By Elizabeth Sporkin
April 22, 1991 12:00 PM

Three weeks before they began filming The Marrying Man last May, stars Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin were introduced at a script-reading session at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The following night, the two met for dinner at Morton’s, a Los Angeles power restaurant, where a potentially blessed event for a romantic comedy occurred: He of cleft chin and arousing stubble and she of sultry sensuality and moody mien discovered they had chemistry. After the meal, sources say, they decided to go back to Baldwin’s place in Brentwood. When it came time to choose whose car to take, Baldwin reportedly borrowed a line from the film. “Mine’s bigger,” he said.

That set the tone for what was to follow as the superheated twosome became Hollywood’s couple most likely to offend. During the four months in which Marrying Man was filming last year, plus 10 hectic days of reshooting in January, Basinger, 37, and Baldwin, 33, provided a tour de force demonstration of on-set egotism, chair-throwing rages and sexual exhibitionism. The filming of the tale of a toothpaste heir who falls—again and again—for a Las Vegas lounge singer (see review on page 15) is a far juicier story than the one that opened to middling reviews this month. It is also a story that still has Hollywood talking.

How bad was it on The Marrying Man set? One senior member of the production crew gives a clue. “Honest to God, if I were destitute and living on the street with no food and somebody offered me a million dollars to work with Alec and Kim, I’d pass,” he says. “Their actions were vile, deplorable, despicable.” Basinger was no more charitable. Making the movie “was the worst situation anyone could imagine—ever,” she told USA Today. “I thought hell was below us, but it fell right on my head.” Baldwin has refused to make any comment.

At the outset, it seemed that Marrying Man should have clicked. It boasted an original screenplay by comedy king Neil Simon (Plaza Suite, Biloxi Blues) and was produced by Walt Disney Company, which, though noted for its strict policing of production costs, was eager to follow up last year’s romantic blockbuster Pretty Woman. In the end, though, the movie finished nearly a month over its original 52-day schedule, $6 million over its original $20 million budget—and in trouble.

The problems began even before the ink was dry on the stars’ contracts. In fall 1989, when he signed Baldwin, Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg may have gotten off on the wrong foot when he reportedly joked with the actor, to whom he was said to be paying $1.5 million, “We could get a gale guard to do the same job you do.” Some insiders feel that Baldwin, whose first big star turn, The Hunt for Red October, was yet to be released, may have taken the remark to heart.

Meanwhile, Batman star Basinger, who received around $2.5 million for Marrying Man, demanded that director of photography Ian (A Cry in the Dark) Baker be replaced, because she didn’t like the way she looked in test shots. And she wanted to change the dialogue—reportedly going so far, four weeks into filming, as to tell Simon, “Whoever wrote this scene doesn’t understand comedy.” Simon, who denies that the incident took place, returned to the set only once during the remainder of the shoot.

As the Basinger-Baldwin love affair grew more intense, both stars frustrated director Jerry Rees (whose only previous feature credit had been the animated The Brave Little Toaster) and feuded with Disney brass. Basinger often kept the production waiting for one reason or another, including her elaborate morning toilette that featured an Evian water shampoo. Baldwin’s temper also set the company on edge. One focus of his anger was on studio execs who visited the set. “One time,” says a video engineer, “I heard Alec marching back after a tantrum and saying, ‘I really showed them this time.’ ” The exhausted director, who blames the movie’s problems on “politics, money and time constraints.” was hospitalized with pneumonia and dehydration for two weeks near the end of filming.

Contributing to the tension was what some production staffers call Basinger’s “sexual obsession.” During the couple’s first scene together, the sound crew couldn’t believe their cars as, between takes, Basinger told her lover what she’d like to do to certain parts of his anatomy. “Think of the dirtiest things you can think of.” says one crew member.

Another problem was Basinger’s underwear. Or lack of it. Some of those on the set said that she didn’t wear any under her costume and would sit in her director’s chair with her legs apart. “I turned around once, and it was just like, ‘Wooooo!’ ” says a crew member. “She saw me look and then said. ‘How are you?’ I said, ‘I’m doing a lot better today, thanks.’ Her embarrassed assistants were always scampering for towels to throw over her legs.”

Baldwin, who started out under control, later grew hostile. His cellular telephones on location (a star perk) became favorite weapons. “He didn’t like it when his phones cut out. so he would slam them against the wall,” says a member of the technical crew. “I don’t know how many phones he smashed to smithereens.” When one phone failed, he was so enraged that he threw a director’s chair, which narrowly missed an electrician who happened to be in the way. He later apologized. “Alec would be pissed at whatever wasn’t going right,” says one crewman, “and there was always something that wasn’t going right.”

Those who know Baldwin, the oldest of four acting brothers (Daniel, 30, appeared on the 1990 CBS series Sydney; William, 27, stars in this spring’s Backdraft; and Stephen, 24, is on ABC’s The Young Riders), are surprised by reports of his antics. “That doesn’t sound like Alec to me,” says his former fiancée, actress Janine Turner, who plays Maggie on CBS’s Northern Exposure, adding that he has “great charm.” His Red October producer Mace Neufeld, remembers Baldwin as “professional, intelligent. He was with us every day, even days when he wasn’t scheduled to shoot.”

Though he’s a hard worker, Baldwin has admitted to a “crazed lifestyle” in the past. “I’m sure he’s having the time of his life with Kim,” says Turner. “She’s beautiful. She’s southern. She’s sexy.”

Basinger also is known as excitable and outspoken. The actress was pegged as late to work and difficult in 1988’s My Step-mother Is an Alien and admitted in Cosmopolitan that she had tried cocaine and that “I love men. And I love sex.” Following her eight-year marriage to makeup man Ron Britton, which ended in 1989, Basinger was rumored to have had an intense romance with rock star Prince. After she took up with Baldwin last spring, she shared Thanksgiving dinner with him and saw him on the set of her new film, The Cool World, costarring Gabriel Byrne.

A relationship that is not going nearly as well is the one she has with Braselton, Ga. (pop. 500). She bought the dilapidated town, just 25 miles from her girlhood home of Athens, with a group of investors for $20 million in 1989. Although she has said she plans to revitalize it with new shops and an amusement park, residents have yet to see any improvements. But after nearly two years, they finally got a glimpse of their famous benefactor last week. She showed up late, accepted a key to the city and performed a few ceremonial functions but still didn’t have the time to talk with many of the townspeople who had complaints. She was, however, trailed by an ABC TV crew.

Neither star seems particularly damaged by the Marrying Man episode. “She’s just been really a delight,” says Cool World producer Frank Mancuso Jr. of his star. “She was on time for wardrobe fittings. Things that people are always late for, she was on time for.”

For his part, Baldwin is now in Chicago to reprise last year’s off-Broadway role in the film version of Prelude to a Kiss and is set to play the lead in two more big-budget films from Red October author Tom Clancy. “Alec is a movie star,” says one top casting director. “If he continues to behave like this and he becomes big box office, people will just have to learn how to deal with it.” Marrying Man costar Robert Loggia agrees. “The line used to be ‘You’ll never work in this town again,’ ” he says. “The catch is, ‘until we need you.’ ”

—Elizabeth Sporkin, Tom Cunneff and David Craig in Los Angeles, Gail Cameron Westcott and Mary C. Bounds in Braselton