Exclusive Interview with Kathy Garver of Family Affair

Kathy Garver - Photo courtesy of Kathy Garver
Kathy Garver - Photo courtesy of Kathy Garver

Kathy Garver is a television, stage, screen, and voice actress. She is best known for having played Cissy Davis, the eldest sibling and niece of “Uncle Bill” on the television series Family Affair.

This family-oriented heartwarming show continues to be popular with both old and new viewers and can be seen also on DVD.

Garver has guest starred on many television shows throughout the years; Matlock, Simon & Simon, Adam-12, The Big Valley, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Daniel Boone, The Rifleman, Branded, and The Patty Duke Show, just to name a few.

After Family Affair ended she performed in both dramatic and comedic productions on the stage including My Fair Lady, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and Vanities. She has provided the voice for several cartoons including Firestar on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Kathy has appeared in films such as Sweet November, The Princess Diaries, Apollo 13, and Backdraft, and has produced, narrated, and written lyrics and original music for eight audio Beatrix Potter tales and eight Mother Goose based audiotapes. She is also in great demand for appearances and to give motivational speeches about The Power of Perseverance and Speak Clearly to Communicate Richly.

Our Prattvile publisher spoke on the telephone with Kathy on February 2, 2009:

Did your parents encourage you to enter show business?

Yes they did.

Do you have any siblings?

I have two brothers and a sister and I am the youngest of the family. They were all born in Oklahoma City and I was born in Los Angeles. My oldest sister was something of a prodigy and started reading when she was three and this was before computers taught little toddlers how to read and talk early so she was featured in a newspaper that she was reading already and graduated high school at fifteen and UCLA at nineteen. But my mother had three other kids and so she really wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her getting her into show biz. So when we got to Los Angeles I started taking singing and dancing lessons when I was three years old myself; couldn’t read until I was five, but I could sing and dance!

Family Affair wasn’t your first acting job, correct?

Right. I actually have a big bio on my site.

There are so many shows that you guest starred on. The Riflemen and Branded, so many tv shows, I’m sure you don’t remember them all.

There were a lot of westerns. I like westerns a lot. I’m going to this western film fair in Winston Salem in July but I like to go to some of these western autograph shows because I like some of these westerns, like you say Branded and The Rifleman and all of those.

Well, I saw that you guest starred on an episode of Daniel Boone and we have an interview on our site with Barney Rosenzweig.

Oh is that right? Oh, that’s interesting.

Yes, he was the executive producer of Daniel Boone. I think that’s some of his early work.

Right. One of my friends, Carl Lamarty, that I did some twilight zone radio shows for, just sent me a dvd of Jim Bowie where I played a little French girl and it’s very strange when you’re grown up and you see you as a child acting.

You probably don’t remember any roles when you were real young, do you?

Oh, I do, yeah I have these memories and then especially if you see something that even sparks it a bit more.

I just wanted to ask some more questions about your family before we leave them. Were you raised in a religious home?

Ah yes. I went to a Catholic school until the sixth grade and then my mother put us all in public school so we could find out real world was like. But, we remained religious and spiritual since then. And I have a son and he’s enrolled in public school. I had him go to CPD which is Sunday school training for children.

Is he interested in show business?

He was and he belonged to the Screen Actors Guild and to AFTRA and was on a Nash Bridges episode and did some other things and then when he got to be about 14 or 15 he got a little self conscious and he decided he didn’t want to do that anymore and now he’s almost 18 and he’s going to graduate from high school so he wants to be realistic so he’s kind of retired from show biz.

At the young age of 18?


I love the TV Land Awards and I just love all of those old shows.

I was a presenter.

I know. Was that kind of surreal for you? Was there anyone there that you really admired or that you tried to emulate?

Well, you know I did try and actually I saw Barbara Feldon in New York and they had a CBS show Still Hip Chicks form the 60s and so I had always watched her and I liked Elizabeth Montgomery. I thought she was terrific and actually I tried to take some of her gestures and things that she used but I loved the whole concept of that show.

Did you stay in contact with anyone after Family Affair ended, like Brian Keith or Sebastian Cabot?

I did with Brian and also with Anissa and went to her 18th birthday party and that was such a tragedy because I went to her birthday party and then her mom took me aside and said do you think you could call Anissa and spend some time with her because she’s in with a bad crowd and I’m worried about her. And I told her mom you know what (that was Saturday) I’m leaving Monday for six weeks to do a musical back in Virginia and that’s when she took an overdose. She was such an adorable, lovely little girl.

