The hit TV show Family Ties debuted during the fall 1982 television season. I was a junior in high school. The show starred Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter as Steven and Elyse Keaton, liberal, former hippie parents raising 4 children – two of whom were decidedly conservative and one, played by Michael J. Fox, who would steal the show and become a superstar. Elyse Keaton however became known as “mom” to kids everywhere and was often held up as the model ideal of the “cool” American mom. The show ran through the 1989 season.
Fast forward to March of this year and the startling news that America’s mom was coming out and announcing herself as a lesbian in a long-term partnered relationship with Los Angeles area building contractor Nancy Locke. As revelations go, this one shocked many of my generation and that of my parents. How could “Elyse Keaton” be gay? Talk about a reality check!
A Letter from Author Meredith Baxter
For about fifty of my 63 years, (that’s 79.365079365079% of my life) I was miserable. I thought I’d been a victim for most of it and, consequently, was pretty sure I was not to blame. I could save the blame for all the others who had conspired (so it seemed) to keep me down. I was the saddest girl you’d ever met and probably would have lived out my days in that sadness had I not experienced the miracle of a change in my thinking.
I thought that was worth writing about–the lessons I’ve learned–because they’ve been so many and so profound. I had to learn that, although I was indeed the center of my own life, I wasn’t necessarily the center of the lives of others. Most of you know that within your first decade, but I just took my time.
My book is about the price I paid for being so self-centered, where it all took me and how I broke the cycle of thinking that was so disastrous for me. Of course, along the way, I talk about my family, my career, my marriages and children, Family Ties and many movies. I talk about infidelity, domestic abuse, divorce, devastation and drinking my way through a few movies.
Once I get sober, all sorts of fun things start to happen. I get some great movie roles. I get married yet again. I get breast cancer and another divorce. Then, I realize I like girls. Finally, all’s well in my world and because all of these changes are so surprising and happening so fast and I don’t want to forget any of them, I decide I better write it all down.
A Look Inside Untied
Meredith in Hollywood, 1956
Bridget Loves Bernie publicity shot
Family Ties publicity shot
Meredith Baxter is a beloved and iconic television actress, most well-known for her enormously popular role as hippie mom, Elyse Keaton, on Family Ties. Her warmth, humor, and brilliant smile made her one of the most popular women on television, with millions of viewers following her on the small screen each week. Yet her success masked a tumultuous personal story and a harrowing private life. For the first time, Baxter is ready to share her incredible highs, (working with Robert Redford, Doris Day, Lana Turner, and the cast ofFamily Ties), and lows (a thorny relationship with her mother, a difficult marriage to David Birney, a bout with breast cancer), finally revealing the woman behind the image.
From her childhood in Hollywood, growing up the daughter of actress and co-creator of One Day at a Time Whitney Blake, Baxter became familiar with the ups and downs of show business from an early age. After wholeheartedly embracing the 60s counterculture lifestyle, she was forced to rely on her acting skills after her first divorce left her a 22-year-old single mother of two. Baxter began her professional career with supporting roles in the critically panned horror film Ben, and in the political thriller All the President’s Men.
More lucrative work soon followed on the small screen. Baxter starred with actor David Birney as the title characters in controversial sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie. While the series only lasted a year, her high-profile romance with Birney lasted 15 volatile and unhappy years. Hiding the worst of her situation from even those closest to her, Baxter’s career flourished as her self-esteem and family crumbled. Her successful run as Nancy on Family was followed by her enormously popular role on Family Ties, and dozens of well-received television movies.
After a bitter divorce and custody battle with Birney, Baxter increasingly relied on alcohol as a refuge, and here speaks candidly of her decision to take her last drink in 1990.
And while another ruinous divorce to screenwriter Michael Blodgett taxed Baxter’s strength and confidence, she has emerged from her experiences with the renewed self-assurance, poise, and understanding that have enabled her to find a loving, respectful relationship with Nancy Locke, and to speak about it openly.
Told with insight, wit, and disarming frankness, Untied is the eye-opening and inspiring life of an actress, a woman, and a mother who has come into her own.