Family Affair’s Kathy Garver Opens Up About The Cast Curse

Bad Blood

They may have been colleagues for years while on the show, but Garver had bad blood with a former Family Affair costar, until very recently.

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One After The Other

Kathy Garver played Johnny Whitaker’s older sister on the 1960’s sitcom Family Affair for five years straight. In the over 50 years they’ve known each other, their televised, on-screen family has been through numerous ups and downs, but it seems this particular show had its cast members end up in the most unfortunate circumstances. Over five centuries have passed since the show ended, and since then three of the leading actors have died, leaving only Garver and Whitaker as surviving cast members.

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Dropping Like Dominoes

The show centered around three charming, orphaned kids from Terre Haute, Indiana, who moved to Manhattan to live with their Uncle Bill and his butler, Giles French. However, there was more to the show than meets the eye. Once the curtains closed for the last time, horrible endings awaited the actors of the once optimistic show. It seemed the stars were dropping like dominoes, and there was no way of knowing who was going to go down next.

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Psychological Problems

As the show progressed, the stars acting have significantly changed their appearances – and producer Don Fedderson was not happy about this transformation one bit. The character he desperately wanted to stay exactly the same was Anissa Jones, and her aging was becoming a problem. Dealing with adolescent humans proved to be a little more difficult for Fedderson, who eventually ordered the costume designed to bind Jones’ chest so that she would still look like a six-year-old. This later created psychological problems for the young star.

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Less Promising By The Minute

Anissa Jones spent most of her acting career playing the archetypal dainty little girl – but as she matured, her future seemed less promising by the minute. Jones did not know how to handle growing up in the limelight and consequently started hanging around with the wrong crowd. At a very young age, she sought external, illegal substances to make her feel better about herself, something she had trouble doing ever since Family Affair ended. Subsequently, Jones dropped out of high school. Jones died from an overdose when she was 18.

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Needed To Be Protected

Fox411 interviewed Family Affair star Kathy Garver, who commented on the horrible, untimely death of Jones, saying: “When the show ended she really wanted nothing more to do with show business… Child stars really are so vulnerable and need to be protected. She was whipped off every weekend to do PR and she was 8-years-old when she started the series. Five years later in the top ten, she’s 13 and she’s still carrying around a little doll with her hair in pigtails and short skirts.”

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It Was Too Late

Garver tried to help Anlisa, but couldn’t. “I really reached out and went to her 18th birthday party and her mother had come up to me and said, ‘You know I wish you could spend some time with Anlisa because she’s in the wrong crowd.’ And that crowd was taking [illegal substances]. Unfortunately, I had to go away for a project and didn’t get back for two months, and in that time she had died.” If only Anlisa would have hung out with a different crowd…

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Shocking Cut

A successful show with high ratings and only five seasons in the making would never get canceled these days. Finding something that works for such a diverse audience is practically a goldmine for studios around the world. However, in the early 1970s, CBS made a shocking decision to cut all shows that felt too rural-based, and Family Affair got the ax. The concept behind “rural purge” was that the network wanted to draw in more urban audiences, and in order to do so, they needed to speak their language.

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Above The Rest

Brian Keith played Bachelor-uncle-turned-unwilling-parent Bill Davis. Although his character may have seemed unhappy at times during the show, Keith was happy as a clam offset, seeing as how he had a pretty sweet work schedule, thanks to executive producer Don Fedderson who was remarkably generous when it came to the careers of his leading men. Keith filmed his scenes as Uncle Bill in 30-day blocks, which enabled him to take more roles. The rest of the cast would shoot around Keith’s schedule.

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Did What He Wanted

Kathy Garver spoke of her former co-star Keith and said there was no knowing what the talented actor had up his sleeve. “Brian would come in and say, ‘Oh what do we have today? Let me see the scene, uh-huh, uh-huh, let’s go!’ So he was very improvisational, motion of the moment”. Keith was quite the opposite of co-star Sebastian Cabot, who “was more from the classical style and he would take home his script, and he would dutifully look at every single word and have it to perfection.”

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His Body Betrayed Him

As he grew older, Keith’s body began to betray him. The formerly all smiles stand-up guy turned into a shadow of a man. He suffered from emphysema and was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was a devastating blow considering he had quit smoking ten years earlier due to the diagnosis. Keith was a heavy smoker when he was younger and had even appeared in an endorsement campaign in 1955 for Camel cigarettes. It did not look as though things were about to get better for the beloved actor.

