The most well-known performances by David Birney are his portrayal of Dr. Ben Samuels in the television series “St. Elsewhere,” which is set at a teaching hospital, and “Bridget Loves Bernie,” in which he costarred with Meredith Baxter. After the show finished, he later wed Baxter; however, their marriage would end in divorce 15 years later. Baxter accused him of being abusive in 2011, but he refuted the claims. Baxter still had some complimentary things to say about Birney on April 27, 2022, despite the animosity that persisted even after their divorce.
Birney was born in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 1939. His mother was a homemaker who subsequently became a real estate agent, while his father worked for the FBI. He excelled academically and was admitted to the esteemed Dartmouth University, from which he earned a degree in English literature. Before entering the entertainment business, he pursued a master’s in theater at the University of California.
Birney began performing on stage, most famously in “Amadeus” on Broadway. The Love Boat, The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, Cannon, Glitter, Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote, and the television version of Serpico are just a few of the shows he appeared in.
Before obtaining the title part in “Bridget Loves Bernie” in 1972, Baxter, in contrast, had minimal acting experience. The daughter of radio announcer Tom Baxter and actress Whitney Blake, who was born in South Pasadena, California, on June 21, 1947, had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, when she was just 19 years old. In 1974, Baxter married Birney after “Bridget Loves Bernie” was discontinued after only one season.
Continue reading to learn how Baxter’s career would flourish and what caused her and her husband to split up.
Following “Bridget Loves Bernie,” Baxter went on to become well-known for her appearances in “Family” and “Family Ties,” where she played the feisty matriarch of the Keaton family. Along with expanding her own family, she would have three kids with Birney: Kate, Mollie, and Peter.
When “Family” debuted in 1976, it was favorably welcomed by audiences and earned Baxter two Emmy nods for her portrayal of Nancy Lawrence Maitland. Baxter’s husband Birney, her mother Blake, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Kim Cattrall, Shelley Long, and Henry Fonda were among the famous guest stars. The show’s run came to an end in 1980.
Baxter was cast as Elyse Keaton in “Family Ties” in 1982. The show was based on a young Republican who was her character’s son and was portrayed by Michael J. Fox. She and her ex-hippie husband, Michael Gross, were also included. The formula of “cool parents, square kids” for the show was a success, and it aired for seven seasons before being cancelled in 1989.
However, as Baxter’s profession developed, her marriage gradually declined. In her autobiography “Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering,” Baxter detailed horrifying instances of Birney’s abuse of her verbally, mentally, and physically. She recalled how he had insisted on her adopting his name after their marriage, something she had no desire to do. He was adamant, though.
“I convinced myself it would be a nice thing; it was a modest thing to do if it made David happy. Not because I was bullied, but because I needed to chose to alter it. In order to become Meredith Baxter-Birney, I therefore underwent the legal process, she wrote.
She also recalled Birney hitting her repeatedly.
She stated that during one instance, “I couldn’t even tell you which hand hit me or how hard because it was so quick and unexpected. I do remember telling myself not to stand up because he was going to hit me again.
In 2011, she reportedly told the Chicago Tribune, “In an abusive environment, no one talks about the abuse, so I wrote about it. When you heard that Porsche drive in, you would spring into action because David had a wrath that would just constantly descend. You would tidy up and clean what needed to be cleaned. It appeared to be a time of terror.
In the midst of her and Birney’s contentious divorce and custody fights toward the end of their marriage in 1989, Baxter desperately turned to alcohol as a remedy for her marital issues. But in 1990, Baxter turned to alcoholism.
Birney had angrily refuted Baxter’s claims, calling the book “a kind of fairy tale” that contained “an atrocious abuse of the truth” in March 2011.
Baxter wed actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett in 1995; however, their marriage ended in divorce in 2000. She came out as a lesbian in 2009, and on December 8, 2013, Baxter married contractor Nancy Locke, who had been her partner for many years.
When Birney passed away in 2022, Baxter put aside the remaining animosity. She issued a statement after finding out about his passing, saying:
“I was really upset by David Birney’s passing. My heart breaks for Kate, Peter, and Mollie, our kids. Their loss of David, who had a significant impact on their lives, will be mourned keenly. Michele Roberge, David’s life partner, who so tenderly cared for him for a very long time, also receives my love and support.