Meredith Baxter dropped the Birney, came out as a lesbian and revealed personal matters in a book entitled Untied. The actress is known for her roles in the TV series Family and Family Ties, but has also been in a recent web series.
It was a "family" reunion as Nunn on One talked with her once again about life and love before Baxter comes to own to speak at a luncheon for Personal PAC, a bipartisan political action committee devoted to electing pro-choice candidates to state and local office in Illinois.
Windy City Times: Hey, Meredith. I just finished reading the book minutes ago. They just got a copy to me and I was cramming all night and all morning.
Meredith Baxter: Was that part of the requirement?
WCT: I just wanted to study up and get the background on you.
MB: Wow, that is very devoted of you.
WCT: It gave me a good perspective. We met at a memorabilia show and we did a quick interview together.
MB: Oh, right. How the hell are you, Jerry?
WCT: Great! I felt really bad for you at the time because it was very emotional for you. You had just come out and were in the process of writing this book.
MB: It was still a work in progress at the time.
WCT: How was it writing the book Untied? You were very open and candid about things.
MB: I figured if I was going to do then I might as well do it!
WCT: Was it cathartic to write?
MB: [It was] in many ways and, you know, I found that, to greater or lesser degrees depending on the day. When I was writing the book I assembled what I thought I knew about myself and my life, the conclusions that I drew based upon what had happened to me. I had to put that down. I wanted people to know what I had to live through.
Seeing it all in print had an impact and I could own it now, once it had been out and I started getting people's reactions to it, I had to assimilate what I had written. I understood myself in a totally different way. I had really seen myself as a victim of so much, not that anyone was trying to victimize me It was just a sequence of how things unfolded. I told myself I was an unloved child, and that determined everything.
WCT: Calling your mother by her first name was unusual.
MB: I thought so. [Laughs] We don't know what goes on in other families. We only know what is happening in ours. The conclusion I came to was she distanced herself from my brothers and me.
I thought I was the star in my own life. Kids tend to think everything is about them anyways it wasn't an unusual stance for me to have arrived at. However, I rode that stance well into adulthood. I never really looked at myself. I was a fearful child. You read all of this. I was a fearful adult. I was an emotionally one-legged personality. I was desperate and grateful for anyone that looked my way. That is not something that you can carry into a relationship that is going to be healthy.
WCT: Isn't it ironic that we are talking on [Spirit Day, the national anti-bullying day]?
MB: Oh, I didn't realize that.
WCT: They are encouraging people to wear purple and post it on Facebook. They didn't have that back in the day.
MB: Here is another thing: I totally escaped all of that. I was such a slow learnera late fucking bloomer. I'm 64. People think I had to fight the good fight to make it easier for people now but I tell them listen, everyone else did that for me. I didn't go through that because I didn't have the courage to look at myself.
WCT: After meeting David Birney on the sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie, the media made everything seem so different between you two than real life, posing a perfect marriage.
MB: It is a terrible burden for anyone put in the public eye that had these adoring cameras. They are not so adoring these days. It's like, "I dare you to be a happy couple now." Back then I couldn't say that it was a lie. I never knew what David was thinking. I just tried to make it like I was so happy.
WCT: How have friends and families reacted to the book?
MB: The kids had a hard time for a while because they are not interested in having their personal life trotted out there. It is one thing to do it for me but another to drag them along in the process. To a degree it was unavoidable. As I said in the book, I chose not to write a lot about them, which gives the impression that their life with me was not unlike my life with them.
WCT: I thought you did a good job with that.
MB: Good, I am glad to know that.
WCT: I didn't realize that you had done so many TV movies.
MB: I read that someone got upset that I was such a namedropper. I thought, "Well, I am just saying who I worked with. " I wasn't saying that I was hot because I worked with Greer Garson. Most people don't even know who Greer Garson even is anymore. It meant something to me…
WCT: Look at all of the stars that came out of the Little Women movie.
MB: I know!
WCT: So you are speaking at a luncheon for a pro-choice group. What is your stance on that?
MB: What do you guess?
WCT: Going back to the book, I think about how your life would have been different without so many kids at an early age.
MB: To tell the truth, I had an abortion. I didn't write about that because it was just another sad aspect to my relationship with David. I had to. It was actually a therapeutic abortion. It just happened to come a couple of years after Roe v. Wade was signed as a law. It was certainly legal. It had to happen and that was fine. It was a horrible time in our lives. It was two years into our marriage. I was desperately unhappy. I already had three children and thought I cannot do this again. I thought I was going to lose my mind if I had this other child. I wasn't ready for a fourth. I think it was before I did Family.
WCT: Will your partner, Nancy, be attending the luncheon with you?
MB: No she can't. She is a contractor. She is working on a job in Bel Air that is taking her head off every day. She can't walk away because I have a fun gig in Chicago.
WCT: I just missed you in Provincetown.
WCT: I was writing a travel story there and they said you had been doing a signing just hours before I got there.
MB: We had two great shows. It was fabulous. My friend from the Human Rights Campaign set up a book signing at the Art House there. They charged to support the HRC, which I thought was fine but I wanted them to aim low because people aren't used to paying for admission for these things, it is a book signing in the afternoon. She called me ahead of time and had a hundred people on a waiting list after being sold out and wanted to open up another venue. I couldn't believe that. We wound up filling the church and the Art House for both shows. We raised $6,000 for the Human Rights Campaign. We had the best response.
It does make a difference when the audience is gay. In fact, before I go to Chicago I'm going to Dallas to talk about equality in the workplace [at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, which took place Oct. 25-28]. I'm really jazzed because it is a predominantly gay audience. It is nice to be able to gear the speech in that direction because there is an accessibility there that is not there for a more straight audience.
WCT: It is so great to hear how active you are being out there now. You have come a long way since we have talked last!
MB: Oh, I am so grateful. I was mired in fear, Jerry. I had no idea how this was going to go down. I didn't really know what I was doing. It was all kind of blind. I thought it would come out and people would say, "Please, don't even…" Part of it was a result of so much in my head with that victim thinking. It will always come up because that is my past but I have something to offer now. I have a perspective about what I have learned in my life. I can reach out to someone and tell them how it works for me.
WCT: I remember telling you my coming-out story, so it's all about paying it forward.
MB: I was at the gym recently and watching back-to-back Will & Grace. I never saw it when it was on. I am dying, it makes me laugh so much. Will and Jack are taking a new guy under their wing and they call it "gaying it forward." I almost fell off my elliptical when I heard it!
WCT: Family Ties had never had a gay episode, correct?
MB: I don't think so.
WCT: If it were made today there would be.
MB: I teased Michael Gross that he came off being so effeminate that they didn't need to. He has this wonderful female side to his personality. He's just so open and I just love this man. When I first met him having come from a play in New York, someone from Ireland came up to him in the street and asked, "You are not bent are you?" He said, " No, but it's okay if I were." You have met him before and he is the greatest guy.
WCT: Yes, thanks for introducing us. What are you doing next?
MB: I am available for speaking engagements including breast cancer, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol recovery, and recently LGBT issues. Tell people to go to www.speakersonhealthcare.com . This is the way I keep the wolf at bay.
WCT: Well, I will see you at the luncheon.
MB: Flag me down and say hey. It will be nice to see you again!
If you would like to have lunch with Meredith Thursday, Nov. 17, at 12 p.m. at the Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave, visit www.personalpac.org for ticket information.