Baxter’s Ties That Bind

By Steven Libowitz   |   November 30, 2017
Meredith Baxter co-stars in Love Letters on Center Stage (photo by Greg Hernandez)

The world “family” shows up in the title of no fewer than half a dozen TV shows on Meredith Baxter‘s list of acting credits, from an early guest shot on The Partridge Family, to her four-year (and double Emmy-winning) stint at the end of the 1970s on Family to her famed seven-year run as Elyse on the hit sitcom Family Ties. The actress herself credits her TV family with helping her cope with marital problems at home. So, it’s no surprise that 30 years later Baxter is still performing with her TV husband from the latter series, this next time reprising one of her cherished roles as Melissa in A.R. Gurney’s two-character epistolary classic, Love Letters, opposite Michael Gross’s Andrew. The two sit side by side at tables and reading half a century’s worth of the notes, letters, and cards in which they discuss their hopes, dreams, disappointments, and defeats.

Baxter became a permanent resident of Santa Barbara just 13 months ago, buying a home near the Mission with her wife, general contractor Nancy Locke. While Baxter and Gross have previously collaborated more than 20 times on Love Letters, this weekend’s performances – a benefit for Speaking of Stories – marks her official local debut with the play. She talked about the show and more earlier this week.

Q. How does your time on Family Ties still resonate for you?

A. I did it for several years, so I have a lot of fondness. But what mostly stood out was the people I got to work with. It was a lot of mutual respect and admiration between all of us. We got along really well – no big egos. I laughed every day. Michael was my best friend for seven years. And we got to say those fabulous words from (show creator) Gary David Goldberg. What a gift to have his words and sensibility to present his characters and the stories of this family. Our palpable connection with each other was conveyed on the show. It was obvious that we liked each other and enjoyed each other’s company.

So then, how is it to work with Michael again on Love Letters?

We’ve done a couple of TV movies together over the years and we’re still good buddies. I really love the play. It’s very moving. The whole idea of not being able to connect – the ships in the night, the missed opportunities aspects, when life takes you in different directions. I find that very heartbreaking. It’s very appealing to be able to walk that character through that. I still like working with Michael and seeing what he’s bringing that’s new. He’s such a seasoned performer and a joy to work with.

What about you? How does your approach change over the years?

It’s subtly different. I’m older every time I do it and have more experiences to draw on, a new idea of how I want to approach it…. Everything in life colors it. That’s why it’s a play that just gets richer the more I do it. Twenty-five years ago when I was a much younger woman, there was one level, and God knows I hope I learned something since then – perhaps a ruefulness, a wisdom, a wryness, all sorts of different colors that come with the years.

Can I ask you about your personal life? It’s only been eight years since you came out as a lesbian, but back then you were truly worried about ruining your career. How is it to look back?

There have been huge leaps, it’s gone amazingly fast from being a huge stigma to be gay or lesbian to outward defense of and almost celebration of transgenders across the board, even on TV. But at the same time, most of the hate crimes in the U.S. today are still perpetrated against the LGBT community. So, it’s looking good, but there’s still a long way to go.

Do you think it hurt your career?

It didn’t help. There is already a certain ageism going on. It’s hard to know what to point to… the industry doesn’t know what to do with a 60-year-old woman. While male actors have their girlfriends who are at least 20 years younger than they are; you can count on one hand the female actresses who gets any parts with substance. Any job that comes up for anyone over 50, all the woman in town are trying to get that part.

Outside of acting itself, you’ve had other challenges, from an abusive marriage to surviving breast cancer, to coming to terms with your sexual orientation, all of which you talked about in your book few years ago. And I saw on TV clips how you persevered by not wanting to perceive yourself as a victim. How did you come to that?

The only thing I can say about that is sobriety. I grew up and became a sober woman. A 12-step program allowed me to follow the process that revealed myself to me – who I was, how I behaved and how I made the choices that I did. That had all been lost to me because I was so busy feeling sorry for myself since my childhood. I just saw a New Yorker cartoon the other day, and I laughed for a moment before I was horrified. There’s a woman lying on the ground, and she says, “Someone dropped me as a baby,” the idea being you stay dropped, but that’s up to you. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to perceive myself that way anymore.

Speaking of perception, I saw the clip of you on the Ken Boxer cable show recently. Everyone is astonished that you’re 70! I don’t want to ask the clichéd question about your secret, but what’s your secret?

I’m currently working with the most amazing trainer here in Santa Barbara who has helped me to do what you need to do without hurting. I feel so much stronger. I’d attribute a lot to that. Otherwise, I’m just a happy person and I have good genes. What else can I say?

(Love Letters with Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, directed by Speaking of Stories’s Maggie Mixsell, performs at 2 & 6 pm on Sunday, December 3, at Center State Theater, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo. Tickets cost $25 general, $20 students and military. A reception with the actors follows both shows. Call 963-0408 or visit


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