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Alec Baldwin Cries No Mas

Why He Vants to Be Alone

By: Charles Giuliano - 02/26/2014

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Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin discussed Billy Wilder during the 2010 Williamstown Film Festival. Giuliano photos.
Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin discussed Billy Wilder during the 2010 Williamstown Film Festival. Giuliano photos.
A paparazzi moment with Baldwin.
A paparazzi moment with Baldwin.
In profile.
In profile.
Robert Osborne has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema.
Robert Osborne has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema.

In a compelling PBS bio of writer J.D. Salinger there were fans, stalkers and photographers striving for an encounter, snapshot and even a glimpse of the celebrated author of Catcher in the Rye. After instant celebrity in New York he promptly withdrew to seclusion in New Hampshire. He continued to write every day and that work will gradually be published through his estate.

The neighbors for the most part respected his privacy and kept their distance.

A friend, Marian Bratesman, a publicist, told me of finding herself seated behind him during a performance at Dartmouth College. She discretely said “Good evening Mr. Salinger.”

That was then. In a rambling essay in New York Magazine “I Give Up” (Feb. 24- March 9, 2014) disgruntled, mad as hell, totally fed up actor, Alec Baldwin, vividly and venomously describes how this is now.

Today everyone snaps a photo with their smart phone which is then posted on Facebook.

“There was a time the entire world didn’t have a camera in their pocket—the first thing that cell phones did was to kill the autograph business,” Baldwin wrote. “Nobody cares about your autograph. There are cameras everywhere, and there are media outlets for them to ‘file their story.’ They take your picture in line for coffee. They’re trying to get a picture of your baby. Everyone’s got a camera. When they’re done, they tweet it. It’s … unnatural.”

Including me.

During the 2010 Williamstown Film Festival Baldwin and Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, presented a wonderful evening of the films of Billy Wilder at Mass MoCA. They showed clips and then engaged in a dialogue about the films. Osborne has encyclopedic knowledge of the medium. Baldwin, however, was no less impressive in his passion and depth of understanding. It was an absorbing glimpse of his spontaneity, wit and generosity.

Why on earth would a mega celebrity of his stature schlep up from New York for a one- nighter at a provincial film festival? It was a comment on the connections and respect accorded organizer of the festival, Steve Lawson, and his ability to call in blue chip favors. It makes the annual festival both intimate and special.

There was a reception in the lobby after the event and Baldwin stayed for perhaps ten minutes. During which I angled for a couple of shots. Posted here. But also tried to keep a critical distance and respect his space.

Baldwin is a big strong guy in his fifties and I am well beyond my fight years. Back in College I was a varsity wrestler. Baldwin is widely reported for his altercations with fans, photographers and the media which he loathes. There is always some personal danger and risk taking when getting too up close and personal with celebrities. Some, like Baldwin, swing back with a screed of epithets. Which are then posted with massive consequences. He has been accused of being racist and homophobic. There are even comparisons to Mel Gibson on the other end of the political spectrum.

The incidents caused his MSNBC hosted show to be dropped after just five episodes. Lucrative advertising contracts and paid appearances have been cancelled. The loss of income is in the millions of dollars.

As a critic/ journalist I stand by my effort to take photographs which illustrate coverage. I was not camped in front of his New York apartment or chasing him down the street. Or frightening his wife and kids as he discusses in the article.

We are talking light years beyond “Good evening Mr. Salinger.” Or Greta Garbo stating that “I vant to be alone.”

Hashing and trashing the private lives of celebrities has become a billion dollar global industry.

It was amusing and interesting when we first became aware of swarms of Paparazzi’s in Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita. There was a feeding frenzy when sexpot Anita Ekberg jumped into a fountain in Rome and cavorted for the cameras.

Celebrity coverage works both ways. It can make and break careers.

This Sunday, March 2, is Oscar Night.

The movie stars will walk the Red Carpet and be asked penetrating questions like “Are you excited?” or “Who are you wearing?” The next day coverage will include slide shows of best and worst dressed.

Berkshire Eagle op ed writer John Seven will be pleased to know that Woody Allen, who has nominations for Blue Jasmine, will not be attending. Seven boycotts “artistic creeps” like Allen and Mia Farrow.

