Kathy Garver: From Cissy to Spiderman–Still Going Strong in a Dynamic Career that Sizzles!

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Kathy Garver is still cute. She is still sweet, ever lovely, and, to this day, has locks that would be the envy of Cher’s most flamboyant wig dresser; only, to see her in real life, one can confirm, both categorically and follicularly that the hair she sports, is, in fact all her own.  Best known for her role as Cissy on the late 60s sitcom “Family Affair”, one might get sidetracked by her warm and gregarious nature and tangentially begin prattling on over something else totally unrelated to showbiz or anything “Cissy”. No. Really, talking to her about anything and everything including the billowy, puffy post summer, pre-wintery rain clouds currently in the sky, to Jimmy Carter, to dating in L.A. is more than half the fun!!!  I will catch up with Ms. Garver during one of her professional weekend jaunts to Los Angeles, from her current home in San Francisco.  We will meet at Caioti Pizza on Tujunga Blvd. in Studio City for a most delectable and affordable brunch.  During the course of our roughly two hour interview/conversation we will discuss Brian Keith, Henry Kissinger, Cissy’s Hair, Cecil B. DeMille, Julie Andrews, and the most unique and singular manner in which she selected her first and only  husband (not just  met but selected). We begin at the very beginning…

So how’d you embark on this lifelong career?

Well, I started singing and dancing at 3 years old at the Meglin Studios in Hollywood. That’s the same place Shirley Temple went. My mother thought, “Well if Shirley Temple got discovered there, then my adorable daughter should be discovered as well.”  So she put my hair in little ringlets and I learned to sing, and dance, and act. Then when I was 7, my aunt had one of her children in films and they were looking for a double for a little girl that had been cast…already.  I had not gone on the interview or else I would have gotten the part I’m sure. (laughs)  It was The Night of the Hunter which starred Shelley Winters, Robert Mitchum, and Lillian Gish. It was [also] the first directorial outing of Charles Laughton [but it] was his first and last because the movie got such bad reviews he said “I’m never going to do this again!”… It was so far ahead of its time, it was [somewhat] German Expressionist…and Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for that.  But it has [since] become one of the top 100 films ever made.

When did it come out?

1955-56. It was [quite] the Film Noir… [As a matter of fact, I’d recently] returned from BYU—Brigham Young University and I was there talking with the graduate students in film and also doing a Q and A.  I had told the story about this being my first movie…and they said “Oh wow…really? “  They were all very interested…  So afterwards they come up [to me].  I’m signing autographs and I said, “I’m just curious…so many of you know about this film,” and they said, “Because it’s a requirement for us to review…  And I told them I had shown it to my son who was 11 at the time and…the next day after he’d seen the film, he had H-A-T-E and L-O-V-E written on his knuckles [just like the insane priest in the film] (laughing) and I’m thinking maybe this wasn’t the right choice to show my 11-year-old son…

So that was the first…I was in that movie the whole way through as the double for this little girl; Sally Jane Bruce.

Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for the Los Angeles Beat

Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for the Los Angeles Beat

“Double” meaning…?

She was only 6, and I was a little older. It was her first and last movie. Billy Chapin was in it.  He was the brother of Lauren Chapin who was in Father Knows Best…and Peter Graves was in it so it was a great cast.  The basic story was about this crazed preacher Robert Mitchum who had L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E written on either one of his knuckles…  He kills this woman and then in prison…with the father of a little girl and little boy–[learns] our father had stolen money from the bank and the reverend wants to get this money.  So he comes to steal it but he can’t find it, and he marries [our] mother… Then he kills her, and we escape and go down the river, and it’s beautiful—the river.  So I did all the scenes in the boat, because she couldn’t do the boat.  The money was in a doll, she couldn’t do scissors…  Running…or going up into the hayloft, or being in a skiff down the river, or cutting out paper dolls out of the money…  Then at the end, we end up with Lillian Gish and a lot of orphans.  People had just left their children.  They couldn’t afford them [as the movie took place] during the depression… So anyway that was my first win.  Then I did The Ten Commandments: The Movie—not the silent version.

