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Here’s What Happened to ‘Family Affair’ Star Anissa Jones: Her Sad Life and Tragic Death

When you hear the name “Buffy,” what usually comes to mind? It wouldn’t be strange for you to think of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about a teenager battling a wide assortment of the undead. Of course, the other Buffy you might think of is the one played by actress Anissa Jones on the Classic TV sitcom Family Affair. And if the two Buffys have anything at all in common, it’s that both battled demons, one metaphorical and the other quite real.

While it’s not quite as common today as it once was, Hollywood’s history is littered with the bodies of child stars who were ripped off, disposed of or utterly ignored, driving many of them to alcoholism and/or drug abuse with resulting psychological scars or, in the worst cases, their deaths. From Jackie Coogan (The Addams Family’s Uncle Fester), who was ripped off to the point of destitution by his mother, to the systematic abuse Dennis the Menace star Jay North took from his guardians, an aunt and uncle; the young cast of Diff’rent Strokes and Anissa, there are so many instances. And their roads to stardom never start off that way.

CBS Television Distribution

In 1966, producer Don Fedderson, who had created the Fred MacMurray series My Three Sons, collaborated with producer-writer Edmund Hartmann to create Family Affair. The concept is that Brian Keith plays bachelor Bill Davis, who finds himself guardian of two nieces and a nephew (respectively Kathy Garver, Anissa and Johnnie Whitaker as Cissy, Buffy and Jody) following the deaths of their parents. A helping hand is provided by Sebastian Cabot’s Mr. French. On the surface, the saccharine level seems pretty high, and yet it connected with the audience — and an adult audience at that, considering that it originally aired at 9:30 p.m. after the kiddies were off to bed.

Described Edmund to The Valley Times in 1966, “It’s three Midwestern kids in wonderland. But the beautiful thing is the way Davis learns to understand and love the youngsters. And the way they learn to trust and love him. And the humorous, tentative ways they get through to French.”

On the surface, it sounds like the simplest premise in the world, but the show’s strength comes from its heart, and given that the current focus is on Anissa, it has to be said that she brought a lot of it to Family Affair. In 1966, the Independent Star-News of Pasadena, California, described her this way: “Daughter of a college physics professor, she is an imaginative, introspective little girl who spends many hours in make-believe play with her collection of dolls. She has an uncanny ability to convey, on screen, a child’s feelings of rejection, sadness, fun, pride, stubbornness and wish to be loved, sometimes all in one episode.”

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