With Top Gun: Maverick debuting in theaters this week, Tom Cruise is available to the press again, which explains why I was seeing video of James Corden at 5 a.m. on a tarmac waiting to join Cruise in his personal jet aircraft.
The Late Late Show host’s antics on Cruise’s plane delivered the intended effect: Tom as cooler-than-you pilot really is like the superheroes he plays in the movies.
But for me, it had another connotation.
Seeing Cruise pilot his aircraft, I couldn’t help thinking of something Marc Headley told me several years ago.
Headley joined Scientology’s Sea Org as a child, signing a billion-year contract before working 365 days a year, cloistered at one of the organization’s secretive compounds known as “Int Base” near Hemet, California.
Around 1990, Headley explained in his excellent book about that period, Blown for Good, Cruise had come to the base to learn Scientology “auditing,” its version of counseling, and Headley was chosen to be his guinea pig.
Years later, in 2009, the FBI began an intense investigation of conditions at the base, interviewing dozens of former Sea Org workers, including Headley, who by that time had escaped.
The FBI was so serious about its investigation of the slave-like conditions at the base, Headley and other former Scientologists told me, that in the summer of 2010 the agency was making detailed plans for raiding the compound, rescuing workers, and seizing documents.
Headley says the special agents assigned to the investigation told him one of their main concerns was that Scientology leader David Miscavige, who lived at the base, would slip through their grasp.
So, planning for any eventuality, they tried to seal off all escape routes Miscavige might try to use—including, Headley said, the airplanes of his best pal, Tom Cruise.
The FBI agents told him they had taken the step of recording the tail numbers of Cruise’s planes that were at his private hangar in Burbank, California, just in case Miscavige tried to make an escape using them.
Ultimately, the FBI changed its mind about raiding Scientology and the investigation was dropped, for mysterious reasons. (Headley and former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder told me their version of what happened for a piece I wrote years ago. Also, even though I’ve published the full FBI investigative file at my website, Scientology continues to claim that there was never an investigation at all. The Church of Scientology did not respond to request for comment for this story.)
Even if the raid was cancelled, I’ve never forgotten that the FBI figured that David Miscavige and Tom Cruise were so tight the Top Gun actor might use his piloting skills to jet his two-time Best Man to safety from law enforcement.
That isn’t something you’re likely to hear in all of the press celebration of Cruise’s new movie. Top Gun: Maverick is getting almost universally positive reviews (a notable exception that is worth a look) and is poised to be Cruise’s biggest movie opening ever. We’ll be seeing a lot of him on our screens in the coming weeks.
And it couldn’t come at a better time for Scientology, which, all signs indicate, has been hit hard by the pandemic.
It isn’t the first time that Cruise has come to the church’s rescue at a crucial time.
In 1986, when actress Mimi Rogers began dating Cruise and first introduced him to Scientology, the controversial organization was at a critical juncture: Its founder and source of all its written “scriptures,” science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, had died on Jan. 24 that year.
For a group so focused on one figure, the death of that person can be an extreme challenge. Would Scientology survive it?
Complicating things was that the person exerting himself to push aside others and take over the reins of Scientology was a 25-year-old who was known only to a small minority of the movement. David Miscavige had joined the organization as a child, and had quickly become a favorite of…