Any anecdotes related to The Ten Commandments?

Yeah I have a lot of anecdotes about that. This was still at the very beginning of my career and I was hired just as an extra for The Ten Commandments.  This was during the Exodus scene.  We were shooting over at Paramount…  I was to be in a wagon with a little lamb, and way up on the rickety wagon we were to go through the city.  So we’re rehearsing and then all of a sudden I hear this big voice, “Don’t let that little girl’s face get in the camera!”  And I said, “Uh, what did I do,” and was that God…spoken from way above?  So the AD comes over, Henry Wilcoxin, and he kind of covers me up so my face is hidden from the camera…  After the scene–cut.  He comes over again lifts me off the wagon, he says, “I want to you to come meet someone.”  So it wasn’t God, but it was Cecil B. DeMille descending on a big crane.  So we chat and he writes scenes for me in the movie.  That was his want because doing big epics can be very impersonal.  So in order to make it more human, he would pick out [certain people and write scenes around them].  So I was on the movie for six more weeks.  It was a very interesting experience and I remember it very clearly.

And how did you get The Ten Commandments?

[Through] my agent Hazel McMillan; her daughter Gloria McMillan was on Our Miss Brooks.  She did the radio version and then she did the television version… My sister went to Mount Saint Mary’s and Gloria was going there as well and she was doing a play: Everyman and they needed a little boy and a little girl in the play.  So my sister lassoed my little brother and me to do this play and Hazel McMillan was in the audience and came up to my mom afterwards and said, “If you ever want an agent, call us up.”  So she did.  So she became my agent and that’s how we booked The Ten Commandments!  I worked as a child a lot as I was growing up.  [I was on] Patty Duke later…and then I started UCLA, then went on the interview for the Family Affair.  They wanted a blonde, blue-eyed girl…  I had very dark hair and I still have brown eyes and they didn’t have contacts at the time.

So I was a “Pi Phi”—Pi Beta Phi at UCLA. My mom comes over–I’m living in the sorority house–with this can of Streaks and Tips which kind of makes your hair blonde. So I go to meet the producer.  The casting director…called Hazel…saying [I’d] be great for this part, and that they had already chosen someone.  But the girl had gone to Europe and come back and had gained weight.  [Leaving them saying], “Oh my gosh we’re shooting the pilot.  We need somebody right away!!!”  It was only a week before they started shooting the pilot.  They had already cast Brian [Keith] and Sebastian Cabot and the two kids. So I went there and I felt like something out of Goldfinger , because I had this gold helmet of hair.  We’d just started talking and the producer looked at my head and said,

“What’s the matter with her hair?”

“My hair?”

“Yes it’s turning green!”

Oh no!

So I did the screen test for that on the set, where they were doing the pilot. Then Hazel called me at the sorority house and said, “Okay you got the part!”  I had also gotten another part that same day so that was quite a good day!

Actually, my editor had a question about that, “Well, did she have such great hair or did she have to have a wig? And if she didn’t have to have a wig, how long did it take to do her hair?” 

…To do the pilot—because they wanted a blonde–I went to Max Factor and they gave me this long blonde wig and this little dress that looked like Judy Garland from Wizard of Oz. So I did the screen test and talked with the director.  [The director liked it] but said, “I really love you for this, but never wear that dress again and never wear that wig!”… So I went back to Max Factor and I had very short hair at the time, so I had a wig…the first year until my hair grew.  Then they decided they would just dye my own hair.  So it was strawberry blonde…and they dyed Anissa’s (Buffy’s) hair too because she had dark hair… And she would go swimming all the time and her hair would come out really green!  But mine didn’t turn green after that first experience.

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

My editor also was curious to know, the personality of “Mr. French”–What was he like in real life?

He was very much of a family man himself. I think that one of the reasons the show did so well, was that there was an excellent chemistry between all of the people who were portraying the characters.  He loved his wife and he had about three kids… He had a hard time learning lines, and he was somewhat fastidious, but…over the weekend he learned-every-word.  Because he really had dropped out of school—even before he finished high school…and became a driver and that’s how he got into show business; by driving an actor around.  So I think…that added to his personality and added to who he really was.

