Most of us think we know Meredith Baxter, right? Maybe you (or your parents!) grew up watching her play the upper class Catholic Bridget newly wed to the Jewish working class Bernie (played by David Birney who would later assume the role of Baxter’s real life (abusive) husband) in Bridget Loves Bernie. Or maybe you remember her as Nancy, the troubled oldest daughter in Family, who moves back home with her young son when she becomes a single mom. And for some of us, she will forever be Elise Keaton, the hippy mom to conservative Alex Keaton played by Michael J. Fox in the 80’s hit, Family Ties.
But to assume that we know Meredith Baxter from the roles she has played (including many made-for-TV movies) would be a mistake. In Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame and Floundering, Meredith’s new memoir, she gives us a front row seat to the difficulties – and joys – in her life; a life that couldn’t be more different from her most famous roles.
Born in California to a young mother whose dream was to be a star, Meredith and her brothers experienced a childhood lacking warmth and affection. A young mom herself, she attempted a communal life in Canada before returning to California to work a series of menial jobs. Her gradual success as an actor was accompanied by three bad marriages, the births of her five children, and an addiction to alcohol. Meredith is honest about her mistakes and difficulties, and she lays bares the ups and downs of her public and private lives. We sympathize with her as she comes to terms with her unhappy childhood, empathize with her need to leave an abusive husband, cheer for her as she discovers her sexuality and falls deeply in love with Nancy Locke, her life partner.
By reading Untied we realize that Meredith Baxter was not Bridget or Nancy or Elise. She is Meredith – a smart, successful and strong woman; in short, a character we would love to get to know.