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Friday, May 24, 2013

Elyse Keaton's Family Ties

First things first, I want to take the time to thank every single one of you for helping me celebrate this blog's second birthday. As I alluded to in yesterday's blog entry, I definitely would not be here if not for your continued interest and support in my writing. So, once again, a big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last couple of years. Here's hoping that this year will be the best year ever!

Now, I also alluded to the fact that I would be making some significant changes to this blog format in the coming weeks, and some of you may have noticed a few of these changes in place as you logged in today. The colour scheme is going to be staying the same (I think the purple/yellow scheme works) and so is the logo...but I've been tweaking around with the fonts of the blog. It just dawned on me that I had quite a few different fonts cluttering the page at one time, and it just didn't look very professional. So, I've decided to change the headers to the Impact font, which the logo is currently in to make it blend more. I've also changed the side text to a font known as “Droid Sans”, to make it have a cleaner appearance. And, if I can find a way to incorporate that font into the main text of this blog, this may be the last entry you see written in Palatino Linotype, although my Thursday Diary entries will still be done in Comic Sans MS, as right now, it is the only font I have that sort of resembles a person's printing.

Which is just fine by me, because I like Sans Serif fonts slightly better.

(And, yes, I am a font nerd.)

And, starting June 1st, you're going to be seeing a lot more entries in which I tell stories and personal anecdotes, and less entries on pop culture. I won't abandon the pop culture angle completely though...just using it as an enhancer. Fear not, I'll still be doing blog entries on Lady Gaga, Alec Baldwin, Bugs Bunny, and the soap opera “Passions”...but don't be surprised if I skip a theme day or two along the way to tell more personal stories. I'm specifically looking at the weekend of June 15-16 in particular when I give a detailed account of my Relay for Life adventures. Just a heads up for you.

In the meantime, we're still going to do the pop culture thing for today. After all, we're in the middle of a special theme for Fridays in May in which we celebrate sitcom moms of yore. And, if you read last week's entry on the television series “One Day At A Time”, you might have already figured out what the topic is (well, before the title of the blog entry gave it away, that is.)

In that entry, I had mentioned that one of the co-creators of “One Day At A Time” was a woman by the name of Whitney Blake, who used her own experiences as a single mother as the basis behind the creation of Ann Romano, the main character of the show portrayed by Bonnie Franklin. As it turned out, one of Whitney's three children would grow up to portray a television sitcom mother herself!

Whitney's daughter, Meredith Ann Baxter was born on June 21, 1947 in South Pasadena, California, and it took a while for Meredith to get into the world of show business. When Meredith was 25 years old, she was cast in the 1972 sitcom “Bridget Loves Bernie” alongside Audra Lindley, David Doyle, and a man by the name of David Birney. The show was a colossal failure on CBS, only squeezing out a one-season run. But the love affair between Meredith and David was born during the filming of the show, and the two got married just one year after the show was put to pasture.

And, Meredith began going under the stage name, Meredith Baxter-Birney. It would be a name that she would use for the next fifteen years before divorcing David in the late 1980s. During this time, she landed a role on the ABC sitcom,
“Family”, in which she stayed on during the show's 1976-1980 run. She also landed a part in the 1981 film “Valentine”, which starred Annette O'Toole and Shelley Hack.

But it wasn't until one year after “Valentine” was released that Meredith Baxter-Birney would land her biggest role to date.

That role was former hippie and largely liberal mother Elyse Keaton, and the program was “Family Ties”, which aired on NBC between September 22, 1982 and May 14, 1989. And, when Meredith took on the role, there were some interesting nuggets of trivia that unfolded as the cast assembled for the first time.

First, when Meredith signed on to do “Family Ties”, she joined the elite club of being in at least one show that aired on each of the main three networks.
Secondly, Meredith had something in common with co-star Michael Gross (who played Elyse's husband, Steven). Michael's birthday is June 21, 1947...the same exact day that Meredith's birthday is.
Thirdly, it's a good thing that Michael J. Fox looked a lot younger than his twenty-one years when he was cast as Alex P. Keaton, as there was only a fourteen year age difference between Fox and his television parents!

But, those are just minor details.

At any rate, I thought that Meredith Baxter-Birney did a wonderful job playing the role of Elyse Keaton. And, let me tell you, Elyse and Steven were up for many challenges as they settled down and raise their family.

Originally, the show's tagline was “hip parents, square kids”, and during the show's first season, this definitely seemed to be the case. Elyse and Steven were part of the baby boomer generation, and they completely embraced the hippie culture. They immersed themselves in the make love, not war concept, and when the two first met, they fell head over heels in love with each other. They got married in 1964, and over the next few years, they joined the Peace Corps, attended college, and developed careers (Elyse as an architect, Steven as a television station manager). Throughout this time, the couple would have four children together. Alex, Mallory (Justine Bateman), Jennifer (Tina Yothers), and Andrew (Brian Bonsall).

TRIVIA: All four children's birthdates were revealed on the show (which was unusual for a television sitcom). Alex was born in 1965, Mallory was born in 1967, Jennifer's birthday was November 1972 (she was born on Election Day), and Andrew was actually born on-screen in the episode “Birth of a Keaton, Part II” which aired January 31, 1985. The reason why the pregnancy was written into the show was due to Meredith's real-life pregnancy.

