Don Fedderson and Edmund Hartman created and produced ‘Family Affair’ in 1966. The sitcom was mostly about the struggles of William ‘Bill’ Davis and his friend-butler Giles French. The two were at the height of their professional career when their world suddenly turned upside down. This was after Bill’s brother Bob and his wife were killed in a tragic car accident in Indiana. The couple left behind three children; Cissy, 15 years old, and the five-year-old twins Buffy and Jody. Since Bob was financially stable, he took over the obligation to take care of the three orphans. Of course, his assistant, Mr. French, always had his back.
At first, it was very difficult for Bill and Mr. French to adjust; they used to live ‘peacefully’ in their luxury apartment in Upper East Side, Manhattan. However, after they realized their noble obligation to raise the children, their job got easier. Over the course of the show, Bill and Mr. French learnt a lot of things that made them better people – both personally and professionally.
Later on in the show, the actor Sebastian Cabot (who played the butler) got quite ill. This resulted in several actors making guest appearances to replace the butler role, including John William who played Giles’ brother for nine episodes. In the last season, they brought in a housekeeper played by Nancy Walker.
Aside from the orphans, another character that greatly contributed to the show’s success was Buffy’s precious doll, Mrs. Beasley! This greatly attracted many of the younger members of the show’s audience.
Family Affair piloted on CBS on September 12, 1966, and last aired on March 04, 1971. The show ran for five seasons, with 138 episodes in all.
Below are some of the fun facts about ‘Family Affair’ that might not be known to everyone:
- France Revamp – In France, Mr. French was renamed ‘Mr. Felix.’ Aside from Mr. French, the orphans’ names were also changed; Cissy to Cecile, Buffy to Fanfan, and Jody to Jacky. Even the show’s title was changed as well; it became ‘Cher oncle Bill’, meaning ‘Dear Uncle Bill’.
- Family Affair-Doll Sold Out – Mattel, the American toy company that created the famous Barbie doll, also mass-produced Mrs. Beasley doll in the 60s. Since Family Affair was at the height of its popularity, Mrs. Beasley was immediately sold out. After Mrs. Beasley’s success, the Company also made two versions of Buffy dolls. The larger version was a talking doll called ‘Small Talk Buffy’, while the other one was smaller and called ‘Tutti’. Each doll was also equipped with its own tiny version of a Mrs. Beasley doll.
- Initially, Mrs. Beasley Didn’t Wear Glasses – During the pilot airing of Family Affair, Mrs. Beasley did not wear glasses. The viewers started to see Mrs. Beasley’s spectacles in the second episode.
- Main Character Enjoys Long Break – Don Fedderson, one of the show’s creators and producers, was known for giving long breaks to the lead artists of his TV shows and movie. Indeed, Brian Keith (Bill Davis) enjoyed this privilege. In fact, Brian’s scenes were taped with a whopping 30-day block.
- Older Teenager. Kathy Garver (Cissy) was just required to act like a real teenager in the sitcom. In reality, however, she was already in her 20s when she appeared in Family Affair. To make her look younger, a concealer dye was sprayed onto Kathy’s hair in every taping.
- Anissa Also Applied for a Demon Child Role: Anissa Jones, or Buffy in the Family Affair, also applied for a demon-possessed child role for the 1973’s horror film ‘The Exorcist.’ However, she was not chosen for the said role. According to William Friedkin, the director of the horror movie, Anissa looked too tranquil and angelic to act like a demon child. This point might have gone against the actress, as she was typecast after the show and found it very difficult to find other work in the acting industry.
- Producer Hides Jones’ Real Age. From 1966- 1971, Anissa Jones (Buffy) must always look like a six-year-old kid. Fortunately, the production team found some tweaks to make this happen. They instructed Anissa to put a binder in her chest and always place Mrs. Beasley on her side.
- Real-life Episode. At some point, Anissa Jones got into an accident that broke her right leg. Instead of taking a break, Fedderson decided to continue the taping. He also quickly conceptualized the ‘What’s Funny About a Broken Leg?’ episode. The said episode was realistic- the props and Annisa’s acts were real!
- After Three Decades, Uncle and Niece Reunite. Brian Keith (Bill Davis) and Kathy Garver (Cissy) reunited after 30 years. This was after Brian voiced ‘Uncle Ben,’ and Kathy portrayed Ms. America in the 1994 Spider-Man animated series.
- Minor Lapses. From producers, writers, to actors, there is no doubt that Family Affair had a ‘powerhouse’ production team. However, the show still had a few ‘unchecked’ details that viewers observed. One of these was the surname difference between Bill and his three nieces (his brother’s children).
- Better Cissy and Jody. Kathy Garver (Cissy) and Johnny Whitaker (Jody) wanted to get away with the so-called ‘child star curse.’ Fortunately, they succeeded! They were not engaged in drugs nor did they succumb to alcohol addiction. Instead, they both strived harder to improve their acting skills. Their sacrifices were paid off after they were both chosen to top-bill a couple of Broadway shows. As mentioned above, though, Anissa Jones wasn’t so lucky.
While the ‘Family Affair’ show wasn’t completely free of the child star curse, it did provide hours of good, clean entertainment in its time. It might even be enjoyable for modern audiences, especially with the adorable antics of the children and the lessons given in each episode.