THE MILLION DOLLAR TICKET
The entire budget for the picture was $13 million. Tom received almost one tenth of the budget. It was a lot of money to pay an actor at the time.
Years before, Elizabeth Taylor was the first actor in the world to be paid a million bucks for her movie role in Cleopatra; but she had worked for 25 years before that salary came. In contrast, Eddie Murphy in his first picture at 18 for Paramount, 48 Hours, was paid a cool $75,000. Eddie’s second movie landed him $400,000 for Trading Places; it was not until his first starring role in Beverly Hills Cop that Eddie Murphy was paid $1 million dollars.
Tom Cruise, formerly Tom Mapother, was raised a Catholic and had planned to become a Priest under the Franciscan Order. Instead, the earnest Tom had gotten the acting itch in his mid teens. Tom had played in a few pictures (Taps, Endless Love) before he landed the lead in Risky Business which became an enormous Gen X success. But a million dollars for Top Gun?
Ned Tanen, the studio production head, understood the power of the teen audience and so the money made sense. At Universal, Ned had great success with Animal House and American Graffiti that catered to the teen demographic; and he wanted to bring youth back to Paramount under Chairman Frank Mancuso Sr’s watch.
Tom was too young for the part by about 5 years and he looked too young. His baby face was right for Risky Business but wrong for the role of Maverick.
“Don’t worry, mate. I’ve got it covered,”Tony Scott said in what would become his, optimistic legendary “can do” spirit in the entertainment business.
PYGMALION AND GALATEA
Tony Scott, who took his own life this past Sunday, sat down at a table in 1984 with a photo of Tom and pulled out a magic marker from his vest. “Look….I’m going to dye his hair a deep black, and see these cheekbones, we’re going to accentuate them and harden up his chin and deal with the nose.”
He sliced and diced that face like Pygmalion of Cyprus must have done to uncover the beauty of his Galatea in the marble. According to the Galatean myth, Pygmalion’s love of Galatea was so powerful that it brought his creation to life. I followed his story and the lines of the marker but in the end, the photo was a mess of ink.
“Not to worry.” He avoided an answer.
“All you need to know is he is going to be beautiful.”
He was right. I didn’t need to know.
“And he’s agreed to start lifting and we’re going to pack 25 pounds on that puny frame of his before we’re done. I’m going to shoot him in showers and beaches . F— the navy uniform, mate, his skin is his f— uniform! The guys will want to be like him and the ladies will just want him.”
To this day, I do not know what happened and whether Tom went under the knife or not. Tom was known for throwing himself into his work completely. He wanted to be a star. While the star system is virtually dead today, at the time men and women would do almost anything to become one — as if was the ultimate prize in worldly achievement.
How many of us have turned our face to the mirror and practiced our Academy Award acceptance speech?
For some reason all the health bills for Tom, the trainers, the spinach and Spirulina bills were all coming to my office and I kept okaying them and pushing them back to the pre-production accountant on the production. Tom worked very hard to transform himself under Tony’s unrelenting eye for beauty.
A PERFECT STORM
I don’t know that I have ever seen such a transformation by anyone in the movies as the transformation of Tom Cruise into the God of sex. It was eerie, almost supernatural. It was a perfect storm of culture and people. The fitness craze had hit America. Jane Fonda brought it on and Flashdance, a sexually charged dance film produced by Don and Jerry hit it home. There was the fatherless Tom, just out of his teens, fathered by three brilliant guys, Tony, Don and Jerry, whose foundations were in pop commercials, fashion and painting.
There is no question that the guys wanted to push the envelope by giving people the perception that Tom Cruise ( a name itself that suggests casual sex) into the sexiest man alive. They achieved it. Tom would later renounce his beliefs in Jesus and become a Thetan at the highest level of Scientology clarity. in 1990, People Magazine would anoint him “sexiest man alive” at the mere age of 28.
Tom was diminutive, perhaps no more than 5′ 7 but many leading men were small, for diminutive men are better proportioned for the silver screen than tall guys.
There is no question that Tom Cruise was Tony Scott’s Galatia. The Navy gave us millions of dollars worth of jets and carriers, but it was Tom’s face and body that became the star of the picture. I remember girls sighing as they came out of the preview screenings. And in those ten test screenings, what was the favorite scene? The volleyball sequences where shirtless young men posed with Tom as spiking Gods in the Southern California sand.
Who can truly know a heart but God? I can not help thinking of Mary Shelley’s own myth of Galatean creation. There an ambitious scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein attempts to create a man ( “A modern Prometheus“). The creation goes awry and becomes a monster. “Frightful must it be,” Mary Shelley said ,” for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
Years later, Don SImpson, so enamored with Tom’s transformation, took his own plunge into remaking himself. Soon after, Don would die from too many years of drugs and hard night living. And now, in 2012, poor Tony has jumped off a bridge dying alone like a dog. Today, in gotcha journalism we recite the facts and no longer bring the meaning with it.
Don SImpson infamously said, “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money.”
What price beauty?
Note: Like countless others who share this grief, I’ve had trouble making sense of a world suddenly without Tony Scott. These stories on Top Gun are, I suppose, a cathartic way to work through the inherent sadness of his passing. I apologize in advance to anyone who thinks these stories might be untimely. I have only love and respect for Tony Scott.