NEW YORK—It is a mere two weeks after the release of the summer blockbuster Mission: Impossible, and Lori Skedelesky, an associate editor at Entertainment Weekly, can claim responsibility for one of the most clever turns of phrase in recent journalistic history: “Cruise Control.”
“I’m very proud of it,” says Skedelesky of the headline, which appeared in the summer movie preview issue of the magazine. “I was sitting around racking my brains, when all of a sudden it occurred to me that [the actor]’s last name seemed somehow familiar to me. On a hunch, I looked it up in a dictionary. Sure enough, I found it—and not just as a proper noun, but as a regular noun and a verb.”
The dictionary hunt proved a bonanza for Skedelesky, who discovered to her amazement that “cruise” not only is a word in its own right, but also forms part of many “phrases,” or groups of words commonly used together. One of these was “cruise control,” which Skedelesky notes is “a feature in modern automobiles that allows them to maintain a constant speed.”
But what relevance does an automotive convenience have to the mega-star of Losin’ It and Taps? That’s where Skedelesky’s training as a journalist came into play. The tenacious Skedelesky, following her instincts and the lead of popular literary critics like Jacques Derrida and Cindy Adams, decided to take the phrase “cruise control” and deconstruct it into its constituent parts—namely, “cruise” and “control.” When she did—presto!
“It was a real ‘Eureka!’ moment,” says Skedelesky, who earned her stripes at Columbia University’s School of Journalism and TV Guide. “He’s not only the star of the movie, but its producer. Now, everyone knows that producers have a lot of power, or control, over a film. So, the kind of power the producer of Mission: Impossible has is ‘cruise control.’ Capitalize the two words, and you have a very concise way of expressing the motif of the article.”
But “conciseness isn’t its only virtue,” notes Harold Bloom, Professor Emeritus of Literature at Yale University. “To those readers already familiar with the phrase ‘cruise control’ from its usual context, the sudden realization of its applicability in an entirely different area of human experience will send a frisson of delight through their veins, in recognition of the principle of synchronicity at once so ubiquitous yet so hidden in our daily lives.”
The modest Skedelesky admits that the rest of Entertainment Weekly’s staff is abuzz over her work. In fact, her boss, senior editor Denise Bankman, told reporters that associate editors usually don’t have the experience to come up with headlines by themselves, but that they are encouraged to “pitch” ideas at the creative meetings each week.
“To expect that level of idea from an associate editor is unrealistic,” Bankman says. “But every now and then, one of them strikes gold. Right after she came to me with the idea, I told Lori, ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’”
But beyond the 152-person editorial staff of the magazine, the two-word masterpiece earned Skedelesky an even bigger fan—Mr. Cruise Control himself!
“He called me yesterday,” blushes Skedelesky. “Well, not really. It was his publicist’s assistant, and she said how much Mr. Cruise enjoyed the article and thanked me for doing my part to make the movie a success. He’s incredibly down-to-earth.”
Fresh off her “headline-making” success with Tom Cruise, Skedelesky has been assigned another celebrity-profile article, this time of Friends’ David Schwimmer. Skedelesky says “mum’s the word” about the headline of the Schwimmer piece, but she assures us that it goes “even further into the realm of wordplay,” and adds cryptically, “People who use pools to exercise will particularly enjoy it.”