Not So Long-Toothed Russell Baker Semi-Retires After Sulzberger Nudge

For actor Alec Baldwin, the response is natural. “When someone pisses on your wife, you want to knock their teeth out,” he told The Transom.

The co-star of the current release The Edge , Mr. Baldwin is well aware of the consequences to celebrities who cold-cock civilians. So when he read a piece in the Sept. 7 edition of The New York Times , by Bernard Weinraub, that he contended was unfair to his bride, actress Kim Basinger, Mr. Baldwin did what he often does when something bothers him: He wrote a letter.

What offended Mr. Baldwin was a line in a largely positive story by Mr. Weinraub-recently designated The Times ‘ senior West Coast cultural correspondent-about Ms. Basinger’s current film, L.A. Confidential . That single sentence said that Ms. Basinger “has been plagued by stories that she behaved temperamentally on the set of the 1991 film The Marrying Man ,” where, incidentally, she met Mr. Baldwin.

Though the ill-fated Disney film was the subject of many stories that reported similar information, Mr. Baldwin took issue with the fact that the Times reporter had brought up a 7-year-old incident, a situation, he noted, that arose “due to the unfortunate circumstance” of making a movie for “the Prince of Darkness, [former Walt Disney Company chairman] Jeffrey Katzenberg.”

Mr. Baldwin goes on to say that because Mr. Weinraub works for a respectable institution like The Times , “I suppose I have always had a somewhat inflated expectation of you and your writing. Yet time and again, you prove yourself to be not only an untalented writer and a studio lapdog, but a petty and small-minded man as well.”

The actor went on to opine that Mr. Weinraub’s “corporate fealty and tired, hackneyed overview have actually crystallized into what is now recognized by people I know as the ‘Bernard Weinraub’ piece.” Mr. Baldwin wrote that the components of such a piece include “[b]itchy non-attribution quotes from some constipated, windbag producer”; the reiteration of some public relations “faux pas (rehab, divorce, box office flops) of an actor … who is currently out of favor, and thus, powerless” and assertions that studio executives are “bold, risk-taking creative engineers” while “avoiding serious analysis of their personal failings at the helms of publicly traded companies.”

Before signing off, Mr. Baldwin did say that there was one person who occupied a higher position in his rogues’ gallery of the moment: “I think the only person in the business with as skewed a view and pathetic a cover as you is [ Variety editor in chief] Peter Bart, whose own dripping vanity make [sic] him seem more sinister than weak or dumb.” Mr. Baldwin concluded: “Why don’t you do yourself, The New York Times and everyone in this business a favor: either become a better, braver, more ethical writer, or quit your fucking day job and go to work for a studio, which is basically what you are about right now.”

“I can only hope that if someone was all over his wife, he would have the same reaction,” said Mr. Baldwin. “How long do you go on dragging up this same tired bullshit?” Mr. Weinraub declined to comment.

Mad Letter Writers, Part 2

Five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees later, William and Meredith Mayer may finally find out if any of their fellow members of the National Arts Club really care about the courtroom war they’ve waged against the 99-year-old organization and its president, O. Aldon James Jr.

“What is the James administration hiding?” asks the letter they sent-or rather sent via proxy, but more on that later. “Is its behavior what you expect from responsible officials of a publicly subsidized organization? And why has it taken five years of litigation for us to get the right to send you a letter alerting you to what’s going on?”

The Mayers have been able to accomplish one thing that it seems no member has been able to do for some time-send a letter to the entire membership of the National Arts Club. A roster of the membership body is something that few people have seen, according to Mr. James, who described Mr. Mayer as “a mosquito. Not a major problem.” The club’s members, he said, don’t want their names and addresses disseminated-even to other members.

But the Mayers, who had no comment, ascribe the club’s secrecy to a more Machiavellian motivation on the part of Mr. James and his inner circle. Under the club’s bylaws, some of which were changed during Mr. James’ 12-year stewardship, a member can run for a seat on the governing board if he or she first obtains the signatures of at least one-third of the club’s more than 1,600 subscribers. Here’s the catch: Only Mr. James and the board have access to the membership roll. (The only other way to run is to first get the approval of the nominating committee.) With the Mayers doggedly litigating for the club to turn over the list, there was no way Mr. James would willingly give it up.

Indeed, even though the Mayers’ letter has been mailed to the membership-who pay $750 a year in dues a year after an initial year’s fee of $1,000, and include filmmaker Martin Scorsese, actor Robert Redford, writer Alistair Cooke, international affairs expert Henry Kissinger-the couple has still not seen the actual membership list. In January 1996, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan instructed both parties to designate a service that would be provided with the club’s mailing list; the service would then mail out the Mayers’ letters. It apparently did so recently.

