Forget Liz and Dick: Thirty years ago, Alec and Kim reigned as Hollywood’s most scandalous couple. Fresh off the respective successes of The Hunt for Red October and Batman, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger were cast as on-again, off-again lovers in The Marrying Man, a period romantic comedy penned by celebrated playwright and screenwriter, Neil Simon, and produced by Walt Disney Studios. But what happened off-screen during production was no laughing matter… at least for those involved in making the movie.
Months before The Marrying Man’s theatrical release on April 5, 1991, a blistering article in Premiere magazine labeled it a “production from hell” and laid much of the blame at the feet of its two stars — who famously sparked an on-set romance that burned for nearly a decade before flaming out in 2000. That story, penned by John H. Richardson and published in the February 1991 issue, was the opening salvo in a media frenzy that overshadowed the film itself, which came and went from theaters with little fanfare and even less box office.
“The Marrying Man was the biggest mistake of my career,” Baldwin told Entertainment Weekly a month after the movie flopped in epic fashion, firing back at the same sources that had portrayed him and Basinger as the root cause of its failure. (Fun fact: The EW article was written by Ryan Murphy, who would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most profitable creators and later directed Baldwin in 2006's Running with Scissors.)
The Marrying Man hasn’t gotten especially better with age: Watched again today, it’s a mostly stilted attempt to marry a Hepburn/Grant screwball premise to a Hepburn/Tracy battle of the sexes narrative arc. Baldwin plays Charley Pearl, the soon-to-be married scion of a toothpaste empire who ditches his fiancée (Elisabeth Shue) when he lays eyes on Basinger's Las Vegas lounge singer, Vicki Anderson, who is currently attached to famed gangster, Bugsy Siegel (Armand Assante). But when Bugsy catches them in the act, he doesn't order Charley killed: Instead, he orchestrates the first of many weddings that Charley and Vicki have over the course of their tumultuous relationship. While the film itself is forgettable at best, the behind-the-scenes accounts of its production remain the stuff of classic Hollywood horror stories. Here’s a look back at some of the craziest on-set tales from Baldwin and Basinger’s hellish shoot.
When Alec met Kim
Hollywood legend has it that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton started their infamous affair mere days into shooting Cleopatra together. According to Premiere, Basinger and Baldwin moved equally fast: Richardson reports that “sparks” flew between the stars during their first rehearsal. Four days into shooting, crew members learned that their relationship had escalated dramatically. Sitting together in a car in between takes, the two stars had an uncomfortably private conversation that was heard publicly thanks to the on-set headphone intercom system. That meant that crew members listened in as Basinger told Baldwin about “her plans for the night’s romantic activities in… unrepeatable detail.” A few weeks later, the two were living together, launching a high-profile romance that was closely followed for the next ten years.
Unlike Liz and Dick, The Marrying Man stars weren’t involved with other people at the time they found each other. The 32-year-old Baldwin was unmarried, while the 37-year-old Basinger divorced her first husband, makeup artist Ron Snyder-Britton, in 1989 and subsequently had brief relationships with producer Jon Peters and Prince — both of whom had worked on Batman. Apparently, the actress had a premonition that she and her leading man would get along. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Marrying Man director, Jerry Rees recalled Basinger coming into his office for a pre-production meeting. “I had a picture of Alec and one of her pinned next to each other on a wall so we could see how they looked together. And Kim looked at them and broke out into a smile and said very softly, ‘We are going to make a terrific couple.’”
And once the stars got together, they stayed together. Baldwin and Basinger maintained a united front for the duration The Marrying Man shoot, drawing battle lines between themselves and the rest of the production team. “If they were in a good mood at home, they came to the set in a good mood,” one crew member told Premiere. “If they were bad at home, watch out.” Baldwin’s transformation was particularly stark: Originally perceived as a “nice guy” by the crew, the actor took a temperamental turn after he moved in with Basinger. “He wanted to get the treatment Kim was getting,” a below the line employee alleged. “I love her, and I get carried away about the things that I love,” Baldwin later countered in his EW interview, accusing Disney-planted “spies” of spreading negative stories about the couple… stories like the notorious Evian water incident.
