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THE BELIEVER

John Travolta’s Former Scientology Pals Speak Out: He’s ‘Got a Dark Side and He’s Reckless’

Dana Kennedy spent some time with the Travoltas at Cannes, attempting to square the seemingly loving family before her with decades of disturbing allegations and rumors.

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Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

CANNES, France — The gay rumors?

Try sitting five inches from John Travolta’s wife, in the Carlton Hotel’s Grace Kelly suite overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean without being overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance.

Kelly Preston, blond and vivacious at 55, was surrounded by her two kids running around the suite, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a gaggle of reporters, at least four publicists, and Travolta himself.

The couple, married 27 years, are affable and seemingly carefree. They came to Cannes (piloted by Travolta on his jet) on a week-long publicity blitz to promote Travolta’s latest film, Gotti, a biopic of the late Gambino crime family boss John Gotti that opens June 15. Travolta, 64, plays Gotti from a young-ish man to his death at 61. Preston plays Gotti’s long-suffering wife, Victoria.

Travolta was also celebrating the 40th anniversary of Grease, which screened here in 1978. Travolta was set to host an afterparty for Gotti at the luxe Eden Roc at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes and channel Danny Zuko at a bash for Grease after an outdoor beach screening with his family and fans.

As the Travoltas take Cannes, it’s hard to remember that they’re two of the most powerful and loyal Scientologists in the world. Or that as a couple they’ve managed to dodge, or “handle,” in Scientology parlance, years of accusations from male masseurs and his former co-pilot, among others, of sexual assault and harassment against Travolta.

The most recent claim against him surfaced just last November in a police report published online alleging “sexual battery” by a male masseur in 2000.

The Travoltas have survived Carrie Fisher telling Out magazine in 2009 that “We don’t really care that John Travolta is gay.” They prevailed in a legal fight over Robert Randolph’s Los Angeles gay sex tell-all You’ll Never Spa in This Town Again in 2012 that cited Travolta. They’ve watched as some of Travolta’s accusers have recanted.

Kelly’s been trained to not believe what she hears in the media. She’s been trained to think that these are evil people making things up.

Just as #MeToo hit the Croisette this year, the pair looked relaxed and happy as they brought Travolta’s passion project to Cannes.

To mark the occasion, Preston told me eagerly that she’s just opened an Instagram account, urged on by her 18-year-old daughter, Ella Bleu, and it’s filled with photos of her looking loved-up with Travolta. “My gorgeous hubby!” she captions one image. “Date night!” reads another.

Gotti was more than eight years in the making and lists 44 producers. It got terrible reviews at Cannes for, among many reasons, its oddly pro-Gotti tone. The man, after all, was a murderer who was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole when he died of throat cancer in federal prison in 2002.

“It mostly portrays John Gotti as a loving family man and altogether likeable guy,” said The Hollywood Reporter. “Leave it up to ‘Teflon Don’ to get a movie made that seems to clear him of all charges more than 15 years after his death.”

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Gotti was supposed to go straight to video in December 2017 before being reportedly dumped by Lionsgate a week before its release. Travolta, incredibly, not only managed to find another investor to ensure a theatrical run, he talked Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, into letting Gotti hold its premiere at the Salle Bunuel inside the Palais des Festivals.

Teflon Don? Meet Teflon John: adored husband, family man, and still the biggest star to hit the Croisette this year, unless you count Kendall Jenner.

Scandal doesn’t stick to Travolta—or seem to affect Preston, at least so far. Some of that is due to Travolta’s fearsome L.A. lawyer Marty Singer, who, along with Scientology bosses, has “handled” all the allegations of assault or harassment against Travolta much as Gotti’s flamboyant attorney, Bruce Cutler, won three dramatic courtroom victories for his client.

There are several eerie parallels between Travolta and Preston and John and Victoria Gotti. Gotti, who described himself as a plumbing salesman on tax returns, never admitted publicly to leading a double life. Nor has Travolta. Both couples also lost a son.

Frank Gotti was 12 in 1980 when he was accidentally hit by a neighbor’s car. Jett Travolta was 16 in 2009 when he died in the Bahamas, apparently after having a seizure and hitting his head in the bath.

Some say that much of the Travolta/Preston staying power, at least when it comes to their image and long marriage, is due to the steeliness of the outwardly easygoing Preston.

Though Preston’s acting career can’t compare to Travolta’s, several former high-ranking Scientologists, all of whom left the church around 2010, told The Daily Beast that Preston is the “hard-core” devotee. One said she “anchors” Travolta and that he relies on her strength and is “terrified” of losing her.