Now, what could be more challenging than raising four children under one roof? Having four children under the same roof with different, clashing personalities, with the vast majority of your children's values contradicting your own! That was exactly the challenge that Elyse Keaton had to face.

While Steven and Elyse were former hippies and took on a free spirit approach to life, their eldest two children were not about to follow the same path. Alex Keaton was almost like a Donald Trump in training. His idol was Ronald Reagan, and it seemed as though his main goal in life was to become the next top business mogul. His Republican leanings and his constant perusing of the stock market pages helped shape who he was, and this set the stage for constant clashes between Alex and his parents (though to be fair, Elyse and Steven did love and support Alex whenever he needed it).

Daughter Mallory wasn't much better. Sure, she wasn't really into the whole political spectrum, but she certainly did adopt the “hey, big spender” attitude that a lot of people had in the prosperous 1980s. She spent a lot of time at the local shopping mall, and spent whatever money she had to stand out amongst her yuppie-in-training classmates. If it wasn't for the fact that Justine Bateman lacked the accent, Mallory probably could have become the stereotypical air-headed Valley Girl of the 1980s.

Even little Andy wasn't completely immune to the charms of 1980's corporate greed, as Alex quickly bonded with his little brother and filled him in on everything he knew.'s just too bad that by the time Andrew would have become Alex's age it would have been right around the time of the 2008 recession.

Only younger daughter Jennifer seemed to break from the mould. Jennifer didn't really care about Reaganomics or fashion. She was content just being a tomboy and doing her own thing. If anything, Jennifer was the one Keaton child that seemed to embrace the values that Elyse and Steven held so dear.

(Which might explain why Jennifer was always this blogger's favourite Keaton...although I do admit that Alex did get the best lines.)

But, raising kids aside, Elyse seemed to be the key figure to several storylines...many of them considered hot button issues for television. Here's a list of some of the topics that Elyse had to deal with.

SEASON 1: OOPS (12/22/1982) In this issue, the topic of teen pregnancy is touched upon. Don't worry, none of the Keaton kids ended up giving birth...but one of Mallory's friends accidentally found herself knocked up after having sex with her boyfriend...and of all the people that she confides in, she chooses Elyse. But, it was a good episode, because Elyse really sat down with her and listened to her voice her fears.

SEASON 1: THE FUGITIVE (1/19/1983, 1/26/1983) Before he became an A-list Hollywood star, Tom Hanks guest starred in this two-part episode as Elyse's brother, Ned. At first, it's a lovely family reunion...until Ned reveals that he is being hunted down by the FBI for embezzling money from his workplace. This puts Elyse in a very tough position...turn her brother in, or help him hide out. The decision she ends up making is a difficult one, and she finds pros and cons to both sides. But in the end, I think she did the right thing, setting a great example for her children in the process.

SEASON 2: THE HARDER THEY FALL (10/19/1983) – Have you ever had your mom punch a teacher out at your parent-teacher conference? I know my mom actually WANTED to in a couple of occasions. Well, in this episode, Elyse did exactly that, and Alex is mortified as he thinks Elyse completely ruined his chances at getting a college scholarship. By the end of the episode, it is Alex who learns the lesson.

SEASON 2: THIS YEAR'S MODEL (10/26/1983) It seemed like a grand idea at the time. Mallory and Elyse entering a mother-daughter beauty pageant. And, why wouldn't they? Both Keaton women were very beautiful. Mallory later gets upset when Elyse gets far more positive attention than she does, and when Elyse notices that Mallory is upset with her, she tries to smooth out the situation.

SEASON 3: THE GAMBLER (9/20/1984) – When a trip to a casino in Atlantic City tempts Elyse into the lure of gambling, it's up to the rest of the Keaton family to convince her to stop.

SEASON 4: THE OLD COLLEGE TRY (11/7/1985) – It's war at the Keaton household when Mallory informs Elyse that she has decided not to go to college.

SEASON 6: SUPER MOM (10/18/1987) – It's a struggle that a lot of working moms go through when raising a family. Elyse has the opportunity to work on an architecture account which will earn her much accolades. But the cost is that she has to spend time away from her family. Can she find a way to do both at the same time, or will she have to make a difficult choice along the way?

SEASON 7: HEARTSTRINGS (12/4/1988, 12/11/1988, 12/18/1988) – If there is one single episode arc of Family Ties that showcases Elyse Keaton at her best, this is the one to watch. It depicts Elyse's struggle to maintain hope, sanity, and optimism after Steven has a heart attack in the middle of the Keaton living room.

SEASON 7: THE WRECKER'S BALL (2/12/1989) – And, to close off this look back on Elyse Keaton, I present to you this episode. In the episode, the very first building that Elyse designed as an architect is set to be demolished, and she is very upset over hearing the news. But her whole family rallies around her to try and fight the demolition so that something that Elyse created with love and passion can remain standing. I won't reveal the conclusion of the episode, but if there was any doubt over Elyse Keaton's mothering abilities, this episode should prove just how awesome a mom she was.

Elyse Keaton, I salute you!

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