Kathy Garver Interview: Keeping Things Positive In Light of the "Family Affair Curse"
by Lee Sobel (9/2/20)
There is a theory that some child stars, having gone to work in childhood, lack motivation as they grow up. Not Kathy Garver, who has authored four books, has another one due next year, has worked as an actress since she was a child, and is now producing an independent feature film entitled The Executive and numerous television pilots.
She has also made numerous appearances over the years on talk shows discussing the supposed "Curse of Family Affair." From 1966-71, Kathy Garver played Cissy on the CBS sitcom, Family Affair. It was a sweet show about a Manhattan bachelor raising his brother's orphaned kids. When the show ended, several tragedies occurred, including the overdose at age 18 of co-star Anissa Jones, and the tragic deaths of Brian Keith (who played the uncle) and Sebastian Cabot (who played the butler). Kathy's long career has included being directed by Cecil B. Demille in The Ten Commandments (1956) and voicing numerous cartoons.
Lee Sobel: What stands out in your memory of acting on the TV series Family Affair?
Kathy Garver: It was a great show and everybody worked well together for the five years that we made the series, but that doesn't mean people weren't above pulling pranks. There was one scene where I had to retrieve Uncle Bill's shoe from under the bed. I was always really well prepared and knew my lines and usually got everything on the first take, but this one time I had to pull out the shoe and I got it. Then they said they need to shoot another take so this time when I went to pull the shoe it wouldn't come no matter how much I pulled on it. After the third time of trying to pull the shoe they called cut and the AD admitted he'd nailed the shoe to the floor. Those kinds of things were great because they would break the tension.
Lee Sobel: I'm so impressed with all the books you've written and all the projects you have going on. In your book X Child Stars (2016) you talk about how a lot of kid actors later in life seem to have a hard time focusing on getting things going again.
Kathy Garver: I'm lucky that my parents steered me in the right direction. I'm grateful that I had a firm familial background and they didn't take all my money. My mother was an inveterate saver and a hoarder. We had a fire at our old house in 2005 and we moved and saved what we could. I have boxes of stuff in our garage and just yesterday I opened up one of the boxes and there was a record book
my mother had kept of every job I had as a kid, what each job paid, and who it was for. She kept impeccable records and put everything into my own personal savings account. I think that helped a lot. Many of the kid actors' parents just used them and maybe gave them a little bit of it. When Johnny Whitaker (her co-star on Family Affair) got to eighteen, there was not all the money there that should have been. So yes some actors do get bitter about that. Add to that that they were so adorable when they were little and talented and smart, making the transition in the 16-18 years old range can be very difficult. If they don't go to Harvard like Jodie Foster and stay grounded and especially if they start taking drugs they can find themselves in a bad situation. I've never taken drugs, except for wine every night. (laughs) That's a drug too but a little Chardonnay is wonderful at the end of the day.
Lee Sobel: Since you had such a solid family when you were growing up, what made you want to write the book X Child Stars -- was it your experience with the little kids on Family Affair?
Kathy Garver: The idea of the book was proposed to me by another writer and I thought we complimented each other well. It was just a story that had to be told. There were just too many young actors who came out without money or training or education and didn't know how to get restarted. Some just give up because it's too overwhelming and they don't know how to do anything else. Other than that, there wasn't any emotional propellant for me to do the book.
Lee Sobel: One of the things that struck me in the last four years since your book X Child Stars was published, is that there has been the #MeToo Movement and also people like Corey Feldman's documentary, My Truth: The Rape of 2 Coreys (2020) where he talks about sexual abuse of minors in the movie industry. Do you feel that people are ready to talk about this more now since you wrote the book?
Kathy Garver: Yes, I think people are talking about that more now. I've never been exposed to that myself and it doesn't have a place in my world. I attract
healthy relationships and I attract abundance. I started these affirmations from my son's girlfriend but it's always been my modus operandi my whole life. I avoid situations that put me in danger. I did have one experience with an actor who started to put his hand up my skirt. I was so shocked I didn't know what to do. But far be it from me to shame anyone. I am not a victim, I have never been a victim and I will never be a victim. I am a fighter and a survivor.
Lee Sobel: So you wanted to pull the curtain back on this subject but you didn't want to go too far?
Kathy Garver: Yes, because this book was not meant to be exploitive in any way. It was meant to be truthful and there were certain things I put in my book that were public knowledge. But I don't reveal people's secrets, because a secret is a secret for a purpose and it's not my job to reveal things people don't want to talk about. I asked one child actor who has gotten off drugs and alcohol if he wanted to discuss his sobriety and he said no, so I respected that. There's plenty of salaciousness on television and I just wanted to offer a bit of comfort and nostalgia.
Lee Sobel: In the foreword for your book X Child Stars, Paul Petersen wrote that the audience that watched children on TV grew up but that "their apprehension of us...as people...has not. And therein lies the trouble." What does he mean by that?
Kathy Garver: He means that some people who watched us on television think we are the same people and can't make the distinction between the character and the real person.
Lee Sobel: Have the tragedies that surrounded the other actors on Family Affair tainted the memory of the show at all for you?
Kathy Garver: Anyone can feel the sadness of any tragedy but it doesn't permeate my memory of the show. I understand that people
die. It's very sad when people die young, or from drugs. I tend to compartmentalize things. The sadness goes into one part of my brain but another part of my brain wants to investigate and find out why that happened. There is a lot of sadness in the world but are we supposed to curl up and die and be sad for everything? Personally, of course I was affected by the deaths of people from my show because I was very close to the people. You give yourself a year to
grieve, but if you're going to grieve more than that, why don't you just bury yourself with the person? It was a warm, wonderful show. It will be the 55th anniversary next year. This show has had such longevity and it makes me happy to have had a positive impact on people. It was a dramedy. It wasn't a total comedy. The premise of the show is that our parents died and that kind of sadness was something I think people identified with. But I think people also enjoyed the loving, caring environment of the show.
Kathy continues her vibrant career as she completes two pilots: one a spin-off from Family Affair entitled Aunt Cissy and the other as Host of TvDinners, a talk show which combines interviews with classic TV stars with updates to classic dinners. Kathy shoots a new movie Old Man Jackson in October, in which Kathy plays the young Mrs. Jackson in this family friendly film. Her new book TvDinners With a Side Dish of Stars will be released in 2021 by Bear Manor Media. All Ms Garver’s books can be purchased on her website www.kathygarver.com or on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook, kathygarver fan page; Twitter at kathy_garver; And ig @kgcissy