[5 February 2008]
Contra Costa Times (MCT)
Now that the tidal wave of hype over Andrew Morton’s new book Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography has somewhat receded, one can get a good look at what remains.
On the one hand, if half of Morton’s claims concerning Scientology are accurate, it’s a frightening example of how easily people will turn over their souls when promised eternal happiness and a glimpse into life’s mysteries. On the other hand, many of Morton’s purported claims are mere asides about which there’s little to fret.
Of course, lawyers for Cruise and his beloved religion, Scientology, beg to differ. What’s really interesting is not what they deny about the book; it’s what they don’t deny. But that’s another story.
The prerelease sensationalism over Morton’s supposed claims that some of Cruise’s fellow Scientologists compare the birth of his daughter, Suri, to Rosemary’s Baby, and that the girl was possibly conceived with the sperm of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was just that: sensationalism. Neither was a theory on which Morton spent much time.
The exact wording of the so-called Rosemary’s Baby claim was “Katie (Holmes) might have felt as if she were in the middle of a real-life version of the horror movie ...”
Morton based the scenario on interviews with nameless Scientologists who told him some members believed Suri was the vessel for the reincarnated soul of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who assured his followers he would return following his earthly death. Fixating on that part of the story is missing the forest for a couple of gnarled saplings.
The book is ultimately about Scientology. Cruise gives it a face, and Morton creates the idea of a biography in the book’s first 100 pages, building up Cruise’s life with simple background that, while occasionally interesting, is mere setup to Morton dropping the hammer on Scientology.
We discover, for example, that Cruise has short-man’s complex. We learn he was shaped by a negligent father and was driven to succeed. We find out he was dyslexic and some people liked him in high school, and some didn’t. This isn’t groundbreaking information, nor is it alone worth paying full price for the hardcover version.
Now, the photo of Hubbard administering a lie detector to a tomato? That’s a whole different story.
The documentation of Cruise’s early life aside, the book does have fascinating moments, if the reader can set aside Morton’s irritating penchant for attributing about half the tales he tells. Though he claims to have interviewed 130 people, it doesn’t help his credibility that nowhere among them were Cruise, his wife, ex-wives, close family members or Scientology leader David Miscavige. But it’s also clear, through documented stories of Scientology’s wild tales of space aliens, truth detectors, and vindictiveness toward defecting members, that no one close to the group could be on the record without fear of having their lives torn apart.
It’s not all inflammatory. Morton does a decent job of profiling a driven and talented actor whom he obviously would admire outside of his involvement with Scientology. Cruise isn’t necessarily the villain—at least until the final pages, when Morton calls him “sinister.” Instead, he’s almost a tragic figure stuck in the clutches of a controlling cult (once he establishes his clear opinion of Scientology, Morton rarely calls it anything but a “cult”).
But while at times an interesting read, there are so many holes and extreme statements that come off as Morton’s mere speculation. For example, there’s little evidence provided to support Morton’s claim that Cruise is effectively the second-in-command of Scientology. Morton bases this on Cruise spending a lot of time with the apparently star-struck Miscavige, racing cars, skydiving and taking vacations together. Cruise seemingly gets special privileges reserved for a high-level Miscavige confidant, but it’s clear that’s only because Cruise is Scientology’s most visible recruit. Much of the book is Morton simply retelling stories we already know with clearer details, such as Cruise’s infamous interview/rant with NBC’s Matt Lauer and his purchase of a sonogram machine to monitor Suri’s development.
Holes and all, it’s a hard book to put down, especially with wild tales of Scientology spilling forth page after page. The entertainment value falls off toward book’s end, when Morton attempts to wrap up his story with some editorializing and a diagnosis of both Cruise and his religion that, while seeming accurate to a degree, nevertheless comes off preachy. But that shouldn’t ruin the reading, as long as one can take it all with the proper grain of salt.