Family Affair & Family Television featuring Johnny Whitaker
By the time he was 18, Johnny Whitaker had racked up hundreds of acting credits, including two iconic series, Family Affair and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. He’d appeared on Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Bonanza, in four Disney movies and the musical version of Tom Sawyer. Johnny and his TV sister, Anissa Jones even had a featured line of Buffy and Jody clothing, along with dolls, games, lunchboxes, books, journals and snow globes.
But, Johnny lost his TV sister Anissa Jones to a drug overdose at the age of 18. Then, Johnny’s own life took some harrowing turns which led him down the dark path of addiction and with help from his family, out the other side where he now teaches drug and alcohol recovery counseling and intervention. Johnny joins us with insights from his fascinating life.
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Fritz Coleman (00:00:00):
Welcome to Media Path. I'm Fritz Coleman
Louise Palanker (00:00:07):
And I am Louise Palanker.
Fritz Coleman (00:00:09):
We don't have to tell you, the world is offering you almost too many entertainment choices these days. Here at Media Path. We pair your choices down and call the worthwhile things to your attention so you can get on with your busy life. Kind of like the President's Daily Briefing. And we welcome guests who have been major players in their field and many times have been a big part of our lives through television or movies like who we have today. We're gonna welcome Johnny Whitaker. This man has made his way through all corners of the television landscape as one of the most famous child actors. His most memorable work probably came on the show Family Affair from 1966 to 1971, as he played one of the adorable twins, Jody and Buffy. We'll go through the whole arc of his career, which ended up in a really important role that he has now, which is a drug and alcohol council. We'll talk all about it to him. Johnny Whitaker, in just a couple minutes. Wheezy, what do you have for us?
Louise Palanker (00:01:02):
Well, I read a book called The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. I like the book a lot. It is fun and intriguing and to be frank, an imaginative story, but not great literature. Okay. It's, uh, back and forth are what lit fans are calling dual timelines. We alternate between <laugh>. Yes, this is the trend. I like
Fritz Coleman (00:01:21):
The back and forth or better. That's great.
Louise Palanker (00:01:23):
<laugh>. We alternate between modern day American Caroline, who is in London alone after discovering her husband's affair. And an 18th century apothecary named Nella, whose revenge has bent her healing potions into poisons. Caroline, in search of her true North, goes on a history adventure in the Thames River and discovers an old vile inscribed with a bear. And her scrappy research leads her to the legend of a hidden apothecary in 1791, servicing the needs of women until the only way to save them was to murder their abusive men with poison, the storyline, themes and self discoveries of Nella and Caroline Weave entered around one another as Caroline finds her future. In exploring the past, the reader savors the adventure while wrestling with the morality of it all and perhaps hiring a food taster. I enjoyed the Ride <laugh>. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner has almost 30,000 Amazon reviews. It was an instant New York Times bestseller and you may like it too. It is certainly a hit with the Sleuthy sisterhood set.
Fritz Coleman (00:02:26):
And you got some interesting domestic tips. That's good. <laugh>. That's awesome. What
Louise Palanker (00:02:31):
Have you been up to?
Fritz Coleman (00:02:31):
Well, I, I watched another Netflix documentary cuz as you know, I am the doc Doc. These are the things that I consume. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Feverishly. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. This one is called, and I know you watched it. I did. And I can't wait to talk to you about it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's called Keep Even the title of this is
Louise Palanker (00:02:46):
Creepy. So Creepy, so creepy.
Fritz Coleman (00:02:47):
Keep sweet, pray and Obey. It's a four parter. There have been a lot of stories and a lot of reporting on Warren Jeffs, who was the now jailed prophet and president of the Flds, which is the fundamentalist Latter Day Saints organization. Full disclosure, this has nothing to do with the regular LDS church, which is regular Mormon church. This is a completely separate sect, sort of rejected by most of the rest of the Mormon church. It's an extreme polygamous offshoot denomination. It's essentially a cult headed by Warren. Jeffs. Most of the other reports and documentaries that appeared at the time of Jeff's arrest just talked about the hideous crimes of Warren Jeffs. But this one represents the viewpoints of the victims, in particular, the victims who miraculously were able to escape the clutches of the cult. There are disturbing interviews with women who have escaped and were ex-communicated, yet still have family members living under Jeff Spell.
