Pat Kingsley Finally Talks: Tom Cruise, Scientology and What She's Doing Now

Pat Kingsley
Pat Kingsley
 Austin Hargrave

In 1980, Pickwick merged with Maslansky-Koenigsberg, and soon the newly formed PMK dominated the business.

With her increasing clout, Kingsley could make demands hitherto unknown, insisting on magazine covers or no story at all; choosing certain writers; and even getting multiple TV time slots if a network wanted access to a certain star.

She became known for saying no; for being a "suppress" agent rather than a press agent; for not returning calls (though she says she did with the people who mattered); and for being averse to most journalists, though now she says, "I like them more than people think." (She adds, "I would like to have been a writer, but I couldn't do the writing part, and that really hurt.") All this she handled with dazzling dexterity.

Notes former colleague Mara Buxbaum, now a partner at ID-PR: "She knew how to wield power and did not hesitate to do so. Stars were kings back then, and she worked in that time so beautifully."

Adds a former colleague, not a fan, "She is shrewder and tougher than anyone -- anyone -- I have ever known."

Kingsley says her toughest moment wasn't when she had to handle her client Ellen DeGeneres' coming out in 1997 (for which she secured a Time magazine cover headlined, "Yep, I'm gay"), but rather when tennis star Billie Jean King admitted to a lesbian relationship in 1981.

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"Billie said, 'I want to do a press conference; I want to tell the truth,' " recalls Kingsley. "So I said, 'I want you and Larry [King's husband] to come out here, and I'd like to have your parents there.' I thought the staff I had in Los Angeles was better equipped to handle a press conference of this type than the staff in New York. No one was going to know what she was going to say. When I called reporters, all I said was, 'If you're not there, you're going to be really disappointed.' It was at a hotel near the airport. We had Billie's parents, and Larry, and I'm sitting on the floor. It was important for Billie to say two things: one, she had an affair, and two, that she had made a mistake. Because Billie did believe in monogamous relationships."

Kingsley was stunned when the "hardnosed" press applauded at the end of the conference. Then Barbara Walters called and interviewed the couple in this very living room where Kingsley now sits, ramrod-straight; and People photographed them here for its cover. The publicist's strategy helped save her client's reputation, but ultimately she didn't get what she wanted: "We were trying to salvage her endorsements. But she lost them all and never got them back. We failed. How could we win?"

She sits back, more intrigued than upset. Few things ruffled her then, even fewer now. "She's so non-neurotic," says Tomlin. "She's like a rock. She could take a bullet, and the rock would not be pulverized. You couldn't have held the wall for so long against all those forces otherwise."

Adds Foster: "She's spiritually even. She knows what energy is necessary to expend. She doesn't react emotionally; she intellectually sorts out what is important and what isn't, and the things she can't change, she doesn't dwell on."

The actress says she never saw Kingsley's fury -- except once when they were traveling: "It was around the time Princess Diana died [in 1997], and she [had been] handling Dodi Fayed and having no sleep at all, and somebody messed up, and -- wow! I finally saw Pat Kingsley get mad. She didn't stomp and scream and yell. She was just so blunt: 'You're not doing your job, and you need to leave right now.' "

Conflict was part of the work, and some of Kingsley's conflicts became famous. She reportedly sued her onetime colleague Annett Wolf when Wolf left to form her own company (Wolf declined comment); and she boycotted Rolling Stone and People at different times -- then in turn was boycotted by NBC's Today.

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At one point, when Jeff Zucker was serving as that program's executive producer, their clash spilled into the public following an offer that had been made for Cruise and Nicole Kidman to appear on the show while promoting 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.

"Today offered us three segments -- one with Tom, one with Nicole and one with [co-star] Sydney Pollack," says Kingsley. "But Good Morning America offered five, plus a segment on 20/20. I said, 'Well, that's an easy choice.' Then Zucker called and insisted on waiting on the line till I got off the phone. He said, 'We had a deal.' I said, 'We didn't.' He said, 'We are going to ban all of your clients from Today.' " The ban, she says, lasted until Zucker left the show -- though she hints slyly that she got around it by having the studios book their stars directly.

No client became as closely linked to Kingsley as Cruise, whom she signed during the early '90s.

"I met with him on the set of [1992's] A Few Good Men, and he grilled me in his trailer," she says. "It was fabulous! 'What do you think about this? How important do you think Japan is? And how important do you think TV is opposed to print?' I was quite taken with him. And then he called me and said, 'Let's start tomorrow.' "

Over the next few years, they became so close "we could almost finish each other's sentence. We never really had a disagreement about direction or any particular interview. The trust became pretty complete on both sides."

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They would talk every day, often at 11 p.m. "We talked constantly. He was an insomniac. I liked the fact that he was so much fun. And he was so thoughtful. He remembered birthdays, my daughter's birthday. He came to her wedding; she was registered somewhere for the china, and he bought out everything. They've got things they haven't even opened yet, and they've been together 15 years!"

Once, she remembers, "He took me up in this little airplane he had in Santa Monica. It was a two-seater, one in front and one in back. You could pick it up with your hands, practically. I went to the airport, and they said, 'Tom's flying around, he'll land soon.' So he lands the plane, and out comes Barry Diller -- 'I've got to get me one of these.' Then it was my turn. You had to put all these straps on. I said, 'Which one's the parachute?' They said, 'It doesn't matter.' We took off and started going to Malibu. I said, 'Tom, I don't want to wave at anybody, I just want to fly straight.' He said, 'Well, there's Jeffrey Katzenberg.' I said, 'I don't care!' It was scary, I'm telling you. He said, 'Next time, I'll take you over to Catalina for lunch.' But I never wanted to get in that plane again."

The end of their relationship in many ways meant the end of Kingsley's run at the top. She realized it was coming: The late-night chats had dried up, and she wasn't traveling with Cruise as much as before. "I'd had so much control over everything," she observes. "I think he wanted to be more personally involved in all those decisions. He felt, 'Look, it's been 14 years. I think it's time I tried something different.' And I certainly had no quarrel with that. It was his life, his career. It was not working. I was not having the rapport. I felt a kind of pulling back, and I knew it was going to happen."

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Cruise's Scientology played a role, but only toward the end. Before that, there had been just one serious conflict with reps for the religious organization, "but it was taken care of very early in the game," says Kingsley. "I felt that they were involved in a story that I was doing on Tom, and I said: 'It's not your story, it's Tom's. You have to step aside.' And they did."

Later, however, Cruise wanted to be more vocal about his beliefs. "I did have that conversation with Tom, about cooling it," notes Kingsley, saying she told him: " 'Scientology is fine. You want to do a tour for Scientology? Do a tour for Scientology. But Warner Bros. is sponsoring this tour.' That was for [2003's] The Last Samurai. He didn't say yes or no, except he did not discuss Scientology on that European tour."

It was clear Cruise wanted to do things differently, and now it was just a question of whether he or Kingsley would end their work together. The rupture took place in March 2004; she has not seen him in private since. (Through a rep, Cruise declined comment.)

Regardless, says Kingsley, "Tom Cruise was a prince."

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