‘Where’s Suri?” ran a recent headline in People magazine, as the pressure mounted for a photo – any photo – of the baby girl sired by megastar Tom Cruise, and delivered by actress Katie Holmes, on April 18. As the Suri watch drags into its fourth month – People counts the days – speculation about the whereabouts of “TomKitten” – tabloidese for the progeny of “TomKat” – has become heated among fans, celebrity magazines and paparazzi. The media abhors a vacuum. Does Suri actually exist? Or is it all a stunt to help rehabilitate Cruise’s image, arguably in free fall since his infamous, fist-pumping, floor-pounding antics last year on Oprah, when he declared his passion for Katie?
Standard celebrity protocol is that babies make their camera debut in days, weeks at most. Pictures of Shiloh, the baby of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, appeared in People after seven days.
Naturally the internet – less restrained than the libel-shy terrestrial media – has had a field day. TMZ.com, which made the big time with Mel Gibson’s Malibu meltdown, has hit the conspiracy trail hard.
Citing a national obsession, TMZ’s “TomKat/Suri Conspiracy Timeline” has rumours ranging from Cruise and Holmes holding out for a better photo deal, to Scientology involvement, even suggestions that Suri doesn’t exist. The website features photos that arguably show that “Katie seemed to shrink” as Suri’s birth loomed.
There is also a copy of Suri’s Californian birth certificate. Alas, any hope that this might conclusively prove the baby’s existence is dashed by alleged oddities. The document was filed 10 days later than normal, apparently because the person who signed it – identified as a “friend” – wasn’t available before. The signature is illegal.
The mystery has also aroused the mainstream media. “Missing: baby girl of press-addicted parents,” scoffed Newsweek. “The shroud of Suri has yet to be lifted,” noted the Associated Press. “Celebrity baby, M.I.A., strokes a frenzy,” offered The New York Times.
– War of Words.
All of which means more negative press for the world’s biggest movie star. Cruise, 43, has honed a lucrative Everyman image as a driven “Tom Terrific”, famous for working his fan base on promotional tours.
But since Oprah, the star’s personal life – once kept under wraps – has spawned almost unrelentingly poor coverage. The previously buttoned-down actor has amazed – and delighted – the media by fiercely championing Scientology, slamming psychiatry, chastising actress Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants to combat postpartum depression, and taking umbrage at the TV cartoon South Park, whose “Trapped in the Closet” episode ridiculed Scientology and questioned Cruise’s sexuality.
His whirlwind affair with Holmes fed speculation she has been swallowed, Stepford-like, by Tom’s world. The leap from Oprah’s sofa inspired a Cruise bobblehead doll. And a baseball team celebrated Suri’s “silent birth” (Scientologists frown on talking or music during birth) with a “silent innings”. When the star bought an ultrasound device to track Suri’s growth in the womb, California banned sales to unlicensed users. Clearly Cruise has an image problem, which is bad for business.
Perception is everything in Hollywood. His lawyer even wrote to Esquire to say any suggestion Cruise is a closeted homosexual, or that his relationship with Holmes, 27, is a sham, is false and defamatory. Such denials merely inflame rumour.
In May The Wall Street Journal reported Cruise’s popularity had slumped, notably with women who disliked his attack on Shields and his joke about eating Suri’s placenta. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that Paramount Pictures will not renew the star’s $10 million production deal, due to cost-cutting. Meanwhile, the Suri watch intensifies.
The first appearance of children born to famous parents has become a media ritual, akin to that once practised by royals in front of adoring subjects. Naturally, both sides angle for pole position, with stars trying to control their exposure, and journalists pushing for maximum exposure.
It is also a lucrative exercise. Will TomKat trump the $4.1 million that People is rumoured to have paid for pictures of baby Shiloh? And could Suri become a bargaining chip to get her parents good PR?
There is also a more pressing tactical question: should editors remain deferential in hopes of an exclusive, or should they wade in, boots and all, to investigate the Suri mystery?
“Waiting to see these photos is like waiting for Godot,” the editor of US Weekly told The New York Times last week. “It could never happen. So why hold back on the news?” The rumour now is that a TomKat wedding is imminent and that Suri will be presented at the couple’s nuptials.