Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. That’s his real name. I have it on good authority that it was shortened to Tom Cruise by a woman by the name of Tobe Gibson, who is credited with discovering the young actor and landing him his first major roles. She was a talent manager in NYC and a little research shows she got him started, launched his career, and like many in Hollywood do, he left her behind as he climbed the ladder. If you read his unauthorized biography, or search their names together, it’s clear they were connected.
I met Tobe when I was 32. The twins were about 4 months old, I was unhappy in my marriage, and struggling to figure out my direction in life. (Once again…) I had recently started an acting workshop, had new head shots done, and realizing I was ‘over the hill’ for the business, was advised to seek out a manager to guide me on the path to success. I sent out 30 photos and got two calls back…typical. One was from a rough sounding woman who instantly reminded me of Joey’s agent on Friends. (Estelle… remember Estelle?!?!)
I was standing in my kitchen. I remember the call. I was jotting notes on a scrap piece of paper. She told me a bit about herself, explained her claim to fame was discovering Cruise and said she wanted me to come to her office. It was in Hartsdale, not Manhattan. We scheduled an appointment for a few days later, I hung up the phone, and Andy and I danced a little in the kitchen. (That was always our thing…dancing in the kitchen.) Maybe this was it. Maybe this was the beginning of what I was meant to do.
When I met her, it was cold and snowy. Her building was less than memorable, although I remember it vividly. I arrived at her office and she had someone else there so I waited outside in the hallway. When I went in, she looked me up and down and told me to sit down. She had on a lot of make-up and was wearing a navy dress suit. Her office was cluttered with photos. She had my head shot in her hand, flipped it over to look at my resume and declared, “Well, you haven’t done much. I don’t know what I can do with you.”
What?!?!?! She had invited me there! I drove an hour and a half, in snow, to have some old lady dismiss me just like that?!?! No way!!!! I smiled, which I do occasionally, and made conversation. She said, “Well, do a monologue or something. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
I did. When I was done she said, “Well, you’re good. I guess I knew it from the picture. You really don’t have much on your resume. I’m not sure how I can promote you. I’ll sign you for a year. Just a year. I normally do two but you really don’t have much. Can you sing?”
“I don’t sing, ” I replied.
“You can sing. I know you can sing. I hear it in your voice. Trust me . You can sing,” she said.
“I can’t sing.”
“I’m pretty sure you can sing.”
Thus began our beautiful relationship. The short version is we connected. I don’t know why. She was overbearing, in your face, demanding, and yet completely irresistible. She talked about my career, about her visions, how she felt ‘there’s just something about you’…
It was February of 2009. Two months later she had yet to send me on a single audition or meeting. She wasn’t feeling well, she said. She would have me stop by on my way to/from NYC on an almost weekly basis. Her apartment was cluttered. She had stacks of photos everywhere. She told me she wished I was her daughter. (She had two daughters. One was a notable SOAP actress, the other a Hollywood Madame. GOOGLE Jody Babydoll Gibson.) She was heartbroken over her daughter’s path, and perhaps she saw me as a way to make up for something she felt she had done wrong. She wanted me to succeed.
One weekend she came to my home in Connecticut. I picked her up from the train in New Haven and on the way home we had to stop at the grocery store to get her favorite foods. Aidan and Zach were with me, ages 6 and 4. She yelled at them in the car for being silly. I was taken aback, not surprised, and mildly irritated. I’m the mom. I called the shots, but not in Tobe’s world. I kept my mouth shut. I tucked her into bed and she watched a Barbara Streisand special on TV. The next day I drove her to Rhode Island to get her haircut. Why?!?! I couldn’t tell you why. There was just a connection.
She took me to all you can eat salad bars, forced me to eat strawberry shortcake, and called me regularly. I drove her, in a near blizzard, to pick up a friend miles away from her home. I couldn’t say no. In four months she sent me on one meeting with a casting director and that was all. Andy and I talked about what I should I do. Did I tell her I needed more and wanted out of my contract?
In June she called and said she needed to see me. I went to her apartment and she apologized for not having followed through as my manager. She told me she loved me like a daughter…the good one…and said she needed to go to LA to be with her family. She was sick, they were worried, and she was getting old. (I never knew how old.) She was spunky, relentless, and outspoken. She asked me if I wanted some of her furniture. An old lamp, a mirrored armoire. I said no, I didn’t have room for them. She then told me to sit on her bed and walked across the room. She came back with a mink stole. She wanted me to have it. It meant a lot to her, as did I, and she wanted to know that someone she cared about would keep it safe. I couldn’t say no.
She said she would call when she got to LA. She was going to work with an agent and would have me come out. I never heard from her again.
I left her a message in July. No return call. I called again in August. Nothing. It was strange. This woman had called me regularly and as much as she drove me insane, I missed her. At the beginning of October I received an email from a common connection. “In Memoriam: Tobe Gibson” She had passed away. I cried…and cried…and cried. I was heartbroken.
Tobe had a rare brain disease. I think it was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. She may have contracted it fifty years earlier, and it causes memory loss, strange behavior, and dementia. Once the symptoms present, it can be a rapid decline. Suddenly it all made sense.
At her memorial, I met her daughter. (The good one as she put it.) I cried along with a roomful of people I did not know. Tom wasn’t there. Her friend, the one I picked up in the snowstorm, announced to the room how much Tobe loved me, and how fond of me she was. I asked her daughter if she wanted the mink and she said no, her mother had wanted me to have it.
There is so much more to this story. The anger Tobe felt that she shared with me and the discussions I had with other industry professionals once I realized her connection to her ‘other’ daughter. I felt as if I had been robbed of the chance to truly know this woman, to fully develop our relationship. Five years later I can say her impact on me, in just those 5 months, was tremendous. I still feel the loss now and wonder what she would think of where my life has gone. I wonder what may have happened had she not fallen ill? I think maybe that wasn’t ever in the cards, and perhaps I was sent to her for some reason.
I don’t know if I can sing. I know that because of Tobe I try. I belt out show tunes at the top of my lungs, when I’m alone, and I think sometimes I do ok. I think the key is we think, or are told, we can’t, and therefore never try. If you’re uninhibited, sometimes you can. Maybe I needed lessons.
The mink is in my closet. Well, it’s in Andy’s closet. He hasn’t moved it and won’t until I’m ready for it. I wore it to Christmas Eve once, but that was the only time. (I can eat the cow, can’t wear the mink.) When I tell this story I often end it with, “Cruise got Cruise… and I got a mink.”
In reality, I think I got so much more than he did.