Three-time Primetime Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter comes out as gay
On the day the New York senate decided that gays should not have the right to marry, Meredith Baxter, best known for two television series with the word “family” in the title – Family in the 1970s and Family Ties in the 1980s – stated publicly that she is a lesbian.
The 62-year-old Baxter (born on June 21, 1947, in South Pasadena, Los Angeles County), who has been married three times and has five children, is currently in a relationship with building contractor Nancy Locke. The couple have been together for four years. Baxter says she began dating women seven years ago.
Beating the tabloids
She decided to open up now because supermarket and online tabloids recently got hold of a story about her – accompanied by a female friend – taking part in a lesbian cruise. (As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, openly gay actress Kelly McGillis – of Reuben Reuben, Top Gun, and The Accused fame – had previously been on that lesbian-geared cruise as well.)
“I didn’t want some tabloid to take the story and make it up,” Baxter said during an interview with Matt Lauer for the Today show. “I wanted it to be in my own words.”
Meredith Baxter movies
Among Meredith Baxter’s handful of big-screen credits are the following:
- Phil Karlson’s Ben (1972), a sequel to the previous year’s Willard. Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, and the titular black rat star in this cult thriller chiefly notable for Michael Jackson’s rendition of the title song. Meredith Baxter plays the sister of rat owner Montgomery.
- Former child actor Jackie Cooper’s (mildly) feminist comedy Stand Up and Be Counted (1972), starring Jacqueline Bisset, Stella Stevens, and Gary Lockwood. Baxter was cast in a minor role.
- Alan J. Pakula’s Oscar-nominated All the President’s Men (1976), starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. In the political thriller, Baxter plays Debbie Sloan, the wife of Hugh Sloan (Stephen Collins), former treasurer for the Committee to Re-elect the President.
- Veteran David Miller’s melodrama Bittersweet Love (1976), toplining another Hollywood veteran, Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Peyton Place). Despite Turner’s billing, the actual leads in this melodrama about (half-)incest are, as half-siblings, Scott Hylands and Meredith Baxter (billed as Meredith Baxter Birney; she was television actor David Birney’s wife between 1974–1989).
More recently, Baxter was featured in Lorraine Senna’s Paradise, Texas (2005), a little-seen indie in which she plays the neglected wife of has-been actor Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show, Texasville).
That same year, she was excellent in a supporting role in George Bamber’s gay-themed comedy The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, playing the no-nonsense mother of the titular social misfit (brought to life by Daniel Letterle).
On television, Meredith Baxter – oftentimes billed as Meredith Baxter Birney (sometimes with a hyphen) – has made countless guest appearances in multiple series (The Love Boat, 7th Heaven, Brothers & Sisters), and has starred in a number of television films and miniseries, including:
- David Lowell Rich’s Little Women (1978), as Meg March, with Susan Dey, Ann Dusenberry, and Eve Plumb as her sisters; Best Actress Oscar nominee Dorothy McGuire (Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947) as their mother; Best Actress Oscar winner Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver, 1942) as their aunt; and veteran Robert Young (Crossfire, TV’s Father Knows Best) as their grandfather.
- John Korty’s biopic Winnie (1989), in which, according to New York Times reviewer John J. O’Connor, Baxter got the chance “to act up a storm” as the mentally handicapped titular character.
- Michael Switzer’s sports drama Miracle on the 17th Green (1999), with Baxter as another neglected wife, this time Robert Urich’s.
Notably, Meredith Baxter played a lesbian mother raising a young son in the 1993 CBS Schoolbreak Special episode “Other Mothers,” for which she received a Daytime Emmy Best Actress nomination.
‘Family’ & ‘Family Ties’
Created by Marnie and Cabaret screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, ABC’s serious-minded, Pasadena-set Family (1976–1980) featured Meredith Baxter (Birney) as Nancy Lawrence Maitland – the daughter of caring, middle-class parents James Broderick and Sada Thompson; the sister of sensitive Gary Frank and tomboyish Kristy McNichol; and the estranged (eventually former) wife of adulterer John Rubinstein.
Family earned Baxter two back-to-back Primetime Emmy nominations in the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category. She lost to fellow Family player Kristy McNichol (1977) and to Lou Grant actress Nancy Marchand (1978).
In her other family hit series, Gary David Goldberg’s NBC sitcom Family Ties (1982–1989), Baxter was cast as the liberal-minded Elyse Keaton – the wife of Michael Gross; and the mother of Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers, and Brian Bonsall.
Family Ties was nominated for four Primetime Emmys in the Outstanding Comedy Series category (1984–1987), but the only two cast members to be singled out were Michael J. Fox, nominated a total of five times* (1985–1989), including three wins as Best Actor in a Comedy Series (1986–1988), and two-time Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nominee Justine Bateman (1986, 1987).
* Michael J. Fox’s first nomination, in 1985, had him listed in the Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category.
Jan. 2012 update: Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter’s younger sister in Family, publicly came out as a lesbian in early 2012.
Third Primetime Emmy nomination
Meredith Baxter’s third Primetime Emmy nod would come in 1992, for her performance as real-life murderess Betty Broderick in the first part of a two-part TV movie (aired months apart) directed by Dick Lowry: A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story – a sort of Fatal Attraction in reverse, with Baxter as the spurned, vengeful, and eventually murderous all-American, Southern California suburban housewife whose husband (Baxter’s All the President’s Men husband Stephen Collins) had left her for a younger woman (Michelle Johnson).
She lost the Emmy to Gena Rowlands for Face of a Stranger.
Part II of the story, Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter, a depiction of Broderick’s days in court, was aired that same year.
Mother Whitney Blake & aunt (?) Anne Baxter
Meredith Baxter’s father was radio announcer Tom Baxter; her mother was TV multitasker Whitney Blake, probably best known for her role as Dorothy Baxter in the hit TV series Hazel (1961–1965), starring Shirley Booth, and as one of the creators of another hit series, One Day at a Time (1975–1984), starring Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin.
Married in 1944, Tom Baxter and Whitney Blake were divorced in 1955. One Day at a Time was reportedly inspired by Blake’s own experiences as a divorcée with children.
Correction/Update: According to unverified online sources, Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner Anne Baxter (The Razor’s Edge, 1946), best remembered for her portrayal of the scheming young actress Eve Harrington in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning classic All About Eve – which, coincidentally, has lesbian undertones – was Meredith Baxter’s aunt.
However, that information is in all likelihood false. Meredith Baxter mentions Anne Baxter in her 2010 autobiography Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, saying that, in an effort to be popular at school, she claimed that the All About Eve and The Ten Commandments actress was her mother: “No one recognized the name Whitney Blake. Anne Baxter sounded like she actually could be my mother. And she’d won an Academy Award.” (Italics in the original.)
Meredith Baxter husbands & wife
Besides David Birney, with whom she was featured in the flop 1972 TV series Bridget Loves Bernie, Meredith Baxter had two other husbands: actor and sometime screenwriter Michael Blodgett (as an actor: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Carey Treatment), who died at age 68 in November 2007, and actor/costumer/wardrobe supervisor Robert Lewis Bush (as an actor, Village of the Damned; as a costumer, They Live – both films directed by John Carpenter).
Dec. 2013 update: Meredith Baxter and Nancy Locke were married in December 2013 in Los Angeles.
Michael Gross, Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall, and Meredith Baxter Family Ties image: NBC.
“Meredith Baxter Lesbian Announcement: Family & Family Ties Actress” last updated in February 2019.