Stars dimmed in cautious handlers' grip
July 16, 1999


Journalists invited to interview Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman last weekend received a bizarre document in their fax machines. It was a single-spaced, two page "agreement" they were asked to sign before being admitted to the superstar presence. It required them to pledge in advance:

* If the "Artist" requests, any portion of the interview can be deleted.

* No "bloopers" will be used or reported.

* The interview is for one-time use, and never can be used again.

* Without Artist's consent, interview may not be used to advertise or promote the publication (i.e., no front-page teasers or "coming up nexts").

* The interview will not portray the Artist in a negative or derogatory manner.

And so on--12 numbered paragraphs, in all.

This agreement was peculiar from a legal point of view, because it was not an agreement with anybody. There was room for only one signature at the bottom--the interviewer's--and the document never specified a second party. It wasn't a contract but a loyalty oath.

I was scheduled to interview Tom Cruise in Los Angeles on the day after the preview of "Eyes Wide Shut," and of course informed the publicists that I never would under any circumstances sign such a document. If that meant no Cruise interview, c'est la vie. My editors backed me up; it is not Sun-Times policy to allow publicists to edit the paper.

I got a quick response: Gee, I never was supposed to have even received the document! "It was for television interviews only--not print." Odd, since the agreement uses words such as "printed," "publisher" and "publication" and never mentions "TV" or "broadcast."

I went to L.A. and had a valuable conversation with Cruise, who was as always frank and forthcoming. Maybe he didn't even know about the pledge requested on his behalf. But he does now, because the agreement has brewed up into a little media tempest about the way modern publicists attempt to micro-manage their clients' images.

It's common knowledge that few if any glossy magazines get access to stars unless they agree to a long list of conditions, and the publicist approves of the interviewer. In many cases, publicists demand approval of photographs, headlines, etc.

The TV showbiz shows, of course, feed on glitzy sound bites of the stars. Whether they sign such agreements or not is their secret. We sure have seen a lot of Tom and Nicole on the tube over the last few days. Of course CNN and Diane Sawyer never agreed to such conditions in order to get their footage with Cruise and Kidman. I assume.

There was a time when no publicist would have dared present such an absurd document to a self-respecting journalist. That time has passed. These days circulation and ratings are hyped by famous faces and celebrity sound bites, and many media outlets will sell their souls to get a piece of the action. If every newspaper, magazine and TV outlet routinely refused to ever sign such an agreement, the practice would end--because the stars need the publicity as much as the media need the stars. The fact that the practice continues means that many outlets happily play along.

Years ago, I spent a long, beer-soaked afternoon with Lee Marvin in his beach house at Malibu. At one point, his girlfriend turned up. At another point, his dog trotted in from the bedroom with a pair of panties in its teeth. They were not the girlfriend's panties.

"Bad dog!" said Marvin.

It happened, and I printed it. Did it portray the artist in a negative or derogatory manner?

A few years later, I met Marvin again. "I loved that story," he chuckled. "I tell it on myself."

Somehow movie stars were more interesting in those days, because they were allowed to be more interesting. Today they're like Derby entries, carefully groomed and stabled and only allowed to run for three minutes at a time, with an approved jockey.

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