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Too Much To Bear

On June 24, 1997, Keith was found dead in his home in Malibu, California. Keith died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Many speculated the reason for his suicide, claiming it had to do with the fact two months prior to his death, his daughter Daisy took her own life, that he had financial problems, and that he suffered from depression throughout his final days. Some argued that since Keith knew he was reaching the end of his life any way he decided to take things into his own hands.

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Join His Daughter

Keith left his fans, family, and friends heartbroken, as many were not ready to handle his loss. However, even in his final decision, Keith thought of others and made sure to leave a short note to explain why he did what he did and explain why his act should comfort some. “Now it’s time for me to join our little Daisy,” he wrote. “She needs me. She didn’t want to be without me here, so she’ll have me again over there.”

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Regaining Control

Fox411 asked former costar Kathy Garver about losing Keith and what she thought of his decision to end his life. “He was given two weeks to live,” she said in a matter-of-fact manner, maintaining a frank expression on her face. “He was always in charge of his life, and he was going to be in charge of his own death.” People might not agree with Keith’s decision to end his life, but this was his way of regaining control over his own body.

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School Dropout

Sebastian Cabot left school at the age of 14 to work in a car garage, but despite the major decision to drop out of school, the young Brit was indecisive of what he wanted to do with his life. After a while, he began to show interest in theatre, and so he joined a repertory company. Cabot needed to get his career rolling, so he lied on his resume and pretended to have acting experience. In a much later interview, Cabot admitted he believes acting was very much like lying.

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Fired On The Spot

Ironically, Cabot from fired on his first day in a show called On The Spot, after the producers found out that Cabot never attended any drama school. Cabot turned to an agency for representation, and with every audition, his acting was getting better and better. As his skills increased, he received significantly more call-backs, and finally, he landed the role of Mr. Giles French on Family Affair. After the show ended, Cabot was a well-known actor celebrated in his field.

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Replaced With Another

However, good health was not in the cards for the gifted artist. Cabot had to frequently miss out on tapings of episodes on account of being seriously ill. In fact, he even had to be temporarily replaced when he could not arrive at the set for an extended amount of time. It was the veteran English actor, John Williams, who had to step in to play the part of Mr. French’s brother, Niles. Williams ended up covering for Cabot for nine episodes.

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Premature Death

Sadly, it seemed that the rumored curse of the Family Affair stars was put on Cabot, too. While his premature death was not a result of self-infliction, Cabot still left this world a lot younger than he should have, denying his fans from enjoying more work from the skilled actor. Cabot passed away in August 1977 at the age of 59. Having suffered from ill health throughout his entire Family Affair career, the end came when Cabot had a fatal stroke. This was his second stroke in three years.

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Spiral Out Of Control

Sadly, the hardships didn’t end with Jones. In fact, they were just beginning. Johnny Whitaker, much like his on-screen sister Jones, began taking illegal substances as he grew older. A decade after his divorce in 1988, Whitaker became hooked on the substances, and his life began to spiral out of control. He felt helpless and could not find a way out of the dark abyss that became his life, and soon, the addiction would ruin both his professional acting career, as well as his finances.

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Almost Penniless

“Johnny Whitaker, Jody, had his issues,” said Fox411 interviewer to actress Garver. The latter replied: “Yes, he was almost penniless after the show and then he was depressed and divorced after a year and a half,” she explained. Because he felt as if life could not get much worse than that, Whitaker “[took illegal substances and drank] alcohol and his family said, ‘Look, you get off alcohol, or we’re going to divorce you as a family.’ So he did, and now he helps people [battle their addiction]”.

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Slippery Slope

Knowing what it’s like heading down that slippery slope of addiction, Whittaker decided to take the tools he acquired and use his experience to help out others. He became a counselor for addicts at the Tarzana Treatment Centers in California’s San Fernando Valley but still felt as though that was not enough. He selflessly started a non-profit for Spanish-speaking substance abusers, where he volunteers to this very day and works with the homeless to get them back on their feet.

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Remembered Forever

Anissa Jones’ short career as a child star and the tragic way in which she had died later landed her a spot in pop culture history. A Canadian band called The Diodes wrote a song about the poor girl and referenced her loss in their 1978 hit song titled “Child Star.” Five years after that song came out, Angel & The Reruns repeated the trick with “Buffy Come Back.” Despite passing at such a young age, Jones still had an impact on many people.

