- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tom Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner have been put in charge of United Artists, a film studio that was formed nearly 90 years ago by Hollywood actors including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

Miss Wagner will serve as chief executive of the company, which is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Mr. Cruise will appear in UA films, but also be allowed to star in films from rival studios, MGM announced yesterday.

The development is a major comeback for Mr. Cruise and Miss Wagner. They were unceremoniously dumped in August from their 14-year producing deal at Paramount Studios after Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent company Viacom Inc., blamed Mr. Cruise’s public antics for hurting the box-office performance of “Mission: Impossible III.”

MGM said yesterday that Mr. Cruise and Miss Wagner have taken an ownership interest in UA, but did not specify financial terms.

Mr. Cruise and Miss Wagner will have full control of the production slate, which is expected to be four films a year, MGM said.

“There is a complete alignment of interests in this deal,” MGM Chief Operating Officer Rick Sands said yesterday. “They are equity owners in the company and they share with us in the upside.”

Two weeks after being cut loose by Paramount, Cruise/Wagner Productions signed a two-year financing deal with an investment partnership headed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

That deal with First & Goal LLC covers overhead and development for films produced by Mr. Cruise and Miss Wagner, but is not part of yesterday’s, Mr. Sands said.

United Artists has been virtually mothballed for several years, although the studio’s logo will appear on the latest James Bond film, “Casino Royale,” expected to be released in two weeks.

Most recently, UA had been used to acquire or produce low-budget independent films.

But under Mr. Cruise and Miss Wagner, the studio is free to make $100 million action films starring Mr. Cruise, as well as lower-budget fare, MGM said.

“It really depends on what they as the creative executives want to produce,” Mr. Sands said. “It’s a real studio that we are reinventing.”

Mr. Sands said financing for the films would come from partnerships with private equity funds that have become more influential in Hollywood in recent years.

Mr. Cruise’s last appearance in a UA film was in “Rain Man” in 1988, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Mr. Sands said he does not have any concerns about Mr. Cruise’s public behavior having any effect on his new role atop the studio.

“We believe Tom is a terrific creative force,” Mr. Sands said. “If you look at his track record, he’s generated huge box office and we believe the relationship of being a partner is different from a studio/actor relationship.”

United Artists was founded in 1919 by Mr. Chaplin, Miss Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. The studio operated as an artist-centered company for decades, churning out such hits as “Some Like It Hot” and a string of James Bond films, starting with 1962’s “Dr. No.”

In 1967 the company was sold to Transamerica, which owned it until 1981 when it was bought by MGM. In 1980, the studio released one of the most notorious flops in movie history, “Heaven’s Gate.”

In 2004, MGM was bought by a consortium that includes Sony Corp., Comcast Corp. and private equity companies Providence Equity Partners Inc., Texas Pacific Group and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners.

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