If you are of a certain age, you will probably recall the beloved sitcom Family Affair, and the action comedies The Dukes of Hazzard and B.J. and the Bear. So, when I heard there was a pop culture-themed event the weekend of September 9th called Retro Con featuring Kathy Garver (Cissy) from Family Affair; Catherine Bach (Daisy), John Schneider (Bo) and Tom Wopat (Luke) from The Dukes of Hazzard; and Greg Evigan from B.J. and the Bear, among others, I could not miss it. And I am glad I didn’t.
Naturally, any word in a title connected to “Con” relates to fandom, when fans gather to celebrate their favorite interests. Comic Con, no doubt, is the granddaddy of them all, where the typical attendee arrives dressed as a superhero or a villain. But there is an endless well of other “Con” events where like-minded individuals celebrate what they love. Think Brady Con (as in The Brady Bunch), Sopranos Con (The Sopranos), Anime Con, Dragon Con, Terror Con, and the home of those over-the-top housewives, Bravo Con, to name few.
Upon arrival at Retro Con at the Greater Philly Expo Center (and seeing an adult carrying a Mrs. Beasley doll from Family Affair), I was immediately astonished over the number of vendors selling everything imaginable themed to pop culture. Over 285 tables of collectables, according to the Retro Con website.
Featured at Retro Con were panels, raffles, video games, karaoke and contests (including retro T-shirts, weird toys, trivia and a costume contest, where fans donned outlets catered to the theme of note, “retro geek”). For autograph seekers, the celebrity attendees were situated at various locations signing pictures or other items of request.
Upon meeting Kathy Garver in person (after having the pleasure of interviewing her prior to Retro Con), it all came back to me. Those wonderful memories on Family Affair of wealthy bachelor Bill Davis (Brian Keith), who becomes the caretaker for his brother’s three orphaned children – Cissy, initially 15 years old, and six-year old twins Buffy (Anissa Jones) and Jody (Johnny Whitaker). Certainly, you have to wonder why the kids’ Uncle Bill was living in a luxurious four (or five) bedroom New York City apartment with only his proper English butler, Giles French (Sebastian Cabot). Was he expecting company?
Unlike the innocence (and often zaniness) of sitcoms in the 1960s, Family Affair sometimes tackled series issues. Two such episodes was when Buffy befriends a housebound terminally ill classmate (Eve Plumb pre-The Brady Bunch); and when the siblings visit their hometown of Indiana and are troubled by the memories of their late parents. More often than not, however, Family Affair symbolized the fictional TV household we all wished was real. Who, after all, would not want to have their own Uncle Bill or the wise and gentlemanly Mr. French living with them?
“What we did on this particular show, and my performance in it, had a positive impact on people,” said Kathy Garver, who in addition to acting became quite prominent as a voice performer and author. “It is always astonishing when I meet people and see firsthand what this show meant to them…and still does.”
Ultimately, Family Affair ran for five seasons, ending in 1971 after 138 episodes. But, 52 years after concluding, an event like Retro Con only magnifies the enduring value of this series.
“I think Family Affair is still meaningful today because the overall theme was about love and family,” noted Garver. “When the show was over, I went to London and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, thinking it would change my image. But when I came back to the United States, I realized that Family Affair was the draw and always would be.”
“Family Affair, I think, was a pop culture phenomenon,” she said. “There were many firsts that it embraced and it has become a template, of sorts, for other sitcoms. The casting, the timing, the people on camera and off; it was just all very special and I am happy to still embrace it.”
After my day of celebrating pop culture, it was decision time. Just what keepsake would I choose to add to my growing memorabilia? Since no TV collection is really complete without bubble gum cards, I chose these two – Dallas and Three’s Company. Of course, if there was a Family Affair set of cards I would have bought that too!