As Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes reached an unexpectedly swift divorce settlement last week, Donal Lynch wonders when the facade fell for the unlikely Hollywood pair.
It was, quite frankly, the divorce the world had longed for. It's been five uncomfortable years since those ‘Free Katie' T-shirts made the rounds and, with each passing month, the unthinkable possibility that we had been wrong all along about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes seemed more and more real.
Maybe, we pondered, he wasn't a mind-controlling alien who had abducted that button-nosed girl from Dawson's Creek after all. Maybe, despite looking ever more haunted and tense, she actually liked being a Scientologist.
Maybe they would reach their silver wedding anniversary and teach us not to be so cynical. TomKat had always been a whole other level of romantic fishiness. Their very two-syllable moniker seemed suggestive of some sort of corporate conglomerate — a contrived union designed to create a visage of normality while producing box office synergy.
And so it followed: if Mr and Mrs Cruise were really a couple in love, it would conclusively prove that we, as a species, knew nothing about anything.
So when it was announced last week they were calling it quits, the relief was palpable. Sure, People magazine might have found it “shocking” but there was plenty of gleeful schadenfreude in much of the world's press. US Weekly said Holmes was trapped inside a “horror movie” which they compared to the film Rosemary's Baby.
Even Rupert Murdoch felt emboldened to chime in. When the head of News International is able to get away with calling something “creepy” and “maybe even evil” with “big, big money involved” — and nobody mentions the whole pot-kettle angle — you know for certain the knives are out.
The “cult” to which Murdoch was referring is, of course, Scientology. In the absence of any official details — Cruise's representative made a terse statement pleading for privacy — speculation was rife that Holmes had instigated the split in order to “save” their six-year-old daughter, Suri, from the controversial religion.
According to reports in a variety of American and British newspapers, Cruise was planning to send Suri away to a Scientology organisation called Sea Org. Initially created at sea, the body has been described as a “boot camp” and has been criticised by several former Scientologists, including Oscar-winning screenplay writer (for Million Dollar Baby) Paul Haggis.
Last year in an article in The New Yorker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright compared the activities of the group to forced child labour.
Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Sea Org member — now dubbed “Scientology's heretic” — told The New York Daily News that Suri was at an age where “private tutoring” and “casual” indoctrination could set the scene for a move to Sea Org's base in Hemet, California.
“The whole purpose for being a tutor to the kids is not education, it's to get them to be full-blown zealots at an early age. The thought process is to turn them into zealots.”
According to the official Scientology website, Sea Org members undertake “a one billion year pledge to symbolise their eternal commitment to the religion and [it] is still signed by all members today.” It's thought that Holmes filed for divorce in New York rather than California because the family law courts in the former state do not like giving joint custody to warring parents.
In a statement issued recently through its lawyer, The Church of Scientology said that no one under 16 was permitted to join its Sea Org.
Perhaps because she once played Jackie Kennedy, Holmes has more or less constantly been compared to a “good” political wife. And like divorcing political spouses, the size of her pound of flesh was an immediate subject of discussion. What would she get? Would the pre-nup be honoured? Can they put a price on her soul? Holmes was already independently wealthy when she met Cruise, but she ‘only’ earned about $5m last year, whereas he made many multiples of that.
According to reports, for each year the couple stayed married, the Dawson's Creek star was going to be entitled to $3m, up to a maximum of $33m, as well as the couple's mansion in California. If they had managed to stay together for 11 years she would have been entitled to half of his $275m fortune.
However, the episode took another unexpected turn earlier this week when it was announced that the couple had agreed a settlement — less than a fortnight after news of the split went public, with Holmes's attorney stating: “The case has been settled and the agreement has been signed. We are thrilled for Katie and her family and are excited to watch as she embarks on the next chapter of her life.”
Likewise, Cruise's lawyer also said: “All the lawyers and the parties are happy that it's done, the deal was closed and we wish everyone well.”
While no precise details of the settlement were revealed, the couple said in a separate statement that they were focused on protecting their daughter: “We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri's best interests. We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents.”
Meanwhile, earlier it had been noted that Cruise was “saddened” that the 33-year-old Holmes had instigated the divorce. Indeed, her move to dissolve the marriage was all the more remarkable given Holmes's apparent back-seat role in the union. As a teenager, growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Top Gun got her heart fluttering. “I used to think I was going to marry Tom Cruise,” she once gushed to Seventeen magazine.
