Friday, July 19, 2013

Family Affair ( 1966-1971 )

This is back-to-back blogathon week...the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon is coming to a close and on July 15th the Classic TV Association begun the Me-TV Blogathon, a celebration of classic television shows now airing on Me-TV. Family Affair was my choice of series mainly because it features such memorable characters, an uplifting tempo, and such a great opening theme!

From its sparkling kaleidoscopic beginning Family Affair draws us into a wonderful fantasy world of Park Avenue penthouses, gentlemen's gentlemen, and New York City life as seen from the eyes of a child. A world where all domestics are British, Central Park is only 30 yards long, and celebrities like Joan Blondell live in the room upstairs. 

Family Affair told the story of a handsome New York City bachelor who becomes the guardian of his nieces and nephew - twins Buffy and Jody, and their older sister Cissy ( and Mrs. Beasley ) - when their parents suddenly die in a car accident. William Davis ( played by Brian Keith ....sigh ), the head of the Davis engineering firm, finds that he has to put his playboy wooing on hold to ween the little ones. At first he hopes playing nanny to the youngsters is a temporary position, but by the end of the first episode he comes to adore his brood and deems Mr. French ( Sebastian Cabot ), his very own gentlemen's gentlemen, their part-time protector. 

Interestingly enough, Uncle Bill didn't have to put his romancing on hold for very long. Mr. French proved to be an excellent babysitter ( "a baby...sitter??!! Oh no sir, I could never stoop to that most undignified position!" ) and Davis' many dates were welcome distractions from the story-plots centering around the twins. 

                            


Family Affair first aired on September 14, 1966 and continued on for five seasons. It originally played on CBS at 9:30-10pm on Monday nights but then was moved to Monday evenings at 7pm. It's spectacularly bejeweled opening credits hailed the fact that it was in COLOR, one of the first series to be filmed entirely in color. The show was an enormous success and, as was the case with all hit television series, a slew of merchandise was released by toy companies and the like to feed off of the popularity of the dramatic comedy. There were Family Affair paper dolls, jigsaw puzzles, magic-slates, alarm clocks ( ! ), Viewmaster reels, Whitman coloring books and comics, a Milton Bradley board game entitled "Where's Mrs.Beasley?" and the crown jewel of them all : Mattel's Mrs.Beasley doll. Now little Buffys all across America were able to have their very own freckle-faced bespectacled doll to dress up, sleep with, adorn with "genuine orange glass beads" ( quick hide them! ), or even drop from their apartment balcony. Hasbro missed the boat and should of released a Mr. French potato head, complete with a derby, cane, removal mustache and a beard snood. 




If it wasn't enough fun to cut out and play with scantily clad paper dolls of Jody, Buffy and Cissy, the Cinderella and Tom Sawyer clothing companies released a line of Buffy and Jody clothing wear. Brightly colored shirts and richly patterned mod dresses were made to resemble the two munchkin's wardrobe as seen on your new colored television...all moderately priced at $1.80 - $8.95.  



If you didn't have a colored television, then you were all the more amazed when you saw the brilliant colors professionally modeled by the mannequins at your local mall. Unfortunately, since the show was aimed towards the younger set no clothing manufacturer released a Cissy line of wear. Shucks. She really did have the most chic outfits. 

Family Affair was cleverly structured so that the show appealed to not only the kindergarten-set but to tweens, teens, ( there were a number of flower-power themed episodes ) and their parents and grandparents. I'm sure many a mother was more than happy to sit down with her little ones to watch an episode of Family Affair and ogle over Brian Keith. British domestics didn't warm to the show however.



Illustrious guest stars were also a drawing feature. Family Affair boasted some of the best guest stars in any TV series of the era - Martha Hyer, Dana Andrews, June Lockhart, Ann Sothern, Paul Fix, Rita Gam, Nancy Kovack, and Lee Merriwether, to name a few. 



Some actors appeared as semi-regulars : John Williams, the superb English character actor, took over as Mr. Davis' manservant "Niles French" for nine episodes while Cabot was healing a broken wrist; Betty Lynn, best known for her role as Barney Fife's girlfriend, Thelma Lou, on The Andy Griffith Show, was Bill Davis' private secretary during the first season; and who can forget dear Mrs. Faversham, played by the lovely Heather Angel, whose voice is familiar even today to thousands of youngsters who hear her voice-over as Mrs. Darling in Walt Disney's Peter Pan. 



