Kathy Garver: An AFFAIR to Remember

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Kathy Garver Family Affair

Fans will recognize Kathy Garver's face from her scores of television appearances, not the least of which was the role of Cissy in the Don Fedderson classic series, Family Affair. But if you have a discerning ear, you may find that you're more familiar with Ms. Garver's work than you might have realized, as the actress has continued to keep quite busy up through even today.

Through the magic of cellular phones, we caught up with Ms. Garver while she was en route to a celebrity golf tournament, after which she was slated to deliver a carload of Mrs. Beasley dolls and ornaments loaded in the backseat for an autograph show at the Beverly Garland Hotel in Studio City for fans of Family Affair, the fourth season of which is just now becoming available on DVD.

What kind of feedback have you heard from fans on the release of the first three seasons of Family Affair?

Oh, they absolutely love it! And I've got a lot of emails saying it's no nice that we have a good, warm show -- a wholesome show -- that has come back that we can show to our kids, and that we can enjoy with them. I myself have a sixteen year old son, and I tell you, some of the stuff that's on TV -- it's just really embarrassing. So they're grateful that they have something that's a quality show that has a good moral value, and that's amusing and entertaining.

I know in the special features -- and it's a common thing -- that you and the cast and crew reminisce about the good times on the show. But were there ever any times when you may have seen things going on that made you think perhaps the series might not be working out at the time?

No... other than just the growth of the kids. Anissa was always very tiny, and she was a couple years older than Johnny. And so the validity and the credibility of their being twins started to change a little bit, like in the fourth season, as he started to grow and grow, and even though she was older than he, he became taller than she did. And then I think it was harder to believe that they were twins. But then, he was a boy, and they do tend to get bigger than the girls.

But just that little thing. It was a pretty good set, all told, because of the children. There was a nice feeling around it. Brian, I think, toward the fifth season -- not this one, particularly -- may have been getting a little tired of it. Sebastian loved it, and would have gone on for years. He had a couple of health problems, but he still enjoyed doing the show. Me too.

At that time, I think there was that fellow that was on Big Valley that said, "Oh, I've been on the show too long, and I'm going to quit." My philosophy was, here you are on a hit show -- a lovely show -- and for an actor to have a steady job... I would never quit this job.

But Brian -- I think because he was doing a lot of movies as well as TV -- may have, in the fifth season, gotten a little tired. He's getting a star on the walk of fame in June, and we're all very happy about that, for being an excellent television star; and he was a wonderful actor!

The ratings for the fifth season were very strong, so do you think that maybe his getting tired may have had something to do with CBS pulling the plug?

No, I think they were thinking, "We want to get more reality." This show was great -- it was still in the top ten -- this was just a bad decision on their part. We were going to go to (NBC or ABC), and they were just about to sign the agreement. But then they took on The Brady Bunch, and thought, oh, this show is similar to Family Affair... even the little girl imitated and mimicked Anissa's little blonde pigtails.

After Family Affair, you and your co-star Sherry Alberoni went into an entirely different kind of acting. Suddenly, you were a superhero, portraying Firestar on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, as well as providing voices for Super Friends. How did you get into voice acting when you had so much television acting on your resume, even well before Family Affair?

I had an agent -- the Don Schwartz Agency who was my commercial agent -- and one day he said, "They need a voice for this tuna commercial." So I went, and I did this voice, and I didn't get it.

Then I went on another audition for a voiceover, and I did the audition and they said, "Now do it in a different voice." I said, "What different voice? I only have one voice." And so I decided that I needed to take voiceover lessons. Now I can talk like a little girl, a very sexy woman, or I can do any other kind of accent you would like. I can do about a hundred characters. I took voiceover lessons and I read books, and I became proficient, and now I even teach it.

I love playing the superheroes. Those are great.

In the late nineties, there was a remake of Family Affair with Gary Cole and Tim Curry, and you even guest-starred on one of the episodes. But it just didn't seem to capture the magic of the original series. Do you have any thoughts on what was missing?

There was a lot of things I personally think they didn't pick up on that they should. First of all, the people didn't like each other -- and I think that one of the main things in our show was that we all had a genuine fondness for each other. I loved Anissa and Brian, they were lovely people. Johnnie and I were born on the same day, so there was a certain amount of karma there.

For another thing, they tried to update it too much. My son, even, when he was only ten -- and here they had the girl playing my part; mine was the only name that they changed, everybody else's was kind of the same. Her name was Sigourney, instead of Cissy. And here she is wearing these real short things, and she was at this dance and she was really wailing away. And my son said, "Mom, Cissy would never do that."

Plus, Tim Curry -- who is a wonderful actor, and very funny -- I don't think he portrayed Mr. French with as much class as Sebastian had, and as much reserve. There was a wonderful relationship between Mr. French and Uncle Bill -- this kind of casual guy and the very proper butler. I don't think he got that properness across. And as good an actor as Gary Cole is, he underplayed it so much that I don't think it had enough pizazz. I could go on. It was so funny, though, when I went to do that guest spot, guess where we filmed it: Not only the same studio, CBS Studio Center, but the very same sound stage! So my other theory of why it failed is that the ghost of Family Affair past came in their midst and threw them all.

Looking ahead to some of your upcoming projects, it looks like you're gearing up for a spate of supernatural films -- titles like "Shrieking Violet," "Nightmare Carnival," and "Soupernatural."

"Soupernatural" is actually -- we're starting pre-production on that one -- how the media would react if the Messiah came back. It gets its name from this soup caldron that never runs out.

"Snuggy Bear and the T-Shirt Kids" is a children's show where I do play an evil character called Prunella Python, mwah-ha-haha! who has lots of these fake pythons. That will be coming out, I think, before "Nightmare Carnival" and "Shrieking Violet," which are family horror films, if that's not an oxymoron. They're more intriguing and suspenseful that blood-and-guts.