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So, what's the dish on Tom?

Well, he's hired Paul Bloch, a publicist well known for his work with Mr. Tough Guy stars such as Eddie Murphy and John Travolta.

November 12, 2005|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

With his wildly colorful T-shirts and gargantuan belt buckles that would make a member of World Wrestling Entertainment proud, 66-year-old Paul Bloch doesn't look like your typical celebrity publicist. But when Tom Cruise, America's favorite out-of-control movie star, announced his hiring this week, Hollywood was waiting to see whether the couch-hopping, psychiatry-bashing, Scientology-proselytizing genie could be stuffed back into the bottle.

Bloch certainly seems equipped for the job, with his four decades in the business and his ability to make big, tough male movie stars feel safe, particularly the ones like Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Eddie Murphy -- guys who broke into the superstar ranks around the time Cruise did, although their careers are now trending downward. He prides himself on loyalty (he apparently believes that there is only one side to every problem -- the side of helping his client's career) and is willing to say what the situation demands.

Consider when Murphy got stopped by police after picking up a transsexual. Bloch explained that Murphy was simply "trying to be a good Samaritan" and give a woman a ride home.

Or when a British tabloid wrote that Bloch client Lisa Marie Presley was planning to divorce then-husband Michael Jackson. "We don't know where the rumor came from," said Bloch. "They're very happily married." (They divorced not too long after.)

Or more recently, on his predecessor as Cruise's gatekeeper, Cruise's sister Lee Anne DeVette: "Lee Anne did a great job and is still very involved on the philanthropy side."

Well, there's a reason why celebrity publicists get paid the big bucks -- when the client is Cruise, that figure is rumored to be as high as $12,000 a month. Whether he's copping to it or not, Bloch has his job cut out for him: As a number of industry wags are pointing out, the real question is not can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again but does Humpty Dumpty think he's broken?

"The conventional wisdom is that Tom Cruise shot himself in both feet and the stomach. And he's trying to correct that," said Allan Mayer, a publicist who specializes in crisis PR. "We have yet to see any hard evidence that he's hurt himself professionally. Clearly he's more controversial and less popular, but that's a subjective judgment."

Mayer pointed out that it's equally possible that "whatever [Cruise] hoped to accomplish by speaking openly about his beliefs, he's done. He's ready to move on to another phase, more focused on his public life. If you do want to project a more professional image, Paul is a good choice."

Bloch refused to be interviewed for this story ("As strange as it sounds, I don't want publicity for myself, I want it for my clients") and he also declined to provide access to any of his clients for this story. But he did want to make it clear that "I am not the sole person working here."

He said that he met Cruise "through mutual friends." Like Pat Kingsley, the grande dame of the celebrity publicity world, whom Cruise fired last year, Bloch is an old-school publicist who practices a policy of containment and limited access.

But unlike Kingsley, whose occasionally imperious manner has intimidated journalists for years, Bloch isn't antagonistic toward the press; he is generally considered a nice guy, or at least as nice a guy as an extremely powerful celebrity publicist can be.

"He gives a tremendous amount of time to clients and is completely focused on each of their careers. He's very hands-on," says fellow publicist Eddie Michaels, head of EM&A Public Relations. "He's always been a straight-up guy in any business dealings. They're not poachers, and they don't home in on other people's clients."

But there is a chance this niceness might backfire with Cruise, who is known to simply ignore his press; when Kingsley wanted to make him aware of what was being said about him, she had to actually sit down with him to ensure he read it. And it was her suggestion that Cruise stop mixing Scientology promotion with movie promotion that ended their 14-year relationship.

Then DeVette took over. It was during his sister's tenure that Cruise became unhinged -- at least in the eyes of the media. First he jumped maniacally on Oprah's couch, spouting his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes. Then he attacked Brooke Shields over her use of drugs to combat postpartum depression (which he claimed was a figment of her imagination), sparred with "Today" show host Matt Lauer over psychiatry and spent long stretches of his interview on "Access Hollywood" proselytizing for Scientology.

During the same period, he established a Scientology tent on the set of "War of the Worlds" and asked a number of journalists who wished to profile him to attend multi-hour sessions on Scientology.

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