Thursday, April 7, 2022

Untied. Meredith Baxter Book review.

First thing to know is it's Untied, not United.  I knew this but whenver I look at the book, I still see United.  Just an interesting observation.

It's a celeb biography, one of my favorite kinds of books.  I like these bios because they seem real life, no filter.  People tell (possible) real life stories about real things that happen.  Maybe.  

So our writer is Meredith Baxter, a Hollywood "star" who was the spoiled, bitchy oldest sister in 'Family' & Michael J. Fox's mom on 'Family Ties' on TV.  She's been in a ton of other tv shows & movies over about a 50 year career.  I can't say I'd go out seeking a book about her but I saw her interviewed & it looked like an interesting read.  And it was.  Enough little vignettes about co-stars to give a clue about how it all works. 

The book starts with her going on the Today show to announce to the world that she's a lesbian & in a long term relationship with another woman.  Not sure why that's news these days but she felt the need to over share, which is what people do these days.  She was semi-out & wanted to control the narrative so I guess I get it. But it's about more than that, growing up with a famous mom, abandonment, 3 bad marriages, motherhood & the final epiphany.  And it held my interest.

Meredith is the daughter of actress Whitney Blake, a beauty who started acting in the 1950s.  She had the distinction of being on the first ever episode of 'Perry Mason'.  And would later be remembered as 'Missy' on the TV show Hazel.  It's unclear what Whitney was expecting when Shirley Booth was Hazel & they star of the show.  Whitney soon morphed into wallpaper with a few lines every week & hated doing it.   Shirley Booth was not exactly portrayed negatively but as a woman with power who was the star of the show.  Sadly, Whitney's career pretty much faltered after that.  She already had 3 kids, 2 older boys & Meredith before she became a "star".  She was not excited about that either, farming kids out to grandparents while she was trying to make it in Hollywood.  When the kids were at home, she seemed uncaring & made her kids call her Whitney because "mom" made her sound old.  She also had 2 ex-husbands that did little to help raising kids.  2nd husband Jack was a little creepy in general, especially with her daughter.  Yet he was Meredith's acting agent for years.  Meredith's issues with self esteem started with mom.

A few years later, Meredith was part of a hippie, drug culture & a mom of 2 by her early 20's .  She was married to the kids' dad but ended up a single mom by 25.  

Her 2nd husband was an actor named David Birney, who she met when they starred in a TV show called 'Bridget Loves Bernie' in the early 70s.  That show was "controversial" because a Catholic girl married a Jewish man & stereotypes flooded every show.  It only lasted one season because there were protests.  I remember it being a so-so show, typical of the 'All In The Family' wave at the time.  The era had a few shows that "pushed the envelope" for the time although they would not even be noticed these days.  Anyway, Meredith loved Birney I guess.  Ok, cheap pun.

Most of the book centers on their marriage.  David was apparently a controlling & abusive man with a my way or the highway attitude.  Meredith talks about him hitting her, being strict & unwavering to her 2 kids from her first marriage & later, with 5 kids total, running the house with an iron fist.  Apparently he was jealous of her success, critical of everything about her & berated her in front of the kids.  The end of her marriage came after a Thanksgiving meal where he'd been cruelly critical & her oldest daughter, 20 years old at the time, asked her mom "What are you waiting for?"...meaning why didn't she leave?    I don't remember the exact time they were together but she said it took 8 years to settle their divorce & she had to pay child & spousal support. Part of me would like to hear his side of the story.

Her 3rd marriage was to an unemployed writer she met in AA.  They lasted 5 years & she had to pay him spousal support too.  

She points out many times that her "man picker" is a little faulty.  

She later started an affair with a female renter on her property & later discovered that women were her thing.  She'd felt small & belittled & voiceless for years & finally opened up to her current wife, Nancy & they seem happy together. And that has to be a good thing.

My impressions of Meredith are that she was pretty spoiled & self absorbed & in life, I'm not sure I'd like her much because, frankly I have enough me,me,me friends in my life now.  Oh, and she had no respect for marriage, hers or anyone else's. Had to hang on to you husband (or maybe wife, now) because everyone every one was fair game. 

The book was a quick read & I enjoyed it. She's a good writer, at least a biographer.  And she did sorta make up with Whitney before her mom died.  I get the impression that they at least made peace. 

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