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What Happened to Anissa Jones, Who Played Buffy from the series ‘Family Affair’? Her Tragic Life Revealed

She was a little girl who wasn't allowed to grow up, and it cost her everything!

There is a long history in Hollywood of young actors being used and discarded, with little concern over their fates once they are forced out of the media spotlight — and that was certainly true of Anissa Jones, who played Buffy Davis on the sitcom Family Affair.

Running on CBS from 1966 to 1971, for a total of 138 episodes, the premise of the show has bachelor Bill Davis (Brian Keith), takes his nieces Cissy (Kathy Garver) and Buffy, and nephew Jody (Johnny Whitaker), in following the deaths of their parents, his brother Bob and sister-in-law Mary, in an automobile accident.

At first frustrated at having his bachelor lifestyle turned upside down, it isn’t long before Bill begins doing his best to create a genuine sense of family — aided by his butler, Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot).

Anissa Jones was born on March 11, 1958 in Lafayette, Indiana and raised in Charleston, West Virginia. Her life would take some unexpected turns when the family moved to California, her parents divorced and she was more or less forced into acting.

Things would end tragically for Anissa Jones, as you’ll see below.

‘An introspective little girl’

Anissa Jones, 1969
Actress Anissa Jones poses for a portrait in circa 1969Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There was a piece on Family Affair written for the Independent Star-News of California in 1966, which described Anissa as being “an imaginative, introspective little girl who spends many hours in make-believe with her collection of dolls.”

They also gave her credit for being able to convey across the television screen and into living rooms around America a child’s “feeling of pride, rejection, fun, sadness, wish to be loved and stubbornness” — oftentimes being able to project all of that in a single half-hour of television.”

The divorce of her parents resulted in Anissa Jones becoming an actress

Diane Brewster (second from left) tries to make friends with Anissa Jones, Kathy Garver, and Johnnie Whitaker (left to right) in a scene from the TV series, Family Affair, 1967
Diane Brewster (second from left) tries to make friends with Anissa Jones, Kathy Garver, and Johnnie Whitaker (left to right) in a scene from the TV series, Family Affair, 1967Getty Images: Bettmann

In 1959, the Jones family moved to California, which also wasn’t very long before Anissa’s parents got divorced, which meant that her mother, Mary, needed to look for a job. Noted by The San Francisco Examiner, “Acting proved to be the big break. A neighbor who had a child making TV commercials, suggested that Mrs. Jones get Anissa started in the same field. Four commercials later, Anissa was signed by a producer of Family Affair for the part of Buffy.”

Family Affair had a difficult shooting schedule for the kids

The cast of My Three Sons, circa 1963
The cast of My Three Sons, circa 1963 Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When Don Fedderson created My Three Sons, he was able to entice actor Fred MacMurray from feature films to television by setting up a unique shooting schedule. All of MacMurray’s scenes as Steve Douglas were shot in the first couple of months in the production schedule, then everyone else would spend the rest of that time shooting everything else before MacMurray returned to wrap things up. To get Brian Keith on Family Affair, a similar deal was struck.

“Fred MacMurray and Brian Keith would only have to work six or 10 weeks a year,” says Geoffrey Mark, producer of a number of Inside Television’s Greatest and Behind the Scenes documentaries. “So all of their scenes from the entire season were filmed at once, and they would all later be edited into the individual episodes. Then, the regular cast and guest stars would have to come back and one by one they would shoot the episodes in order.

“As a result,” he adds, “the whole season had to be written beforehand. They wouldn’t do them one at a time so that Brian got out of work quickly, but the same wasn’t true of the children. Because they couldn’t work full days, it was very hard work for Johnny and Anissa. Kathy took the brunt of it once she turned 18, because at that point she could work late whereas the other two couldn’t.”

Difficulties for Anissa Jones

Due to the fact that the Buffy character played with the “Mrs Beasley” doll — which turned out to be a great piece of merchandise from the show — Anissa was required to carry it with her virtually everywhere, which, after a time, became embarrassing. On top of that, she was constantly being put in front of reporters to answer questions.

“Every Monday night,” The Los Angeles Times would report in 1967, “little Anissa Jones enters the wonderful world of make believe for half an hour to play Buffy. But away from the series, the studio and her ‘career,’ Anissa could pass for a typical 9-year-old. She’s a bit precocious, but very natural and unaffected by her show business activities.”

The cast of Family Affair, 1966
The cast of Family Affair, 1966©CBS/courtesy

Speaking to that publication, she offered a few tidbits about her life and views of the world, pointing out that she had 54 pets, including a bird that was starving (“It never eats, and do you know why? I forget to feed him!”), and that if she had her choice, she would pick a swimming pool over the ocean, because the trouble with the latter is “it doesn’t say how deep it is.”

Her own perfume business

Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker, 1966
Anissa Jones and Johnny Whiaker, 1966©CBS/courtesy

Another thing Anissa made sure to tell the LA Times is the fact that she had her own side business of selling “perfume,” accomplished by taking a lot of flowers, smashing them down, adding water and bottling the resulting perfume, which she sold for 10 cents each. Where things got interesting was when she explained exactly where she got the flowers from.

