Behind The Scenes Of The TV Sitcom Family Affair

In 1971, Family Affair reached its fifth anniversary before being canceled without an apparent reason. The popular story that followed three orphans who lived with their uncle and butler inspired thousands of people. After the show ended unexpectedly, some people wondered what had happened to cause its cancelation

You might be surprised by some behind-the-scenes facts about the show. For example, the actors hardly ever had to work, and a few of them even took other roles. Read on to learn what really happened on the set of Family Affair.

The Writers Made The Show As Realistic As Possible

A scene shows the cast from Family Affair.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The writers of Family Affair wanted to keep the show as realistic as possible. For instance, the creators hired the President of the National Society of Professional Engineers to teach proper engineering lingo. They ensured that Uncle Bill used correct engineering terms while talking.

Kathy Garver, who played Cissy, said on Fox News that CBS wasn’t fond of this realism. “Our sitcom was a dramedy,” she said, “and they wanted something like All in the Family.” Although it was unique at the time, realism may have contributed to the show’s cancelation.

In The First Episode, Mrs. Beasley Didn’t Have Glasses

In Family Affair, Buffy holds Mrs. Beasley without glasses.
CBS
CBS

Mrs. Beasley is designed to look like a kind grandmother with her blue dress and spectacles. But in the first episode of Family Affair, Mrs. Beasley did not wear glasses. The producers included her glasses in episode two, and they never left the doll since.

Nobody knows why the director added glasses to Mrs. Beasley. Perhaps it made the doll look more like a grandmother than a young girl. Or maybe the producers wanted the doll to stand out. Either way, the doll does not look like Mrs. Beasley without her spectacles.

In France, Mr. French Had A Different Name

Mr. French holds Mrs. Beasley in an episode of Family Affair.
@ClassicMovieHub/Twitter
@ClassicMovieHub/Twitter

Family Affair was translated into several languages, including German, Italian, and Spanish. But translators ran into a problem when they adapted the show for France. The character Gilles French was called “Mr. French,” and that wouldn’t make sense to a French audience.

In response, translators renamed Mr. French to “Mr. Felix.” All of the main characters received new names; Cissy became Cecil, Buffy became Fanfan, and Jody was called Jacky. The doll’s name switched from Mrs. Beasley to “Mademoiselle Pétronille.” Remember this if you ever watch Cher oncle Bill (the show’s French name).

CBS’s “Rural Purge” Canceled Family Affair

The cast of Family Affair is pictured.
semyers/MoveStillsDB
semyers/MoveStillsDB

In the 1950s, CBS came out with several rural-themed shows, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and The Real McCoys. Despite their high ratings, vice president Michael Dann did not like these shows. He believed that younger audiences wanted stories centered in urban or suburban homes. In the 1970s, he canceled many of these programs in what is called the “rural purge.”

Believe it or not, Family Affair was part of the rural purge. Although the story took place in Manhattan, the character Bill Davis was originally from Indiana. That was enough for CBS to consider Family Affair a “rural” show.

The Brady Bunch Contributed To The Show Ending

The cast members of The Brady Bunch pose with a cake celebrating their 100th episode.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Family Affair ran from 1966 to 1971. When it reached its fifth anniversary, the show was still popular. However, popularity wouldn’t keep it on air. Eventually, it was canceled because of a scheduling conflict with The Brady Bunch.

Family Affair aired on CBS, while The Brady Bunch played on ABC. During the fifth season of Family Affair, a producer tried to move Family Affair to ABC. But ABC thought the show was too similar to The Brady Bunch. Since the show wasn’t approved for another season on CBS due to the network’s “rural purge,” it ended.

Mattel Sold Family Affair Dolls

A talking Mrs. Beasley doll is sold in her packaging.
Rebecca Wendley/Pinterest
Rebecca Wendley/Pinterest

While Family Affair aired, Mrs. Beasley became a famous doll. Many children wanted their own Mrs. Beasley. Mattel, Inc., the same company that runs American Girl, decided to profit from this. In 1967, they made a Mrs. Beasley doll.

The doll was so successful that Mattel released more Family Affair dolls. They created two Buffy dolls, one of which could talk. “Talking Buffy” came with a mini Mrs. Beasley and recited lines from the show. You can find some of these online for anywhere from $15 to $300, depending on the doll.

