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Cruise Control Shifts Gears

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Tue Nov 08,10:49 PM ET

Tom Cruise is "restructuring."

Hollywood's leading leading man has dumped sister Lee Anne DeVette as his publicist and enlisted power publicity firm Rogers & Cowan.

The moves come in the wake of Cruise's endless summer in which he talked up War of the Worlds, vitamins and exercise, and Katie Holmes--not necessarily in that order.

In the tradition of Hollywood divorces, the Rogers & Cowan-for-DeVette swap was announced on Friday. And in the tradition of press releases about Hollywood divorces, the statement accentuated the positive.
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Technically, the release wasn't about DeVette's dumping. Rather, it was about her being tapped to "exclusively oversee the day to day operations of Tom Cruise's philanthropic activities."

Cruise, 43, praised DeVette for having done a "wonderful job" as his personal publicist. DeVette, for her part, was "thrilled" with her new duties. There was no mention of Cruise and DeVette choosing to remain friends, but it was understood they would remain siblings.

As part of Cruise's staff "restructuring," as the statement put it, Rogers & Cowan also will handle publicity for the star's production shingle, Cruise-Wagner Productions. The company's upcoming projects include Mission: Impossible 3, due out next summer.

Rogers & Cowan, PR home to stars such as John Travolta, said on Monday it was not representing Holmes. Cruise's with-child fiancee recently ditched her own longtime publicist, Leslie Sloane, for DeVette.

DeVette succeeded Pat Kingsley as Cruise's publicist last year. Under Kingsley, Cruise cemented his status as the world's top movie star. With DeVette, Cruise enjoyed his biggest box office hit ever (War of the Worlds) and suffered his worst publicity ever.

A recent report by Genius Insight, a New York-based marketing and research firm, found that Cruise's likeability sunk among 13- to 49-year-olds as the actor jumped on Oprah Winfrey's couch to declare his love for Holmes, took Matt Lauer to task for being "glib," prescribed vitamins and exercise for Brooke Shields and other women coping with postpartum depression, and generally became an outspoken advocate for Scientology. Per the study, Cruise went from the 11th most liked celebrity in the spring, to the 197th most liked celebrity in the summer. Worse, he joined David Spade, Pauly Shore and Tom Green as one of the five most polarizing stars. (Ashton Kutcher rounded out the group.)

To Ann Gabriel, a public relations expert who testified at Michael Jackson's molestation trial about the PR debacle the singer faced in the wake of the 2003 Martin Bashir documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, Cruise's summer was a 15 on the PR Disaster Scale of 1-10, with 10 supposedly being the most disastrous. (On the stand, she said Jackson's Bashir problem rated a 25.)

"I think it was off the scale," Gabriel said of Cruise. "I think if he's truly happy with his life there were probably some ways he could have better chosen to portray his newfound happiness."

Gabriel, who briefly worked for Jackson in 2003, said Cruise and the pop star are similar in that both lost touch with the public.

"I'm sure Michael didn't perceive his actions would be scrutinized the way they were or possibly misinterpreted," Gabriel said. "And I don't believe Tom Cruise believed his comments about postpartum depression would be as scrutinized."

Cruise's publicity firm shakeup is a sign to Gabriel, for one, that "he understands that he may have overstepped some of those boundaries."

In short, maybe next time, sit on the couch.

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