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Monday, August 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Paramount-Cruise plot thickens: Spielberg left in dark

New York Daily News

This summer's biggest Hollywood breakup has left Steven Spielberg caught in the middle.

The director was blindsided by Paramount Pictures' decision to dump Tom Cruise, Spielberg's spokesman said Thursday. Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent Viacom, dropped the bombshell in an interview in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

Spielberg is a Paramount powerbroker, but he "had no advance knowledge of Sumner Redstone's position," rep Marvin Levy said Thursday. "The story broke when Steven was on an airplane. He found out when the plane landed."

The Spielberg shutout shocked Hollywood insiders. Although the "E.T." director doesn't run Paramount, his clout and role as the head of Paramount-owned DreamWorks would seem to make him an obvious person to consult before pulling the plug.

He also directed Cruise in "Minority Report" and "War of the Worlds."

"He's the heart and soul of DreamWorks," said a source at a rival studio. "If you have Steven Spielberg, you want his blessing."

Now Spielberg's left in a tough spot because his talent agency, Creative Artists Agency, also represents Cruise.

CAA has been openly furious over Redstone's remarks. It's unclear whether Redstone checked in with Viacom CEO Tom Freston or Paramount chief Brad Grey before hauling off on Cruise.

In a highly unusual public spanking, the 83-year-old mogul said he wanted out of his 14-year partnership with Cruise because the star's antics — including his Scientology stumping, Brooke Shields bashing and Katie Holmes couch jumping — damaged his box-office take.

Spielberg's longtime producing partner, Kathleen Kennedy, disputed claims that the director was miffed over Cruise's behavior while promoting "War of the Worlds" last summer.

"It's not true," Kennedy, who produced the movie, told the New York Daily News. "[Cruise] was a consummate professional. He's done nothing wrong."

Kennedy said Cruise realizes he went over the line when he bashed Shields for taking antidepressants to fight postpartum depression. "That, he deeply regrets," she said.

The producer said many in Hollywood were "shocked and dismayed" by Redstone's personal attacks on Cruise.

"I personally think it got handled quite badly," she said.

Nonetheless, she doesn't expect a talent backlash against Paramount.

"At the end of the day, there are only a handful of places to go," Kennedy said.

Another Hollywood big shot, "Top Gun" producer Jerry Bruckheimer, said Redstone "has the right to say what he wants," although he added, "It's not what I would do."

The "Without a Trace" producer maintains that Cruise is "one of the biggest stars in the world, and that hasn't changed."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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