True love or publicity stunt?

As a superstar Tom Cruise vaunts his romance with actress Katie Holmes, but Americans are extremely sceptical about whether the feted relationship is true love or an extravagant publicity stunt.

As the Top Gun heart-throb (42) makes a series of giddy public appearances to proclaim his new love for the 26-year-old actress, fans and media suspect the much-publicised affair has more to do with the upcoming release of two new films starring Cruise and Holmes.

An unscientific poll by People magazine indicated that 63% of readers believe the romance is a publicity stunt, while only 37% believe the pair are genuinely in love.

A similar random poll by Us Weekly magazine showed that 65% of its respondents were sceptical, even as publicists for the two actors, who have been dating a month, insist they are genuinely smitten.

“Through all the changes that have swept Hollywood over the years, one thing still endures: strategic love,” said a columnist in the prestigious New York Times this week.

“The coupling of stars to create ballyhoo for a movie, burnish an actor’s image, create a name or distract attention from other relationships may not be as common as when the movie studios tightly controlled stars’ careers through the 1950s, some publicists and film industry experts assert.

“But it is still the easiest way to grab flattering publicity,” the Times said bluntly.

As it happens, Cruise is the star of Steven Spielberg’s big-budget War of the Worlds, due for release on June 29, while Holmes coincidentally, is set to make her big-screen debut in Batman Begins, which opens June 15.

The twice-married Cruise, whose storied marriage to Australian star Nicole Kidman collapsed in 2001, gave an extraordinary performance as a smitten lover on US television queen Oprah Winfrey’s show this week.

In the appearance, an uncharacteristically emotive and exuberant Cruise repeatedly jumped up and down on a sofa, laughed uproariously, threw his hands in the air and yelled: “I’m in love! I’m in love.”

“I can’t be cool. I can’t be laid-back. It’s something that has happened, and I feel I want to celebrate it.
I want to celebrate her. She’s a very special woman,” he told the talk show host, who quipped: “The boy is gone.”

US media had a field day poking fun—and suspicion—at Cruise’s schoolboyish enthusiasm.

“We know the poor guy has to go on “Oprah” and pretend to be in love with Holmes, and we don’t mind—he has a movie coming out,” wrote columnist Tina Brown in The Washington Post on Thursday. “But can’t he, like, fake it with more conviction?”

US television talk-show host Regis Philbin also noted the lovebirds’ public displays of affection while promoting their movies, including in Italy, where they announced their new romance in an unusual blaze of publicity last month.

Philbin said the affair was “something that’s going to end as soon as their movies are released.” But, he added, “It kind of looks like he’s crazy about her.”

E-Online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca said he had received an avalanche of mail from readers on the topic of the Cruise-Holmes affair, “most uniformly claiming they don’t buy the new romance”.

Cruise’s publicist, his sister Lee Anne DeVette, could not immediately be reached by AFP for comment, but friends of the actor insist his romance with Holmes, best known for her role on the US soap opera Dawson’s Creek, is sincere.

“They’re both smitten with each other,” one friend told People magazine, adding that to describe their romance as a sham was “insulting”.

Cruise’s last known relationship, a three-year romance with Spanish actress Penelope Cruz ended in January. He was married to actresses Mimi Rogers and Kidman, with whom he has two adopted children.

The star of films such as Jerry Maguire and Samurai in January 2003 won a $10-million court award against a former gay porn star who claimed he had been the actor’s lover. Cruise vehemently denied he was gay. - Sapa-AFP

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