book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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complaints, Duggars, language

Stinkin’ heck!

Bill has to leave in a few days to work distantly for three weeks. Meanwhile, I’m a bit worried about Arran, who doesn’t seem like himself. This is the third year Bill has had an extended TDY at this time of year. It seems like every year, something causes angst. A couple of years ago, Arran had worms that were causing some similar symptoms that he’s experiencing now– gas, intermittent vomiting, and lethargy. He recently has had a mast cell tumor removed and sometimes they can cause stomach upset. Of course, he might also have worms. So, on top of everything else that has to be done before Bill leaves on Saturday, we have to get him to the vet for a checkup.

Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to watch Growing Pains and I am convinced that at least one of the writers had a prejudice against overweight people. Not only were there many fat jokes directed at Tracey Gold’s character, Carol Seaver, but there were also a lot of fat jokes in general. For instance, yesterday, I was watching an episode in which Alan Thicke’s character was giving therapy to a guy whose wife had decided to go back to work and that was upsetting to him. He asks the guy what had changed in five years and the patient says, “She got fat.” Then, later in the episode, he says something about how she “waddled” home from work.

Another thing I noticed is that post Kirk Cameron’s conversion to Christianity (alliteration extraordinaire!), the word “hell” was used very seldom. Instead, they all say “heck”. I could probably turn it into a drinking game. “What the heck is this?” “What the heck is going on here!” “Heck no!” And all of the characters speak like this. They also all say “stinkin'” a lot. Indeed, there is a minor character named “Stinky Sullivan” who apparently farts a lot or wears dirty underwear. In real life, people wouldn’t all speak the same way like that, which makes me think the writers were getting a bit lazy. I mean, I could see someone say “stinkin'” as a habit, but an entire cast? One person must have been doing all of the writing or editing, or something.

And finally, Growing Pains was obviously ABC’s answer to NBC’s Family Ties. And Kirk Cameron was supposed to be their answer to Michael J. Fox, who gets mentioned a time or two on the show. However, instead of making Kirk’s character smart, like Fox’s Alex P. Keaton was, they make him a poor student. And instead of making Carol Seaver “dumb” like Justine Bateman’s “Mallory” was, they make her super smart. Ben, like Jennifer Keaton, is kind of lovable and offbeat. And then they had the bonus change of life baby, only on Family Ties, it was partly because Meredith Baxter was pregnant in real life. She had a boy, and Joanna Kerns’ character, Maggie Seaver, had a girl.

I realize I’m expending a lot of mental power on an 80s era sitcom. Growing Pains was a show I thought I didn’t like that much. I remember losing interest in it before it ended in 1992. I think I do prefer Family Ties for a lot of reasons. But it has been interesting to watch the show again. It’s better written than I remembered it, but not as well-written as Family Ties is. And all the misogynistic jokes about looks and weight are kind of disturbing, especially given that Tracey Gold did end up with a pretty serious eating disorder.

As is my habit, I’ll watch the rest of the episodes and move on to my next binge watching marathon. Hopefully, that will help while away the time I’ll be alone, worrying about Arran. He is about twelve now, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that he’s sick with something scary. On the other hand, he’s not been totally debilitated. He’s still eating, playing, sleeping, and taking walks, for instance. But his behavior is still a bit odd.

I’m pretty irritated that Bill has to go TDY, especially since Germany is supposedly in another wave of COVID-19. I will be completely alone, except for the dogs. In another era, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but the older I get, the more this kind of stuff bothers me. And I have to admit, I’m worried that Arran is not well.

And finally… I wrote yesterday about how Kendra Duggar was still pregnant. Well, it turns out she had her baby girl on February 19, 2021. The new baby is named Brooklyn Praise. I guess we should be glad she didn’t name her Saint or Psalm. However, when I think of the name “Praise”, it makes me think of this…

Yikes… it does look like fun!

The Duggars now have 20 grandchildren and half the kids aren’t married yet. That is one hell of a quiverfull of Republican fundies they’ve got there.

