Alec Baldwin had a request as the limousine sped from the airport to the Windsor Court Hotel. He asked the two board members of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival who were escorting him into town to “take [him] to the best men’s clothing shop in town, because [he] needed to buy some clothes.” Following directions, the driver steered the limousine to Rubenstein’s.
While his entourage waited, Baldwin conducted a 15 minute shopping spree that included an Italian designer coat. The sales clerk’s career was made when Baldwin, who had arrived wearing a trench coat and sunglasses, wrote a check for nearly $10,000. The actor had come to town for the 1997 Tennessee Williams Festival, one of two times that he would attend. His family life and his temper – both subjects of later controversies – were in control that weekend. Wife Kim Besieger and one-year-old daughter Ireland along with Donald Basinger, Kim’s father, would join Baldwin for a weekend in New Orleans.
That Friday night, Baldwin attended a cocktail party at the Historic New Orleans Collection and was gracious to anyone who wanted to pose for a photograph. His banter that weekend included impressions of Anthony Hopkins with whom he had just finished filming a movie.
Later, he, along with Donald Basinger, were part of a large dinner at Brennan’s where the guests also included actress Stephanie Zimbalist (Remington Steel) and Winston Groom, the author of the novel Forrest Gump. (I sat at the Groom end of the table where much of the conversation was envious speculation about how much money Tom Hanks had made off of the film. “Well you must have made at least a million yourself,” I speculated in return. Groom just nodded silently. Would there be a sequel? “It’s up to Tom.”)
That weekend Baldwin was interviewed on stage. He also did a flawless reading of Tennessee Williams’ poems.
Three years later he returned, this time as the lead in a reading of Night of the Iguana. Moments before the performance began he requested an after-the-theater party. That sent one board member scrambling to see what place would be open after 11 p.m. He found luck at the Napoleon House where he pleaded to the staff to keep the kitchen open because Alec Baldwin and about a dozen people were coming. Later that evening Baldwin and company were seated in the courtyard where he munched on a vegetarian muffuletta. Nearby was Dakin Williams, Tennessee Williams’ younger brother, who spotted the star and worked his way behind him to explain his theory that his playwright sibling had been murdered rather than, as the New York City coroner concluded, a victim of an accidental death. The conspiracy was more than anyone could easily digest, particularly over a muffuletta, but Baldwin listened politely.
During the 1997 visit Kim and baby Ireland never made an appearance. By choice they spent a paparazzi-free weekend in the city – just another mom and her child.
On Sunday, after he helped judge the festival’s signature “Stella!” shouting contest, Baldwin was handed an honorarium check. He smiled and gave it back. No charge. After returning to New York he even hand wrote some board members notes thanking them for the experience.
For one weekend all was calm, all was bliss in the life of the Alec Baldwin family – except for one small controversy: Baldwin had arrived in town with a beard. By Sunday it was gone. What happened? Kim had asked him to shave it off, he explained. “She was afraid it would scare the baby.”