Look back in anger

Times Staff Writers

ALEC BALDWIN claims he needed a court order to take his daughter, Ireland, to the premiere of his film “The Cat in the Hat” in 2003. He said he had to get another one to bring her to the Oscars the next year when he was nominated for best supporting actor. And when his ex-wife, Kim Basinger, wrote a seemingly innocuous dedication to the child on the label of a Luna nutrition bar, well, that made it into the court files too, with Baldwin claiming her words were intended to impose “her belief system” on their daughter and cut him out of her “therapeutic involvement.”

And Basinger has filed declarations as well, depicting Baldwin as a monstrous and tyrannical dad given to outbursts that left Ireland frightened, embarrassed and in tears.

At six years and counting, the epic legal battle over young Ireland has generated countless court files, affidavits and motions. While Baldwin and Basinger’s careers have gone up and down during that time, their litigious zeal has remained constant. And at the center of their seemingly intractable war is an 11-year-old girl whose life has been parsed by court order, her every step documented in legal pleadings, from the number of days of summer 2004 she spent with her father (35) to the strep throat she suffered on March 29, 2006.


Ireland is no stranger to the headlines -- she was only 3 days old when her father famously scuffled with a paparazzo trying to photograph his newborn daughter’s homecoming -- but that was nothing compared with the outcry after her father’s furious voicemail rant against her landed on the Internet and then the airwaves last week.

This morning, Baldwin will apologize publicly to his daughter during an emotional interview taped Wednesday for “The View.” He’ll tell co-hosts Barbara Walters and Rosie O’Donnell that he wanted to quit “30 Rock” so the sitcom and the hundreds who work on it wouldn’t “be hurt by the situation.” And he will say: “If I never acted again, I couldn’t care less.”

It’s ironic. After years of largely forgettable movie roles, Baldwin, 49, had suddenly landed a string of hits.

He received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor playing an often brutal casino manager in 2003’s “The Cooler” and stole scenes in two high-profile Martin Scorsese films, “The Aviator” and the Academy Award-winning mob drama “The Departed.” His Golden Globe-winning turn on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock” showcased his lighter side -- playing a purring, conniving network executive -- and helped lock up a renewal for a second season.

But now, he says, he has a new calling, focusing on “parental alienation” and legislating fathers’ rights. He’s also working on a book for St. Martin’s Press that deals with the trauma caused by divorce.

Certainly his court case could fill volumes. Now divorced, the couple has joint custody of Ireland, but court documents show Baldwin constantly fighting for his share of time with the youngster. (The pair are due back in court next Friday. Baldwin claims to have spent more than $1.25 million in legal fees on the case.) Compounding their negotiations is the fact that Baldwin lives in New York and Basinger in the Los Angeles area.

The leak of the voicemail -- in which he called his daughter a “rude, thoughtless little pig” -- has once again brought their feud into the spotlight. Baldwin has apologized on his blog,, but blamed “certain people” -- presumably, of course, Basinger -- for trying to embarrass him by leaking the tape and “disrupt” his relationship with Ireland. On Monday, Basinger piped up, denying any responsibility for the leak and calling Baldwin “irrational” and “unstable.”

But these barbs are mild compared with their bruising exchanges in court. Basinger, who is 53, depicts Baldwin as having a dangerous temper that so terrifies their daughter that Ireland is afraid to visit him. Baldwin says Basinger is a manipulative agoraphobic who has turned Ireland against him and has consistently restricted his access to her. They both consider each other emotionally unstable.

Baldwin was particularly rankled when Basinger had Ireland baptized in 2002 without notifying him while he was working in London. And then there was the Luna bar incident. Baldwin said in a court declaration: “The quote reads, ‘To my daughter Ireland, who gave me the strength, courage & tenacity to stand up for myself. May our faith and laughter sustain us. Beyond & Forever, Mom.” He claimed the dedication was meant “to impose her belief system upon our daughter and completely excludes me from our daughter’s therapeutic involvement ... .”