I read Brian Keith was one of your idols and had been on the show Crusader before Family Affair.  What was it like getting to meet and work with him?  Were you nervous at all?

No. I wasn’t because I had been working so long, and after you meet Charleton Heston…and Cecile B. DeMille everying…(laughter) else is [less intimidating].  I appreciated him for who he was but I wasn’t nervous to work with him.  I was just so concentrated on acting and doing my work and doing our scenes.  Henry Kissinger came to our set and I was more in awe of Henry Kissinger coming and having lunch with us, and visiting the set than I was with the actors.

So Henry Kissinger came to your set and what happened…?

He had brought his two children who loved Family Affair and they came and watched some scenes. Then we had lunch together on the set and he was very gracious.  But it was very interesting.  So, many people had been invited to the lunch and they kept talking about themselves, “Oh I do this…and I do that…and I do the other things,” and then our one of our wonderful producers Edmund Hartmann said, “Well, perhaps we could hear what Mr. Kissinger has to say…”  What a concept.  I loved Ed Hartmann.  We had very good people [on that show].

You also worked with Fess Parker and Bing Crosby.

Yeah. That was great.  And Darby Hinton who was a friend of mine was in Fess’ TV series and so…we’ve kept in touch…and Veronica Cartwright is a good friend…  The child stars—the ex-child stars; we have a little society and we keep together. Even yesterday, and the day before, we were at the Courts Celebrity Show in Burbank. I was there representing A Minor Consideration which is an organization Paul Petersen (of Donna Reed fame) runs (concerning advice and support for child actors) and he’s [currently] handing over the reins to Scott Schwartz.

Who’s Scott Schwartz?

Scott Schwartz was…the little boy in A Christmas Story that gets his tongue stuck on the pole.

Oh, okay. 

His dad deals in pictures and memorabilia and…has a store in Westlake. But he’s taking over the reins for Paul and still aiming for the same laws that Paul was aiming for.  They got the Coogan Law passed (regarding the creation of a trust and holding minors’ wages until they reach a certain age) which was just statewide [and we are] still pushing to get it national.

Oh that’s a good thing ‘cause God knows they need it.  So you have your society of child stars, do you do regular get-togethers and…dinners and that?


Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

So you worked with Patty Duke as well.  I could see you two having played sisters…

Yeah. I like Patty a lot…  We did The Patty Duke Show and then I’ve seen her on different occasions.  My favorite role that I have ever done was a stage play of The Miracle Worker.  So I feel connected in that way…  Then I had a talk show in San Francisco: Back Stage with Barry and Kathy and I interviewed her…maybe 3 years ago and at that time she was doing Wicked playing Madame Morrible and I asked her, I said, “Patty, how do you do this–wearing these heavy costumes and these big hats night after night?” And she looked at me and just said, “Determination.”  (laughter) and I said, “Yes, I can see that!”  I do speeches called The Power of Perseverance.

Oh really.  Now do you go around doing them?  Do you um…I’m gonna say “cassettes” right?—No.  But like sound clips of them?

No but I’m going to. We’re putting together some different events about going onstage with some ex-child stars, somewhat like they do at Paley Center. They did the Bewitched [panel] at Paley Center and they had a lot of the guest stars where they would show a clip when they were appearing on the show and then they would do a Q and A and I think that’s a really nice way to do it.

So you have a TV show where you interview people up in San Francisco.

