Summer reading: finally catching up with Ben Widdicombe’s “Gatecrasher,” named for his long ago column in the NY Daily News. It’s full of great celebrity stories, with lots of jabs at the rich and famous. There’s also quite a bit about the backstage wheelings and dealings with publicists, the natural enemy of the columnist. (He cites several that he likes, including New York’s Norah Lawlor, described as “gimlet-eyed” and a few others.)
There’s also a lot in “Gatecrasher” about Rupert Murdoch and his family, Donald Trump and his, and a section I particularly enjoyed taking a survey of hors d’oeuvres served at charity press functions. (Pigs in a blanket are a good sign.)
But my favorite story is about one Ben didn’t report, concerning Tom Cruise falling down the stairs at Prada in Soho. He thought that by going along with Tom’s Scientology sister publicist, it would win him points. It didn’t. Listen, if you’re on a beach somewhere, download this to your Kindle. It’s certainly more entertaining than Vanity Fair.
“With the column giving me access to some of the biggest names in
Hollywood, sometimes I tried to be strategic and develop a relationship
with a star. That never worked, not even once.
Around that time, Tom Cruise fired his longtime and fearsomely
effective publicist, Pat Kingsley. It was rumored that he blamed her when
he did not receive an Academy Award nomination for his film
The Last Samurai.
But Pat was generally regarded as the top PR in Hollywood, and
she played hardball. If a journalist crossed her on one of her clients,
she would block their publication’s access to her entire roster, which
included titans like Jodie Foster, Al Pacino, and Will Smith.
Pat had also managed to keep Tom on a leash, shielding some of
his crazier antics from popular scrutiny. But after the split, he decided
to transfer public relations responsibilities to his sister, Lee Anne De
Vette, a fellow congregant in the Church of Scientology.
Suddenly, after years of being muzzled on the subject of his faith,
Tom started speaking about it to the press. It was not well received.
Shortly after he changed publicists, I received a tip from a staff
member at the Prada store in SoHo. Tom had come in to do some
shopping, and as was the protocol for a major star, the store was
closed to the public for the duration of his visit.
What Miuccia Prada got for the forty million dollars she spent
with the architect, Rem Koolhaas, was a wooden halfpipe, leading
down from the main entrance on Broadway into the belly of the store,
which served both as stairs for the customers and display shelves for
But it was made out of slippery zebrawood, and although the feature
looked great, it could be treacherous to navigate.
Sure enough, says the staff member who was present that day,
Tom slipped at the top and bumped down the stairs on his Oscar-denied
When I called Lee Anne, she asked me not to run the item. Sensing
the opportunity to get her on my side as an ally, and salivating at
the lifetime of Tom Cruise scoops that would surely follow, I agreed.
Needless to say, I never heard from her again.”