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She Knew Him Better

Maureen O’Hara, the famously red-headed actress and singer known for playing passionate but sensible heroines, stated in an interview that she didn’t believe Keith committed suicide. O’Hara explained the Keith had a large gun collection he often enjoyed cleaning, which could have accidentally gone off when he was shining it. O’Hara insisted she had just visited Keith and found that he was in good spirits. She also added that he would not have committed suicide as it went against his Catholic beliefs.

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Ridiculously Outspoken

Kathy Garver, who co-starred on Family Affair as Keith’s teenaged niece, Cissy, claimed that Keith had said: “I’m a cultural Irishman, don’t you know, I’m a cultural Irishman.” Garver explained this odd comment: “He went through many manifestations and changes of character, during the five years that we shot. At first, he was up and then his second year, he was going through a divorce, and then, the third year, he met somebody else.” The ever-shifting Keith was always very outspoken.

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“I Get Hard To Live With”

Not many of his fans knew this, but Keith spoke fluent Russian, which landed him several roles as a Russian. The first was as a Soviet scientist in the film Meteor (1979) with Natalie Wood, and the second was of a Soviet Premier in the NBC miniseries World War III (1982) with Rock Hudson. Keith explained why he enjoyed challenging himself professionally, saying: “I get tired of sitting home and doin’ nothing … And when that happens, I get hard to live with. Then this thing came along. I read it. I liked it.”

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If Only

Talented actor Brian Keith passed at the too-young age of 75. Before he ended his life, he was quoted saying he had high hopes for the future, which led many to believe his death was not a suicide after all. “If I live to be a hundred,” he said, “and I hope I do, I won’t have time to read all the books I want to read or talk to the people I want to know. Not party talk. That’s a waste of time. Real talk.”

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Canceled Shortly

A revival of the tremendously successful show Family Affair was made and aired from September 2002 to March 2003. This renewed version lasted for 16 episodes, out of which only 14 were aired. The one-hour pilot had satisfying ratings, but it was the subsequent episode, and those that followed that declined against competition such as Survivor, Friends, and WWF Smackdown. Original cast members Johnny Whitaker and Kathy Garver even appeared in the Christmas special, but the show was canceled shortly after.

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Non-Other Than…

Those who made sure never to miss an episode of Family Affair must have noticed that in some episodes, a voice was heard opening the show by saying, “Good evening, so nice of you to join us.” The same voice was later heard closing the episode by calling out that “It’s been very good of you to watch and we do hope to see you again next week on Family Affair“. The voice heard politely greeting the viewers was non-other than the great Sebastian Cabot!

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What A Small World

Whitaker began his professional acting career at the outstandingly young age of three. Whitaker appeared in a television commercial for a local used car dealer, and was discovered for the adorable frizzy-haired boy he was. Come 1965, Whitaker originated the character of Scotty Baldwin in the soap General Hospital. A year later, Whitaker landed a role in a major feature film titled The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. This film also starred actor Brian Keith, who would later play Whitaker’s uncle in Family Affair.

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A Very Different Path

After Family Affair, Whitaker’s most prominent film role was the lead in the musical version of Tom Sawyer, which came out in 1973. After Whitaker graduated from high school, he spent two years in Portugal doing missionary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Whitaker later joined his sister’s Los Angeles talent agency, Whitaker Entertainment, in search of something that felt familiar. Shorty, Whitaker became the manager of actress Dana Plato, who played the role of Kimberly Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes.

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Devastating Heartbreak

Whitaker married Symbria Wright in 1984. Unfortunately, what started off as a classic love tale ended in devastating heartbreak, as Symbria divorced Whitaker four years after the two said “I do,” only to marry one of Whitaker’s best friends. It was this same friend who threw Whitaker’s bachelor party, which Whitaker confessed led him to abuse illegal substances and alcohol for nine years. “That was what I called the precipitous event which caused me to lose faith in God and faith in myself and whatever else,” he said.

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Mr. French Was “Mr. Felix” In France

It should come as no surprise that the characters were named differently in different countries. For example, in France, Cissy, Buffy, and Jody were Cecile, Fanfan, and Jacky, respectively. While Mrs. Beasley was known as “Mademoiselle Pétronille.” However, it was Mr. French who had the most standout name change. Despite being called Mr. French, he was actually English, and as a result, became “Mr. Felix.” The only character whose name wasn’t changed was Uncle Bill.