If, as the Mayers maintain in their letter, the club’s membership has been kept in the dark about the litigation, then the Mayers could get the support of other members, and Mr. James’ position could weaken. But the club’s attorney, Andrew Fisher, observed that, given the Mayers’ 25-year membership with the club, “After five years of whining and complaining, why is it that more of the tenants didn’t join in their efforts?”

Mr. Fisher added that the Mayers have “embarked on a program of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the club.” He contended that behind the couple’s litigation is the fact that they want to hold on to a rent-subsidized duplex apartment “overlooking Gramercy Park” that they have rented from the club. The Mayers’ attorney, Robert Hermann, said that they have agreed to move out of the apartment by Oct. 31, 1998.

The price of all this legal thrusting and parrying has been high. The letter states that after five years of their repeated suits and Mr. James’ repeated appeals, the club, “[i]n its failed effort to preserve an illegitimate policy of secrecy … has incurred legal fees that by now hover around half a million dollars.” Footing the bill, of course, are the club’s members.

God’s Comic

The Transom hasn’t read The Bible Code , but every time Ted Turner opens his mouth, our reaction is the same: God! On Sept. 18, as CNN employee Larry King questioned CNN founder Mr. Turner about his $1 billion gift to the United Nations, The Transom thought, Are these guys speaking in tongues? So we picked up our dogeared copy of the Bible, which, along with the radar waves that are beaming into our heads from Venus, tells us we’re on to something:

Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored (Proverbs 27:18).

Mr. King: “You thanked all of the people at Time Warner; that includes the CNN people, I hope.”

Mr. Turner: “That’s right, of course, that’s us.”

Mr. King: “So we contributed to this.”

Mr. Turner: “… you helped work hard and get the ratings up, and we brought in money from our subscribers and viewers all over the world, and that gave me enough money to give it away. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.”

And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven, and every thing that is in the earth shall die (Genesis 6:17).

Mr. King: “Global warming, you were very strong on that tonight, and you said, Everybody knows.”

Mr. Turner: “[H]aven’t you been outside lately? It’s hotter than hell out there. Polar ice caps are melting, I got an island, and I know that the ocean is rising because I watched my beach get washed away.”

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Mr. Turner: “The world’s awash in money and nobody knows what to do with it. They just build it up more and more. Like, you’ve got more money and you never thought, a kid from Brooklyn, that you’d be making millions a year, did you?”

Mr. King: “Never.”

Mr. Turner: “I mean, you don’t know what to do with all your money, do you? You don’t gamble anymore, right?”

… [W]hen thou doest thine alms, do not set a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, that they may have glory of men (Matthew 6:16).

Fresh from a black-tie dinner at the Marriott Marquis hotel, where he was honored, and knee-deep in a self-congratulatory interview, Mr. Turner could not address that point.

-Kate Kelly

Obvious George

It was the anticipated no-photo op within the photo op, which in turn qualified it as a media event: Would the paparazzi, or wouldn’t they, take George Clooney’s picture outside the New York premiere of his new film, The Peacemaker ? On Sept. 22, the hand Mr. Clooney bit when he railed about the excesses of celebrity photographers (see: Princess of Wales media event) smacked him upside the head. As he entered the Ziegfeld Theater before the film-Dreamworks SKG’s first full-length release-only a click or two could be heard (“Dreamworks’ scabs,” muttered Rick Maiman, a photographer wearing a Sygma identification card) among the 80-odd photographers staked outside. Perhaps hungry for the flash that has sustained him, however, Mr. Clooney, in a move fit for a campaigning politician, spied a small, handicapped boy, who was literally legless, looking through a barricade separating hoi polloi from stars. “Are you scared?” the actor asked the kid. “Will you pose for a picture with me?” The boy began to cry, but Mr. Clooney persisted, asking his father, “Will you take our picture?” The older man, an amateur, obliged with a couple of shots. In response, the photogs booed.

“I think Clooney’s P.R. people engineered that stunt,” Mr. Maiman said as Mr. Clooney entered the theater again, sans flashes or cheers. “But you know what, we’ve made our point with this boycott. He knows he can’t slam the photographers that made him without facing repercussions.”

-Carrie Cunningham

The Transom can be reached by confidential e-mail at nyotransom@aol.com. Public relations pitches are not welcome.