INTERVIEW :: Meredith Baxter

By on July 22, 2015

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Emmy-Award nominee Meredith Baxter has been part of the fabric of our culture for decades. She’s still beloved for her role as Elyse Keaton from television’s Family Ties and most recently, chewed up the scenery playing Nicky Newman’s drinking buddy on The Young and The Restless. “America’s Mom” spoke to GGN publisher Shaun Proulx about her stint on the number one soap opera, how she now views the experience coming out as a lesbian in 2009, and Caitlyn Jenner.

Shaun Proulx: You came into Genoa City and you owed it. This is from a guy who has watched that show for thirty years. Did you anticipate being so damn great on a soap opera?

MB: Who anticipates being damn great? You just go in, and you do the work. I tell you, the soap operas, the way they work was such an awakening to me. In many circles, in the movie community, the soaps are way down the ladder. They don’t get a lot of respect, but they shoot more pages everyday, with fewer breaks, no craft service, no luxurious dressing rooms, and the gun is at your head all the time. It’s so fast.  You have to learn so many lines in a short period of time, stand back, and go to the next. You rarely have a “do-over”. It was extraordinarily intimidating. My heart; and I never got quite used to it, my heart beat at a much faster pace. 

SP: What about coming onto the show with the name you have, because it’s not just someone we don’t know – it’s you.

MB: See, to me, it’s just me. I don’t have any sense of “Oh, it’s Meredith!”

SP: Well you should have, because I sure did!

MB: That teaches me a lot, you know, because I can’t stand on your side of the street. I can just look at it as a job, and I’m glad to have it, and the cast have been so generous and loving in their time. 

SP: Would you go back and do some more? Because you were fantastic.

MB: I was shamelessly begging!

SP: Were you really?

MB: I said, “Bring her back. Please, bring her back”.

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SP: I think your coming out several years ago has cemented you as an iconic LGBT figure. You won a lot of hearts, and there’s deep admiration, especially – and I say this with all due respect – as someone older coming out.

MB: Coming out! Yeah!

SP: I have a friend who came out to me first when he was 57, and he was married with two children. I have so much respect for anyone finding an authentic place for themselves at an age where people don’t expect it.

MB: I gotta say, that was the hardest thing, and let me thank you! Those are the kindest words and I kind of well up to hear about that, because the fact that I was so bloody old and just coming to, or arriving at the party. It’s embarrassing to have been such an un-self examined person for so many years. The negatives were few but pointed, but people would say, “Oh, you were living a lie, weren’t you?” or, “You knew all along, didn’t you?” or, “You owe, all these people you were married to, you owe them an apology.” I didn’t know anything!

SP: I believe you really didn’t know because my friend really didn’t know. But when he found out, it was so right, and I saw that with my own eyes. He was coming down the street one Saturday morning, weeks after he’d come out of the closet, and his feet were seriously not touching the ground! He was so happy! I could visibly see it from across the street. Did you get that happy once you embraced the knowing of what you know?

MB:  You know, I think I did. It was gradual because I had a lot of letting go to do. But I didn’t for one second, go, “Uh! I’m a Lesbian?” I was never horrified. It was like, “Oh right, ok, that explains a lot.” So I was fine, just fine. You know, the good thing was I was with a group of women at the time, and there were many lesbian’s there, and many of them were my close friends, so there were people I turned to and said, “Ok, here I am. Help me, help me through this.”

I was on a lesbian cruise and Suzanne Westenhoefer was the headliner on the ship, and the last night, before I came out at all, the closing words of her performance were, in the words of Harvey Milk, “If you’re not out, come out.” I turned to Nancy, who is my wife now, and I said, “You know, I’ve got to do something, I have to do something. I can’t sneak around like this.”

All my friends and family knew, but you know, I was so afraid of the business, I was so afraid of what they would say: “America’s mom is a lesbian.” like no one could hold those two images in their mind together – as if. That was what my fear was. So then I was horrified to find out that everyone comes out on television, with a People spread.

SP: Right.

MB: Isn’t that what you do?

SP: That’s the template, and then you get a GLAAD Award.

MB: But once that was done, I thought, I don’t ever have to do that again.

SP: It’s out, it’s done.

MB: My shoulders relaxed, I felt unburdened, I felt freer than I ever have – and I wasn’t even holding a secret that I knew I was holding! It was just, I’m in a place I want to be. And it makes me want to cry now because my life is so full, and it is so good, and it is so right, present, not telling myself any stories, not trying to make something work that’s not working,

SP: I talk about this all the time on my show that it’s never too late to live authentically. People believe the false premise, ‘It is too late for me to have a whole life’, but you just stood up, and declared yourself who you were. It’s very inspirational, and I wonder what you think of Caitlyn Jenner, another inspiration.

MB:  So profoundly moving, and all I could first think about was this person knows what they are subjecting themselves to. She knows all the press that’s out there, she knows all the ugliness that comes with it, and she’s doing this anyway, because she knows it’s going to help people. It was just a sublime thing, and heart-breaking. I feel so tender for her. Her willingness to do this, because it may help, the freedom of being so open about it, being forced to be so open, but man, she’s going to be in for it. But the thing is, just like the Supreme Court and gay marriage, the reason we’ve had this big sea-change of attitude is because people have come out.

SP: Absolutely!

MB: In unprecedented numbers! All the people who said, I don’t know anybody who’s gay, now know someone who’s gay. They’re in their family; all the politicians who said they were against gay rights and gay marriage? Oh, well my son’s gay. I think I better change my mind about that.

SP: Now you’re on the other side of the street, as you put it to me, as you talk about Caitlyn Jenner. This is the way I saw you when you were coming out, “America’s mom”. That’s the contribution I hope you’re aware that you’ve made to our movement. It’s the same thing as when you’re watching Caitlyn Jenner: I felt the same set of emotions and feelings, and admiration and respect, and I know, people will forever hold you in a special place in our hearts, and in the history of this movement, because you stood up. 

MB: Thank you so much!  I tell you, at the time, I didn’t know that. I was told that what I was doing was a political statement and I did not believe that. All I knew is that I was setting myself on fire on live television.

SP: Well anyone who saw that will now know they too can set themselves on fire – in their live living rooms, in their live dining rooms, and in front of their live parents – and that they’ll survive – because you and people like you demonstrated the power of that. 

MB: Man, that’s really lovely of you to say, thank you.

This interview was condensed and edited.

- Join Shaun Proulx on Twitter and Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: 'The Young And The Restless' Interview: Meredith Baxter Discusses Playing Maureen - Whether She Would Return To 'Y&R' | Soap Opera Spy

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