The Actors Had Generous Work Schedules

A promotional photo shows the cast of Family Affair.
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Don Fedderson, the show’s producer, was incredibly generous with his actor’s work schedules. While filming My Three Sons, Fred MacMurray (who played Stephen Douglas) shot seasons in 65-day blocks. He then had ten weeks of vacation time in between seasons.

The actors on Family Affair had an even more lenient schedule. Brian Keith, who played Bill Davis, filmed seasons in 30-day blocks. This allowed him to take other film roles at the same time. Whenever Keith had another role, Family Affair would be scheduled around it.

Sebastian Cabot Was Temporarily Replaced

John Williams appears on an episode of Family Affair.
CBS
CBS

Sebastian Cabot, who plays Gilles French, appears throughout most of the show. But in 1967, Cabot took an extended leave of absence after becoming ill. Veteran actor John Williams replaced him for nine episodes. He played French’s brother, “Niles” French.

The show explained Cabot’s absence by saying that Mr. French was touring with the Queen in the Commonwealth countries. Cabot later returned to the show, and the character Niles never had to come back. If you’ve ever wondered why Gilles French disappeared for a while, that’s the reason.

The Cast Has A “Curse”

The surviving cast members of Family Affair, Johnny Whitaker and Kathy Garver, appear at a reunion.
M. Caulfield/WireImage
M. Caulfield/WireImage

Although the show Family Affair was positive, real-life was not so joyful. Several actors died shortly after the show ended, which fans have called the “Cast Curse.” Today, only two of the actors are still living: Kathy Garver (Cissy) and Johnny Whitaker (Jody).

Sebastian Cabot, who played Mr. French, died of a stroke in 1977. Anissa Jones passed away at age 18 from an overdose. Brian Keith (Uncle Bill) lived happily with his family until he was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema in early 1997. After a difficult struggle, he passed away in June of that same year.

Cissy’s Actress Was A College Student At The Time

Kathy Garver (Cissy) is seen in an episode of Family Affair.
CBS
CBS

When Family Affair began, the character Cissy was supposed to be 15 years old. But the actress, Kathy Garver, was actually 20. She was a UCLA student and Pi Beta Phi sorority sister when her agent called her about the Family Affair audition.

When Garver received the call, the producers had cast all characters except for the teenager. They were looking for a blonde teenage girl, and Garver was a brunette in her 20s. She used a spray product to dye her hair blonde and auditioned. It’s amazing that she got the part!

Annisa Jones Got The Worst Of The Curse

Actress Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker peer over a fence during the filming 'Family Affair.'
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Annisa Jones, who played Buffy, was one of the show’s most famous child actors. When Family Affair ended, Jones was only 13. She was happy to no longer carry the Mrs. Beasley doll, and she wanted to act in other films. However, her life went downhill after the show’s cancelation.

After a bitter divorce, Jones’ father gained custody of her and her brother. Later, he died of heart disease, and Jones left her mother to live with a friend. She began shoplifting and engaging in substance abuse. In 1976, only five years after Family Affair finished, Jones died of an accidental overdose.

It’s In The Same Universe As Fedderson’s Other Shows

The logo for Fedderson's show My Three Sons is over cartoon legs.
CBS
CBS

The creator of Family Affair, Don Fedderson, also created a few other CBS sitcoms. He produced To Rome with Love, a show about an Iowan family that moved to Rome. He also invented My Three Sons about a widower raising three sons. Fedderson considered these shows to be in the same fictional universe as Family Affair.

Jody and Buffy made a guest appearance on To Rome with Love, in the season two episode “Roman Affair.” Four episodes later, the characters from My Three Sons appeared in the show, too.

The Writing Had Some Logic Mistakes

The main cast of Family Affair is pictured in color.
semyers/MovieStillsDB
semyers/MovieStillsDB

Although Family Affair aimed for realism, the writers still made a few mistakes. For example, Uncle Bill has a different last name than his adopted children. This would make sense, except that Bill is the brother of their father. So they should have the same last name.

In season one, Buffy and Jody were six years old. By season five, they should have been 11. But Bill makes a mistake when he references a student in their class as “a nine-year-old boy.” Eagle-eyed viewers have caught several other mistakes in the show.