Do you feel that her mother pushed her too hard?

Oh no doubt, absolutely, absolutely yeah. She was unfortunately one of those typical stage mothers, not a typical stage mother…but one of those stage mothers that give them a bad name.

What advice would you give the child actors of today so that they would not get sucked into the darker side of the entertainment industry?

Well, you know I think that what my mom did with me was very good to (a) have them go to school, give them a good education, try to give them as much normalcy as possible. Even like Miley Cyrus, she was going along very well there for a while because her parents did try and keep her as normal as possible and I think that’s very important. So there are so many pressures and they get so much money and so it’s good to give them a little bit and then when their 18th birthday comes about put it in a trust. I’m finding that with my son – so to make it till they’re 25 they can have something very secure upon which to rely.

What prompted you to take a journey into motivational speaking?

Well, actually, part of that was Anissa. I thought how sad that was. Like my house burned down. So you know one is presented with different things in life and you just have to keep going and just struggle through because I firmly believe that life is cyclical and you get some down times and that makes you appreciate how good the good times are.

You also do charity work with the blind and for Childhelp. What exactly is Childhelp?

Yes, that’s for abused children. Actually I’m going to be doing a movie in Sedona, Arizona in February. One of their homes for Childhelp – they set up home structures; they have one in Palm Springs, in Virginia, and one in Arizona. I’ve been to the one in Palm Springs but not the one in Phoenix and I’m going to tour it and hopefully help them get their word out. Cheryl Ladd is one of their celebrity ambassadors and I’m also going to help in that capacity. But they take these children that have unfortunately suffered horrible abuse like cigarette burns from their parents and just awful and try and show them love and good food and clothes and a warm and secure place to stay. So that’s what Childhelp is. And the Blind I’ve been interested in– well ever since I played Helen Keller in High School and so I read to the blind up there at the Lighthouse in San Francisco. I started that in college just reading person to person to the blind. And then at the Lighthouse, what we do is record the newspapers, volunteer our time to record newspapers, etc., and then it goes out on a special network and also on this computer that the blind can log onto or listen to. It’s a real helpful thing and we just try to help them out.

You’re a really busy person, aren’t you?

Yeah, especially when I’m trying to get this child out of high school. That seems to take up a lot of time and I only have one of them!

Have you ever appeared on a Soap Opera?

I never have, ever.

I came across this trivia the other day that Johnny Whitaker appeared on General Hospital in 1965.

Oh yeah, he must’ve been five years old. No, The Ten Commandments was like my first movie so I’ve kind of come full circle because we’ve just finished recording the bible. I mean Marisa Tomei was in it and Richard Dreyfus recorded the audio book Bible.

Well, do you think that there is any hope for the economy since we have a new President?

Oh golly I don’t know. I personally do not like the stimulus plan at all. It has never worked. It has not worked in France. It didn’t work with Bush. It’s not going to work with Obama. People get the money and spend it, so what? It’s gone or they will put it under their mattress and not spend it. They will wait for a rainy day. So I really think it’s going about it in totally the wrong way. So I think all we can do is to keep working at it. It’s interesting because the entertainment world has flourished during the depression. I mean I actually have a lot of work to do right now because people want to escape. They are buying movie tickets and dvds.

I bought the Family Affair DVD.

Yeah, the boxed set is out!

Could you tell me of any future plans that you’ve got going, professionally or personally…whatever you’d like to talk about that’s coming up.

Well, one is this Kids Caper movie, a g-rated movie that we are filming in Sedona, Arizona, and that will probably be out, not until December for the Christmas market I think. And then I have a talk show that I do is called Back Stage with Barry and Kathy.

Is that every day?

It’s every Monday at 5:30. And then I am doing…I do a lot of Christian fiction audio books and so one I have just done is with Robin Lee Hatcher, Return To Me. That will be out in March and then I am recording a historical fiction young adult book called My Vicksburg. I’m recording in February. It will probably be out in April. And I’m trying to get this child out of college.

Publisher’s Note: Kathy appeared in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic, The Ten Commandments, as Rachel, a young slave girl (uncredited). She was about ten years old. Kathy and Johnny Whitaker (Jody) are the only surviving members of the starring cast of Family Affair.


Interview by Melissa Parker

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