When Tom Cruise was fired last week by Paramount Pictures, it was a surprising reminder that superstars are like the rest of us at least in one way: they're just employees.
Like me, you may have been struck by the articles in which Cruise's erstwhile boss, Sumner Redstone, was quoted as saying that Cruise's behavior of late has been unacceptable. As a result, Redstone was terminating the contract.
Those kinds of words unacceptable behavior and terminating have a familiar ring, but that's only because that's what the rest of us hear when some working stiff around us has been handed a pink slip. You don't expect to hear those words describe a Big Star.
But Redstone was only warming up. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Redstone said that Cruise had turned off fans with his off-screen antics, apparently referring to Cruise's earnest stumping for Scientology and to Cruise's way of condescendingly trashing those who use anti-depressants or Ritalin. As a result of frosting off the fans, movie attendance was suffering. Cruise was costing the business money.
Cruise is "a terrific actor," Redstone allowed, "but we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be allowed on the lot."
Until Redstone fired that cruise missile, I'd virtually forgotten that Hollywood's elite are just employees. After all, they enjoy a rarity called creative control, which means they can get all hissy and stamp their feet and still get their heads patted. And of course, they're paid megabucks. Many have entourages and limousines and handlers.
As a result, the rest of us press our noses to the window and suppose that the stars on display are in some special category, one in which they get millions of dollars just for being sublime and artistic, and they don't have to bother with such mundane matters as fretting about what the public their customers think.
The Cruise dismissal reminded us that, yes, even stars are employees. They have contracts to uphold and jobs to perform and customers to please. They may not carry a lunch box, but, after all, they do pay union dues.
For that matter, virtually every working person is an employee. Redstone has to answer to his board of directors and they answer to shareholders who ultimately answer to movie-goers. Newspapers ultimately have to answer to readers. McDonalds answers to diners. The President answers to voters. In America, the ultimate boss usually is the people. The people can be diners or movie goers or voters, but the public reigns, and we're all pretty much employed by them.
Most of us already know all this, of course, but pampered stars seem to need a reminder. Lindsay Lohan was reminded when she got a letter from her boss instructing her to cut the partying and show up for work on time. The Dixie Chicks, who angered their fans so much they're basically unable to appear in Dixie anymore, got a reminder when they had to cancel a slew of concerts because of anemic ticket sales.
Cruise's producer-partner, Paula Wagner, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times responding to Redstone by saying, "It's not businesslike" and "Is this how you treat artists?"
It is quite businesslike, Ms. Wagner, and yes, that's exactly how employees are treated when they've broken faith with the public.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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