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Alec Baldwin's angry dad guide to parenting

Embroiled in a vicious divorce, accused of bullying his daughter, what makes this Hollywood star feel he has something to contribute to the parenting debate? Guy Adams reports

Picture the scene, maybe six months ago, when Alec Baldwin visited his agent, Matt Del Piano, at his fashionably decorated Hollywood office to discuss his next career move.

Perhaps, Mr Del Piano may have ventured, he'd like to spend September 2008 making another series of 30 Rock, the hit television series that revived his career and is tipped to win several Emmy awards in just over a week?

Alternatively, might Baldwin take one of the multi-million-dollar jobs offered by major studios keen to piggyback his most recent blockbuster, The Departed, which won four Oscars only last year?

Or, in the sort of move that actors love and agents despise, would Baldwin announce that he'd decided, for artistic reasons, to star in a low-budget independent film?

For Mr Del Piano, the news turned out to be far, far worse than he ever imagined. In the event, his client had decided to devote his formidable energies to writing. Baldwin, it emerged, was producing his first book. And its subject was to be the painful and contentious divorce that has overshadowed his life for the past six years.

That's the divorce from Kim Basinger which has become Hollywood's longest running and most bitter soap opera, rubbishing both their reputations, and turning Baldwin into one of the most privately tortured men in show-business.

That's the divorce that has set new standards for unpleasant custody battles, cost millions in legal fees, and required Baldwin to attend court-appointed therapy sessions and anger management classes. Now, a week on Tuesday, the shelves of America's bookstores will groan under the weight of the 240-page hardback memoir exploring, first-hand, the whole unhappy tabloid feeding-frenzy.

According to the PR puff, the "contentious" and "deeply felt" publication, A Promise to Ourselves, will "pull no punches" regarding Baldwin's long dispute with Basinger over custody of their daughter, Ireland.

In addition, it "makes a powerful case for re-examining and changing the way divorce and child custody is decided ... and levels a scathing attack at what he calls the 'family law industry'".

The book will recount how Baldwin has wasted entire days flying across America to attend a court-appointed fathering session with his child (now aged 12), only for it to be cancelled the moment he touched down in Los Angeles. It will disclose every petty row, every lie and every tearful courtroom argument he's endured since 2002. And it is likely to turn Alec Baldwin, a bankable major star, into America's most famous angry dad: at 50, he will assume the role of leading voice in Hollywood's own version of Fathers4Justice.

In commercial terms, this could represent career suicide. Yet Baldwin has always been a one-off, seemingly immune from the saccharine conventions of show-business. From his first emergence as a star, with the 1990 blockbuster The Hunt for Red October, to his maturation as a prolific but eclectic comic actor and television personality, his career produced as many misses as hits.

It's also been punctuated by regular public feuds. Today, Baldwin is as famous for his short temper as he is for the hundreds of films and TV shows that punctuate his lengthy CV. With this week came two cases in point. First, on Monday, Baldwin decided to watch tennis at the US Open, a few miles from his home in New York. The trip ended in an altercation that jollified the gossip pages of the New York Post.

"Alec Baldwin can't keep his explosive temper in check," it read. "The 30 Rock actor was seen screaming at a limo driver after a near-collision as he left the US Open Sunday night in his 'old school' BMW. 'He just drove his car into the town car in his impatience to exit the parking lot,' said a witness. 'It was hilarious.'" The following day, a more major controversy beckoned. In the blog Baldwin writes on the left-leaning Huffington Post internet site, he claimed that NBC was failing to promote the new series of 30 Rock. Instead, he accused the television network of preferring to "wring the last drops" out of programmes such as Scrubs and My Name is Earl. "These shows are done!" he claimed. "They're cooked!"

Greg Garcia, the creator of Earl, was understandably upset. He issued a public statement branding Baldwin an "unlikeable" and "distasteful" individual who "sounds like a psychotic narcissist". Baldwin responded by, wrongly, accusing Garcia of being a Scientologist.

Taken alone, these petty feuds would account for little more than everyday froth. But for Baldwin, they form a pattern of behaviour. He's been falling out with someone for most of the past decade. And while everyone loves an angry old man, sometimes he well and truly oversteps the mark.

Last year, a message Baldwin left on the mobile phone of his daughter, Ireland, was leaked to the internet site TMZ and nearly killed his career stone dead. In it, he branded the child "a rude, thoughtless little pig" for failing to answer a pre-arranged phone call. "I don't give a damn that you're 12 years old or 11 years old, or a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass who doesn't care about what you do as far as I'm concerned," he said. "You have humiliated me for the last time ... So I'm going to let you know how I feel, about what a rude little pig you really are. You are a rude thoughtless little pig. Okay?"

Although Baldwin's reputation eventually recovered – he did the rounds of talk-shows, expressing grovelling contrition – it represented a nadir in his public standing.

Baldwin's life falls neatly into two parts. The first, in which he grew up one of four brothers and two sisters in suburban Long Island before falling into acting and becoming an up-and-coming Hollywood star, pre-dates his 1993 marriage to Basinger.

The second began with their unhappy marriage, which was marked by incompatibility and petty disputes. In the mid-1990s, Baldwin endured a string of expensive flops. Basinger, for her part, won an Oscar for her role in LA Confidential.

The varying trajectories of their careers became famously contentious. In 1998, the couple took a cameo on The Simpsons in which Basinger was shown polishing her Oscar statue in ostentatious fashion. "Honey, why don't you give that thing a rest? You're taking the finish off," said Baldwin. "When you win one, you can take care of it however you want," his wife replied.

Their separation, in 2002, began a lengthy custody battle, which still shows no signs of ending. Baldwin complains that his wife has made it almost impossible for him to see his daughter. Basinger has portrayed him as an unsuitable role model who ought to be kept from an impressionable child. Neither party has improved their reputation by giving regular public interviews berating the other. In a recent conversation with The New Yorker, Baldwin "barely moved from the subject of marriage and divorce for two hours".

Baldwin is no stranger to political grandstanding. He has for years been one of Hollywood's most famous left-wingers. Indeed, he once threatened to leave the country if Al Gore didn't beat George Bush to the presidency. At times, this political bent has provided his career with a much-needed boost. In the 1990s, it helped him achieve success fronting the comedy show Saturday Night Live.

More recently, it accounted for the success of 30 Rock, a lightweight sitcom full of canned laughter, in which he plays an ageing television executive. The show is up for 17 Emmys next week. With this much to lose, friends widely advised against A Promise to Ourselves and remain worried by its publication.

This week, neither Mr Del Piano, nor Baldwin's long-suffering publicist, Matthew Hiltzik, nor even his publishers, St Martin's Press, returned calls about the project.

Baldwin is required to keep a lid on his public anger if he wishes to continue having access to his daughter, so raking over painful memories could be a dangerous business. "What will happen if next week he's coming out of a restaurant, someone takes his photo, and he loses it?" says Sheeraz Hassan, the proprietor of the paparazzi website Hollywood.tv. "If you want to pap Alec Baldwin now, it's very easy: you stop him in the street, ask him about his divorce or his daughter, and bang!"

After the turmoil of the past six years, Alec Baldwin is about to start playing with fire. It could be unwise. But like so much else in the soap opera life of America's most famous angry dad, it'll be fun to watch.