Tom Cruise's image is as carefully managed as that of any actor in Hollywood.Under the firm guidance of veteran publicist Pat Kingsley at PMK (or whatever it's called now), Cruise's public personae has been masterfully polished and presented from the very start - void of the scandals and blotches that have tarnished other Tinseltown stars. Granted, handling a good guy like Cruise - by all accounts, a genuinely likeable, hard-working, and ethical guy - doesn't present the kind of challenges posed by the likes of Russell Crowe or Eddie Murphy. (Remember the "ride" the latter offered the Hollywood transvestite?) Nevertheless, few careers have been as well guided as Cruise's from a PR and creative standpoint. Which is why Kingsley must have been cringing at the rare embarrassing spectacle the actor was subjected to on his recent Tonight Show visit. Evolving from cocky, preppie screen roles in his early days to more heroic fare in recent years, Cruise has been presented as the thinking man's action hero. Buffer. More mature. More... manly. So far, audiences were buying it. But his action-hero status took a hit when he was challenged to an on-air arm-wrestling contest by Jay Leno and couldn't win! What? The buff movie star can't beat the pudgy talk-show host? What in the name of Gold's Gym is going on here? Leno issued the dare to his somewhat surprised guest with an air of confidence, and within seconds of grasping Cruise's hand, forced the straining actor to arise from his chair. Adding further insult, Leno teased the crowd not to look at Cruise's derriere, which by now, owing to the star's bent-over attempts to fend off defeat, was awkwardly pointed directly at the audience. Mercifully, knowing he wouldn't fare as well against an angry Kingsley in a fair fight, Leno called a halt to the contest. Mustering what dignity he had left, Cruise, fixed with a forced smile, returned to his seat. You know, I don't recall Leno challenging Arnold to a contest of strength. (Maybe after three years as governor, the weakened Schwarzenegger will be primed for a fall, Jay.) Anyway, I confidently placed the Cruise incident into the "Worst publicity appearance of the month" file, only to reconsider days later when I saw Paris Hilton subjecting herself to crude sexual innuendo from Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live. Like the Leno-Cruise battle, I'll call this one a draw. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer
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