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Celebrity and Its Discontents

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Howard Stern and girlfriend Beth Ostrovsky greeted Tom and Katie, then sashayed down the red carpet. “I can’t believe the girl is 26 years old and still a virgin, but I do believe her,” said Stern. “On my show, I’d ask, ‘What does that mean, “to hold out”? Everything but? What exactly?’ ”

“Honey!” said Ostrovsky. “She was very nice to you about two minutes ago.”

“Am I being mean?” asked Stern. “I’m just curious. What if they get in bed and—who knows?—he doesn’t like her backside. There could be all kinds of problems. Then there’s the whole religion thing. Oh, I don’t know where to end. There’s all kinds of weird stuff going on there, jumping up and down on the couch on Oprah. I’m excited when I’m with a woman, but I don’t jump up and down on a couch—”

The Cruise did not hear any of this. He glided right past it. He was involved, steady, focused, making his way toward the theater as he took on questions about when he will get married, or if he feels competitive with Holmes—“I don’t have rivalries,” he said, “especially not with my love”—and how it feels to have Katie near him (“It’s very exciting”). Will he do Broadway? “If I can find the right thing,” he said. “I don’t know of any piece of theater I’d like to be doing, but I like dancing. I like dancing.”

Now Cruise was at the door. He turned around one more time, looking back over all he saw, all these hundreds of people swarming toward him in midtown Manhattan, the whole world watching, everyone interested expressly in the Cruise. From inside the bubble, he waved, like the good witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, there’s another Tom Cruise—a couple of them, actually. The good Tom Cruise has some questionable twins. There’s the one who goes home and does God knows what with God knows whom—the real Tom Cruise. Then there’s the one who haunts certain blogs and numerous conversations. Who among us would believe any of this preposterous stuff, but there it is, wherever you look on the Internet. Did Tom Cruise ask Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, and Kate Bosworth to be his girlfriend before picking Holmes, who was in fact his fifth-choice girlfriend? Ridiculous. Did he promise Holmes a five-year contract, worth $10 million with no conjugal duties, to play his wife? Who makes this stuff up? Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 has even gone on record denying that Cruise was caught in Thomas’s bed by Thomas’s wife. (“If I was gay, Tom Cruise wouldn’t be on the top of my list,” he said. “It would be Brad Pitt.”) Word-of-mouth stories are even less believable, more like Eyes Wide Shut than anything that would happen to a megastar in the prime of his career. I bumped into a friend in the West Village last week who told me the most outlandish story of all: One time on Universal president Ron Meyer’s boat, Cruise put a mask on, the same mask from Mission: Impossible, and wouldn’t take it off. They docked and went to a nightclub. Cruise went to the bathroom. He met a guy. The guy wasn’t interested. He ripped off the mask and declared, “But I’m Tom Cruise!” The only response to this kind of lunacy is “And I’m Marie Antoinette!” Cruise is a figure of fantasy, stalking our dream lives, as surely as the paparazzi stalk him.

Except that many of us don’t believe it’s our dream life. Everybody thinks that they know what celebrities really do. They do it with gerbils, and with women not their wives, and under the influence of cocaine, and in bathrooms with people of the same sex. (Part of what’s so satisfying about Paris Hilton is that, before she turned into Ivana Trump, every single atom of her being told you her real life was every bit as lurid as any figment of the gossip imagination.) People tell you things, and they have such a ring of truth to them: “I worked with a male movie star who, when he became a male movie star of stature, would actively work the casting couch—not only proclaim the size of his penis, which was gargantuan, but willingly say servicing it was part of the program,” says a former agent. “Some women would run screaming from the room. Some would stay and become part of the movie. And I was his agent. I was his agent.”

When one makes about $80 million a picture, like Cruise does, one can pay for whatever handlers one wishes, and these handlers will become your friends, family, and confidants. (Just make sure they don’t have cousins at In Touch!) L.A.’s population is exploding, and I’m not sure that it’s not because people today are compelled to relocate to places where they could possibly work for, with, or near a celebrity. These days, a life as Julia Roberts’s assistant is not a lost life, but a life blessed, transmogrified, made shiny by her presence. To be in the entourage of such a star, either as landscaper, organic-food preparer, or second assistant, is to be made whole.


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