For many actors, anchoring the Oscars in front of a global audience is a dream come true.
But when Alec Baldwin dreams big, he imagines that he is Elliott Forrest.
“I envy Elliott Forrest,” Baldwin has confessed on more than one occasion.
Yes, the award-winning actor, political activist, tabloid fodder, classic movie buff and co-host of Sunday’s Oscars would chuck it all to have Forrest’s regular gig on a classical musical station. From 7 a.m. to noon on weekends, Forrest hosts “Saturday Brunch” and “Sunday Brunch” on WQXR, the kind of shows that New Yorkers nestle up to in bed while eating a bagel and reading the paper or cleaning out old e-mail on a laptop.
Established in 1939, WQXR is the most-listened-to classical music station in the country and one of the oldest continuously operating FM stations in the world.
“He can’t have my job,” Forrest said during a phone interview this week. He was chuckling, of course.
Forrest, 53, and Baldwin, 51, have known each other for years from arts-advocacy groups and from New York cultural circles. Only recently has Baldwin taken to giving Forrest what he calls “a shout-out” whenever the “30 Rock” star is musing about his passion for symphonic music.
Last fall, during one of those earnest talk-a-thons in front of a paying Manhattan audience, Baldwin explained that he had become obsessed with classical music in the early 1980s listening to the radio while driving around L.A. looking for work.
“If I had a dream,” he told the audience, “if I had a wish that came true, I hate to say this, but if I could do anything I wanted to, I’d want to be Elliott Forrest on QXRand have my own radio show.”
Forrest loves the attention not so much for himself but for the good it does high culture and the station: “He’s not the kind of guy that you would normally expect to be the poster boy for the love of classical music, and so the community has embraced him wholeheartedly.”
The New York Philharmonic lured Baldwin a couple of years ago into serving as a guest announcer for events, then last year made him the host for this season of its weekly, two-hour radio broadcasts that are syndicated to 295 outlets across the country. Estimates are that about 600,000 people listen. Since Baldwin took over, the show has been picked up in major new markets, including in L.A. by KUSC.
“His enthusiasm is infectious,” said the show’s producer Mark Travis. “I think that can only help bring more listeners in. We get people who may be tune in for Mozart or Brahms but if they hear an Alec Baldwin talk about [Anton] Webern or [ Alban] Berg or a brand new work, they might be a little more likely to stay tuned and give this music a chance.”
Baldwin, who has an apartment on the Upper West Side, turns up about once a month in the recording studio in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center to tape several shows at a time. Working from scripts sent to him in advance, Baldwin spends five to six hours introducing and commenting on works being played.
“His delivery is warm and inviting and, yes,there’s probably a bit of an everyman quality to it,” said Travis. “He’s also intensely knowledgeable in certain subjects, particularly Mahler.”
This is all part of Baldwin’s complicated New York existence, which, followed in the media, sometimes resembles a real-life sitcom. But always he’s a culture vulture: When he’s done with the Oscars, he’ll hurry back to fill in on WNYC’s “Studio 360,” a nationally broadcast show usually about the arts. He’s invited actress Laura Linney and author Mary Karr to join him.
According to his publicist, Baldwin was too busy this week rehearsing for the Oscars to explain, of all things, his yen to settle down and be Elliott Forrest.
But Forrest gets it: “I think filling in on ‘Studio 360' and doing other things at WQXR allows him to have a diversified life and to prove to himself and others there’s a lot of different things he can do.”
Where will Forrest be Sunday night while Baldwin will be kibitzing in front of tens of millions during the Oscars?
“Oh, watching, of course. Doesn’t everybody?”