We are family: the cast of Family Affair

Question: Who played Buffy on Family Affair?


Answer: Anissa Jones played Buffy alongside Johnnie Whitaker (Sigmund and the Sea Monsters) on the series, which ran on CBS for five years beginning in September 1966. The show focused on swinging bachelor Bill Davis (Hardcastle & McCormick's Brian Keith) and his valet, Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot), two men whose lives took a change for the domestic when Buffy, her twin brother, Jody (Whitaker), and their older sister, Cissy (Kathy Garver), the children of Bill's late brother, moved in. But the main draw for the audience tuning in was the cute little twins — and the adults in the cast were well aware of it.

"Now those kids, bless 'em, they don't use any tricks," Sabby Cabot told TV Guide in 1967. "But they grin that big, empty-toothed grin and you're in trouble! But I still combat with honesty. No tricks; I am not swept off the screen and I come off pretty well." For her part, Garver tried not to let playing opposite two adorable tykes and the much-loved Cabot get to her. "They say I'm in the worst spot for an ingenue," she said in a 1968 interview. "I don't worry about that. After all, I'm the only ingenue on the show, and I do get the most fan mail. I don't worry about who's got the close-up or who can I upstage or where the kids are or where's Sabby. This takes too much time. I'd rather spend it on my part."

Still, Garver admitted that not being the prime attraction on the show had its dull side. "On days when I come in and I have only one or two scenes, I blow my mind because I'm bored sitting no matter where I am," she said. No problem — her bosses were happy to turn it around on the 19-year-old and inform her it was actually her fault: "I went to the producers and said I'm going to quit this thing and go to graduate school and be a lawyer, and they said the only trouble with me is I'm bored and I ought to start getting on the ball and find something to look forward to. So I figured they were right and so I rearranged my bedroom and took the legs off the corner table and changed the twin beds around and now I'm rearranging my mind."

And Keith? Why, there was no need to rearrange his mind. He worked hard when he was there — he toiled under the 13-week shooting schedule that show cocreator Don Fedderson dreamed up for Fred MacMurray and My Three Sons — putting his genuine affection for the kids to use in scene after heartwarming scene, then promptly wandered away and napped. And it didn't much matter where he laid his head, whether it was his dressing room, a chair, an unused bed on one of the sets or on the counter of his TV apartment. "He is one of those guys who can fall asleep anywhere," director Charles Barton observed.

After all, downtime was what brought the star to the small screen in the first place, after setting up a nice film career for himself in such movies as The Parent Trap and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. "The only attraction is the time," he said. "I work just 70 days a year on the show. I can still make two, three movies a year if I want to... If it were Bonanza, walking around the Ponderosa, tied up nearly all year, no-o-o chance. That's a fate worse than death."

Sadly, of the makeshift family that appeared on the series, only Garver and Whitaker are alive today. Jones died of a drug overdose in 1976 at the age of 18, while Cabot passed away in 1977 and Keith, suffering from cancer and emphysema and distraught over his 27-year-old daughter's suicide, took his own life in 1997. Nancy Walker (Rhoda, McMillan and Wife), who played part-time housekeeper Emily Turner from 1970-71, died in 1992.