In the middle of February, that miserable month where we wound up having six feet of snow, I went into Mary’s Marvelous on Newtown Lane in East Hampton one morning for a cup of coffee and one of their freshly baked pastries and was hailed by Alec Baldwin, who was sitting with his wife and little daughter at a small café table near the door. The family lives on a former farm on Town Lane in Amagansett, on property that Alec has owned for 20 years. He wanted to know what was new. So, from my end, I told him.
Dan’s Papers was busy setting up for the coming summer, and we had just days before decided to expand our Dan’s Papers Literary Prize Competition, the summer-long contest to discover the best short nonfiction essay about the East End.
“There will be a second contest,” I told him. “This contest will be only for young writers. College kids. High school kids. It’s for anyone under 25 years old.”
“I would be very interested in that,” Alec said. “I’d like to get involved. What could I do?”
I told him there were all sorts of things he could do. He could be a judge. He could make the First Prize presentation at the awards ceremony. He could speak there. We agreed to talk more about all that.
From Alec’s side, I already knew what was new. His wife, Hilaria, was due with their second child. He would be performing in the lead role of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons on the stage at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, a performance that is currently underway, six days a week, to rave reviews. It continues until this Sunday, June 28. He also will be hosting the Hamptons International Film Festival’s SummerDocs program this summer, introducing the documentary films onstage before they are shown and then interviewing one of the cast members or producers afterwards in a Q&A, also on that stage.
Alec Baldwin is probably, over the years, the most active participant in the summer programs at Guild Hall and other local venues ever. (All this while appearing in nearly 50 motion pictures, a dozen Broadway shows and numerous TV shows over the years.) He’s also been very active in philanthropy. He’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Guild Hall, similar amounts to the East Hampton Library and to other local projects and charities he has felt interested in—another of which has been a breast cancer charity that his mother founded, the Carol M. Baldwin Cancer Research Fund.
In the weeks that followed that meeting at Mary’s Marvelous, we tried to work something out so he could help the Literary Prize. The trouble was that the awards ceremony was scheduled for Thursday, September 3. On weekends he could be there. But during the week, he’d probably be on a movie set somewhere. So he couldn’t guarantee anything. He just didn’t know. In the end, he made a donation to the project (the Prize funds a scholarship for a college student in a writing program at Stony Brook University). In my mind, I thought if he wasn’t on a set that Thursday, maybe he’d come. So I filed away the old Motel Six advertising slogan: We’ll leave the light on for ya.
Alec did send us this statement and said to use it any way it would be helpful.
“I think if anyone can bring together some of the greatest writers around today on behalf of recognizing new, emerging work and thus ‘restock the pond, to the benefit of all,’ that would be Dan. Dan and Dan’s Papers’ contributions to the art of writing and the craft of journalism are legendary. This competition is the latest effort in his stewardship of the written word.”
Alec Baldwin was born in Amityville, New York, and raised in the suburbs in Massapequa, where his father was a history teacher and football coach at the local high school and his mother was a housewife. He was one of six children—two girls and four boys, including, besides himself, Daniel, William and Stephen, who later on also became actors following in the footsteps of their older brother Alec.
Alec became very aware of the firm beliefs held by his father. At a time when anyone in public life in that part of Long Island was a Republican and paid a part of their salary to the Republican Party if they knew what was good for them—this later became a huge scandal—Alec’s father was a Democrat. It kept him from getting promoted, but he stuck with his convictions. Alec admired him for that. In return, his father encouraged Alec and told him—his first-born son—that he could be anything he wanted to be and to always try his best.
After high school, Alec studied political science at George Washington University, but had a change of heart and went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to study drama. He was accepted as part of the Actors Studio.
In fact, dazzlingly handsome, he made his Broadway debut when he was 28 in the revival of the Joe Orton play Loot. Since then he’s been in numerous Broadway shows, including Serious Money, A Streetcar Named Desire (for which he was nominated for a Tony for Best Actor,) Macbeth, South Pacific and Orphans.
He has been a favorite on television. His debut on TV was in the NBC daytime soap opera The Doctors when he was 22. The list of his other credits is long and includes Knots Landing, Dress Gray, The Cat in the Hat, Friends, Will & Grace and more recently, as he has discovered a remarkable talent for humor, in 30 Rock, in which he co-starred with Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan and won two Emmy awards, three Golden Globes and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards. He was, as I am sure you know, the manager of the company there as Jack Donaghy. The show continues in syndication. It’s been on for nearly 10 years. Alec’s also hosted Saturday Night Live nearly two dozen times, and is the only actor, other than Christopher Walken, who the producer of SNL Lorne Michaels has told he’d like to have host SNL any time he is in town. Alec has co-hosted the Academy Awards (with Steve Martin) and is famous for his television advertising campaign for Capital One Bank, the proceeds of which ($10.5 million so far) he has donated to a variety of charities.