Basinger’s hair-rising behavior
At the height of her fame in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Basinger was alleged to have a “difficult” reputation by many of her collaborators. One of the oft-cited pieces of evidence for that reputation was the longstanding rumor that the actress would only wash her hair with bottles of Evian water. That’s a rumor that started with Premiere’s coverage of The Marrying Man, and continued for years afterwards. Richardson’s on-set sources were more than happy to provide with him additional examples of Basinger’s various indulgences. The actresses was said to have an aversion to sunlight, and had her own umbrella holder — a Directors Guild trainee named Michael Ryan Baxter — on set to help her stay shaded. Baxter also acted as the de facto gatekeeper for anyone approaching her trailer. “It was kind of funny, because I’m the trainee, the low man on the totem pole, and I have to go up to one of the producers and say, ‘She doesn’t want you knocking on her door,’” Baxter told Premiere. (As the article insinuates, Baldwin’s regular trips to Basinger’s trailer was probably one of the reasons for that “no-knock” policy.)
From the beginning, Basinger maintained her own schedule, frequently arriving to set late and holding up scenes with specific requests. At one point, she told Disney that she needed a break from filming to fly to Brazil for a psychic consultation. The studio granted that request — provided that she pay $85,000 a day to make up for the delay. (Basinger subsequently decided to stay in Los Angeles.) Other delays were caused by her intense reaction to being observed by extras or extraneous crew members. “She’d carry on and refuse to do a scene unless they got rid of all the people,” said the movie’s set decorator, Jim Duffy. Meanwhile, the hair and makeup team had to be on hand to provide touch-ups after every take, resulting in regular half-hour delays.
Behind the camera, Rees essentially ceded directorial control of the film to Basinger. “He’d walk up to Kim and say, ‘I’d like to do it one more time.’ She’d say, ‘One more time, and that’s it’ or ‘No, that’s it.’” The star had previously flexed her muscles earlier in the shoot, when she demanded that the original director of photography, Ian Baker, be replaced after being unhappy with the way she looked in screen tests. Another rumor circulated that an emboldened Basinger taunted the crew before filming a nude scene, removing her clothes while saying, “Here it is, boys. Come and get it!” (As Marrying Man editor, Michael Jablow, later noted that particular story is suspect as Basinger doesn’t have any nude scenes in the film.)
In his EW interview, Baldwin steadfastly stood by his on and off-screen romantic partner, shooting down the Evian story and explaining the umbrella holder. ”They wrote that she had these people walking around her with umbrellas, like Arabian slaves. But she has it in her contract that she can’t shoot in the sun and they know that,” he said, adding that she had a history of sun poisoning and accusing Disney of orchestrating a “misinformation” campaign against two actors who only wanted to make the best movie possible. That’s an argument echoed by others at the time who felt that Basinger was being unfairly maligned compared to A-list male stars who demonstrated equally bad behavior. “Everyone thinks she’s a pig with big hair,” a studio executive told celebrated industry journalist, Kim Masters, in a 1993 Washington Post article, who then pointedly added: “Gee. Would they say that about Bruce Willis?”
Basinger directly responded to the various allegations in a 1991 interview with Chris Wallace. "That's totally not true," she said about reports of her tardiness, going on to blame Disney for being a "cheap studio" that didn't hire the best talent for the film. "We needed to stop in the beginning, we really did." She also called out the film industry for routinely undervaluing female movie stars. "It's a male world. When it comes to this issue of money... you can't stand up and yell, 'We want the money that Arnold makes.'"
The goodbye guy
Besides Rees, Basinger also clashed with Neil Simon. According to Richardson’s account, she and the playwright started the movie on the wrong foot, with the actress requesting regular rewrites. “This isn’t funny,” she reportedly told the Tony-winning writer of Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. “Whoever wrote this doesn’t understand comedy.” After that exchange, Simon avoided the set and remained conspicuously absent from pre-release press. For the rest of his life, he rarely discussed the movie — which proved to be one of his last original screenplays — publicly. (Simon died in 2018.)
In his EW interview, Baldwin took his own shots at Simon, describing him as being “about as deep as a bottle cap.” Recounting an early meeting with the playwright and Disney to discuss script changes, the actor alleged that studio executives were only concerned with “kissing Neil’s ass,” and said that Simon resisted substantial alterations to what was already on the page. “The only changes he wanted to do was add more jokes. Which were not funny. That’s why I’m down on him. He got his money and split. He hung us out to dry.”