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In The Same Universe As Other Shows

There are many shows that happen to share the same universe. Take Cheers and Frasier, for example. Family Affair is another example, seeing that it was created by producer Don Fedderson. He also had a heavy hand in shows such as My Three Sons and To Rome with Love. Ultimately, the shows became linked when Jody and Buffy appeared in the latter. Just two episodes after their surprise cameo, a couple of characters from My Three Sons appeared.

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Nearly Came Back

Every single fan of Family Affair was completely devastated when the show was abruptly canceled. It seemed unreasonable, especially since it was so popular. However, it was with a heavy heart that ABC terminated the show’s run. In fact, shortly after the show came to an end, the network was planning on bringing it back and making some more episodes. Nevertheless, due to the success of the similar show The Brady Bunch, they had a sudden change of heart.

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Show Had Its Own Doll Line

One of the biggest selling points of Family Affair was Buffy’s beloved doll Mrs. Beasley. Due to its increasing popularity and connection to the show, Mattel ended up releasing a line of the doll in the late 60s. Not only did it make a lot of money from Mrs. Beasley, but Mattel also unveiled two dolls of Buffy. One was a talking Buffy told, and even had its own mini Mrs. Beasley.

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An Engineer Wrote The Script?

It seems like the creators of Family Affair were very aware of making the show as realistic as possible. One example of this could be seen in Bill’s profession on the show. He was a successful engineer, which was ultimately the reason that he had a good home as well as a big family. As a result, the producers got an actual engineer, the president of the National Society of Professional Engineers at the time, as a consultant for the script.

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Mrs. Beasley Didn’t Have Glasses In Pilot

One of the Mrs. Beasley’s most defining features were her glasses. However, if you go back far enough, specifically to the show’s first episode, you will realize that she looked a little differently. That’s right folks. The doll didn’t actually have specs in the pilot. It was only in the second episode that the producers decided to apply black spectacles to Buffy’s doll. It was a last minute decision and one that certainly paid off in the long run.

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The Kids Had Different Surnames

What casual fans might not realize is that the kids, Buffy and Jody, weren’t the son and daughter of Bill. They were actually the offspring of his brother. At first, the characters were not called “Davis” and had different surnames. They went by the name of Patterson. As the show went on, they ended up being known as Patterson Davis, and it may have been small tidbit, but it was certainly something that was easy to overlook.

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“Niles” Filled In For Giles

It would not take long before Sebastian Cabot had to take time off, after contracting an illness. His character was important to the show, so in order to keep things as smooth as possible, British actor John Williams temporarily filled in for the role, playing the brother of Cabot’s character, Giles. Although he did a pretty good job as the fairly similar “Niles,” Cabot eventually returned to the set and it is his character that fans remember best.

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Cissy And Jody Are Stage Actors

Like many talented actors, the cast of Family Affair has starred in much more than just TV shows. Take the two surviving stars, Johnny Whittaker and Kathy Garver, for example, who are respected stage actors. Garver has most recently starred in plays such as Absolutely Dead and Dinner at Five. While Whittaker most recently had a part in a stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird, which took part at Sandhills Community College, North Carolina.

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Anissa Was Nearly Cast In The Exorcist

What is even more tragic about Anissa Jones’s young death was that she had so much potential to be a true star. This was extremely clear after being close to landing the iconic role of Regan in the classic The Exorcist. In the end, though, director William Friedkin didn’t think that viewers would accept Buffy as a possessed girl and went with Linda Blair instead. Unfortunately, Jones was typecast during her short career.

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One Season Was Shot In Less Than Two Months

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but every season of Family Affair had to be shot on a tight schedule (which is normal for most shows). Each season was shot in less than 60 days. As a result, every actor, crew member and extra needed to be on call during that two month period, making sure that they had no other plans. What attracted casual fans to the show the most was probably the many famous guest stars.


Anissa’s Accident Was Written Into Show

There is a good reason why Buffy broke her right leg in season four’s episode “What’s Funny About a Broken Leg?”. Quite simply, Anissa Jones broke her leg in real life. She was playing in the playground when the accident happened. It was completely unexpected and the writers were completely unprepared for it. As a result, they chose to write her accident into the script and make an episode out of it. It took just a day to write!