Yes, with Barry Barsamian, he’s a really good friend of mine… This is kind of funny—my son, who was 9 at the time–was going to be an extra in The Princess Diaries. They were shooting that in San Francisco and as a good stage mom I took him over there. So I’m standing on the set, we were shooting outside for the cable car [scene], and this fellow comes up and says, “Are you Kathy Garver?”  And I said, “Well yes.”  And he says, “Oh I loved you on Family Affair.”  He says “Why are you here?”  And I said, “Oh my son is doing this little thing in The Princess Dairies.”  And I said, “Why are you here?”  And he [Barry] was writing for the Nob Hill Gazette and he said, “I’m here covering Julie Andrews,” and so he says, “Have you ever met Garry Marshall?”  And I said, “No, I haven’t.”  And he says, “Well you have to meet Garry Marshall.”  So he goes and he talks to the associate producer and she brings Garry over and he introduces us and Garry says, “Oh I love Brian Keith, y’know he’s just so funny,” and I said, “Yes”, and we started chatting–as they had worked together –and then Garry said, “Would you like to be in this movie?”  And I said, “Yes!”  And so what goes around comes around and it’s like harkening back to when I first started my career with Cecil B. DeMille, so Garry Marshall goes  away that night, writes some scenes, brings them back the next day and then I work on the film for a couple days!

That’s so cool!  I saw it a long time ago.  Who’d you play?

In the cable car scene when [Anne Hathaway is] backing down this looong hill with Julie Andrews she runs right into the cable car.  I’m with my son and there’s a whole scene where Ms. Andrews announces that she’s queen and we [do something where we go] “Oh look at that, that’s the queen!” and wave goodbye, “That’s a queen!”  And of course all the San Francisco people/guys really loved that part.”

And that’s when Julie Andrews announced that she was queen.  So you obviously got to meet Julie Andrews then.

Oh she was fabulous absolutely wonderful…y’know just gracious and kind… So that’s how I met Barry and we have been excellent friends ever since!… He has a wonderful memorabilia collection, all kinds of great costumes.  As a matter of fact he just sold the original Judy Garland costume.  Before the blue and white check, there were two plain blue dresses, Debbie Reynolds had one and he had the other one.  And so he just sold that last year and he’s got Audrey Hepburn costumes.  He did a fabulous exhibit of it at the Metreon in San Francisco and now he’s talking with other people to put it into different places.  So we had the show together and he’s darling.  I really love Barry, handsome young guy.

Most guys named Barry are.  ‘Cause all of a sudden when you said that I was thinking of Barry—I know he doesn’t live in L.A. anymore—Barry Williams.

Barry Williams—Yeah!—Who I think might write the forward to my third book.

No way!

So that was our show: Backstage with Barry and Kathy… I think the last interview we did was with Jane Russell who was living in Santa Maria.  She did Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

She is a super classic movie actress. 

Yeah… I don’t know whether she married Howard Hughes, or they dated for awhile. Howard Hughes discovered her…  [We had also interviewed] Margaret O’Brien, and Jon Provost from Lassie, and Paul Petersen [“Jeff” from The Donna Reed Show]… In the future, Barry wants to maybe go to Palm Springs and establish our show down there.  So we might do that.  There’s lots of stuff in the works.

Would you move from San Francisco to Palm Springs or would you just go down?

Well I have a place in Palm Springs and I have a star on the walk of fame there.

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Nice! And until then, what other projects are currently keeping you busy?

I have a new book. I just signed a contract for two new books that I’m writing; the first one will be out in September of 2015 called, Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood. That’s being published by Rowman/Littlefield-Taylor Trade.  Patty Duke wrote the forward. Then I’m doing a musical in January and it’s a stage adaptation of Tom Sawyer.

Oh my gosh.  Are you playing Aunt Polly?

I am. I’m playing Aunt Polly.

I knew it!  Had they done a musical about it before?

They did a movie. They did a movie: Tom Sawyer but actually Johnny Whitaker (Jody on Family Affair) played Tom Sawyer, Jeff East played Huckleberry Finn, and Celeste Holm played Aunt Polly. Jeff East then went on to do Huckleberry Finn… But now we’re doing the Tom Sawyer musical [in 2015] and Jeff East who played Huckleberry Finn in the original movie is going to play Muff Potter in the stage show of it!

I love it!!!

So I’ve been trying to learn the songs… We’re doing it at The Niswonger Center for the Performing Arts in Tennessee which is about a 1200 seat house.