Holmes, who was baptised a Catholic, attended the exclusive Notre Dame Academy in Ohio and thanks to strong exam results was accepted to the prestigious Columbia University.
But acting and modelling soon intervened. The winsome teenager was taken to New York for a talent competition in 1996 and soon after was signed to an agent and won her first, small role in Ang Lee's rapturously received film, The Ice Storm.
In 1997 she turned down the lead role in the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer because, she said, she had a prior commitment to act in her school play. This was but a blip on the way to stardom, however.
When her mother filmed her audition for the role of Joey, Dawson's tomboy friend in Dawson's Creek, studio bigwigs were awestruck. The producer of the programme, Kevin Williamson, said of her that she, “has that combination of talent, beauty and skill that makes Hollywood come calling. But that's just the beginning. To meet her is to fall
instantly under her spell. She had those eyes, those eyes stained with loneliness.” She was soon a bona fide teen idol. The editor of Rolling Stone confessed he put her on the cover because “every time you mention Dawson's Creek you tend to get a lot of dolphin-like shrieks from teenage girls”.
Holmes fed the frenzy by alluding to the fact that Joey was a dramatised version of herself and a surrogate best friend. “I was able to psychoanalyse all of [my life] every day with her and I wouldn't have to do it on my own. So much of me is in Joey and I really feel like I grew up on television.”
Part of that growing up was romantic union with her teen idol. By the time Holmes was riding high on the TV schedules, Cruise had already been married twice — the first time to Mimi Rogers, who was credited with getting him into Scientology. Cruise soon became the religion's most high-profile proselytiser.
It was never clear if his subsequent wife, Nicole Kidman, who he met on the set of their film Days Of Thunder, converted to the religion herself, but the couple adopted two children, Connor and Isabella, who were raised in Scientology.
After the marriage to Kidman ended, Cruise became involved with his Vanilla Sky co-star Penelope Cruz but rumours about his sexuality continued to dog him. In May 2001, he sued a gay porn star, Kyle Bradford (aka Chad Slater), who claimed in a magazine interview that Cruise was gay.
He also settled a lawsuit against Michael Davis, publisher of Bold magazine, who had wrongly alleged he had video proof that Cruise was gay.
So, by 2005, Holmes had grown up to the point that she was ready to fulfil her destiny of marrying her girlhood crush, and Cruise had a welter of nasty publicity to put to bed. In April of that year, they first stepped out as a couple.
At the time critics slyly noted that they both had films to promote — Batman Begins for her and War Of The Worlds for him. Observers also noted what the pair stood to gain from each other: Holmes's youthful innocence and sunny, Midwestern charm seemed the perfect antidote to Cruise's tightly controlled image. For her, it could have been a simple career move.
Perhaps for all these reasons, the new power couple invoked nothing so much as scepticism. They were too perfect, their love too stilted. And when the Bambi-eyed beauty swapped her wholesome style for severe bug-eye shades and a haughty demeanour, it was easy to blame her Scientology-obsessed boyfriend.
Washington Post columnist Amy Argetsinger likened the couple to “a strategic consolidation ... like a late- Nineties tech company”. Of the Top Gun star she wrote: “The more Cruise told us how happy they were, how rich-and-satisfied-yet-totally-normal they were, the more he invited us to draw our own conclusions.”
So deeply ingrained was incredulity about the couple that, much to the chagrin of the film's makers, Cruise's publicity tour for War Of The Worlds turned into a promotional campaign for his new relationship.
Most infamous was, of course, his turn on Oprah's couch. “The boy is gone,” Winfrey joked as the then 43-year-old actor jumped up and down like a lovesick schoolboy. “I'm in love. I'm in love.” Cruise yelled, throwing his hands in the air. “I can't be cool, I can't be laid back, it's something that has happened and I feel I have to celebrate it. I want to celebrate her. She's a very special woman.”
And yet Cruise's cries of love seemed only to amplify gossip about his relationship. A poll for People found that 62% of Americans thought that the romance was a publicity stunt. A cover story for Star asked, “Are they faking it?” Even The New York Times murmured about their bona fides with an article entitled I Love You With All My Hype.
It was also around this time that Cruise began to alienate the cinema-going public with his pronouncements on Scientology, medication and depression. In an Access Hollywood interview, the star said the actress Brooke Shields should have used vitamins rather than prescription anti-depressants to treat post-partum depression, which she discussed in her memoir, Down Came The Rain.
