In September, Family Affair, the beloved sitcom starring Kathy Garver, Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot, will celebrate its 55th anniversary. The show, which ran for five seasons beginning in 1966, told the story of three orphans who come to live with their gruff-but-loving bachelor uncle and his faithful valet, Mr. French, in New York City after the sudden death of their parents.
“I think Family Affair is still a classic because we embraced classic themes,” Kathy, 75, who played teenage Cissy on the show, tells Closer. “What could be more classic than a story about a family who loves one another?”
To mark the anniversary, Kathy’s publisher is re-releasing her tell-all memoir, Surviving Cissy. “I’m just so happy to be celebrating everything,” says Kathy, who also has two other books, Family Affair: A Pictorial Scrapbook and a new cookbook, TV Dinners TV, arriving later this year. Scroll down below to read Closer’s exclusive interview!
Did you always want to be an actress?
“Probably. I started singing and dancing when I was 3, and I just kind of segued into these movies. I did Night of the Hunter, which is a classic, and then The Ten Commandments. So I really didn’t choose what I wanted to do until I was in my 20s and was in college at UCLA.”
You were quite young when you filmed The Ten Commandments in 1956 with director Cecil B. DeMille and Charlton Heston. What do you remember about it?
“It was so thrilling. I was 7 or 8. So I remember the sensory things like the sounds, smells and touches of the fabrics. [I recall] going up the papier-maché mountain. And then there was the Red Sea closing, with all of the water coming on. It was like a Disney ride.”
Did you realize that the movie would become a huge hit?
“I knew about the Bible. I was supposed to carry this little lamb in my arms on a wagon. I heard this big sound above me. I was like, ‘Who’s that? Is that God?’ It wasn’t God, it was Cecil B. DeMille. The great director came down, we talked, and he had these scenes written into the movie for me. I thought it was pretty cool, but I didn’t understand the impact of the movie.”
What do you remember most fondly about your time on Family Affair?
“Most of it revolves around the people. Brian Keith was just a wonderful man. So talented and so giving of his time. Sebastian Cabot, the terrific foil, who had a totally different acting style than Brian. That combination served me well because I have cherry-picked all their best aspects.”
You were particularly close with Brian. What was it about him?
“He was a very loving person, and he loved kids. At the same time, he was this macho man and an ex-Marine. Those were kind of his duality, and it was really appealing.”
Why do you think Family Affair has stayed such a nostalgic favorite for so many years?
“Well, back then there were only three stations, so everybody in the entire United States watched it. And not only were the stories very good, but I think the audience felt comfortable knowing what they were going to see. It’s a bite of nostalgia, a bite of comfort. There is so much unsureness, it’s nice to go for 22 minutes and just sit and watch something that’s simple and about love.”
It would be fun if they rebooted Family Affair.
“We are working on a spin-off called Aunt Cissy. I am working with the grandson of one of the creators. We have made a Cissy reel and most of the pilot.”
Oh! Good luck. You recently hit a milestone birthday. What do you like most about being the age you are now?
“I feel like I really am in my golden era. I have never been busier. I am excited each day that I’m here. I like being older, and healthy and not feeling so put upon anymore. I can relax and just put out affirmative vibes and good things.”
You also recently celebrated your 40th wedding anniversary. That’s an achievement! What’s your secret?
“You have to really like the person. My husband is a very nice person, in some ways nicer than me! So you have to like them, and recognize their niceness, and also, we have separate bank accounts! I think that is very important. I couldn’t imagine having a shared bank account with someone and needing to ask, ‘Oh, what did you spend money on there?’ I’m very independent and it works for us.”
Your son, Reid, has done some acting and voice-over work. Did you encourage or discourage him from entering show business?
“When he was a baby, he was the most beautiful child in the world. So he did print [ads] and became a member of [the actors unions] SAG and AFTRA very young. But when he was 12, he said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to do this.’ I saw so many kids that were pushed by their parents to do this and they didn’t want to. So I said, ‘Well, all right.'”
What did he do instead?
“He and his girlfriend have a flourishing pet training and pet walking [ business]. They are also baking dog treats. They’re happy and I love having young people in my life. I’m looking at my toes right now, which are fluorescent lime green. I would never have this color if I didn’t have young people in my life. They keep us up to date on stuff.”
What is the best lesson that you’ve ever learned?
“To love yourself, to believe in yourself and to put out kindness to other people. If people feel you reaching out, they reach out to you. If you expect good things to happen to you, those affirmations are very helpful.”
Do you think you will ever retire?
“I don’t think so. I have a Type A personality, so I like to be doing something. My career has happily encompassed so many things in the entertainment field: movies, TV, plays, audiobooks, commercials — all these things. I really like to stay busy.”