Mapother Malfeasance* (Or, What's Eating Sumner Redstone?)

08/29/2006 12:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Am I the only one who thought Tom Cruise's couch-jumping Oprah appearance wasn't that bad? It seems so.

The Cruise Missile has always been, um, enthusiastic.

On the surface, his declaration of adoration for Katie Holmes was almost sweet. Unfortunately for Cruise, things aren't always as they seem.

The (former?) biggest movie star on the planet has also always been one of the most controlled. That all changed when he fired his long-time publicist, Pat Kingsley in 2004 and replaced her with his sister Lee Anne DeVette, a fellow Scientologist .

Then things got weird. Oprah. Katie. Brooke. Ritilin. Lauer. Glib. Suri. Scientology. Scientology. Scientology.

That said, it's not surprising that the studio that supported him for so many years, Paramount, would be so miffed. Nor is it necessarily surprising that they would have wanted to part ways. What is surprising is the way they did it.

I would guess that the average movie fan didn't even know that Cruise was under contract with Paramount. Sumner Redstone could have ended that relationship without so much as a blip on the pop culture radar.

Instead, they embarrassed him. Big time.

Redstone claimed that Cruise's antics likely cost MI:3 $100 to $150 million in grosses. However, Part-Threes almost never surpass their predecessors (The Lord of the Rings being the only notable exception - Godfather III being the rule). Besides, War of the Worlds was Cruise's biggest opening ever and it opened after he turned Oprah's couch into his own personal trampoline.

So there must be something more to it. This didn't need to be such a big story.

There are a lot of crazy people in Hollywood and there are a lot of movie stars with controversial political, moral and religious views (cough, Mel Gibson). What there aren't a lot of in Hollywood are movie stars that can virtually guarantee $100 million a picture like Cruise can/could.

But here's the rub: While Tom Cruise may increase a studio's chances of grossing $100 million, they also have to pay him close to $100 million just to get there.

There has been a lot written recently about studio economics and the purported shift away from the star system. The studios appear to be rebelling against A-list stars who demand a huge percentage of each ticket sold (a telling example: 20th Century Fox's decision to pull the plug on a seemingly can't-miss Ben Stiller/Jim Carrey project).

So, Cruise may just be the first casualty of the looming war between the studios and huge-percentage-of-the-gross-taking talent...or maybe, it was Redstone wanting to show the world that he is still the boss.

Redstone fired his own Cruise missile at his studio's star on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, saying things like "we don't think someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot." He did not consult Paramount top dog Brad Grey or his boss Tom Freston. Nor did he consult Steven Spielberg, another top dog, this time at DreamWorks....which is owned by Paramount. Spielberg directed Cruise in Minority Report and War of the Worlds (and stood by Cruise when the latter was criticized for bringing a Scientology tent onto the Paramount lot). Recall that War of the Worlds was Cruise's top-grossing movie. That't the top-grossing movie of Tom Cruise. That Spielberg was not consulted is maybe even more bizarre than the notion that our bodies are inhabited by 1,000-year old Thetans ruled by the evil god Xenu.

Or maybe it was a diversion from Paramount's own troubles: Fox's Roger Friedman speculates that those pockets haven't been running so deep, and the LA Times speculates thusly: "By all accounts, something is amiss at Paramount Pictures and I suspect that Redstone, at 83, doesn't have the luxury of waiting forever for his new vassals to figure out how to operate the keys to the kingdom."

Whatever the reason, the Cruise-Paramount rift is suddenly very public knowledge and that begs the question of "why?"

Sumner Redstone claims the answer is simply Cruise's weirdo behavior. At the end of the day, though, it's not the couch-jumping, psychology-bashing or Suri-hiding that created this mess.

This is Hollywood after all. So maybe the answer is more simple; more pure; more green: Money. Who has it, who controls it, who's worth it and how to hold on to as much of it as possible. But don't listen to me, take it from this unnamed studio exec:

"It's not like no one is going to hire him," says the studio exec. "His last movie made $400 million. I'd sell my soul to the Devil for that."

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take an anti-depressant.

*"Mapother" is Tom Cruise's real last name. "Mapother Missile" doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?