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book reviews, nostalgia

Repost: Michael J. Fox’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future…

Here’s a book review I wrote for my original blog on January 23, 2019. I am reposting it as/is.

For the past week or so, I’ve been binge watching Family Ties.  If you were around for most of the 1980s, you no doubt know what Family Ties is.  Debuting in 1982, this was a sitcom that aired every Thursday night on NBC.  It was “must see” TV, much like The Cosby Show was.  Unlike Bill Cosby’s show, Family Ties has not been scandalized by the leading man’s sexual perversions.  In 1982, one might assume Michael Gross, who played family patriarch Steven Keaton, was the “leading man” of Family Ties.  However, after airing just an episode or two, it became clear that the star of the show was none other than Michael J. Fox, who played Alex P. Keaton for seven years.

I am about a year older than Tina Yothers, who played youngest daughter, Jennifer Keaton. I also happen to be named Jennifer (although no one calls me that) and as a kid, I looked a lot like Tina Yothers (and even blogged about it).  Even if I hadn’t been Tina’s long lost sister from another mister, I would have loved that show.  As I am discovering once again during my binge sessions, it’s very well-written and still funny, even though it was canceled thirty years ago this year.  The cast was extremely talented and had chemistry.  There was a very impressive array of guest stars, to include Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, and Geena Davis, just to name a few.  And Michael J. Fox, who would become a huge movie star in his own right, was undeniably charismatic and funny.

A couple of months ago, I downloaded Michael J. Fox’s 2010 book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned.  Amazon tells me he’s written several books.  This is the first and only one I’ve read.  I breezed through it relatively quickly, as it’s not a particularly long book.  In fact, although Fox dropped out of high school to pursue acting, it reads a bit like a commencement speech.  Indeed, new graduates are apparently the intended audience for this book.  I haven’t been a new graduate in almost seventeen years myself, and that was for my graduate programs.  However, as someone who didn’t really launch, I can still glean wisdom from Fox’s writing.

This book is written in a personal style, with Fox addressing his readers as if he’s sitting down with them.  He offers anecdotes about his climb up the ladder of success.  It’s not an exhaustive look at his career, but it offers plenty of important details about the milestones he reached, as well as some touching comments about his family members.  To some people, it may seem like Michael J. Fox (whose real middle name is Andrew) has always been a star.  But in this book, he explains that he was a starving actor when he auditioned for Family Ties.  He had really needed the part and was not expected to become such a huge star.  

Gary David Goldberg, who wrote and produced Family Ties, had originally wanted Matthew Broderick for the part.  In fact, Fox’s audition hadn’t even impressed Goldberg.  It was another staffer who had liked him and convinced Goldberg to give him a chance.  And then, once he had that second chance, Fox had to be “sold” to NBC network executives, who weren’t convinced he’d be successful in the role.  Several years ago, I read and reviewed Gary David Goldberg’s book Sit, Ubu, Sit.  I think I remember reading the same tale about how Fox was a hard sell for the role that made him so famous.  Unfortunately, I reviewed the book on Epinions.com and it never got reposted on this blog.  My review is no longer accessible.  Maybe I’ll reread the book someday and write a new review.

In any case, Goldberg turned out to be a great mentor, friend, and boss to Fox.  In 1985, when Steven Spielberg approached his friend, Goldberg, about letting Fox play Marty McFly, Goldberg had allowed it.  He did so, knowing that Fox could end up being a great success and want to leave the sitcom that had put him on the map.  But although Fox did become a movie star thanks to Back to the Future, he remained loyal to Family Ties.
Before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Michael J. Fox was always freakishly youthful and energetic.  As I’ve been watching him on Family Ties, I’ve been reminded of the late John Ritter who played Jack Tripper on Three’s Company.  The characters are not similar, but the actors are both masters of physical comedy and delivering witty lines.  I almost wonder if Fox didn’t study Ritter a bit.  He doesn’t mention it in the book, and may not have ever had any dealings with the actor.  It was just one of my observations.  