That was last week as we reported. But today’s Eagle posting, continues to pile it on. “…And as long as the two post-Ragnarok survivors aren't Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, I'm good with the whole scenario, because it's actually better than the one that's really unfolding” Seven “reports.”

“That's the joke. The world is ending, just at a much slower pace than the Vikings would have it, and neither Woody nor Mia will survive in the long run.”

In the Berkshire Eagle this passes for ersatz news.

As to what Ragnarok means, don’t ask. Just a lame excuse for a hack to write about on a slow news day.

No wonder that Baldwin lumps all journalist together as vultures.

“Now I loathe and despise the media in a way I did not think possible” Baldwin states. “I used to engage with the media knowing that some of it would be adversarial, but now it’s superfluous at best and toxic at its worst. If MSNBC went off the air tomorrow, what difference would it make? If the Huffington Post went out of business tomorrow, what difference would it make? Arianna Huffington accomplished what she wanted to accomplish. She created this wonderful thing. And what have they done with that? They want clicks, I get it. They’ve gotta have clicks for their advertisers, so they’re going to need as much Kim Kardashian and wardrobe malfunctions as possible. The other day, they had a thing on the home page about pimples. Tripe. Liberal and conservative media are now precisely equivalent.”

Right on Alec.

Even as a lifelong journalist it is hard to defend our profession.

But there’s an interesting twist as Baldwin uses the media to denounce the media.

“I’m aware that it’s ironic that I’m making this case in the media—but this is the last time I’m going to talk about my personal life in an American publication ever again” he states.

From 2006 to 2013, Baldwin starred as Jack Donaghy on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, receiving critical acclaim for his performance and winning two Emmy Awards, three Golden Glob Awards, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards for his work on the show, making him the male performer with the most SAG Awards.

He was host of MSNBC's Up Late with Alec Baldwin, which lasted for five episodes until he was fired on November 26, 2013.

I respect Baldwin, particularly his passion and raging bull, off the grid, persona. As an actor he reminds me of Robert Mitchum. There is the same kind of working class rugged good looks. On screen or stage he can be dressed up or down from garage mechanic and blue collar stiff to Black Rock entertainment executive. He occupies the same aesthetic niche as Russell Crowe, another actor noted for a short fuse, but with none of the same depth and nuance.

We would prefer to discuss Baldwin as an actor and artist.

But we are not. Instead we are sucked into the black hole of his private life and verbal blunders by his own doing. Through the New York Magazine screed has he cleared the air? Set forth a game plan for the rest of his career? Or shot himself in the foot?

He discusses leaving New York where there is not a minute of peace and quite to the gated communities of Hollywood which he previously despised. Or so he says. There in the game preserve of movie stars he can hide in plain sight.

And be closer to an estranged daughter by first wife Kim Basinger. On 60 Minutes, some time back, he discussed thoughts of suicide after Basinger made public a vile phone message to his daughter.

Last Sunday, on 60 Minutes, through an interview with Leslie Stahl, we learned of another approach to the fame game. In Australia she visited with actress Cate Blanchett who is up for a Best Actress Oscar for her stunning turn in Blue Jasmine.

Blanchett talked candidly about her unusual, not pretty, features that with proper lighting and makeup can be viewed as masculine (Bob Dylan) or glamorous depending on the role. We also learned that ground rules included that her kids and home were not photographed for the segment. Living Down Under, where she and her husband have run a theatre company, is about as far away as one can get from paparazzis and predatory media. One sensed from Blanchett a careful balance between career and family.

While far, far away from Hollywood Australia is a pretty big island. With Tasmania, New Guinea, Seram, Timor, and neighboring islands a continent actually.

Which is why Marlon Brando bought his very own little dot in the Pacific. There, far from the prying eye of the media and fans, the once svelte and stunning star of Streetcar Named Desire blew up like a blimp stuffing himself to death on pizza and burgers. “The horror, the horror” indeed.

In our obsessive adulation and thirst for gossip are we tormenting and harassing celebrities into early graves?

We are still mourning the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Last week, on the Tonight Show, first lady Michelle Obama told Jimmy Fallon of attempts to give her daughters close to normal lives. Hopefully, the kids are sheltered from the vile things that, as a matter of course, are said about their father.

The media does not accent the positive. The good news, which nobody is interested in, gets buried in the back pages.

If it bleeds it leads.