Move fast and throw phones
Fifteen years before Russell Crowe effectively ended his time on Hollywood’s A-list by throwing a phone at a Soho hotel employee, Baldwin’s career took a turn following his own phone-hurling incident. Richardson opens his Premiere article with a dramatic run-in between the actor and then-Disney executive, Jay Heit, on The Marrying Man set. Apoplectic with rage over the fact that the phone in his trailer wasn’t working, Baldwin spotted Heit carrying a cell phone. “You gotta phone, why don’t I have a phone? Goddammit I want a phone,” the star allegedly screamed, before grabbing the executive’s cell phone and throwing it to the ground. Baldwin then turned on his heel and stormed back to his trailer, kicking over a case of expensive Panavision camera lenses on his way back.
Those objects weren’t the only things that Baldwin threw — or struck — during production. Richardson’s sources also recounted a moment where the actor nearly hit a production electrician with a director’s chair hurled from his trailer. (Baldwin later apologized to the electrician in front of the crew, and secured him front-row center tickets to a Carlos Santana concert as a conciliatory gift.) And during reshoots that he expressly didn’t want to film, Baldwin took his fury out on his trailer, punching a dent “the size of a bread box” in its side. At the end of production, producer David Permut handed out crew T-shirts that read, “I survived the reshoot of The Marrying Man.”
Baldwin offered tacit confirmation of some of those reports in his EW interview, while also chalking them up to a vengeful studio filled with, in his words, “totally evil, greedy pigs,” whose penny-pinching production methods hurt the film from the start. The actor was particularly furious with then-Disney chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, memorably describing him as “the eighth dwarf — Greedy,” and promising "I will never see him again. I believe God would protect me from that — just like I wouldn’t get AIDS.” (In response, Katzenberg called Baldwin and Basinger “a couple of irresponsible actors,” but refrained from saying he’d never work with either of them again. (Baldwin later voiced characters in two films for DreamWorks Animation — 2008’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and 2012’s Rise of the Guardians — while Katzenberg still ran the studio.)
As Masters noted in her Washington Post article, Baldwin’s temper became a regular focus of press coverage following the The Marrying Man. Besides allegedly assaulting two cameramen — once in 1995 and again in 2012 — the actor has also been in the headlines after being kicked off an American Airlines flight in 2011 and punching another man over a parking spot in 2014. “Hollywood also blames Basinger for ruining Alec Baldwin,” Masters wrote, saying that the actor was largely perceived as a “swell fellow” before that film. But Baldwin made it clear that a break-up wasn't in the cards. “This is not some Hollywood romance that’s played out between ‘action’ and ‘cut,'” he told EW.
Happily every after?
Like Baldwin promised, his romance with Basinger outlasted the production of The Marrying Man. The two officially tied the knot in 1993, and their daughter, Ireland, was born two years later. They even starred opposite each other again in the 1994 action thriller, The Getaway — a remake of the 1972 film where Steve McQueen famously met and fell in love with Ali McGraw. And in 1998, Baldwin cheered Basinger when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in L.A. Confidential, which suggested that the industry had put the negative reports about her Marrying Man behavior in the rearview. "If anyone has a dream out there, just know that I'm living proof that they do come true," she said, while Baldwin teared up in the audience.
In private, though, their relationship was nearing its end. Baldwin and Basinger separated in 2000, and his volatile temper was cited as one cause for the split. "Alec has this kind of anger where he reaches down for something that hurts, something that may have happened a year or two ago, and then abuses Kim with it," Basinger's father told People magazine following their break-up. Their divorce was finalized in 2002, amidst a highly-contentious and very public custody battle over Ireland, during which Baldwin left his daughter a voicemail where he called her, "a rude, thoughtless pig." (The actor later apologized, and Ireland joked about the incident when she roasted her father on a 2019 Comedy Central special.)
Baldwin married his current wife, Hilaria, in 2012, and the two have six children. Basinger has been in a long-term relationship with hairstylist Mitch Stone since 2014. “[Alec and I are] cool now, though,” she remarked in a 2016 interview. “Life goes on.” Enough time has passed that she's even able to joke about the disaster that was The Marrying Man. “I did this film, The Marrying Man, where I met my eventual [now-ex] husband, Alec Baldwin, but I was teeter-tottering because I had also been offered Sleeping With the Enemy," she said in that same interview, referring to the hit 1991 thriller starring Julia Roberts, who happened to be second choice for The Marrying Man. “Isn’t it funny that I turned down Sleeping With the Enemy and then I went on to sleep with the enemy!”
The Marrying Man is available to rent or purchase on most VOD platforms including Amazon.
Related: The Baldwin family tree
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