Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering by Meredith Baxter

Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering


“I remember Sarah asking me, when I’d just begun therapy with her, what I looked for in a man.  After a few moments of silent, tense deliberation I had it.  ‘Hair,’ I blurted. ‘He has to have hair.’”
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 of Family 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.
From the Hardcover edition.

My thoughts:
This was another one of my beach reads last month.  I remember starting it when I got it and then putting it down for some reason, so this time I started over at the beginning again.  While I am not familiar with Baxter's early television work, I recall seeing her every week on Family Ties.  I may or may not have seen some of her TV movies too.  I love reading about and peaking into other peoples lives.  From the outside they can seem perfect or to have it all together, but that is rarely the case and it is nice to know that everyone runs into bumps in the road and detours.

Baxter's mother was a very focused on having a career as an actress and divorced early, often leaving her children alone or with their step father and having her children call her Whitney instead of mom so she could appear younger.  This early rejection seems to have had some long lasting repercussions in her life.  From getting together with men because they thought it was a good idea, to living in some sketchy and unsafe homes and apartments, to taking to alcohol to escape the unhappiness at home to finding that she prefers to be in a relationship with women Meredith discusses it all.  

I've found that in books by celebrities, and maybe people in general, there tends to be a certain amount of repetition.  Chapters later they are going back to something that they already discussed and making it a focal point again.  That happened here, but it could be that it is hard to show things without their backdrop from the past.

Who would have thought that Elise Keaton, who seemed like a mom who had it all together, was driving home drunk from rehearsals and shows because of issues at home?  I think it is telling that she was so nervous about coming out to the public, but at the same time wanted to do it to help other people who are in the same position.  Will this affect her ability to find employment or embarrass family members?  

Nothing is ever perfect and it is important to realize that much of what happens in life is governed by how we react to it and what we do with it.  I am glad that Baxter has found the life she is happy with and no longer feels the need to hide it.

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