Baldwin’s first movie—he’s made more than 40—was Forever Lulu, when he was 29. The following year he appeared in Beetlejuice, Working Girl, and then he starred as Jack Ryan in the movie The Hunt for Red October, which firmly established him as one of the major Hollywood leading men. At 33, he starred opposite Kim Basinger as lovers in The Marrying Man (they also costarred in The Getaway), and then soon thereafter married her. (They divorced in 2002). He also starred opposite Meg Ryan in Prelude to a Kiss.
After the turn of the century, as he reached the age of 40 and found his comedic soul, he became a character actor. For The Cooler, the hit 2003 movie about gambling, he was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. He also appeared in The Aviator, The Departed, Mini’s First Time, Suburban Girl, and, along with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, It’s Complicated, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
He’s also had a production catastrophe trying to make a film. In 1991, he enlisted Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Dan Aykroyd to be in a film with him called The Devil and Daniel Webster that he would direct. An investor in it, Jed Barron, pleaded guilty to wire fraud while the movie was in post-production (much of it was made at a film studio at that time on Industrial Road in Wainscott), and the un-sold film was seized as an asset. It languished for nearly eight years, and then, without Baldwin’s involvement—he had his name removed as director—it was bought by the Yari Film Group, which renamed it Shortcut to Happiness. It appeared in just a few movie houses to mostly negative reviews (it was reportedly a rough cut) and has not been heard from since.
Most recently, he starred opposite Julianne Moore in Still Alice, and has two movies in film production—Concussion and Boss Baby—and a few movies in post-production, including Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation.
Alec has appeared in documentaries, narrated documentaries, even been executive producer of films. He also has authored a book, A Promise to Ourselves, about his encounters with lawyers and other court officials in his custody fight with Kim Basinger involving their daughter, Ireland. The essence of that book is that those paid to see a couple through a divorce should be aiding those involved, not encouraging them to fight. They have a conflict of interest as things stand today because divorce and custody conflict increases legal fees. For our children’s sake, this should be changed, and it should be a promise to ourselves to do so.
As for my interaction with this man, I first met him in a taxicab, sharing it with him on a trip from Soho to the Upper West Side after a rehearsal for a performance of Macbeth at the old Joseph Papp Theater. This was in 1992. He was to be Macbeth in that theater performance and he was very proud to be onstage at that location. He was also well known by that time as the star of The Hunt for Red October. After that, here out east, our paths have crossed numerous times. He’s played for the Artists in the Artists-Writers Game every August while I’ve umpired. He made an appearance in the film King of the Hamptons I was co-producing with director Dennis Lynch. He wrote the preface to my memoir In the Hamptons Too.
Elsewhere out here, Alec has been phenomenally active in the arts. In 2010 he starred in the show Equus directed by Tony Walton at the John Drew Theater, he’s been MC at many fundraisers, and has even become involved in local politics as a Democrat. For a time, he headed up a watchdog group that monitored Town government. He was even thinking, it was said, of running for East Hampton Town Supervisor. And he might have won, too. Except he set his political sights higher. He began thinking of running for Mayor of New York City or even Governor of New York.
In that context, things that might have just been duly noted as usually expected behavior by a film star became blown up all out of proportion. He once got escorted off a plane for refusing to stop playing a game on a cell phone after the cabin door was shut. On another occasion, he was photographed handcuffed on a street in New York after getting into a confrontation with police after a bicycle-related traffic violation (the picture appeared in The New York Post). He fought paparazzi in New York who were following him and his wife everywhere. And I think he decided that maybe politics was not so up his alley as he thought.
I think it is fair to say that Alec Baldwin seizes the day. Unlike many who just sit around and watch things pass by, he has involved himself in a whole panoply of ventures and experiences, mostly in the arts, hoping for the best and mostly obtaining it. That in and of itself is something quite remarkable and an example for us all. He is a great asset to this community, to the world and to his family.
It’s wonderful he is involved in the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize competition, Guild Hall and the rest, and I can only sit around like a normal human being and, like I said, just watch as things don’t pass him by. Amazing.