Rick Bentley

‘Family Affair’ star Kathy Garver talks about life after popular ‘60 TV show

It’s not unusual for Kathy Garver to meet someone named Cissy.

Whether it’s during a book signing for her autobiography, “Surviving Cissy’ (Taylor Trade Publishing, $24.95), or a guest appearance, such as the recent local fundraiser for the Armenian Community School, fans will come up to her to say their mother named them or their sister after Garver’s character in the 1960s comedy series, “Family Affair.”

“There are also a lot of Buffys,” Garver says during an afternoon chat at the DoubleTree Hotel. Garver has a few hours before she heads to the fundraiser that has brought her back to Fresno for a third time.

She was here, from her home in the Bay Area, two years ago for a similar event, plus she came to be part of the “Reach for the Stars” program that Ron Mortanian operated for so many years while teaching at Tehipite Middle School.

“Family Affair,” aired from 1966-1971. Carver’s Cissy was the oldest of three orphaned siblings who moved in with their bachelor uncle. Johnny Whitaker, Anissa Jones, Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot also starred.

“Family Affair” is just one credit in a long career for Garver, both on screen and as a voice talent. The fact her character is so beloved is one reason for Garver picking the title for her book.

“There is a point when you are attached to a particular character for a long time and people think you are that character,” Garver says. “Am I going to survive this particular character that I played for five years? Am I going to survive the transition from being a character actress to other roles I wanted to play? Personally, people who have not been in this situation don’t understand how you are a big star on one series, but am I going to get another series? Even when you have friends, there is a loneliness factor.”

One way Garver has been able to move past the Cissy character is voice work. She has been the voice of characters on “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” “Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos” and the “Tom & Jerry Kids Show.” She also does the recordings for a lot of books on tape, including recent recordings for The Bible.

Garver built a small studio at her home so that she can do the voice work without having to travel.

Writing the book was easy for Garver, who has a photographic memory. Between the research regarding all of the fellow actors she mentions in the book, a “Family Affair” cookbook and a fire that wiped out her home, it took Garver 10 years to finish “Surviving Cissy.”

The behind-the-scenes story answers many of the questions Garver always gets about the show. Fans want to know what her fellow actors were really like.

“As old as it is, you look at it today and it could be very modern,” Garver says. “I think it is because of the story structure and is about something timeless, which is love.”

“Family Affair” also broke new ground by getting away from a traditional family of two parents, children and a family pet. This was a family story where the parents were a bachelor and his butler dealing with an immediate family.

Garver’s next book is going to look at child actors, one of the dark legacies of Hollywood. Unlike so many young actors, Garver managed to avoid a scandalous life. She credits a supportive family who didn’t use her as their personal bank and the insistence she get a good education as the reasons she survived the life of a TV star.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

To see a video of Kathy Garver, go to fresnobee.com.