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Interviews: 1960s Celebrities of TV, Film at ‘The Hollywood Show’

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CHICAGO – In the 1960s, network television became the ‘cool fire’ that families gathered around, and the array of trends and shows in that era had an odd but flavorful variety. Lee Meriwether (Catwoman from the 1966 ‘Batman movie), Kathy Garver (Cissy in the sitcom ‘Family Affair’) and Robert Colbert (ensemble player on the TV drama ‘The Time Tunnel’) represented those shows.

They appeared last March at ‘The Hollywood Show,’ a twice-a-year event in which fans can mingle, take photographs and get autographs from the celebrities – like the 1960s TV and film actors – who appear there. There is also a great opportunity to purchase memorabilia from a host of showbiz vendors, all in one room. The fall session of The Hollywood Show will take place at the Hilton Rosemont Hotel on River Road in Rosemont, Ill, on September 7th, 8th and 9th, 2012. For complete details click here.

HollywoodChicago.com was at the event to interview all three of the Swingin’ ‘60s television and film players. Photographer Joe Arce was on hand to get portraits of the hall-of-famers today.

StarLee Meriwether, Catwoman from 1966 ‘Batman’ movie

Lee Meriwether
Miss Kitka: Lee Meriwether at ‘The Hollywood Show,’ March of 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Lee Meriwether was in the exclusive club of movie Catwomen, having played the role in the 1966 “Batman” movie, made during the series run with Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo. She also was a regular in the ‘60s cult TV show, ‘The Time Tunnel’ and spent eight years in the 1970s on “Barnaby Jones.” She continues to work, recently guest starring on “Desperate Housewives.”

HollywoodChicago.com: The Miss America Pageant has kind of run it’s course as a pop cultural touchstone. Since you are a former winner [1954], what is your opinion regarding the falling out of favor that has happened to this once institution, do you think it’s evolved past its time?

Lee Meriwether: I don’t think so at all, it depends on what you think the institution is – I think it’s the world largest scholarship organization for women. A lot of people forget that, they think it’s a bathing beauty competition.

HollywoodChicago.com: What is the story regarding you and Joe DiMaggio. Did you date him, or was it just about the gossip of the day?

Meriwether: Yes, we went out on two dates, in fact. Our date in New York was to see Judy Garland at the palace. Joe knew my family in San Francisco and his brother Dom worked with my father for awhile.

HollywoodChicago.com: With the Batman phenomenon, both in the nostalgia of the series and film in which you participated, and of course the importance today, what is the story behind you stepping in as Catwoman for that quickie ’66 film version of the TV show?

Meriwether: It’s fun that the Batman thing is still going on, people fell in love with those characters and fell in love with that movie I was in, and thank goodness I got to participate in it. The story is Julie Newmar [the TV series Catwoman] couldn’t do the movie, and I auditioned with 200 other actresses, and was awarded the part. They took advantage of the surge of the TV series, but as been proven people still love that film. It’s a great movie for kids and parents, because kids enjoy it for obvious reasons and the parents love the camp.

HollywoodChicago.com: With guest shots on iconic TV series like ‘Dragnet,’ ‘Sgt. Bilko,’ ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ ‘Dr. Kildare,’ ‘Perry Mason,’ ‘F Troop,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Mannix,’ ‘Family Affair,’ ‘The FBI,’ ‘Love American Style,’ ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘The Love Boat,’ do you see those appearances as home movies?

Meriwether: It’s really amazing just to be able to see them, because at the time there were only reruns and no way of recording them. I didn’t see many of them at the time, because I was also doing theater. I’m catching up now, because friends of mine find these clips on the internet and I can now see them.

James Darren, Lee Meriwether, Robert Colbert
‘The Time Tunnel’ TV Show Reunion: James Darren, Lee Meriwether and Robert Colbert at ‘The Hollywood Show’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: Television used to squeeze up to 30 episodes a season, 24 when you were doing Barnaby Jones. How difficult a strain can that be, especially with the long Barnaby run?

Meriwether: It was a grind, and I don’t know how Buddy Ebsen did it. What was interesting about the ‘Barnaby Jones’ run is that we aired on every night during the week, because CBS would use the show as an audience builder for other series. The audience would follow Buddy everywhere.

HollywoodChicago.com: You have a remarkable track record for continuing to work. What type of circumstance, for example, got you into video game voiceover work?

