Family Ties was a show that I was sure to watch each week as a kid. The show was about two liberal, hippie parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton, who are raising their kids during a time in the United States where Reagan was President and conservative ideals had taken hold. Alex P Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, had a poster of William F. Buckley above his bed and his sister Mallory, played by Justine Bateman, tended to be impressed by materialistic way of living. There was the precociously smart daughter Jennifer, a nerdy kid next door (way before nerdy was cool), a biker boyfriend for Mallory, and girl friends for Alex. The show was a sitcom about these political and generational differences, but it also covered some heavier topics as well. Teen pregnancy, censorship, racial issues, death and addiction were all topics that the show covered deftly – serious but with a touch of humor.
While Michael J Fox’s character was the most popular and successful of the group, he wouldn’t have achieved such success without having Steven and Elyse as TV-parent foils. So what has happened to the actors that played Steven and Elyse Keaton?
Steven Keaton was played by actor Michael Gross. Born and raised in Chicago, Michael was a gang member in high school before he turned himself around and eventually received his MFA from Yale’s School of Drama.He is the older brother to Mary Gross of SNL fame, so the comedy gene must run in the family.
The roles he played after Family Ties are varied and many very different from his role in the sitcom. My son is a fan of his after watching the Tremors movies in which he played Burt Gummer. Gummer is what we would now call a “prepper” of sorts – a gun toting, paranoid, anti-government wacko. His completely overkill personality makes him a Tremors-fan favorite and a great foil to the humorous situations in the movie. He did a stint at Young and the Restless for a year. He made a very funny cameo appearance as Michael J Fox’s therapist during Fox’s final show in the sitcom Spin City. Fans have enjoyed watching him guest in a variety of popular television shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, Psych, and Law and Order SVU.
Gross has a passion for trains and has a large collection of railroad based antiques. He is also owns part of the Sante Fe Southern Railway and is a celebrity spokesman for the both the Operation Lifesaver (a safety campaign for railroad crossings) and the B&O Railroad Museum. He is married to Elza Bergeron, a casting director, and together they live in California with their two children.
Elyse Keaton was played by Meredith Baxter, formally known as Meredith Baxter-Birney. Baxter has had a very intriguing post-Family Ties life and career. However, prior to the ending of Family Ties she did a made a rather noteworthy made-for-tv movie called Kate’s Secret. The tv show was a bout a ‘perfect housewife’ who was suffering terribly from bulimia nervosa. For many in my generation, it was the first we ever heard of bulimia and anorexia.
She embraced a few violent roles by playing a psychopathic killer in a made-for-tv movie called The Kissing Place and for portraying a murdering divorcée in The Betty Broderick Story. She won a Daytime Emmy Award for an after school special called Other Mothers where she portrayed a lesbian mother raising her young son. An interesting role choice back in 1994 as she ‘discovered’ she was a lesbian in 2002, eventually coming out in 2009 when on The Today Show during an interview with Matt Lauer.
Like Gross, she appeared in Michael J Fox’s last season of Spin City, again playing his mother. Her IMBD bio has loads of Lifetime and other made-for-TV flicks. More recently, Baxter has been doing voice work for Dan Vs. and Family Guy. She has guest-judged RuPaul’s Drag Race U, and guest spots on Switched at Birth. She reunited with Michael Gross in the seasonal flick Naughty or Nice in 2012.
On a personal level, Baxter was married and divorced three times. Most notably, she was married to David Birney whom she met on the set of the 1970s sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie. In her book Untied, Baxter alleges that David Birney was abusive and controlling and that she was an alcoholic. Birney denies the abuse, but not the fact that Baxter was an alcoholic. A breast cancer survivor, Baxter launched foundation to help raise funds for cancer research.