As Baldwin puts it “In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day. What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this. There is a core of outlets that are pushing these stories out. Breitbart clutters the blogosphere with “Alec Baldwin, he’s the Devil, he’s Fidel Baldwin.”

Alec is no Boy Scout.

You catch the drift, however, that Baldwin is a good guy who works with a lot of charities. He’s a complex and interesting person with rough edges and a quick temper. But given the opportunity he seems like a good friend with a great sense of humor. It’s the side of him that worked so well with Tina Fey on 30 Rock.

It’s with concern and despair that he has publicly announced throwing in the towel. Pushed to the edge his public meltdowns have been widely posted. We are not his judge and jury. My instinct is to give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest counseling.

Actually, we talked about this over lunch yesterday. It was a conversation among four artists. We noted that even the most famous visual artists are not hounded by the media. I suggested that every artist, by definition, seeks fame. Or at least recognition for their work.

We all laughed when I fantasized about causing riots when shopping for groceries at Big Y. It would be fun to be a celebrity. Or as I put it “famouser” but then again not really.

It was with compassion and sadness that I read Baldwin’s statement on calling it quits.

It’s good-bye to public life in the way that you try to communicate with an audience playfully like we’re friends, beyond the work you are actually paid for. Letterman. Saturday Night Live. That kind of thing. I want to go make a movie and be very present for that and give it everything I have, and after we’re done, then the rest of the time is mine. I started out as an actor, where you seek to understand yourself using the words of great writers and collaborating with other creative people. Then I slid into show business, where you seek only an audience’s approval, whether you deserve it or not. I think I want to go back to being an actor now.

“There’s a way I could have done things differently. I know that. If I offended anyone along the way, I do apologize. But the solution for me now is: I’ve lived this for 30 years, I’m done with it.

“And, admittedly, this is how I feel in February of 2014.”

Good evening Mr. Salinger. I really liked your book.

 

 

 

Reader Comments
From "Benno Friedman"
03-08-2014, 08:39 am
This Baldwin piece is you at your best; tying up lots of pieces of string to make one long segment, strong enough to hang a number of good ideas on without it breaking. You do yourself proud, Mr. Big. Lately I've had a couple of reasons to lift a glass and given nod in your direction. Can you get a witness?
From "Jim Jacobs"
02-27-2014, 06:18 pm
I really love the piece on Baldwin. Great wit and delicate reporting. You are a pro
From "Erica H. Adams"
02-27-2014, 06:14 pm
Good for him! Maybe, I won't read the article (to help him live his private life)
From "Geoffrey Movius"
02-26-2014, 03:01 pm
Nice piece, Charles, and true.
From "Jane from Williamstown"
02-26-2014, 02:58 pm
Good Bladwin piece! Certainly apropos of your recent reacto-Seven piece. Let all the old bastards be! Right?!
From "Arthur Yanoff"
02-26-2014, 02:52 pm
i just read your piece on privacy and the media. it is a kind of catch 22 which you give our brains pause to consider. baldwin is correct about unending electronic media taking over, but how do we now function in this new world without it? in protest of the automobile do we ride horses on the mass pike? you mentioned that you wrestled. well ,those were the days of killer kowolski, greg the hammer, captain lou albano,etc. pro wrestling is a mirror of our society/culture. i wish you could step in the ring again. i take it mr 7 is still at it. i suggest that he go to a big library,take out as many bios of famous people as possible over a 10 year period, and continually give us reports on who we should consider appropriate for our eyes and ears. about fame as a painter,the great american painter,john marin remarked that no attention can knock a painter down just as too much attention.probably few painters are so immersed in pop culture that they are so quickly recognized in public to be snapped by cell phone cameras. mass media features actors more than painters, poets, fiction writers. warhol is another story. he was right about 15 minutes though.
From "william turville"
02-26-2014, 02:45 pm
"I can't stand anything about this humorless, "reaching" , smirky, uncivilized person...acting, public life, whatever.
From "Diane Novetsky"
02-26-2014, 02:43 pm
Good article. Let's hope Alec sticks to his decision. I like him as an actor and don't want to be distracted by his short fuse. He's a lucky and talented man --needs to keep his mouth shut!"
From "Deborah"
02-26-2014, 02:41 pm
I liked your piece on Baldwin. He is a really thoughtful, intelligent person and it's a shame his life has become such a horror and people's perception of him reduced to his worst moments.
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