“The neighbors’ yards,” Anissa said matter of factly. “Sometimes we just pick the flowers and then sell them, but we’re always careful not to sell the flowers to the lady we pick them from.”

Frankly, we’re not sure whether we should be uncomfortable about such “business practices.”

Identity issues

Anissa Jones, 1971
Anissa Jones, 1971©CBS/courtesy

Only a couple of seasons into Family Affair‘s run, Anissa began having problems with people confusing her with the character she played each week. As her mother Mary told the media, “She is always ready to say, ‘Please call me Anissa’ when people refer to her as Buffy. I do think she likes to be recognized in public. For her, it has some meaning.”

In October of 1967, she began to express her frustration over the fact that she was a 9-year-old being forced to play someone who is forever 6. Said The Republic of Columbus, “She finds playing a mere child of 6 ‘babyish’ and quickly reveals her true age to anyone willing to listen.”

Anissa Jones was forced to make frequent public appearances

Just because she wasn’t filming, it doesn’t mean that she had much in the way of free time. Flashing forward to 1970, and every other weekend was filled with Anissa traveling to different cities to promote Family Affair. Commented The San Bernardino County Sun:

“She should be allowed to stay at home and play during her out-of-school and off-the-set hours. Anissa is in the sixth grade at Paseo del Rey Grammar School when not filming Family Affair or making personal appearances. She doesn’t know, she said seriously, if she wants to stay in show business and confident that she hopes to ‘retire when I’m 14,’ which prompted a man in the crowd to say, ‘Over her mother’s dead body.’”

Anissa Jones poses for a portrait in 1971 in Los Angeles, California
Anissa Jones poses for a portrait in 1971 in Los Angeles, California Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

Adds Geoffrey Mark, “So, not only are they working as actors in a weekly show, but in addition they’re required to do talk shows and publicity stunts and meet with the sponsors and fly across the country. Their time, as set by contract, belonged to the production company and the network. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone less than 10 years old, less so where one has a good family life where one has parents really working on behalf of the children to make sure their lives are as normal as possible. In Anissa’s case, this wasn’t true. Her father and mother divorced, her mother was a pushy stage mother who, after Anissa’s father died, pushed her to be the family breadwinner.”

Family Affair was canceled in 1971

Anissa’s life finally became her own again — though it’s debatable whether or not that was a good thing — when Family Affair came to an end after six seasons in 1971. “The show’s cancelation represented a chance for its then 14-year-old leading lady to finally be herself,” mused The Sacramento Bee two years later, “free from the psychological burden of submerging her personality inside a screen character who never grew older.”

She auditioned for more adult, edgy roles

The limitations that Buffy put on the career of Anissa Jones became pretty clear to her as she found herself rejected by director William Friedkin for 1973’s The Exorcist (the part going to Linda Blair). Director Martin Scorsese invited her to audition for the Jodie Foster part in 1975’s Taxi Driver, but she was already turned off to Hollywood. Seeking some normalcy in her life, she started attending Los Angeles’ Westchester High School.

Sadly, she remained estranged from normalcy, Geoffrey Mark explaining that her life began to spiral out of control, partially because her parents’ had engaged in a bitter custody battle over Anissa and her brother Paul, which her father won. But shortly thereafter he died, and rather than go and live with her mother, she became a ward of the court.

“And anyone who knew anything about drugs,” he suggests, “would have been watching her behavior and would have known that Anissa was in trouble: taking jobs and then quitting them, petty shoplifting, bad eating patterns, incredible mood swings, bad sleeping patterns.”

Turning 18, Anissa Jones received about $200,000 in forced savings that she went through in four to five months.

Her life came to an unfortunate end

On August 28, 1976, when she was only 18-years-old, Anissa suffered an overdose after a night of partying that claimed her life. After the coroner reported that she had Quaalude, cocaine, PCP and Seconal in her system, her doctor — Carlos Moshos — was arrested and charged with manslaughter for his prescription of Seconal, but he died while awaiting trial. As a result, the situation was closed. After a private service, Anissa Jones was cremated, her ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

“Any child would agreed that when you’re being treated like a little baby when you’re in the midst of puberty is confusing, embarrassing and frustrating,” says Geoffrey Mark. “So she was unhappy at home and, at work, feeling undervalued and overworked. It seems like she had no port in the storm and the storm finally overtook her — literally — at the beach.”

Had she lived, Anissa Jones would not have been okay with the continuing association with Buffy

A blogger named Brian Keith O’Hara, who noted that he was friends with Anissa’s mother, drove home the point that Anissa Jones did not like people to associate her with Family Affair.

“If you wanted to end a conversation or prevent one from starting at all,” wrote O’Hara, “all you had to do was bring up the show or call her ‘Buffy.’ But if you wanted to talk about poetry, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or just about anything else, then you had a chance of making a new friend. And she was as smart as anyone you ever met.”

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