Michael J. Fox also includes an insightful section on alcoholism.  For years, Fox drank to excess, especially after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 30.  He would take medications to deal with the physical symptoms of the disease, but then drink alcohol to drown the emotional pain he was feeling.  He finally gave up drinking.  I would have liked to have read a bit more about that, but then, this book is really meant for graduates… it’s like a speech.  A speech would not be the place for a long story about alcoholism.

Anyway… although I may not have been the audience Fox was aiming for with this book, I did nevertheless find it insightful, well-written, engaging, and wise.  I think it’s probably a great choice for people who don’t want to read long books.  It’s long enough to mostly cover important subject matter, but short enough not to be boring or overwhelming.  Fox has a number of life lessons to share with people who are starting out in the world, even if this book is already nine years old and Fox isn’t the mega star he was thirty years ago.

As a child of the 80s, I must endorse A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, although maybe today’s youth should watch a few episodes of Family Ties first.  They’ll probably think it’s funny, too.  Hell… my generation watched The Brady Bunch.  Maybe later generations should watch the vastly superior Family Ties for a shot of television nostalgia.  I dare say Michael J. Fox is more inspiring than Barry Williams ever was.

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politics, Trump

Elizabeth Warren has left the race and Alex P. Keaton now disgusts me.

I was genuinely sad to see that Elizabeth Warren gave up her run for president. I don’t get excited about too many politicians, but I did like her very much. For some reason, I found her refreshing, and I was surprised to see that she didn’t do better in the polls. I guess some people still aren’t prepared to accept a woman as President of the United States.

That being said, I’m not surprised that she dropped out of the running, nor am I totally surprised that Joe Biden has suddenly experienced a “miraculous” comeback. I have a feeling that he’s going to get the Democratic nomination. I guess I wouldn’t mind Biden running against Trump or even being president. I plan to vote blue regardless. This is the first time I’ve ever said that. In the past, I voted for a range of candidates from different parties and often voted third party. This year, I’m voting straight blue because I genuinely believe the Republican Party has completely gone off the rails. It’s definitely not the GOP of my father’s generation. It will be a long time before I will forgive the Republican Party for foisting Trump on the world. I think Trump is a woman hating disaster, and I don’t understand how decent people can continue to support him.

Lately, I’ve been binge watching Family Ties, a sitcom that was very popular when I was growing up. It’s not the first time I’ve binged on that show, although for the first time, I’ve had a really visceral reaction to Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton. I used to laugh at his conservative jokes. This time, I found them offensive, which is pretty weird. I guess back in the 80s, the sexist comments made by Alex Keaton were easier overlooked because they seemed far-fetched and out of touch with reality. In 2020, those comments hit closer to home, because there are a lot of people in the United States who embrace the racist, sexist, homophobic agenda promoted by Donald Trump.

It also occurred to me as I was watching Family Ties that Donald Trump never gets mentioned, even though he was definitely out there and in the media during that time. I’m not sure if Alex Keaton would like Trump. It seems like he would, except there were many times on that show that Alex showed himself to be, deep down, sensitive and caring. Trump is not sensitive or caring. Alex was also a “genius”, while Trump is a massive boob and many of his most vocal followers aren’t very bright, either. I would hope Alex P. Keaton could see through Trump and endorse someone better. But then I listen to what he says and notice who he admires– Richard Nixon– and realize that Alex P. Keaton, who used to be a “cute” character, laughably out of touch with reality, would probably admire Trump on some level. At least superficially.

He’s not so cute anymore, is he?

Last night, a long time friend of mine– someone I’ve known for about 30 years, who was one of my best friends– gloated about Elizabeth Warren’s decision to drop out of the race. I had a visceral reaction to my friend’s gloating, too. I usually don’t comment on other people’s political bullshit, but this time I felt compelled to type a response. I expressed sadness that Elizabeth Warren didn’t make the cut and added, “At least she’s not a rapist.”