Even more embarrassing was the so-called ‘indoctrination video', — a film intended only for ‘internal' Scientology use but acquired and hosted by Gawker — in which Cruise waffled about his faith, revealing himself to be not quite the smartest Thetan on the spaceship.
“When you're a Scientologist and you drive by an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you're the only one who can really help,” he said, fixing the camera with that signature mega-sincere stare.
Cruise also featured in another PR disaster for the church when an episode of South Park, entitled Trapped in The Closet, aired. In the episode, a character called Tom hides in Stan's closet and refuses to come out. Cruise was understood to be incensed. More damaging, however, was the programme's animated ‘Xenu' — an alien aboard a spaceship, with the caption ‘This is what Scientologists actually believe'. Cruise had quickly turned from a poster boy into something of a liability for the religion. By August 2006, a USA Today/Gallup poll said that half of those surveyed had an unfavourable opinion of Cruise, and Paramount announced the end of its 14-year association with the actor, with the chairman of Viacom — Paramount's parent company — citing the actor's controversial views.
Holmes, meanwhile, converted to Scientology and was treated by the press much like a glamorous hostage who was suffering an attack of Stockholm Syndrome. Her celebrity grew but her movie career stalled. When they met she was known primarily for her role on Dawson's Creek and her turn in Batman Begins. But since then, her only real notable role has been as Jackie Kennedy in the controversial miniseries The Kennedys, for which she received mixed reviews.
There was some career payoff to the union with Cruise, however. She soon appeared in advertisements from everything from Garnier to the Gap.
The romance progressed and in April 2006 Holmes gave birth to Suri Cruise, who was Tom's third child after Connor and Isabella, his two children with Nicole Kidman. “The moment I looked into her eyes I felt like ... mom,” Holmes told People. “She's the miracle of our life.”
In November of that same year, Cruise and Holmes exchanged vows in front of 150 guests at the spectacular Odescalshi Castle in Lake Bracciano, Italy. The wedding was attended by Victoria Beckham, Will Smith and Jim Carrey, among others. Soon after the nuptials, the then-27-year-old starlet told W she had found the man of her dreams.
During the same interview she showed her sense of humour, performing her own version of the ‘couch jump', screaming “He's my man. He's my man,” before more seriously telling the interviewer that she and Cruise would “always be in our honeymoon phase”.
And over the following five years, the couple mostly presented a united front. While they were almost never out of the tabloids, they appeared together at premieres, held hands leaving restaurants and generally amped down the irritating lovebird rhetoric.
Behind the scenes, however, cracks were forming. They were said to live in separate areas of their sprawling LA apartment. The recent W photo shoot, which showed Cruise draped around two beautiful blonde women, was said to have been the breaking point for Holmes.
Her lawyer father, Martin, counselled her on divorce options. When news of the split was announced, Holmes' parents were reported to be “glad to have her back”.
She was pictured in New York last week in her first public appearance since the announcement. In contrast to the strain apparent on her face in recent months, she cut a relaxed figure as she made her way to film a guest spot for the show Project Runway: All Stars In New York.
Her radiant and impish smile for the cameras recalled the famous picture of Nicole Kidman leaping with joy after her own divorce from Cruise in 2001. Holmes wore natural make-up and her hair in a ponytail, her wedding ring conspicuously absent. She made a point of holding up her left hand for the cameras to see. It was reported this week that she has claimed the marriage was “irretrievably broken” for the last six months. The website TMZ said that Cruise had “no idea” the divorce was imminent, and was “blindsided”.
Neighbours of the actress in New York called the police a fortnight ago amid fears she was being followed. Police in the city were first alerted to unidentified men who waited outside her building but they were unable to take any action since the Dawson's Creek star did not call the cops herself. Later, the men, who were reported to be armed, were pictured in a white Cadillac taking pictures of the building and questioning people outside the building. Many reports have speculated that the men, who cover their mouth when they speak, are from the Church of Scientology.
Meanwhile, Tom Cruise was 2,600 miles away, in Iceland, filming his new sci-fi thriller Oblivion. Earlier this month, Cruise turned 50 and looked cool and calm as he departed in a small plane from an airport in Reykjavik, where he had enjoyed Father’s Day with Suri just two weeks before.
Meanwhile, the fashion skirmishes pre-empted the anticipated legal drama: ‘Team Tom' and ‘Team Katie' T-shirts had swiftly gone on sale online. It seems unlikely that many members of the public are actually on ‘Team Tom', but it's the egalitarian thought that counts.