He's been in prison, but is still recognized as the prophet and president of Flds and still controls thousands of people's lives from behind bars. It's fascinating. What makes it so different from other cult scenarios that we're all familiar with Jonestown and Waco and all those, is that this sect is three and four generations deep. Jeff's assumed control of the sect from his father. So these young women and their parents and their parents', parents, no, no other life. They have no experience outside this very scary and controlled environment. So to what do they escape? Literally it seems like another planet to them. This is really hard to watch in places, but important and mesmerizing. At the time of his arrest, Jeff's had 78 wives. 24 were underage, one was 12. Jeffs also married underage girls to the older church members who were sometimes three and four times the ages of their young wives. You're no doubt aware of the tragic discovery. Just yesterday of 59 people dead in the back of a tractor trailer in San Antonio, Texas. This has been considered the largest human trafficking operation in the United States. Well, Warren Jeffs was considered by US law enforcement as to have been running the world's largest sex trafficking operation. It's a fascinating look at a mega cult and the manipulation of human behavior. I found it fascinating, but very disturbing.
Louise Palanker (00:05:20):
Well, I have some thoughts about this. I want to hear it and I have written them down. Okay,
Fritz Coleman (00:05:24):
Louise Palanker (00:05:25):
I believe that danger lies within the most extreme version of any religion. And that's because deranged personalities can play upon the devotion of the followers. The more fervent your belief and the lead, or the less likely you will be to question absurdities abuse, even though loss and violation of your own children. And with this story of the flds, we are so focused on the horrors faced by the girls that we barely notice what is happening to the boys. When only certain men get multiple wives, the math is not going to work out for the boys. And so the tiniest gets them excommunicated. There are hundreds of boys cast out into the world as young as 13. This is especially traumatic since they have been raised not to trust the outside world and to believe that leaving their communities is a sin worse than murder with little education or skills applicable to life outside of their community. They have to learn how to live in a society. They inherently distrust. Some kids become homeless or end up in the criminal justice system. They also must endure the emotional toll of being shunned by their families and believing that they are beyond spiritual redemption. The families of these banished boys are told that the boys are now dead to them. It's just, it's
Fritz Coleman (00:06:37):
Horrible. It's horrible. It's horrible. But so fascinating. The psychology behind it. And, and the weird, um, thing for me was this very almost, um, this gargantuan ability of, um, suspending your disbelief to be able, I mean, this guy, Ruben, Jeffs or Ru whatever, rufuss, Jeffs or his father Warren, he just decided, no, I mean, his dad handed him over the thing to Warren and they were able to convince people to say, no, that's how you do it. Your dad just hands you the business, like the family business. It's like the guy at Liberty University. He said, well, you know, my son's been blessed. I'll just hand the business to him.
Louise Palanker (00:07:15):
But you know what, it reminded me of like, okay, so yeah, Warren is the guy who's in prison right now and the father's name was whatever it was Rufus or something. Yeah. Okay. So, but it like, and Warren wasn't the oldest, but he was the one that the dad believed to be the most evil. And therefore, and it reminded me of,
Fritz Coleman (00:07:30):
And the most able, he had just the right dark charisma to manipulate all these people.
Louise Palanker (00:07:34):
But it reminded me of the Trump family where the dad goes, goes, you know, like the next one down, which is the, the father of Mary Trump. And goes, no, this one Donald, he'll do, you know, the one that kisses up to the father, probably the most, or the most subservient or the most devious, or, you know, has those
Fritz Coleman (00:07:52):
Traits the most laser-like eyes, uh, I've ever seen. Just looking at that guy gives me the creeps. No, that's a great, that's a great observation.
