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Baxter, Meredith (b. 1947)  
 
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Actress Meredith Baxter is best known for her starring role in the ABC situation comedy Family Ties, which ran from 1982 to 1989. Her credits also include other series and movies made for both the big and small screens. Since coming out in 2009 she has become a spokesperson for glbtq rights.

Both of Baxter's parents were in the entertainment industry. Her father, Tom Baxter, was a radio announcer, and her mother, Whitney Blake, was a television actress. Meredith Ann Baxter, the youngest of their three children, was born in South Pasadena, California on June 21, 1947.

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Baxter's parents' marriage ended in divorce some five years later, but Blake soon remarried. Her second husband, Jack Fields, a producer, encouraged his stepdaughter's interest in acting. Baxter's studies in preparation for a career included classes in theater and voice at the Interlochen (Michigan) Arts Academy Summer Camp.

Soon after graduating from Hollywood High School, however, Baxter married Robert Bush, a costumer. The couple had two children, but the marriage foundered, and they divorced in 1969.

Subsequently, Fields urged Baxter to return to her aspirations as an actor and helped her land small parts on television shows and in movies. These led to larger roles, including one in Phil Karlson's 1972 horror film, Ben.

In the same year Baxter was cast in her first starring role on a television series, the CBS sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie, on which she played a Catholic schoolteacher in love with a Jewish cab driver, played by David Birney. Much of the comedy ensued from the cultural differences between their two families.

The show was a hit with viewers, who made it number five in the Nielsen ratings, but conservative groups objected to the positive depiction of an interfaith couple. Apparently because of the volume of hate mail, network executives canceled the show after one season. No other series with such a high ranking has ever been dropped.

Bridget and Bernie may have been consigned to sitcom history, but Baxter and Birney embarked on a romance and were wed in 1974. The couple had three children.

Baxter, who adopted the surname Baxter-Birney after her marriage, did not immediately land a recurring role on a new series but worked consistently as a guest star and had prominent parts in numerous made-for-television movies, including The Stranger Who Looks Like Me (ABC, 1974), in which her mother also appeared.

Baxter won a regular role on the acclaimed ABC drama series Family (1976-1980), playing a law student who was also the divorced mother of a young child—once again, a rather daring character for the time. For her work she was nominated for Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in 1978 and 1979.

Baxter returned to situation comedy in 1982 with a starring role in the NBC series Family Ties. Opening with favorable if not impressive ratings, the show rose to the number five position when the network moved it into a desirable time-slot after the most popular program, The Cosby Show, in 1984. For the next three years it held the number two ranking.

Baxter's role on Family Ties remains the one with which she is most identified. She portrayed Elyse Keaton, who, like her husband (played by Michael Gross), was an erstwhile hippie and Peace Corps volunteer who had settled into suburban Midwestern family life but had not abandoned progressive ideals.

The couple's three children—especially their son (played by Michael J. Fox), an ardent Republican—had distinctly different views. While the divergent outlooks within the family led to comedic conflict, the love and unity that they shared always prevailed.

Baxter's character—a bright career woman with an abiding commitment to liberal values, but also a nurturing mother respectful of the individuality of her children—was much beloved by audiences.

Family Ties ended its run in 1989, and in the same year Baxter and Birney divorced, at which time she reverted to her original surname. The marriage had not been a happy one, and Baxter had sought solace in alcohol. She entered a 12-step program in 1990 and has been sober ever since.

Even while working on Family Ties Baxter continued appearing in television movies, generally in roles far removed from her well-known persona as "supermom" Elyse Keaton.

These projects included Kate's Secret (NBC, 1985), in which she portrayed a bulimic socialite, and Winnie (NBC, 1988), in which she played a mentally challenged woman trying to find her way in society after being institutionalized for many years.

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Meredith Baxter in 1990. Photograph by Alan Light.
  
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