a brutally honest sit-down interview again or jump on furniture over wife number four. Instead, he’ll go off and make the kind of movies that only he can make, and people will be able to put aside all of the thetans stuff long enough to enjoy Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Tom Cruise will never leave Scientology.
Please share your thoughts on this article in the comments below, or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @Ceilidhann for a chat about books, gossip, and my panting efforts to return to regular exercise. If you like this newsletter, please share it online and recommend it to everyone who you think would enjoy some vintage gossip analysis. If you have any feedback or recommendations for future issues, please get in touch through email at email@example.com.
You can find my work on Pajiba.com as well as sites like SYFY, IGN, Uproxx, Slashfilm, RogerEbert.com, and many other places. If you like esoteric vampire pop culture, you can listen to my latest podcast Fangthology! The newest episode is on the history of the Dark Universe and I spend a lot of time ragging on Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy. This past fortnight, I wrote about whether or not The Rock actually wants to be President, 25 years of Animorphs, the work and legacy of Jackie Collins, my all-time favourite Disney movie, and the fight for Britney's reproductive freedom. Over on Uproxx, I talked about BoJack Horseman, how it dismantled the conventions of the dramedy, and how it blew apart the myth of prestige TV's Difficult Man.
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