September 11, 2006 12:00 PM

Tom Cruise may have had a rough week at the office, but no one at the L.A. eatery Orso on Aug. 23 would have known it. The day after news broke of his split from longtime studio Paramount—and a tongue-lashing from Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount’s parent company Viacom, who blasted Cruise’s offscreen behavior as “creative suicide” and “not … acceptable”—the actor was in his full, effusive Cruisian glory during dinner. Arriving hand-in-hand with fiancée Katie Holmes, Cruise held court at a corner table with eight other people. While Holmes quietly sipped from a teacup and smiled, “Tom laughed hysterically during the conversation,” says an observer. “They really had a good time.”

He may have actually had reason to celebrate. Days after the Paramount split, Cruise and his business partner Paula Wagner announced ambitious new business plans. Still, last week’s ugly feud was the biggest bump yet on an increasingly rocky road. On one front, Cruise, 44, and Holmes, 27, have been battling rumors about everything from their yet-to-be-announced wedding plans (It’s off! It’s on!) to their 5-month-old daughter Suri. Now post-Paramount, Cruise must prove—after 20 years on top—that he hasn’t lost value as a movie star. Public criticism has become so loud that many in the couple’s inner circle are now speaking out, offering their support. “Everybody seems to be out to get him,” says his friend and War of the Worlds producer Kathleen Kennedy. “He’s been extremely successful, he’s done nothing but work very hard on the films that he’s in, he’s the consummate professional. To group him with actors that have behaved badly is completely bizarre.”

Meanwhile, Holmes has remained a steadfast—if publicly silent—presence by Cruise’s side. “They’re a happy, loving family,” says Cruise’s rep Arnold Robinson, adding that the pair “are still planning their wedding.” (Cruise has said they may wed in the fall.) And although neither star is attached to an upcoming film role, “they’re both looking at scripts and figuring out what scripts to do next.”

Mostly though, the couple are focusing on the blue-eyed, black-haired daughter they welcomed in April. Since then, the protective parents have resolutely kept her out of public view, even as over-the-top conspiracy theories swirl. (Among the rumors: She doesn’t actually exist!) “It’s insane—it’s beyond belief,” Rick Nicita, Cruise’s friend and one of his agents, says of the Suri speculation. “There’s this beautiful little baby—and it’s their obligation to show her off? They’re supposed to flaunt their kid? Please!” (Reps for Cruise have declined to comment on reports the couple and Suri were photographed for an upcoming issue of Vanity Fair.)

Cruise, already an experienced dad to Isabella, 13, and Connor, 11, his kids with Nicole Kidman, is relishing time with his newest little one. “The other day I walked in and it was Tom and the baby—she was in his lap,” says Nicita. “Just the way he looked at her and she was looking back at him, they were the only two people in the room.” How about diaper duty? “I haven’t seen him change a diaper, but I’m told he does.”

Holmes, too, has settled comfortably into her new role. “Katie is one of the most calm, patient and gentle new mothers I have ever seen,” says actress pal Jenna Elfman. The noticeably slimmed-down actress has resumed her regular retail therapy sessions— accompanied by the usual paparazzi crush—at Beverly Hills haunts Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. Although she and Cruise have not been spotted in her hometown of Toledo since before Suri’s birth, Katie’s parents Martin and Kathy Holmes joined their daughter, granddaughter and future son-in-law at his Colorado estate this summer. “Katie’s family came out to Telluride—her mom and dad and the rest of the family,” says Robinson. “They had a great time.”

And yet if the family has enjoyed a relaxing, largely work-free summer since Cruise wrapped publicity duty for M:I:III in May, the quiet came to an abrupt end with the Redstone blowup. What happened? It had been no secret that Paramount was disappointed with the M:I:III grosses. Though it will pull in about $400 million worldwide, that’s less than the previous Missions grossed. Plus, Cruise will keep a reported $75 million chunk of the revenue. Also widely known was the studio’s growing dissatisfaction with its 14-year deal with Cruise/Wagner Productions, which received up to $10 million annually from Paramount for office overhead, project development and other expenses.

But what might have been a standard business break turned into a messy spectacle after Redstone spoke out about the reasons for the split to the Wall Street Journal. Branding Cruise’s outspokenness—about such topics as psychiatric drugs, Scientology and his romance with Katie—during last year’s War of the Worlds publicity tour “creative suicide,” Redstone said he had decided to strike a blow for studios fed up with expensive superstars. Redstone, 83, “doesn’t talk in Hollywood speak,” says Viacom spokesman Carl Folta. “The general public thinks exactly the same thing. He just said out loud what everyone thinks.” But most in the industry believe the whole thing boils down to bucks, not behavior. Says one Oscar-winning producer: “If Tom was killing them at the box office, this would not be happening.”

The Cruise camp fired back, pointing out that Cruise’s films at Paramount have grossed over $2.6 billion. Cruise’s longtime lawyer Bert Fields calls Redstone’s comments “inane, pompous and preposterous.” Fields says that in fact Paramount offered to re-sign Cruise/Wagner Productions about three weeks ago, an offer Fields told him to reject. Faced with losing Cruise, Redstone’s remarks were “a preemptive strike,” says Fields. The attorney is also dismayed by comments by Viacom board member and Wall Street titan Alan C. Greenberg, who told The New York Times, “Tom Cruise has gone nuts.” Says Fields: “Tom Cruise is not nuts.”

Either way, the brouhaha brought up old controversies for Cruise, with many in the industry wondering whether Paramount power-player Steven Spielberg—Cruise’s War of the Worlds director, who was widely reported to have been disgruntled with the star’s comments on the publicity trail last summer—had anything to do with the break. No way, says Spielberg’s rep: “He did not have any advance knowledge of what Sumner Redstone’s position was.”

For his part, Cruise is letting others do the talking for him. “He jumped on Oprah‘s couch to show enthusiasm for Katie Holmes. I mean, that’s pretty despicable, right?” says Fields. “He spoke out against the overuse and danger of mood-altering drugs, especially for kids. Even the people who don’t agree with him don’t doubt that he’s sincerely espousing his views.” As for his remarks critical of Brooke Shields‘s use of antidepressants to treat postpartum depression, “I don’t believe he ever intended to say something that would personally hurt Brooke Shields,” says Kennedy. “Tom has the right to say what he believes.”

And no matter what Redstone says, there are others eager to do business with the guy whom Forbes declared the world’s most powerful celebrity earlier this year. On Aug. 28 Cruise and Wagner announced they had signed a two-year development deal with First and Goal LLC, an investment partnership headed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Meanwhile Cruise and Holmes have a wedding to plan and a baby to raise. Suri “has a big, beautiful smile,” says Wagner. “She’s very alert and responsive already. Very animated.” Hmm … wonder where she gets all that from? Her irrepressible dad “is not someone I would bet against,” says Cruise’s pal and M:I:III director J.J. Abrams. “Ever.”

You May Like