Cruise control

When a star needs taming, Paul Bloch, the celebrity whisperer, goes into action

November 20, 2005|By RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ | RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - With his wildly colorful T-shirts and gargantuan belt buckles that would make a member of World Wrestling Entertainment proud, 66-year-old Paul Bloch doesn't look like your typical celebrity publicist. But when Tom Cruise, America's favorite out-of-control movie star, announced his hiring this month, Hollywood was waiting to see whether the couch-hopping, psychiatry-bashing, Scientology-proselytizing genie could be stuffed back into the bottle.

Bloch certainly seems equipped for the job, with his four decades in the business and his ability to make big, tough male movie stars feel safe. This applies particularly to those like Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Eddie Murphy - guys who broke into the superstar ranks around the time Cruise did, although their careers are now trending downward. He prides himself on loyalty (he apparently believes that there is only one side to every problem - the side of helping his client's career) and is willing to say what the situation demands.

Consider when Murphy was stopped by police after picking up a transsexual. Bloch explained that Murphy was simply "trying to be a good Samaritan" and give a woman a ride home.

Or when a British tabloid wrote that Bloch client Lisa Marie Presley was planning to divorce then-husband Michael Jackson. "We don't know where the rumor came from," Bloch said. "They're very happily married." (They divorced not too long after.)

Or more recently, on his predecessor as Cruise's gatekeeper, Cruise's sister Lee Anne DeVette: "Lee Anne did a great job and is still very involved on the philanthropy side."

Bloch, who is rumored to be earning $12,000 a month from Cruise, has his job cut out for him: As a number of industry wags are pointing out, the real question is not can Humpty Dumpty be put together again but does Humpty Dumpty think he's broken?

Policy of containment

"The conventional wisdom is that Tom Cruise shot himself in both feet and the stomach. And he's trying to correct that," said Allan Mayer, a publicist who specializes in crisis PR. "We have yet to see any hard evidence that he's hurt himself professionally. Clearly he's more controversial and less popular, but that's a subjective judgment."

Mayer pointed out that it's equally possible that "whatever [Cruise] hoped to accomplish by speaking openly about his beliefs, he's done. He's ready to move on to another phase, more focused on his public life. If you do want to project a more professional image, Paul is a good choice."

Bloch refused to be interviewed for this story ("As strange as it sounds, I don't want publicity for myself, I want it for my clients") and he also declined to provide access to any of his clients for this story. But he did want to make it clear that "I am not the sole person working here."

He said that he met Cruise "through mutual friends." Like Pat Kingsley, the grande dame of the celebrity publicity world, whom Cruise fired last year, Bloch is an old-school publicist who practices a policy of containment and limited access.

But unlike Kingsley, whose occasionally imperious manner has intimidated journalists for years, Bloch isn't antagonistic toward the press; he is generally considered a nice guy, or at least as nice a guy as an extremely powerful celebrity publicist can be.

Proselytizing

But there is a chance this niceness might backfire with Cruise, who is known to simply ignore his press; when Kingsley wanted to make him aware of what was being said about him, she had to actually sit down with him to ensure he read it. And it was her suggestion that Cruise stop mixing Scientology promotion with movie promotion that ended their 14-year relationship.

Then DeVette took over. It was during his sister's tenure that Cruise became unhinged - at least in the eyes of the media. First he jumped on Oprah's couch, spouting his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes. Then he attacked Brooke Shields over her use of drugs to combat postpartum depression (which he claimed was a figment of her imagination), sparred with Today show host Matt Lauer over psychiatry and spent long stretches of his interview on Access Hollywood proselytizing.

During the same period, he established a Scientology tent on the set of War of the Worlds and asked journalists who wished to profile him to attend sessions on Scientology. There are those in the DreamWorks camp who felt that DeVette, also a Scientologist, was more keen on promoting the religion than the movie.

DeVette declined to return phone calls for this article, but this summer she gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times in which she professed nothing but familial approbation about how her brother was handling himself.

Bloch is not a Scientologist.

Most industry insiders expect him to do what he's done for many of his clients: Shut down access to the superstar. Seen much of Willis recently in the press? Or Murphy? Except, of course, the blip this summer when Bloch announced Murphy's divorce.

Of course, neither Murphy nor Willis is catnip to the tabloids the way Cruise has become, what with the impending birth of his child with Holmes and their possible nuptials.

And it remains to be seen if Cruise himself believes there's a problem in CruiseWorld. After all, this summer's War of the Worlds made $590 million worldwide, the most of any film of his career.

Rachel Abramowitz is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

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