My friend wrote that his candidate isn’t one, either. His candidate is Donald Trump and yes, there’s ample substantiation that he sexually assaults women and more than a couple of women have accused him of rape. There’s a lot of credible evidence that they’re telling the truth, and the accusations go back for over thirty years. Why people whom I know have good hearts continue to cheerlead for Trump, I’ll never know. My issue with him is not that he’s supposedly a Republican; it’s that he treats other people with contempt and derision, especially women. I’m tired of tolerating it. I’m tired of seeing and hearing Trump on a daily basis. I want him out of my life.

I have to admit, I came very close to disassociating with my long time friend over this… I really did. I have some friends who have completely cut ties with Trump supporters. I don’t want to do that myself, because I know a lot of them truly aren’t bad people. I also feel like people should be allowed to vote their consciences, even if I vehemently disagree with their choices. I’d like to continue feeling that way, even though I will never understand how anyone with a functioning brain can’t see how horrible Trump is. He’s a whole different level of horrible. He’s not your garden variety conservative. It’s like seeing someone cheer on a notorious criminal when I see someone gloat on Trump’s behalf, as if he’s never done anything to merit any of the criticism he gets.

In the end, I decided to unfollow my dear friend, instead. He did send me a private message to smooth my ruffled feathers. I appreciated that, although I know he still likes Trump, for whatever reason. I guess the worst part of it is that his like-minded friends who don’t know me were also jumping on the bandwagon, cheering that Elizabeth Warren gave up her fight… cheering on four more years of Trump’s insanity. Naturally, they’re mostly white people from rural areas who, for whatever reason, are scared to death to take a good look at the person whose policies they’re embracing.

I find it very depressing to consider that Trump will probably win the next election… Maybe, in a way, it’s kind of like what I wrote in my last post, about how Larry Nassar’s crimes against women were ignored and dismissed by so many people for so long. He’d become so emboldened toward his controversial treatment toward athletes– and he’d been falsely built up for so long as a “great” doctor, when he was anything but. In a weird way, it reminded me of how people ignored and denied the Holocaust– turning a blind eye to the obvious abuses and pretending like nothing ever happened. And then, it all came crashing down and Larry Nassar finally went to prison.

I feel like Trump supporters, like Nassar’s supporters, are kind of akin to Holocaust deniers. They ignore the obvious, turn a blind eye, and ignore suffering while they continue to prop up an obvious criminal. But maybe someday, Trump will finally be completely exposed for who and what he really is… and I wonder if my Trump supporting friends will still be gloating then. And sadly, I also wonder if our friendships or even family relationships will survive.

I never used to care about politics. I care too much about them now. Maybe that’s one good thing Trump did. He definitely pulled me out of complacency, at least for awhile. I think if he wins again, though, I might just go back to not caring. Trying to reason with Trump supporters is like throwing a cup of water at a raging inferno. It’s a waste of time and energy and ultimately futile.

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book reviews

Repost: Justine Bateman’s take on fame… a review of Fame: The Hijacking of Reality

I’m reposting this book review from January 3, 2019 because I recently reposted my “I Was A Teenaged Tina” post about Tina Yothers. Justine Bateman used to work with Tina Yothers, so I figure I should share my review of her book. Enjoy!

A couple of months ago, I was messing around on YouTube and saw a clip featuring actress/author Justine Bateman, talking about her brand new book, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality.  Bateman, who is probably best known for playing Mallory Keaton on the hit 80s sitcom, Family Ties, was once a very hot actress who couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed by fans and/or the paparazzi.  As the years passed, and Bateman grew older and less prolific, her fame began to dwindle.  She’s now on the other side of having been famous.  Instead of writing a memoir, a genre which Bateman claims to disdain, she decided to write a book about her experiences with having and losing fame.

Justine Bateman talks to Megyn Kelly about fame…  this is the clip I watched before I downloaded her book, which was released in October of 2018.

In 1982, when 16 year old Justine Bateman first started playing Mallory, there were three big networks.  There was no Internet, so people tended to watch a lot more TV.  What they watched was mostly confined to what was on the big three network channels or on cable, which not everyone had in those days.  In the 80s, successful TV shows were not competing with nearly as many shows as they do now.  Consequently, a hit TV show would command millions more viewers than they do today.  