Basinger, in turn, paints a dark picture of her former husband in court documents. She alleges that there were several “rage episodes” in Ireland’s presence. She said he once assaulted a taxi driver while Ireland was in the cab. He is alleged to have called the girl at school one day as she was about to take a test and yelled at her so loudly that “some of Ireland’s other classmates heard him,” leaving her “embarrassed and very upset.” During another alleged “episode” last spring, Ireland sought refuge in her room at Baldwin’s apartment, crying and sobbing. He disputes the allegations.

Baldwin and Basinger were a volatile combination even back in the good ol’ days, during their torrid affair on the set of 1991’s “The Marrying Man.”

She told Ladies Home Journal in 1998: “I live with a very passionate, verbal, vocal man, who doesn’t keep any thought to himself.”

When the couple met at a dinner at Morton’s in L.A. to discuss costarring in the film, as recounted in a 2001 People magazine story, Basinger recalled how “he kissed me and then asked me if I wanted kids.” She told him he was “psychotic” and suggested he stick to the movie, according to the article.

Eventually, though, she gave in to his proposals, and they were wed beachside in August 1993 at the Hamptons estate of a friend.

Professionally, the actors struggled to achieve the promise of their early careers. Basinger had been one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses coming off 1989’s “Batman,” but after “The Marrying Man” flopped, there was a series of forgettable roles in films such as “Final Analysis,” “The Real McCoy” and “Cool World.” She rebounded with an Oscar win for best supporting actress in 1997’s gritty police drama “L.A. Confidential” and has since received critical acclaim for several other roles. But bigger roles are few and far between.

As for Baldwin, he was considered a rising star after being cast as Jack Ryan in the 1990 submarine thriller “The Hunt for Red October,” but he chose not to appear in a sequel. Harrison Ford seized the Ryan role and made it his in the blockbuster action films “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.” Movies with lackluster box office such as “Malice,” “The Shadow” and “The Getaway” (a remake in which he and Basinger costarred in the Steve McQueen-Ali McGraw roles) saw Baldwin’s leading-man roles dwindle.

In October 1995, the couple made unwanted headlines when Baldwin scuffled with a paparazzo posted outside their Woodland Hills home, awaiting their return with then 3-day-old Ireland. Baldwin sprayed shaving cream on the windows of the man’s truck and was later arrested on suspicion of battery but was acquitted. The photographer sued Baldwin and won $4,500 in damages, although the civil jury determined they were both to blame.

Baldwin and Basinger separated in 2000, she filed for divorce the next year and they subsequently were awarded joint custody of Ireland.

Coincidentally, this year the two have dueling movies opening May 18 -- Baldwin plays a mobster in “Brooklyn Rules” while Basinger is a compulsive gambler in “Even Money.”

But the thought of traipsing along the red carpet at either movie’s premiere must haunt them both. Who needs the awkward questions, the frenzied flashbulbs going off, the polite banter with the media over what persuaded them to do the roles when the real story isn’t their movies but them?

Some of Baldwin’s longtime Hollywood friends deplore what he said on the tape but stress that it sprang from his sense of being alienated from his daughter -- whether real or imagined.

No matter how angry he is, they say Baldwin stepped over the line when he verbally attacked his kid. They say apologies won’t suffice.

“If he just leaves it as it is, I think it’s not good for him,” said a studio insider who knows both actors. “If you have that kind of consistent anger, and the public knows about it, you need to deal with it. You’ve got to talk to somebody and let the people know. I think what he did was wrong and it was wrong to blame it on Kim.”

But he added: “I know how much he loves his daughter, and he would never physically hurt her.”

Then, he summed it up this way: “They are both making the worst of a bad situation.”

“Sometimes in really bad custody fights, people forget who they need to protect -- it’s the child,” said Lynn Soodik, a celebrity-divorce lawyer. She noted that the voicemail message Baldwin left his daughter was “probably frightening and distressing,” and the leaking of the tape “humiliating and distressing.”

Beverly Hills psychologist Stan J. Katz, a child custody evaluator who testified in the Michael Jackson child-abuse case, said this level of acrimony isn’t unusual. “I’ve seen families 10 years post-divorce, they can’t sit here in the same room and discuss the children,” he said. “This isn’t just celebrities.”


Times staff writer Rachel Abramowitz contributed to this report.