Skip to main content /SHOWBIZ /SHOWBIZ



Catch up with TV's most beloved moms

By Leanne Mos

(PEOPLE) -- Find out what classic TV moms such as "The Brady Bunch"'s Florence Henderson and "Family Ties"' Meredith Baxter are up to today.

Meredith Baxter: 'Family Ties'' wonder-mom has kept up a prolific TV career

Baxter appears in a 1987 episode of "Family Ties," left; Baxter attends a benefit for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research in December 2001, right.  

For many children of the '80s, Elyse Keaton seemed like the perfect parent. While eating in a restaurant one day, Meredith Baxter heard as much from one "Family Ties" fan: "The young man who was waiting on us came up and said, 'Excuse me, I just wanted to say that I always wanted you to be my mother,'" Baxter, the California golden girl for whom the part was created, told PEOPLE in 2000.

Though she was the perfect TV mom, Baxter's life off camera was less than ideal. She struggled with her 15-year marriage to actor David Birney, with whom she appeared in her series debut, "Bridget Loves Bernie" (1972-1973). The couple split in 1989. Baxter also was divorced once before her marriage to Birney and once since.

Baxter wanted to be remembered as more than the perky, ex-hippie architect she played on the show, so during its 1982-1989 run, she kept up a parallel career in TV movies she had begun in the 1970s. Baxter has since become one of the queens of issue-oriented, women-in-crisis dramas, having starred in more than 40 made-for-TV films.

PEOPLE COVER STORY: Paul and Heather's Dream Wedding 

More from PEOPLE.COM 
PEOPLE.COM PROFILE: Get to know your favorite personality 
Want more from PEOPLE.COM? Sign up  for free e-mails

"Every time we had a hiatus on 'Family Ties,' I felt that I had to go out and do a movie for television with a diametrically opposed character, whether it was someone who was crazy, someone who was kidnapping children and then trying to kill them or just someone who was mentally disabled," Baxter told guest host Florence Henderson on a special edition of CNN's "Larry King Live" in 2000. "I really wanted there to be another life out there."

At 54, Baxter is still pursuing that dream. She recently wrapped up a film for CBS about incest, "Not in Our House" (costarring Robert Urich in his final role), and last year appeared in two other TV movies, "A Mother's Fight for Justice" and a remake of "Murder on the Orient Express." She returned to series television only briefly, as the star and executive producer of ABC's short-lived "The Faculty" in 1996, and in guest appearances as Michael J. Fox's mom in two episodes of "Spin City" in 1997.

Besides acting, Baxter also spends time promoting her skin-care line, which she launched in 1999. "I use it, and my skin looks nice for an old broad," the forthright actress told PEOPLE in 2000. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, another pet project. The mother of five (including a set of twins) lives in Santa Monica, California, and is now a grandmother.

Though it's been 13 years since the final episode of "Family Ties," Baxter still remembers the good times she had on the set: "It was nonstop laughter," she said on "Larry King Live," "seven years of laughing the entire time we were working."

Florence Henderson: The Brady matriarch remains perky and pretty

Henderson makes TV mom history on "The Brady Bunch," left; Henderson attends the 12th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City earlier this month, right.  

With her polyester jumpsuits and ever-present smile, Carol Brady was the ultimate 1970s mom.

"I played Carol as the mother I always wished I had, as the mother a lot of people wished they had," Florence Henderson told PEOPLE in 1999 on the 30th anniversary of "The Brady Bunch" (1969-1974). "She was saintly, and no one is really like that, but in the show it was okay."

The youngest of 10 children born to a sharecropper and his wife in Dale, Indiana, Henderson became the matriarch of a pop culture phenomenon. With "The Brady Bunch" in seemingly perpetual syndication, it's no wonder Henderson, 68, has been known for generations as TV's quintessential mother. She appreciates Carol's influence on her life.

"Carol Brady allows me to come in the door and for people to feel comfortable and go, 'Oh, I know her. She's a nice lady,'" Henderson told USA Today's weekend magazine in 1999. "Then they find out I'm a little different than Carol and they get to know Florence. I think it's a wonderful gift."

After the show's final episode (there were 117 in all) came various attempts to revive the magic. There were the short-lived series The "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" in 1977, 1981's "The Brady Brides" and 1990's drama "The Bradys," as well as the 1988 TV movie "A Very Brady Christmas." In the 1995 parody feature film, "The Brady Bunch Movie," Henderson plays Carol's mother; Carol is played by Shelley Long.

But Henderson -- who has four children from her first marriage and now lives on a yacht in Marina Del Rey, California, with her second husband, hypnotherapist John Kappas -- followed other paths as well. She became the face of Wesson Oil, hosted the cooking and chat show "Country Kitchen" on the Nashville Network from 1985 to 1993, and, in a rare departure from her wholesome persona, appeared as a clown groupie in Bobcat Goldthwait's R-rated, 1991 dark comedy, "Shakes the Clown."

With a background in singing (her first big break was playing Laurie in the national touring company of "Oklahoma!" in 1952), Henderson still performs onstage and regularly sings the national anthem at the Indy 500. A "Today girl" who sang and conducted interviews on NBC's "Today" show in 1959, she returned to morning TV as a co-host on 1999-2000's spinoff "Later Today." Last month, she appeared in her most recent TV movie, "Moms On Strike," for ABC's Family channel.

But no matter what she's doing, Henderson seems content with the enduring legacy of Carol Brady.

"I've been at every reunion. I said, 'They'll be wheeling me out when I'm 105.' I'll still be working then," Henderson told the Associated Press in 2000. "I'm planning to be the female George Burns."

Also catch up with: Marion Ross from 'Happy Days' | Phylicia Rashad from 'The Cosby Show' | Betty Buckley from 'Eight is Enough' | Ilene Graff from 'Mr. Belvedere'

For more Where Are They Now? stories, visit PEOPLE.COM




Back to the top