For the secretive Church of Scientology, "there was no bigger recruit than Tom Cruise."
The top Hollywood actor's membership in the Church beginning in 1986 "was huge," says Karen Pressley - a former Commanding Officer of the Church's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood from 1987 to 1989.
"My job was to ensure that celebrities were recruited, that celebrities were well serviced within our organization, and also to open up new celebrity centers around the world," she told CNN's Kareen Wynter.
The high-profile marriage split between Cruise and actor Katie Holmes, has reignited media interest in Scientology's influence in Hollywood.
Religious disagreements, according to speculation by news organizations, may have contributed to tensions between Cruise and Holmes, who was raised Roman Catholic. A joint statement released Monday to announce their divorce settlement said, "We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents." It's not known if Holmes joined the Church of Scientology.
Cruise is just one of many celebrity members of the church, including John Travolta, Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley.
But Cruise was among Scientology's biggest fish, says Pressley. "Is there a bigger name than Tom? We called him TC."
Church founder L. Ron Hubbard realized celebrities were key to his mission, according to the Scientology website.
"The world is carried on the backs of a desperate few," Hubbard is quoted on the site. By "the few," Hubbard was referring to leaders in the realm of art, politics, industry, and sports. To cater to these people specifically, the church formed a special branch of Church of Scientology called the Celebrity Centre International. With locations around the world, Hollywood's celebrity center was established in 1969.
Its aim: to provide celebrities "... with a practical technology for improving one's happiness and creativity," the website says.
The church opens the Celebrity Centres for public tours. The Hollywood center offers classes and even a Sunday brunch, according to the website.
According to Pressley, celebrities get special perks including private entrances and course rooms, along with access to a VIP lounge.
She says Hubbard targeted celebrities specifically to add credibility to the Church's beliefs and to encourage more people to join.
Pressley, who was a Scientologist for 16 years, described internal wish lists and strategies discussed among church leaders in the 1980s to recruit other celebrities - including Brad Pitt and Demi Moore. Those discussions about how to bring Moore and Pitt into the fold never bore fruit, Pressley said.
The church would work to win over celebrity recruits, Pressley said, by giving them individual attention and by explaining how Scientology could help them achieve their highest goals as artists.
In exchange for tailored treatment, Pressley says Scientology leaders expected celebrities to stay committed to the church's teachings and speak glowingly of its benefits.
Many of them do exactly that. Travolta's spouse, Kelly Preston, credited Scientology with helping the couple cope with the death of their son, Jett.
Alley said the Church helped her overcome a drug addiction.
As for Cruise, he has publicly touted the benefits of church teachings, famously debating NBC's Matt Lauer about the church's stand against psychiatric drugs. More recently, Cruise told Playboy magazine that Scientology offers him a "search for how I can do things better, whether it's being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve."
"Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them," Cruise said.