By Tom Ward
Pop Culture Contributor
On behalf of Timothy O’Farrell Recovery
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with actress Kathy Garver, probably best remembered for her starring role as “Cissy” in the long-running CBS international television hit “Family Affair”. She’s on a short break from her whirlwind tour promoting her new book “X Child Stars: Where Are They Now?” and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of her heralded TV series “Family Affair”. Garver has also garnered critical acclaim in numerous movies, stage, radio, voice-over animation and audio book narration.
“Tell me, what were the circumstances that led to you doing a book on former child stars?” I asked.
“The book came out because there was a fan at one of the autograph conventions and he noticed that a couple of former child stars were sitting by themselves and nobody was coming up to them,” replied Garver. “He felt badly for them because they should have had more recognition than that. He viewed ex-child stars as our national treasures. He approached me and asked if I would like to write a book with him. I said, ‘Ok’ and that’s what came about.”
“While writing and researching the book did you learn some things about them (former child actors) that you didn’t already know?”
“I did know a lot of them and do know a lot about them personally,” recalled Garver. “It was interesting to recall the times that we had been together, like having dinner or doing a business or social thing and incorporating that into the book. Then when I went back and did research to make it all copacetic and I did end up finding out a lot.”
“What do you hope fans will get out of reading your book?”
“A further understanding of child stars,” she said. “What are their plights sometimes and what changes are being made to child labor laws. There are some serious things in the book about ‘Coogan’s Law’ which was a law passed stating that a portion of the child actors’ earnings are set away and put aside for them until they are 18 years old. That’s because so many of them, and you’ll read it in the book, that these child stars had nothing when they turned 18 because their parents spent everything. The children were used kind of like a bank that no deposits were necessarily being put in without withdrawals for the family.”
I told Kathy that she seemed fortunate because she didn’t have any of those types of issues in her career as a child actor.
“I did,” she said. “In the book, which takes the TV series from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, describes the television series and I wrote the child stars’ bios. I do a summation at the end of the book and then kind of recount what are the reasons that some of the child stars were able to go on and do well, like Ron Howard or Brooke Shields and others. Also, I deal with other child stars that unfortunately went down a different path and got hooked on drugs. I was blessed because I had a very supportive family and saved all my money. I have never taken drugs, but I do like wine! I have a belief in God which was interesting to me how even the little girl on my show (actress Anissa Jones) was an atheist. Atheism is kind of beyond me because I think there is something, whether it’s a Buddha or Christian God or whatever.”
Actress Anissa Jones was 18 when she died of a drug overdose in 1976.
“That was a real tragedy,” commented Garver. “Part of that was from her family because she was over-worked and, not to cast dispersions because now her mother has died, but she was very much a stage mom. She was very hard on Anissa and that’s another reason why I wanted to write the book, so people can understand that these kids worked so many hours and they didn’t have protection that was needed still to this day.”
“Time sure has flown by as this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of ‘Family Affair’’ What type of plans have there been to commemorate the occasion of your ground-breaking show?”
Garver laughed saying, “Yes, I hate to admit that Tom since you know that I’m only 39! I’m heading to Chicago where we will be having a little celebration on ME TV on September 12th. That date is the exact date that ‘Family Affair’ debuted back in 1966 on CBS. I’ll be promoting my new book ‘X CHILD STARS: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?’, co-authored by Fred Ascher. Chicago fans can catch me at the Hollywood/Chicago Show September 10th and 11th. Also, I’m working on a documentary of ‘Family Affair’ that is supposed to have come out a little bit before now, but it will be here eventually.”
“One of the things I’ve always admired about you is that you’ve managed to stay busy and still be relevant, as you’ve always got some type of project going on. What drives you?”
“Paying the mortgage is one of the things that motivates me,” Garver laughed. “My son Reid is living with my husband and me and lives in our basement and he’s invited his girlfriend along. So instead of the birds flying the nest, my birds invite more birds in. There are all these people in the house that I’m cooking for and I love doing it. I think I have finally found out that I have a type ‘A’ personality. I still enjoy being on the stage or writing books or going to conventions and meeting people or making motivational speeches. It’s funny because last weekend I was at the Palm Springs Comic Con and I saw this long line and I was thinking, ‘What’s that line for?’ Well it was for James Hong and I said to myself, ‘Now that name is familiar’ so I checked his IMDb online. It turned out he was the voice of Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda films and he’s 87 years old. Stan Lee was there too and he’s 93. I’m thinking it’s kind of a wonderful career and field to be in especially doing voice overs. There aren’t as many parts for seasoned citizens, which it seems I’m becoming, but I can do voice overs and I can write and I can speak so there are a lot of empty little pockets that I need to fill.”
Before ending our conversation Kathy told me about another project that she is hosting and will be ready to go into production next month.
“I’m hosting a new show called ‘Star Watch'”, she informed me. “I happen to have a star on the Walk of Stars in Palm Springs, like a number of actors, which I think got started by Sono Bono. Each show I am going to profile two stars that are on the Walk of Stars. We start production in October with Trini Lopes, Jack Jones, Lindsay Wagner and Gavin McCloud. I think this show will be lots of fun and Palm Springs is a nice place to be in the winter months.”
To learn more about Kathy’s amazing career and how to order her book please visit her website at www.kathygarver.com
Tom Ward can be contacted at www.teetimewithtom.com