Meriwether: That is through my voiceover agent. I do a lot of auditions, and I haven’t done that many, probably because my voice isn’t that distinctive. But I’ve worked for a particular gal on two video game projects, she told me I bring an actor’s distinction to a role, not just the voice.

HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, what can you tell us about Buddy Ebsen that the rest of the world doesn’t know?

Meriwether: Most people that knew Buddy knew that he would do anything for anybody, or in getting the job done. No star I ever worked with would climb on top of a garbage heap in Long Beach at two in the morning, and just say ‘we can get this shot.’ Even the director was amazed.

StarKathy Garver, Cissy on “Family Affair”

Kathy Garver
No Cissy: Kathy Garver at at ‘The Hollywood Show,’ March of 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

One of the high concept fish-out-of-water shows of the 1960s was “Family Affair.” The gruff Brian Keith portrayed “Uncle Bill,” a wealthy consulting engineer in New York City, who had a butler named Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot). His life is turned around when he has to adopt his two nieces and a nephew when his brother dies in an accident. For six seasons beginning in 1966, the adventures of Buffy (Anissa Jones), Jody (Johnny Whitaker) and the oldest niece – Cissy, portrayed by Kathy Garver – graced the small screen on CBS-TV.

Garver has been a working actress since childhood, appearing in bit parts in films and TV shows, until becoming a series regular on “Family Affair.” She continues to appear in film and TV, including “The Princess Diaries” in 2001.

HollywoodChicago.com: You stayed close to Brian Keith until his passing. Were you surprised about the way he chose to go [Keith died of a self-inflicted gunshot], or did that gibe with his personalilty?

Kathy Garver: It was very much Brian’s personality, he was in charge of his own life, so he was going to be in charge of his own demise. He was a self made man, a very strong personality, so I think that decision was exactly the way he wanted to go.

HollywoodChicago.com: You had an association with Brian Keith even before you worked on ‘Family Affair,’ is that right?

Garver: When I was a child, Brian had a wonderful series called ‘The Crusaders.’ I appeared on it in 19-mumble,mumble. [laughs] I played this waif and met him back then. It’s always interesting to me in life how things intertwine and come together.

HollywoodChicago.com: And in that sense, in retrospect did you notice any troubling aspects of Anissa Jones [Jones also committed suicide] during the filming of the series, or do you think it was just the fates afterward?

Garver: There were troubling signs, even though she was the sweetest child you’d ever meet – intelligent, warm and darling. Unfortunately her family situation was not the best. She lived with her divorced mother and there was a lot of strife between her mother and father.

Anissa was 8 years old when the series began, and 13 years old by the time it ended, and the producers forced her to still play the little girl carrying a doll. At the older ages, she started to resent it. She wanted to develop her own personality. She was offered the part in ‘The Exorcist,’ but turned it down, she just wanted to be a normal teenager after the show ended. She just ran into the wrong crowd after that, and it led to her demise.

HollywoodChicago.com: You were portraying a fairly pure teenage and young adult character during the teeth of the swinging 1960s. What was the most un-Cissy-like experience that you had during that time, that you can tell us right now?

Kathy Garver
Kathy Garver (left) and the Cast of ‘Family Affair’
Photo credit: MPI Media Group

Garver: I demanded in some of the episodes that I wanted to wear a mini-skirt, and the producers didn’t want to do it. I demanded it because everyone else was wearing them. I finally got a two inch hem compromise. But I eventually saw what they were thinking later. The show is successful in reruns because of its timelessness, and the stories and styles reflected that.

HollywoodChicago.com: Well, what about your personal life, what 1960s stuff did you do that was un-Cissy-like?

Garver: Everything. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: When did you first remember being on a film or TV set, and which role from the early days, when you see it now, gives you the most thrill?

Garver: ‘The Ten Commandments’ [1956]. I was on the movie for about seven weeks, I was there when they filmed the Red Sea parting scene, I was there when the immortal line, ‘Ready when you are, C.B’ was intoned and it was so thrilling. Even as a small child I could feel the wonder and amazement of what was going on.

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve worked fairly steadily since the 1960s, what is the secret to having longevity in a business that is probably one of the most difficult?

Garver: You have to have a good education – I graduated from UCLA with an undergraduate degree in Speech, and a Masters in Theater Arts. And you have to take a business class or two. Because as my neighbor said, when I bought my first house in Sherman Oaks when I was 24 years old, ‘well, you know actors, chicken one day, feathers the next.’ I took that advice to heart, so I pursued a financial sense. I made good investments, and that’s why I have longevity. Also, I never took drugs.

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