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Talk about everything coming full circle…

I have an audio book that’s put out on Audible.com called Rocking Horse: A Personal Biography of Betty Hutton.  It’s written by Gene Arceri.  I also wrote a cookbook: The Family Affair Cookbook!  Along with all these books…I also teach voiceover.  I teach how to do audio narration and I teach speech and diction. I majored in speech at UCLA then I have my masters in Theatre Arts…I also teach ADR.  (Automatic Dialogue Replacement, which used to be called looping, in other words, re-dubbing dialogue post production).  It’s so hard to keep up with technology. I tell my students, we started out with different reels for audio and then people went kicking and screaming to cassettes and from cassettes we went to CD and now we’re to nothing!

I also do a show called Family Tree Recipe in Northern California…  It’s a web series.  I just shot…four shows about two weeks ago. This woman came on and she did like this sausage, squash, eggplant casserole and she said, “This is the Paleo diet.”  And I said, “Well I’ve never heard of the Paleo diet…Is that like hunters and gatherers?”  And she said, “Exactly!” She said that we—as human beings—first started on that—that sustained us. I thought that was kind of an interesting thing.  I like to eat everything.

I’m a foodie too, but that cookbook that you put together really is interesting to me.  So is it recipes from everyone in the show? 

Every time that a food was mentioned on the show, there’s a recipe for that…

What’s Brian Keith?  What was his main recipe?

His are potent potables—how to mix cocktails. So there are Manhattans—that’s where we’re from—New York–all sorts of different ones, Manhattans and Martinis…

Wow! And what are some of your top recipes?

I have Cissy-Sizzles recipes and my grandmother’s cucumbers…

So when did you move up North and why did you move up there?

I got married…

That’s a good reason.

…and he was from there. We met in Palm Springs when he worked for a music company.  My friend Arlene Golonka, who’s an actress and who was on The Andy Griffith Show, and I would play tennis in L.A. So we were in Palm Springs and she says, “Come over to this tournament.  I’m dating somebody that’s with this company,” and I said, “Oh, okay.” So I went down there, and I was 35—or no I was 33 and I said, “The next person I meet, I’m going to marry.”  So I put that into my head. So Arlene invites me to be the fourth in this tennis game.  So I walk in and I say, “The next person I meet, I’m going to marry.”  And here comes my six foot three guy gulumping in and we started playing tennis and I think I hit a serve and he said, “Finally a woman who can play tennis.  We’re going to get married!”  And I’m going “Tee hee hee!”

What?  He said that?

Yeah. So…

Oh my God.  You guys are on the same wavelength.

So we’ve been married 33 years.

That’s awesome!!!  Wow that’s kismet!

So I come back and forth to L.A.—a lot. I know every little sage brush on the 5.


And as soon as I went up there of course I started doing (voiceover for) Spider Man and his Amazing Friends.

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Garver

Oh when you went up to San Francisco.

Yeah—the series; so then I’d be coming down to L.A. ‘cause this is where I recorded it.

It must be fun…I mean maybe it’s tiring but it must be fun to have two places to call home.

M-hmm. My husband is very understanding…very accommodating.

Wow!  So any more projects on your already full plate?

Two books and the musical in January. We’re working on a movie up north, Garry Marshall is attached to that and Joel Zwick who did My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  He will be art director, and Gordon Granger is our producer.  I’m a producer.  I have a part in it as well.  So that one’s coming along quite well.

And that’s a feature?

That’s a feature film. I am attached to this new series, and they’re premiering the pilot on February 17th.  It’s called The Comeback Kids

And so for TV—for Network TV.

Yeah, doing that, doing my Family Tree Recipe show up north and just keeping the garden growing…

And continue to grow it all will!  For more information on Kathy Garver and her dynamic career, please visit:






Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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4 Responses to Kathy Garver: From Cissy to Spiderman–Still Going Strong in a Dynamic Career that Sizzles!

  1. lwheeler615 says:

    loved the story…love Kathy and can’t wait until her book come out!

  2. Jennifer K. Hugus Jennifer K. Hugus says:

    Thank you so much lwheeler–We appreciate your readership!

  3. Alec Phillips says:

    I’m so excited to be preforming with her in Tom Sawyer

  4. Ken Kalbfell says:

    Very good interview and write up. Enjoyed it. Have known Kathy for years. She is great.

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