Q: Tom Cruise recently fired his publicist of 14 years, Pat Kingsley, and replaced her with his sister, whose experience pales beside Kingsley's decades of successful publicity management. Should I be replacing experienced people who provide me services and expertise -- stockbrokers, hairdressers, mechanics -- with my own inexperienced siblings? Is this a trend?

Tim Flannery, Dallas

A: Pat Kingsley made sure that we never knew much about Tom Cruise beyond what he wants us to know -- whether it's about his relationships, his religious beliefs or his innermost desires. (And speculating about those in print has gotten some people sued, aggressively, by Cruise and his ex-wife Nicole Kidman.)

"To say Ms. Kingsley was Mr. Cruise's publicist is an understatement," wrote Frank DiGiacomo of the New York Observer, after the split. "She was the . . . engineer of the bulletproof body armor that Mr. Cruise wore to do battle with the media." Kingsley practically invented the modern power-publicist's control over which writers and photographers from various begging glossy magazines can get access to big stars. She is a major player in the PMK/HBH firm, DiGiacomo notes, which notoriously withholds its powerful clients -- Julia, Russell, Gwyneth -- from publications and infotainment shows that displease them.

The Cruise spin on the split was "mutually amicable," but Hollywood gossip is that he blamed Kingsley for his "Last Samurai" shutout on Oscar night.

Still, Cruise flies without Kingsley's help at his own peril, with his sister (and fellow Scientologist) Lee Anne DeVette in charge of his image now. Seems like a wonderful time to write something really juicy about Cruise and see how (or if) Sis handles the job. But drat, I'm out of space.

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