A new book about the inside workings of the secretive Church of Scientology to be released in the United States next week alleges that its leader, David Miscavige, celebrated when Tom Cruise split from his first wife Nicole Kidman because he thought she was responsible for him drifting away from his teachings.
That and other claims about the ties between the Hollywood megastar and the Church appear in the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright, excerpts of which were published yesterday by The Hollywood Reporter website. The book also claims Cruise attempted to lobby former Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf the Church.
Already stirring a tumult of controversy, the book is barely charitable in its description of Scientology. Church spokesperson Karin Pouw told The Independent last night the "book and the excerpts published by The Hollywood Reporter would be better suited for supermarket tabloids because they are nothing more than a stale rehash of allegations disproven long ago." She added: "Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to lie."
In his book, Mr Wright, who is a contributor to The New Yorker, also claims a former leader of the Church who has since turned against it, Marty Rathbun, described the distaste felt towards Kidman by Mr Miscavige, who became the Church's presumed leader after its founder L Ron Hubbard died in 1986.
Apparently unhappy in the late 1990s that Cruise seemed to be losing interest in Scientology, Miscavige "blamed the actor's wife, Nicole Kidman, and viewed her as a gold-digger who was faking Scientology," Wright recalls Rathbun telling him. "He says that Miscavige was hopeful that if they portrayed Nicole Kidman as a suppressive person, Cruise could be peeled away from her". It isn't clear whether the Church made such efforts or the split came later for entirely different reasons.
After announcing the break-up with Kidman in 2001 while they were filming Eyes Wide Shut in England, Cruise allegedly returned to the fold of the Church, which in turn, it is also claimed, set about finding him a new female partner. Its leaders at first settled on Nazanin Boniadi, a 25-year-old Iranian-born actress who had grown up in London but that plan fizzled when a meeting between her and Miscavige went badly, the book says. The actor then married Katie Holmes from whom he divorced last year.
This is hardly the first book to cast an unflattering light on the Scientologists. But Going Clear will garner attention if only because of the reputation of its author, who, The New York Times says, is "known for his thoroughness" as a reporter. He has, the paper reports, received numerous threatening letters from lawyers for the Church while the UK publisher of the book, Transworld, recently pulled out. It will be now be published by Knopf in the US with a first run of 150,000 copies.
Transworld has denied that it pulled out in response to threats from the Church. However, Ms Pouw suggested that Transworld had had "second thoughts choosing not to publish Wright's book after being informed of the numerous inaccuracies and defamatory lies it contains that were told to Wright by a handful of bitter and discredited former Scientologists." She went on: "If a book is truthful, it should be publishable without hesitation."
Public interest is likely to focus on Cruise's history with the Church. The excerpts yesterday described a deep friendship between the actor and Mr Miscavige that grew stronger after Kidman was out of the picture. And Cruise seemingly became an ambassador for the Church, at one time asking former President Bill Clinton how he might approach Mr Blair about getting it tax-free status in Britain.
"Cruise poured millions of dollars into the Church - $3m in 2004," Wright says. "He was not simply a figurehead; he was an activist with an international following. He could take the Church to places it had never been. Whenever Cruise travelled to promote his movies, he used the opportunity to lobby foreign leaders and American ambassadors to promote Scientology."
The lead man: Book excerpts
Cruise and politics
"He was not simply a figurehead; he was an activist with an international following. He could take the Church to places it had never been before by lobbying foreign leaders and American ambassadors.
"Cruise repeatedly consulted with President Clinton, lobbying him to get Prime Minister Tony Blair's help in getting the Church of Scientology declared a tax-deductible charitable organisation in the UK."
Cruise for America
"[President George W] Bush may be an idiot," Miscavige observed, "but I wouldn't mind his being our Constantine," referring to the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Cruise agreed. "If f***ing Arnold can be Governor, I could be President."
From 'Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief'