Tom Cruise and Ron Howard must have gotten the idea from Oliver Stone. Just months after Warner Bros. distributed classroom reading materials to accompany JFK, the star and director of Far and Away, the new movie about turn-of-the-century Irish immigration, sent thousands of letters to high school students and their teachers nationwide asking them to participate in a creative-writing competition pegged to the film’s May 22 release.
”Dear Student” letters signed by Cruise detail the movie’s plot, ask the pupils to imagine how the characters feel, then invite the kids to write their own ”short story about a voyage to America.” In missives to teachers, Howard asks that they give students the chance ”to learn about a vital part of our shared heritage.” Prizes for the best essay, judged last week by authors like Mona Simpson (The Lost Father) and Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), include satellite interviews with costar Nicole Kidman, Cruise, and Howard, and scholarships.
Cosponsored by Scholastic Inc., the contest is supposed to generate interest in history, but it obviously wouldn’t mind stirring up a little interest in Far and Away. To that end, the contest materials plug the movie with 14 boldface mentions of its title and include five scene stills, with a headshot of Cruise thrown in for good measure. These Irish, it would seem, are leaving little to luck.