As an engineer, Uncle Bill traveled the world ( via rear-projected screens ) to exotic locales such as Rio de Janiero, Rome, England, and Japan. On several occasions the family came along too, which was reason enough to create a two-part episode around it. There was their adventure in Spain ( "Lost in Spain" ) and a vacation in Tahiti ( "Family in Paradise" ). The Brady Bunch would later follow suit and pack their bags for a two-part Hawaiian vacation. Such copycats.



The original premise of the show included a six year old girl, a 10 year old boy, and a 16 year old girl as the three Davis children. When Brian Keith was signed to play Bill Davis he asked to have Johnny Whittaker, whom he had played with in The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming to test for a part. They had formed a rapport and he knew Whittaker to be a good child actor and wanted to see him have a part in Family Affair, even if it be for only a guest appearance.


However, it was apparent from the screen tests that Alissa Jones and Johnny Whittaker had an exceptional bond and so the characters of Jody and Buffy were rewritten to be six year old twins. 

THE CAST

Anissa Jones was 9 years old when Family Affair began ( almost 3 years older than Whittaker ) and did not want to be apart of the series. Her mother had pushed her into show business while acting was the last thing she wanted to do. By 1976, at the age of 18, she had fallen in with the "wrong crowd" and was found dead on August 28th, of a drug overdose. 



Johnny Whittaker went on to do many other guest appearances after Family Affair as well as star in Walt Disney's 1973 musical Tom Sawyer. The death of his "sister" Anissa Jones made him re-analyze his priorities and goals in his life. He became a voluteer missionary in Portugal for two years,  and in 1997 he became a licensed drug counselor to help others overcome their addiction, after overcoming his own bout with dependency on dope. He is also the head of his own computer consulting firm. 


Mr. French was admirably played by Sebastian Cabot, a Shakespearean actor of the highest caliber. On the set, Johnny Whittaker recalls Cabot as being not unlike Mr. French - strictly business but capable of showing emotion when pushed to the extreme. The rotund Brit gained fame on television as Dr. Carl Hyatt in Checkmate, as well as numerous film appearances from the 1940s through 1970s. He also did many voice-overs for animated characters, notably as the narrator of the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons and as Begheera in Walt Disney's classic The Jungle Book. 

Kathy Garver was 20 years old when she got the role as 16-year old Cissy. Like Whittaker, she got her start as a child performing bit parts in films such as Crusader ( opposite Brian Keith ), I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Ten Commandments ( as an exodus slave ) and The Bad Seed. Today she continues to keep busy in television and film, as well as a doing numerous voice-overs for cartoon programs. She is also president of the Family Affair Foundation which provides reading companions to the elderly. 




Brian Keith was one of the most underrated of actors during his career ( and still is ) but he ranks number 5 on my Top Movie/TV Dads list and its really no wonder! The ruggedly handsome star loved children in real life, which was evident in every episode of Family Affair where he snuggled and gave piggy-back rides to the sugary-sweet moppets on a daily basis. He was an A-picture star since the mid-1950s, notably in westerns such as Arrowhead, Fort Dobbs, The Rare Breed, and Nevada Smith.


Keith was also extremely adept at comedy and Walt Disney snagged him for over six different feature films, his most famous being the father of Susan and Sharon in The Parent Trap.  Later he starred in The Brian Keith Show, The Zoo Gang ( excellent series by the way ), and Hardcastle and McCormack. In 1997 he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while suffering from grief over the death of his 27-year old daughter. Keith was strikingly handsome, even if he did wear a toupee.





THE FEDDERSON FORMULA


Don Fedderson, the producer and creator of Family Affair, had a unique style, or rather, a "feel" to all of his productions. They were never quite conventional. Fedderson's first major television hit was My Three Sons ( 1960-1972 ) starring Fred MacMurray. Some aspects of what became the Fedderson Formula may have stemmed from this show. MacMurray, a shrewd businessman and also a man who enjoyed his semi-retirement, was willing to sign to a television series on the condition that he only had to work 3 months rather than the usual 8 months per season. Fedderson did not want the series to have episodes that did not feature MacMurray, hence they would film all the scenes that he was featured in during the three month period. The rest of the cast continued to work the remaining season, finishing all the episodes that they had begun with MacMurray. 



The filming structure required scripts to be completed months in advance, as well as detailed storyboards to make sure the actors would be speaking their lines in conjunction with the scenes filmed with MacMurray so he would not have to be called back on set. Sometimes it was apparent that the cast members were speaking to a cardboard figure or a stand-in rather than the actor they were supposed to be addressing. But... amazingly enough, the formula worked! So well in fact, that Family Affair followed the same filming structure. All of Brian Keith's scenes were filmed in advance with the cast, and then he got to enjoy a hiatus for the rest of the season. 



Also similar to My Three Sons, and a major style element of the Fedderson Formula, Family Affair was not a "happy ending" show. Unlike other series at the time, it realistically portrayed that life has its ups and downs and we can't always expect events to fall in place in our favor within a short period of time. 

The show tackled real-life issues in an engaging and entertaining way. Buffy faced the blossoming of love's first buds ( "A Dillar, A Dollar" ) and the disappointment of waiting to join the Brownies ( "The Candy Striper" ). Jody had to face that Buffy was a better stick-ball player than he ( "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" ), falling in love with his substitute teacher ( "The Substitute Teacher" ) and the delicate task of clipping Mr. French's whiskers for a school dare ( "By A Whisker" ). Cissy felt the pressure of getting married when she realized that all her friends were already engaged ( "With This Ring" ), the desire to have her own apartment ( "Cissy's Apartment" ), to be a hippie ("Flower Power" ) and even the inevitable act of falling in love with "love" ( "A Waltz from Vienna" ). 



Mr. French's dilemma's were the most amusing, from his embarrassment at being a mere "gentlemen's gentlemen" ( "A Man's Place")  to his attempts to play King Henry VIII in a film production ( "My Man, the Star" ) and his disappointment at being used as a pawn by a young woman trying to attract Uncle Bill ( "Speak for Yourself, Mr.French" ).  

Whereas Buffy and Jody are taught to respect their elders, behave nicely, and be gentle to all, the children they bring home from school are often bad-influences. ( Aren't they all? ) These characters were created as foils for our little cherubs. In "A Matter of Privacy" naughty Norman tells Jody it's okay to spy on others and bug their private conversations, "Why my dad does it all the time! He says it's standard business today. You guys are just squares!" In reply to which Jody and Buffy would simple stare back blank-faced. 

Perhaps the children didn't always react to situations the way normal kids would, but they reminded us of how we should behave to one another, even as adults. Jody always considered Buffy his best friend and if his school chums didn't want to include her in their games then Jody would back out too. A chivalrous little fella he was. 




Cissy always put family first as well and never was afraid to disagree with her friends when they spoke a word against Uncle Bill or her siblings. The children always knew that what Uncle Bee-yul told them to do or not to do was right and they faithfully held to it, even when they didn't understand the reasoning behind it. 

Love was the underlying theme of Family Affair. It was a gentle show and love permeated through every episode. In spite of people wronging them or hurting their pride they always held fast to doing the right thing, whether it brought them a reward or not in the end. 





The appeal of the show continues on and the adventures of Buffy, Jody, Cissy, Uncle Bill and Mr.French still to bring smiles and squeals of glee to viewers today. Family Affair truly is an affair worth remembering. 


FUN AFFAIR TRIVIA 


Frank De Vol, the composer of the jaunty opening theme, had also created the theme music to a number of Doris Day comedies ( Send Me No Flowers, Move Over Darling ) as well as many television series, including My Three SonsGidget, and The Brady Bunch. 


The original Mrs. Beasley was mysteriously sacked after the first two episodes and it is in fact her replacement that becomes the star of the series. Which is just as well really, because she is much more attractive. 

Ashton-Drake Collectibles makes a genuine replica of the Mrs. Beasley doll, yours to cuddle and clasp for only $99.99. ( Gasp! ) This gal is really Cheryl Ladd in disguise and she speaks 11 different phrases. 

Gregg Fedderson, Don Fedderson's son, often appeared as Cissy's boyfriend, Gregg..in one episode they almost got married because they were so compatible - "compatible" meaning they liked the same records and the same hamburgers.

In 2002 a remake of Family Affair was made with Tim Curry in the starring role as Giles French. The show was cringingly bad and flopped after 15 episodes. 



TOP 5 FAVORITE EPISODES


Here's some of my top picks. Actually, almost every episode of the show is good and has something special about it but these seemed to stand out from amongst the rest. 




The Thursday Man ( Episode 13, Season 1 ) 

Cissy writes a report on Mr. French for a school project but when her teacher asks to make it more thorough she realizes she doesn't really know much about Mr. French and attempts to delve into his past...with disastrous results. 

This is a very interesting episode. Mr. French's past life is hinted at thoughout the series but this is the first time Cissy takes an active part in actually spying to find out more about him. French reminds me of an old man my sister and I use to know, whom we dubbed "Toot-Toot". He too had a mysterious past that we tried to delve into and got burned in the process. A valuable lesson on respecting others privacy is the moral of the story in this episode.



The Candy Striper ( Episode 6, Season 2 ) 

Cissy wants to join her friend and become a volunteer nurse at the local hospital, only trouble is she is below age and wonders whether she is mature enough to handle the responsibility. Meanwhile, Buffy wishes to join the Girl Scouts and finds that she too is below age. 

Many of the episodes of Family Affair featured parallel plots; the situation that was troubling Buffy, Jody or Cissy was often very similar to a predicament Uncle Bill or Mr. French was facing. This provided entertainment for different age levels. In "First Love" Buffy finds that she likes a boy at school several grades older than her and even when she realizes he is less than perfect, she finds she still has feelings for him. Uncle Bill was facing a similar situation having tried to pursue an attractive engineer only to find she was engaged to be married. This is another of those parallel episodes, with Buffy wanting to become a Brownie and realizing she is not old enough, and Cissy's attempts to be a candy-stripper and facing her doubts on whether she is mature enough too. The moral of the story here is don't be fooled into volunteer work by the allure of a pretty outfit. 




Star Dust ( Episode 14, Season 2 ) 

A beautiful Hollywood actress falls in love with Uncle Bill and has designs for marriage...everyone is happy with the idea - except Uncle Bill. 

This is mainly a personal favorite because it features Martha Hyer, a wonderful ( and beautiful ) actress who rarely did television guest appearances. I have a notion she did this one as a special favor for Brian Keith. Sometimes there are win-win situations in life and sometimes lose-lose ones....in this case, all parties were disappointed.



A Family Group ( Episode 15, Season 3 ) 

Cissy's friend from school boasts how wonderful being the daughter of famous stage actors can be, hobnobbing with personalities such as Laurence Olivier and the pride of being on one's own. Secretly, she desires the home life that Cissy is blessed to have.

Cissy always has school friends over for a weekend or just to spend a night. She was a popular gal! In this episode, she realizes just how special her home life is...not that she ever lost sight of that, but little events can reinforce your appreciation of the small things in life. 



The Wings of An Angel ( Episode 2, Season 4 ) 

Uncle Bill brings home an engineering friend who has recently been released from serving five years in prison. The children take kindly to him until they find out he has served sentence. They must then realize that he has paid his debts once and for all and should not be treated as an outcast.

Another personal favorite because it features that wonderful wonderful man, Dana Andrews. Andrews was one of the leading men of Hollywood from the 1940s-1950s, and although he still made a number of films in the 1960s his career was declining. It is rather to sad to see him looking so gaunt here. He was an alcoholic for many years and it obviously was taking a toll on his appearance in the early 1970s. 
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I want to give a shout-out to Amy, the author of Embarrassing Treasures blog who is doing the definitive Family Affair coverage on every episode made. ( Like wow, Scoob! ) I only discovered her website last night while feverishly searching for photos ( I snitched some of them ) but will return tonight to read her reviews in depth. They are too good to miss! 

This post is part of Me-TV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also click here to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out! I'm always glad to find another person who appreciates the warmth and charm of Family Affair (and the rugged hunk of manhood that is Brian Keith).

    Since my posts look at Family Affair episode by episode, they lack the overall perspective on the series that you provide so well here.

    I like your favorite episode choices, especially The Thursday Man, a great French episode, and The Candy Striper, which made a huge impression on me as a child.


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    1. Yes, I'm a Family Affair freak and absolutely adore the show...I had to choose the The Candy Striper as a top fav, that is a classic! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you write up another Family Affair episode tonight, I'll be a loyal Friday viewer of your blog from now on ( actually ANY day..you got some great book picks too! ).

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  2. Wow, what an in-depth, interesting article on FAMILY AFFAIR! As a sporadic FA viewer, I didn't know that John Williams spent several episodes as Niles French (what relation was he to Giles?) nor that Don Fedderson created both FAMILY AFFAIR and MY THREE SONS. The series tie-in products you mentioned were great(the pictured paper dolls are a hoot!) My favorite character was always Mr. French--who wouldn't want a reliable gentleman's gentleman/babysitter/all-around good guy around the house?

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    1. Thanks Rick..and thanks for hosting the blogathon! You know, I'm not sure what relation Niles is to Giles...my memory fails me there, but I believe he was referred to as a "cousin". Quite believable. Wish I had some of those paper dolls around the house, I'd like to see how Cissy's outfits fit on Mr. French.

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  3. Amy is a much braver blogger than I can ever hope to be. I had one or two people suggest that I dissect the series in the manner of Mayberry Mondays or the current Doris Day(s) at my blog...but I knew I couldn't put up with more than one season of the sticky sweetness that is Family Affair.