Kathy Garver Wrote About Her Time On The Show

Kathy Garver's books are displayed at a Bookstore.
@Kathy_Garver/Twitter
@Kathy_Garver/Twitter

Kathy Garver is one of the few surviving actresses from Family Affair. In 2009, she published her autobiography, Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair Of Life In Hollywood. In the book, Garver details how she got all of her acting roles and what it was like behind the scenes.

Garver shed some light on how the actors felt throughout filming. According to her, Anissa Jones struggled to play a child even though she was growing into a teen. And Brian Keith had “a lot of different personalities during the show,” depending on his personal life events.

Keith And Garver Later Worked Together In Spider-Man

Spider-Man is pictured in the 1994 animated series.
WALL-Es Channel/YouTube
WALL-Es Channel/YouTube

Brian Keith and Kathy Garver got to work together again on another show. In 1994, an animated Spider-Man show aired on Fox Kids Network. Both were voice actors on the show; Keith played Ben Parker, and Garver was the superhero Miss America. The show ran for four years.

Garver later said that she and Keith were good friends during Family Affair. He enjoyed acting with the child stars and even adopted three kids of his own. The two actors remained close until Keith’s untimely death in 1997.

Anissa Jones Auditioned For The Exorcist

American actresses Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn on the set of The Exorcist
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

When Family Affair was canceled in 1971, actress Anissa Jones was 13 years old and searching for other acting roles. One of the movies that she auditioned for was The Exorcist. Several well-known child stars auditioned for the part of Regan, Jones included. But she was rejected because she was too famous.

The director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, knew that Family Affair was still a popular show. It was airing in reruns, which kept Jones in the public eye. He worried that Jones’ previous character, Buffy, was too family-friendly to work in The Exorcist.

Jones Had To Hide Her Aging

Anissa Jones poses as Buffy for a promotional photo for Family Affair.
semyers/MovieStillsDB
semyers/MovieStillsDB

When Family Affair began, Anissa Jones was eight years old. She grew a lot throughout the show’s five-year run, both mentally and physically. But producer Don Fedderson did not want Jones to look like a teenager. The costume department went through great lengths to keep her looking like a six-year-old.

The costume department eventually had to bind Jones’ chest to keep her looking young. She maintained her pink skirt, pigtails, and Mrs. Beasley. By the time the show ended, Jones was done with dressing like a six-year-old.

Family Affair Had A Remake

Cast members pose for the Family Affair remake.
Donna Padgett/Pinterest
Donna Padgett/Pinterest

Did you know that Family Affair has a modern reboot? Canadian producers Sid and Marty Krofft decided to recreate the 1966 show in 2002. The show aired on The WB, but it only had 15 episodes. The remake lasted a little over a year.

The show starred Gary Cole as Uncle Bill, Caitlin Wachs as Cissy, Sasha Pieterse as Buffy, Luke Benward as Jax, and Tim Curry as Mr. French. Two actors from the original series, Kathy Garver and Johnny Whitaker, guest-starred during the Christmas episode.

Mrs. Beasley’s Arm Once Fell Off

A Mrs. Beasley doll stands on a table.
Lena Sly/Pinterest
Lena Sly/Pinterest

The actors used the same Mrs. Beasley doll throughout five years of filming. The constant wear and tear eventually took its toll on the doll. At one point, Jones accidentally tore one of the doll’s arms off while on set. She was devastated.

Fortunately, the staff quickly worked to restore Buffy’s best friend. An employee sewed the arm back on, and the costume designers remade the doll’s dress. Jones got her favorite prop back, and viewers had no idea that anything was different about Mrs. Beasley.

Buffy’s Leg Was Actually Broken

Johnnie Whitaker and Anissa Jones appear in a scene from Family Affair.
Getty Images
Getty Images

In season four, an episode aired called “What’s Funny About a Broken Leg?” In the episode, Buffy breaks her leg while playing games with friends. The crutches and cast that you see in the show are not props. Anissa Jones actually broke her leg shortly before the episode.

In April 1969, Jones was playing at a park off-set. She fell from a playground set and broke her right leg. Instead of ignoring the injury, the producers wrote it into the show. Unfortunately, Jones re-broke her leg four months later while on a beach trip.