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Each Season Had A Different Director

Not only was each season shot in just under 60 days, but this meant that it wasn’t always guaranteed for the same director to be available each year. As a result, every season had a different director at the helm. You needed someone who could manage the long hours, and this wasn’t so easy to find. However, most directors like to be working all year round, so it ended being easier to hire different directors each season.

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Garver & Keith Were In Spider-Man?

That’s right, folks. Long after working on Family Affair together, Kathy Garver and Brian Keith ended up on another project together. In 1994, it was “Uncle Bill” himself who was cast as another uncle character. This time, he lent his voice to the character of Uncle Ben in a Spider-Man animated series. Garver also followed suit, being cast as a superhero! She voiced the role of Madeline Joyce, who goes by the alias of Miss America.

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Turned To Substance Abuse

“I started hanging out in bars and smoking and then going from [one illegal substance to another] and losing three cars, four apartments, five jobs and a company that I’d started and ran into the ground.” Whitaker’s life was spinning out of control, and his family had no idea what else they can do. Finally, they held an intervention and threatened not to have any contact with him unless he got help for his substance abuse. Whitaker agreed and joined a twelve-step program.”

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Wanted Her Younger

Even those who made sure to follow every episode of the show are not aware of the fact that Kathy Garver was actually 20 when she was cast as teenager Cissy in Family Affair. However, despite the prospect of having to play a 15-year-old character, Garver was still keen to do the show, as she had deep admiration for the work of actor Brian Keith, who played her on-screen uncle, Bill Davis. Garver had followed Keith since early childhood and was a big fan of his work.

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Where Are They Now?

Kathy Garver went on the syndicated tabloid talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show on August 27, 2016, and talked about the curse of the show and why she has not seen her only other living Family Affair costar in years. “The only people left from the original cast,” Garver declared on the episode titled “Oprah: Where Are They Now,” “are Johnny Whittaker and me.” The production team from Oprah knew this and arranged a little surprise of their own ahead of time – they planned on reuniting the two on the show.

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Something To Get Off His Chest

Whittaker admitted to the producers of the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history that the last time he really had the chance to talk to Kathy was probably about eight years ago at the TV Land Awards. Moments before the two former costars reunited in front of the camera, Whittaker revealed to the producers that there was something he desperately needed to get off his chest. However, there was no knowing how Kathy would react to what he had to say.

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Didn’t Bat An Eye

Kathy looked incredibly surprised to see Whittaker standing at her footstep. Viewers could tell the two had tension between them, as Kathy’s stern expression betrayed her unnaturally high pitched tone as if she was pretending everything was alright to keep up appearances. Keith, on the other hand, did not bat an eye. He knew he just needed to tell her how he felt, and whatever she would do with that piece of information would from then onwards be on her.

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The Long Awaited Apology

“I’m here because I know that there might have been some bad blood between us,” said Whittaker to Garver. “[I] wanted to apologize if there was anything that I’ve done to cause you to have feelings.” Although no one really knew the actors were having a feud, it was clear that the two were not close in recent years. Before viewers could start guessing, Garver spelled the matter out clearly for the apologetic Whittaker and anyone who would be watching.

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If Only

Garver looked Whittaker right in the eyes when she said: “If you had, at any time in all of the gigs that I set you up for, called me and said, ‘Thank you,’ that would have been very nice.” Whittaker, on the other hand, did not seem surprised by this comment, as though he knew this was coming. “Nothing was done to hurt you,” Whitaker explained sincerely. “If it has hurt you, then I’m truly apologetic. I’m truly sorry.”

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As Positive As Possible

There was an awkward moment between the two, but then Kathy broke the ice by saying: “I accept your apology.” With the cameras rolling, Whitaker was finally able to get what he wanted off his chest and reveal how he felt to Garver. He emphasized how sorry he felt for his past behavior, saying he never meant to hurt her in any way. “I want the future to be as positive as possible,” Whitaker stated. “Heck, we’ve got 50 years together.”

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Came To An End

72-year-old Kathy Garver and 58-year-old John Whitaker have finally patched things up after not seeing eye to eye for too many years. Garver has, since the end of the show, wrote several books about her experience in the spotlight. Garver also gave birth at the age of 45 and states she loves being an older mother. To this day, she still receives and answers Family Affair fan mail, and says to anyone who asks that there was never a curse – just a series of tragedies that too came to an end.

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