    My reason for loathing this show is legend: my sister Kat loved it when we were growing up, and my mother insisted I sit down and watch it with her. Either she was a sadist or she wanted me to give her a shout in case Cissy did a strip tease or something. So that's sort of what scarred me with regards to the show...and yet I did take the time to buy all five seasons of the sitcom when it was released to DVD. (I'm just odd that way.)

    A good many years back, I remember watching some game show on TV that was on the wee a.m. hours (I was a night auditor for a motel) and both Kathy Garver and Johnny Whittaker were on it, competing for charity money. Garver wiped the studio floor with her ex-TV brother -- it was so embarrassing I felt sorry for the guy; he didn't seem to know the answer to the simplest questions and all I could do was shake my head and mutter: "I hope he saved some of that Family Affair dough."

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    1. Awwww...that's a shame, Ivan. Like spinach, the things that our parents make us do ( or eat )in childhood often has lifelong repercussions. I hope you change your mind about the show ( if not, keep us in mind when you decide to sell your Family Affair collection!! )

      Actually I was going to mention in this post how my sister and I only started watching FA several years ago ( when we were in our early 20s )and didn't like it. We didn't understand why the camera paused on the actors faces for soooo long and why there were delays in their replies. I couldn't resist seeing the opening credits and Uncle Bill's fab apartment again so we watched another episode..and another...and another....by the tenth one we were hooked for life. It really is a great show! Now I'd like to take a second gander at My Three Sons ( another Fedderson show I didn't "get" ).

      Whittaker said once that Anissa Jones death ( drug overdose ) made him wonder about what direction his own life was taking. So what did he do? He took to drugs too. Hmm.... that tells volumes. Jody never was the sharpest knife in the drawer, now was he?

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  4. I love your post! Very engaging and thorough. I've added a link to it from my post.

    I never knew about the paper dolls. Somehow I don't think Mr. French would approve of having a paper doll in his likeness -- he was so guarded about his privacy. Although he didn't mind the marmalade ad.

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    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Your review was very entertaining too! I thought it was very thoughtful of the printers of those paper dolls to respect Mr. French's modesty - he is the only character they left fully dressed!

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  5. I grew up watching this series--and always had a crush on Johnnie Whitaker. Much to my delight--he made a guest appearance in the Christmas episode of the horrible 2002 remake of FAMILY AFFAIR. How's that for weird trivia!? LOL Thanks for writing this post.

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    1. I didn't know that! I wonder what he thought of the new portrayal of the Davis family.

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  6. After all these years, if I run across an episode of "Family Affair" I find after a few seconds I can recall the entire episode from my kiddie days. It's amazing what things stay with us through the years.

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    1. That's a testament to how memorable the show is ( I guess ). Or else, you just have a great memory!

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    1. Yes indeedee, there is something about the show that leaves lasting memories, good ones too.

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  8. What ever happened to the caricatures of Uncle Bill, Buffy, Jody and Mr. French, that Sissy (suposedly) drew of them for an art exhibit entitled "Members of The Family" of them for an episode of "A Family Affair"? I just got done watching it on METV.

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    1. That's a good question. I've often wondered what became of drawings ( and paintings ) that we see on movies and TV shows. As a matter of fact, I was planning on writing a post on just that very topic later this month. Not that I will have any insight to give you into the whereabouts of Mr. French's likeness..but you may enjoy the post regardless!

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  9. Just recently bought the complete series on DVD, it's a great way to relive the TV past (because so much TV today is garbage!). FA debuted 8 weeks before I was born and the first time I recall seeing the show was when I was 3...and was instantly smitten by the incredibly-cute-and-adorable Buffy (Cissy was way too old for me). By that time, in real-life, Anissa Jones was 12. Once the series ended, I never heard about Anissa again until hearing about her death. Only recently have I wondered how or why such a tragedy came along, and the more I find, the sadder it gets. No child should have to endure such typecasting or exclusion...especially on top of a very bad home life. Sometimes I wonder what her life could've been like if things were different, but we'll never know. Anissa deserved far better than what she got.

    Within a year, both Elvis and Sebastian Cabot (actors with whom Anissa worked) would be dead as well (both within 6 days of each other), followed by Brian Keith in 1997...from suicide. Anissa was preceded in death by her father John (1974, heart disease); following her were brother Paul (1984, overdose) and, finally, her mother Paula (2010, no cause given).

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    1. Yes, Anissa's death was a tragic reminder of how manipulative some "stage mothers" could be. It's ironic that a show that brings to mind so many happy childhood memories for its fans, was such a sad period of time for its star. And yes, you're quite right...watching the series on DVD now is a great way to spend an evening and relive TV past. Some might say it was a children's program, but my sister and I are in our mid-twenties now and we still enjoy watching Family Affair!

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