Meredith Baxter admits her life has elements that would work in a Lifetime movie – or better yet, three or four Lifetime movies.
Baxter is a recovering alcoholic, a victim of domestic abuse, a breast cancer survivor and thrice divorced. Oh, and she came out as a lesbian in 2009. The 64-year-old actress, best known as Alex Keaton’s mom on “Family Ties” in the 1980s, chronicles her numerous hardships, as well as her acting triumphs, in a no-nonsense memoir “Untied.”
She is signing copies at Outwrite Books in Midtown Friday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m a hyphenate,” said Baxter, in a recent phone interview from her home in Los Angeles.
For much of her life, she didn’t see herself like this. In fact, she said she didn’t examine her actions or why she did what she did until relatively recently.
“I was very much into compartmentalizing,” she said. “It’s what enabled me to get through life. It was a tool. It just wasn’t a very healthy tool. I operated in a total vacuum. I was totally lacking in self examination. I was basically treading water all my life.”
Her long marriage to fellow actor David Birney was a painful case of keeping him “at bay.” For years, he would physically and verbally abuse her. Revealing her marital problems now, she said, ”gives me very small satisfaction. I don’t wish him ill. I would wish him some self examination. If you’re in denial, nothing’s going to change.” (The hope, she said, is for readers to relate and hopefully learn from what she did wrong.)
Baxter did take out some of her frustrations in roles she embodied in dozens of made-for-TV movies. In her book, she amusingly lists having played “a lesbian mom, an alcoholic mom, a drug addict mom, an unfaithful mom, a schizophrenic mom, a psychotic mom, a murdering mom (twice), an avenging mom (three times) and Winnie, who lived in a mental institution.”
In the real world, Baxter said her personal life was often numb. Only after her mom Whitney died in 2002 did she begin to look at her own life in a more meaningful way. Her youngest kids were in college. For the first time as an adult, she was alone. But not for long. A tenant came in named Paula and they fell in love.
“It was the most natural thing for me,” Baxter said. “For the first time, I wasn’t doing something on an agenda.”
Since coming out, Baxter has become a regular on the speaker circuit, talking about any or all of her multiple issues. (You can contact her through www.speakersonhealthcare.com) Unfortunately, she said she has not found a good acting job in a year and a half.
But she was a throw-away joke on “Saturday Night Live” October 15. Bill Hader played a game show host spoofing Lifetime movie actresses. “Stay tuned for the original Lifetime comedy,” Hader said at the end of the skit, ” ‘Weekend at Meredith Baxter Birneys.’ ”
“I worked my way into the common wisdom somehow!” she said, when told of the joke. “I’m part of our cultural history.”
While married to David Birney, Baxter was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney and though she excised Birney from her name ages ago, people still call her that.
“It makes me wince,” she said. “It’s been 21 years! Where have you been? But people haven’t followed my life to that level of detail. Go figure! Or maybe it’s just the literal roll of the tongue of Baxter Birney that gives it more stature!”
Meredith Baxter signs copies of her memoir ”Untied”
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse. 981 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-607-0082, www.outwritebooks.com.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk