Kathy Garver, 73, is one of those actors who has been blessed and cursed with instant recognition from an iconic project — she was sweet Cissy on TV's Family Affair (1966-1971), coming into our living rooms weekly with Brian Keith (1921-1997), Sebastian Cabot (1918-1977), Johnny Whitaker (b. 1959) and Anissa Jones (1958-1976).
But with recognition can come typecasting, and she did, after all, write a book entitled Surviving Cissy (2015). (Another book is in the works.)
Still, this class act is not one to run from her most famous work, even if she doesn't mind you knowing she was also in The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956) and has done voice work on a slew of animated series. So now, she plans to star in Aunt Cissy, a project that finds her playing a retired model and actress who has to deal with the surprise arrival of her twin niece (Madison Young) and nephew (Miles Tagtmeyer) ... just when she was planning some me-time.
Aunt Cissy is currently crowdfunding at IndieGoGo — Indie go-go over and make a pledge, helping Season 1 become a reality!
Then, read on for my Q&A with Kathy, a woman who will forever be an indelible part of TV history, and who hopes to make s'more with Aunt Cissy ...
Gr8erDays: How did Aunt Cissy come about, and how did all the talent come together?
Kathy Garver: Aunt Cissy was created and is being produced by my son, Scott Travis. His friend Michael Vaccaro wrote Aunt Cissy. And we have Billy Clift directing. All the talent was picked by Scott, and we have a great cast, including Danny Arroyo, Miles Tagtmeyer and Madison Young.
GD: If Aunt Cissy takes off, do you foresee landing celebrity guests — who would be some dream gets?
KG: You mean "when" Aunt Cissy takes off! And I would think it would be fun to have celebrity guests on the show. We are starting off with quite a few already: Susan Anton, Patrika Darbo, Renee Lawless and Kate Linder.
GD: Is Aunt Cissy the Cissy of your past, or is she sort of a wink at the memory of the Family Affair Cissy?
KG: Aunt Cissy is definitely a wink and a nod at the past. There are allusions to an uncle and a gentleman’s gentleman and twins, and a place called Indiana. Those that know the original show will pick them up like Easter eggs. But Aunt Cissy can stand on its own as a show of the 2010s with the incumbent trials, tensions and humor.
GD: The plot reminds me of Auntie Mame — will your Aunt Cissy be that out-there, extravagant and adventurous?
KG: She is adventurous, a traveler. She is a fun and colorful character. And Scott likes to call Aunt Cissy a cross between Auntie Mame, AbFab and Modern Family.
GD: Which character that you've ever played do you most identify with — which one was closest to who you are?
KG: I would really say that I am a bit of all the characters I’ve played. I can’t really choose one character above another character. As much as I loved playing Cissy and being the voice of Firestar [on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983)], I have to say that I love doing voice-overs.
GD: People talk about the Golden Age of TV, and Family Affair happened during one of them, certainly. What do you think about how TV has changed — there is a previously unimagined variety, and there are so many ways to see series without the big networks.
KG: Television has changed in so many different ways over the years. We went from a few prime television channels to cable with its 9,000 networks and now with the Internet and all of the different platforms. Platforms that are hoping to turn themselves into Netflix or Amazon have made it easier to get your product seen, but harder to get them produced, due to all of the content out there. We must have growth. But we need to bring some of the family values back to TV that seems to be missing.
GD: Everyone who loves Family Affair saw your reunion with Johnny Whitaker. There was a burying of the hatchet on-camera — is the hatchet still buried?
KG: I wish nothing for the best for him.
GD: What's your most cherished memory of Family Affair?
KG: Truthfully, I have so many cherished memories that just one doesn’t stand out. I loved all my time on Family Affair.
GD: Can you imagine what Anissa Jones would have gone on to do had she not passed away so tragically young?
KG: I am not sure what her future would have held. I am sure she would have been a success at whatever path she chose.
GD: What are autograph shows like from your side of the table?
KG: They are exciting and fun. I love being there for my fans and hearing their wonderful stories of how Cissy helped them in some way or a special memory.
GD: Some people who are closely associated with a TV or movie character grow to hate it, but you seem to embrace the Cissy legacy. Why is that, what is it that you love about her and about that association?
KG: Family Affair is and continues to be a classic show of gentle humor, warm emotion and quality stories. My character of Cissy helped move that concept along. Her character was filled with warmth, heartfelt emotion and care for others. She had her problems and trials as well, but they are problems of a classic nature which continue to be salient today — boyfriends, choices, health, moral decisions that we still have to make today.
As Alison Arngrim (b. 1962) from Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983) has said, there are only 1½% percent of actors who have been lucky enough to star in a successful series.
I am happy to be a part of that 1½%, and I embrace the character of Cissy as an icon of the Golden Age of TV.