My grandmother died twenty years ago this past August. I remember sitting in the first row of the funeral home on the upper west side when my father approached me and said, "There's somebody here I think you'd like to meet." I walked outside where Alec Baldwin was signing the condolences book. My father had been friends with him for several years by then--I'm not exactly sure how they met--but I had only become aware of Alec that summer when he was featured in Beetlejuice and then Married to the Mob. Previously, I had been invited me to see him in a production of Joe Orton's Loot but for reasons I don't recall, I passed. But by the end of that summer, I was really interested in him because I had an ill crush on Michelle Pfieffer.
Over the next three or four years I saw Baldwin every so often, for coffee with my dad, or at one of the parties the old man threw. I got his phone number and pestered him regularly. I can only imagine that I annoyed the hell out of him but he was good to me. I remember him being extremely charismatic and very funny. He was also serious-minded, smart and driven, very sure of himself, the kind of dynamic personality that can make a huge impression on a young person, especially one who was as insecure as I was at the time. I had no confidence with women. I was good friends with many pretty girls and rejected the ones that showed any interest in me. I was one step away from Duckie, the Jon Cryer character in Pretty in Pink.
Alec gave me advice with women that I was much too timid to do anything with. He also pumped me up when I had tough times with my father. After college, I lost touch with him (he spent more time in California, eventually got married), or, more to the point, I stopped hounding him. Still, I'll always be greatful for the little time he spent with me. At the time, it made me feel important, like I mattered to somebody who had "made it," a man who was a success.
I got to thinking about Alec over the weekend when I read Ian Parker's profile on him in The New Yorker. It is a good piece but one that left me feeling sad. Maybe that has more to do with me, how I once looked up to him saw him as something not exactly human, but as someone who had the world licked, had it all figured out. He doesn't, of course. Which makes him just another man, struggling with his mistakes and his achievements. In the article, Alec comes across as not only being restless but unhappy in spite of his recent success. That's not entirely surprising. Still, I admire his ability to look at his work in a critical manner:
"Do you want to know the truth?" Baldwin said to me not long ago. "I don't think I really have a talent for movie acting. I'm not bad at it, but I don't think I really have a talent for it." He described the film actor's need to project strength and weakness simultaneously. "Nicholson's my idol this way. Pacino. There's a mix you have to have where the character is vulnerable, the character is up against it, but there's still a glimmer of resourcefulness in his eyeyou look at him and the character is telegraphing to you this is not going to last very long. 'I'm down'Randle McMurphy, Serpico, whatever it is'but it's not going to last, I'm still going to figure my way out of this.' " In contrast, he referred to Orson Welles. "Welles was a powerful actor, but he wasn't always a great actor," Baldwin said, with, perhaps, a faint nod to his own career. "Even when Welles was lost, he was arrogant."
I think Baldwin has a great leading role in him. Whether or not the stars ever align to give him that shot is anybody's guess. But I hope it happens.