Bateman explains how huge Family Ties was… and as a relic of the 80s myself, I can attest to her account.  Everyone I knew watched the show.  Although there are some hit programs today, they compete with a lot of other choices.  There are now many more channels a person can watch and we also have the Internet.  I used to love TV and could name a lot of the people who were on the shows back in the day.  In 2019, I can no longer name very many TV actors and I don’t watch nearly as many popular programs as I once did.  In fact, I often get into shows after they’ve been on for years already.

Bateman and her brother, Jason, came to California from Rye, New York.  Both found success in television at around the same time.  Jason was on commercials and Little House on the Prairie, which was also a very successful show in those days.  He was also on Silver Spoons and had his own sitcom, It’s Your Move.  He still acts, while Justine is not as visible as she once was.

Imagine what it must have been like for Justine Bateman, who was on an extremely popular show that everyone watched and loved.  She was just a teenager, but she was enormously famous at a time in her life when her psyche would have probably been more affected than it otherwise might have been.  It’s one thing to become famous when you’re an adult and your brain is fully developed.  It’s another to become successful beyond your wildest dreams as a child or an adult.

I grew up in the 1980s and I always loved watching Family Ties.  I was about the same age as Tina Yothers, who played youngest daughter Jennifer Keaton.  I also kind of resembled Tina Yothers at that age.  We both had straight blonde hair and blue eyes and we shared a certain sardonic wit.  Justine Bateman’s character, Mallory, was depicted as kind of dumb, fashion obsessed, and boy crazy.  Bateman was convincing as Mallory, but now that I’ve read her book, I’m reminded that good actors are not necessarily like the characters they play.  

Justine Bateman is definitely not Mallory Keaton, which is evidenced in the somewhat bitter tone of her book and the many swear words within it.  Like me, Justine is a fan of the f-word, and she sprinkles it liberally within her book on fame.  To be honest, I found the constant use of the word “fuck” a little off putting.  I’m not offended by that word at all, but I do find it tiresome when it’s overused, even though “fuck” is a fairly versatile word.  I think Bateman’s book would have been better with another round with an editor, to both jazz up, and clean up, the language a bit, and make Bateman’s points more linear.  She has a tendency to get a bit repetitive with her points and, despite her claim that she interviewed other famous people for this book, it really seems to be more about her experiences than other people’s experiences.

On the other hand, I appreciated Bateman’s frank tone.  I got the sense she was talking to her readers, and she was surprisingly relatable.  Some readers may find Bateman’s problems a little “first world”, but I had empathy for her situation.  The one thing I really got from her book is that fame can be a major mind fuck.  I started to realize how fleeting and shallow it really is, even though many people envy the famous and want to emulate them.  

When you were once famous and couldn’t go shopping or have dinner without being bothered by fans, it can be kind of surreal to not have that recognition anymore.  Bateman writes that she might go to a party and see someone with whom she once shared the “fame predicament”.  At one time, that person might have nodded in recognition when he or she saw her at the party.  Now, the person acts like she’s a distant relative from Ohio.  The once friendly recognition has turned into stifled politeness, with the more “famous” person acting like he or she doesn’t want to catch Bateman’s condition of being less popular than she once was.  Again, while it’s not exactly an earth shattering problem to have and not something regular people can really identify with personally, I can understand on a basic level how that experience might mess with a person’s self-esteem and self-image.

Anyway, I think Justine Bateman’s take on her experiences with fame are interesting, although I do think the book could have been better.  I got a kick out of the photos in the back of the book, though.  They took me back to a simpler time in my life, that really doesn’t seem like it was as long ago as it was.  I think it’s important that readers realize that they won’t really be getting a memoir or a tell all.  This is really kind of a pseudo academic look at fame as Bateman sees it.  If you can live with that, I’d recommend reading her book.  I give it 3.5 stars out of five.

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