“Kelly is a much more dedicated Scientologist than John,” said Mike Rinder, the former top spokesman for the Church of Scientology and previously one of its main “enforcers.” “Scientology dictates every choice in life and informs every decision a Scientologist makes.”

Rinder knew the couple well and liked both of them.

“I cannot say if he is gay or not,” Rinder said. “I’m not going to speculate. All I know is it would be a catastrophe if he or anyone else in Scientology came out as gay. You can’t. The church is anti-gay even if they don’t publicize it.”

Karen de la Carriere, once one of Scientology’s most powerful executives and one of the last to be personally trained by L. Ron Hubbard, met Travolta when he joined Scientology around 1975 and later met Kelly.

De la Carriere says Travolta is “a bad boy who likes risky sexual adventures.” Preston is “either deluded or more likely just deaf to the whole thing.”

“The church has a very intense indoctrination to prepare you for anything you might hear,” De la Carriere said. “It’s like a pre-emptive strike in case something uncomfortable comes up. Kelly’s been trained to not believe what she hears in the media. She’s been trained to think that these are evil people making things up.”

To Jeffrey Augustine, De la Carriere’s husband and another ex-Scientologist, “Kelly is a true believer.”

“John loves aviation more than Hollywood, but because of Kelly he’d never leave Scientology,” Augustine said. “He loves his family. He’s just got a dark side and he’s reckless. But he really has no reason to want to leave the church. People at his level never see the ugly side of the church. Plus, he’s got OSA [Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs] as his own private Mafia if he gets into trouble.”

Travolta rolled with a Gotti-sized entourage in Cannes that included his actress-sister Ellen, various other family members, lifelong friends, his longtime manager Randi Michel, and John Gotti Jr. Gotti is based largely on Junior’s book and Junior accompanied Travolta to the Gotti screening here.

Gotti Jr. was also at the party at Eden Roc, a glamorous and romantic spot high above an infinity pool carved into rocks leading down to the sea. After a long dinner at the upstairs restaurant, Travolta came down with his wife, daughter ,and 7-year-old Croc-wearing son, Ben, who was born after Jett’s death, and greeted the crowd in a suit with ruffled sleeves.

A clip of him dancing awkwardly with 50 Cent later went viral but the thirtysomething crowd drinking Champagne and eating chocolate desserts off silver salvers applauded wildly.

Travolta's most candid moments came during a two-hour master class in the Bunuel Room in which he was interviewed by a French journalist and then took questions from the crowd of mainly young aspiring filmmakers and actors.

While dissecting his films and his reputation for comebacks (Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or here in 1994 and reignited his then-moribund career), Travolta spoke repeatedly about “confidence” and how to “stabilize” yourself to achieve greatness.

“I practice Scientology, and we do very simple things to get ourselves in better shape: Take care of yourself, get good sleep, be better parents, be productive, be motivated,” he said. “It sounds simple, but they all contribute to your well-being.”

Though in Cannes for at least five days, Travolta was “not available” for any one-on-one interviews, just “roundtables” of softball-throwing reporters in the Grace Kelly suite.

Preston, however, was offered to anyone in the suite who wanted to talk to her alone—and she seemed to have all the time in the world.

She was charming, and spoke enthusiastically of the day she and Travolta spent with Gotti’s widow Victoria at the Howard Beach, Queens, home that she once shared with Gotti.

Preston and Mrs. Gotti struck up a friendship that continues on email to this day. Preston also studied footage of Mrs. Gotti as a young woman to help her shape her portrayal.

“She would let me ask her anything,” Preston said. “I’d ask her what did she feel, how did she think, what was she going through.”

How much did Victoria Gotti know about what her husband did?

“She knows John was in the life,” Preston said. “She doesn’t want their son in it but had no huge problem with it.”

Did she dislike him being in the life—or was she maybe into it?

“No, she wasn’t into it at all,” Preston said. “She felt what he did outside those doors was his business and how he was at home was their life.”

Did she love him?

“She fell in love with him, yes,” Preston said. “There was the life out there and then there was how he was with his family and her inside the home and it was very different. They had a very loving, very deep respect for each other. They could be very volatile together but she held her own. John [Gotti] couldn’t understand why everyone feared him, but his own wife had no fear of him at all.”

Travolta’s publicist did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story by The Daily Beast. A Scientology media spokesman claimed in an email that its website has no listed policy or “stance” against homosexuality. The spokesman said further that Scientology does not comment on individual Scientologists.

Updated 5/25, 2:45 P.M. to correct the date Travolta joined Scientology, around 1975. We regret the error.