"Untied" is one way of putting it.
That's the title of Meredith Baxter's new memoir, in which the actress writes about things that would surprise anyone who assumed she resembled her most popular character, Elyse Keaton, the mom on the hit eighties sitcom, Family Ties.
She married and divorced three times. She alleges David Birney, husband No. 2, who starred with her in an earlier show, Bridget Loves Bernie, was physically and emotionally abusive. (For his part, Mr. Birney is denying it.) She battled alcoholism. And then, in her 50s, she discovered that she's a lesbian.
Unspooled would be another.
"I don't run things by my kids," she bellows at one point, when asked if her five adult children have adjusted to her five-year relationship with Nancy Locke, her partner, a general contractor. "It's frankly none of their business."
In person, there's little Ms. Baxter won't divulge. She is fond of dropping the f-bomb and raising her voice as though communicating with a vast audience. Seated on a sofa in a suite of a downtown Toronto hotel, she wears a dark-blue pantsuit, her blond hair cropped and little makeup. With her legs akimbo, one elbow crooked on her knee, she shows little capacity for circumspection.
"With her, it was hello," the 63-year-old says lasciviously, wiggling her eyebrows. She is telling me about a previous lover, Paula, 25 years her junior. "I was dating a man when I met her," she says, shrugging.
I had wanted to know if being gay was a rejection of men, after having burned through three duds for husbands. "You can't deny I had bad choices of men," she booms, slapping her leg. "And some might say, 'She was living a lie before!' " she continues. "But that just wasn't my experience."
She never struggled with her sexuality when she was young.
"That would go on with someone who thought," she replies suggesting a weary disappointment in her younger self. "I was not someone who asked herself, 'What do I like? What do I want to do? What interests me?' I was trying to keep my head above water all the time."
Her mother, a B-actress, was more interested in chasing fame than tending to her three children. She insisted they call her by her first name. "I had this belief system that was pivotal for how I saw myself in the world. I thought I had no value. I thought I was unloved. And I thought I was unlovable," Ms. Baxter says, turning to me with big blue eyes.
Her Californian beauty was a tool. "Guys are sick" - she stops herself to say "sorry" to the lone man in the room - "but they'd yell out their window at me. … It was, 'Oh, this is how I'm valuable.' " She had a facelift in 1994 because she wanted to keep working.
In her sixties' hippie phase of smoking pot and popping pills, Ms. Baxter fell into a marriage with Bob Bush, an underemployed musician with whom she had two children. She worked in an office as a secretary. She sold Tupperware for a time. She stumbled into acting to help pay the bills.
Next came Mr. Birney. He was Ivy-school educated; she had never been to university. She figured she was stupid, she says. He denigrated her and hit her, she says, an allegation he has denied. After trying to break up with him, she reconciled with him, and promptly became pregnant. Another marriage and three more children ensued.
"In a small way, my heart goes out to him that he's having to be surrounded by 'David-hit-me' headlines," she says. He was aware of the book's contents before publication, she says. "One of the kids gave it to him." She shrugs. "He becomes voiceless, and I'm the one with the platform. It's just the way it is," she offers. "To paraphrase [writer]Anne Lamott, 'If you wanted a better story, you should have treated us better.' "
Husband No. 3, Michael Blodgett, a B-movie matinee idol she met while in Alcoholics Anonymous, was a ne'er-do-well who spent her money. "He'd come home with three new $3,000 [U.S.]Armani suits," she huffs with a roll of her eyes.
Still, her youngest daughter, Mollie, was saddened by the divorce, even though Mr. Blodgett wasn't her biological father. "Mollie was always looking for the perfect, nuclear family. We all have our own fantasies," she says, brushing off any seriousness. "That's her struggle. It's not mine."
Ms. Baxter speaks with the AA talk of taking responsibility only for the things she can change. "It's a spiritual thing," she says of the 12-step program for recovering alcoholics, which she speaks about often. For years, she never thought she had a problem. "I had a picture of what an alcoholic looked like, and it didn't look like me. I hadn't lost anything. I wasn't lying in a gutter. But I was drinking openly at the end. I swear to God, when I was drinking, I'd pass my glass to an assistant and stumble onto set and I'd think, 'I am so … cool.' "
It's thanks to AA that she began to practise what she calls "rigorous honesty." Even though many of her friends and family knew she was gay, she waited until 2009 to come out publicly after gossip websites got wind of a trip she took with Ms. Locke on a lesbian cruise.
Now, her candour is her shtick, which she touts like a new religion. "I am as sick as my secrets," she says with earnest seriousness.
Would she marry Ms. Locke? "You know there are some secrets for ourselves," she begins. But isn't she afraid of marriage regardless of orientation? "Well, there is a voice in my head that says, 'I have done that before and it didn't work out so well,' " she says, laughing, before adding that she loves her partner so much, she would be proud to make their love official.
And perhaps she doesn't see the need for marriage unless she wants more children, I ask.
"Excuse me while I vomit over here," she blurts, mimicking sickness. "I love the ones I have but God knows …" she trails off.
Honesty, it seems, is something she can't avoid. Encouraged, I wonder about her finances. She is not acting much any more. The book was her idea.
"Well, it really [screws]with your finances when you have to split things in half twice. Hello?" she guffaws, slapping her knee again.
That's what a lifetime of living by other people's scripts will do to you.
You go unscripted and don't think about the consequences.