Louise Palanker (00:07:59):
Really. Yeah. It's like, oh, and another example, these are crazy examples, is Kim, Jon Un, you know, cuz he was not even like one of his main kids. He was a kid from like another a, a peripheral kid, a mom that wasn't even one of the wives or something like that. But it's like, oh, oh, he's dark. Let's pick
Fritz Coleman (00:08:15):
Him. But he has to have the chops, you know?
Louise Palanker (00:08:16):
Oh yeah. That's what I mean. They're looking for the most twisted kid, you know. And it was probably the same with Saddam Hue and Uday and Hue and whatever the heck was going on. But
Fritz Coleman (00:08:25):
It also, I I I like your observation about the men too. I didn't even mention that. And the thing I was so over, maybe cuz I have a of a daughter, I was just so overtaken with what a horrible position and how brave these girls were to try to escape.
Louise Palanker (00:08:38):
No, it's, it's definitely usually overlooked because it, what's happening to the girls is just so horrific and that we're just focused on, on that. But you know, the, the math is not gonna work out. No, no. And they, the only way, unless
Fritz Coleman (00:08:51):
You're 80 and you're getting a 24 year old wife, you're out of a mix.
Louise Palanker (00:08:54):
Right. They see boys as a threat, you know, and, and you know, in the piece how the girls talked about the boy they had a crush on and everything, like even those all, all of our natural inclinations are just completely snuffed and vilified and you're meant to f feel dirty and guilty, and it is just horrible stuff.
Fritz Coleman (00:09:12):
And, um, it goes back to one of my universal, uh, complaints about organized religion and how they're treated by the federal government. How, uh, could this, and I, and I know it was prosecuted after a while, but how could this, this template, this business model even exist in the United States. But because it had a religious basis, they allowed him to get away with this, even if it wasn't extreme, even without a 12 year old wife. But it was a 24 year old wife, and they, and they, and, and it pops up in Scientology. How do they give them a tax break? I don't get, I, they, they, you know, they, they don't have to pay taxes because they're, they technically qualify as a quote religion. I, it just drives me nuts how these guys get a free
Louise Palanker (00:09:55):
Pass. Well, Scientology actually just harassed the tax board, like personally Yeah. Until they finally relented. So, you know, but what you have to keep in mind is like, throughout the ages, religions have existed and brainwashed people to do their, like the opiate of the masses is the phrase that we often hear. So we don't know about the religions that existed before we got here. And now we have communication systems that allow us to be aware of these atrocities taking place all, all over, all over the world. But these types of religious indoctrinations have gone on because none of us humans know why we're here. And that's a vulnerability mm-hmm. <affirmative> that folks can prey on.
Fritz Coleman (00:10:35):
But if it was such an embarrassment to the regular Mormon church, the LDS church, why haven't they sued for names, say this doesn't represent our religion at all. It, it's amazing they haven't put pressure on them to sort of separate themselves with name and function and everything and not call themselves Mormon. Well, and maybe you can't, I don't know.
Louise Palanker (00:10:52):
I mean, there's definitely cults calling themselves Christian. Yeah. That are, that are just,
Fritz Coleman (00:10:57):
It's, it's fascinating. It's very hard to watch if, if you have kids, uh, you will, you will, it will turn your stomach. But it's a, it's the, one of the great studies of human nature, man. It was really good.
Louise Palanker (00:11:09):
Yeah. And also the Muslim, the Muslim religion does not in any way identify with terrorist organizations. No.
Fritz Coleman (00:11:16):
So, no, it's the same thing. No.
Louise Palanker (00:11:18):
All right. Let's welcome our guest.
Fritz Coleman (00:11:19):
There he is.
Louise Palanker (00:11:21):
Hello. Welcome to Johnny's Busy day starring Johnny Whitaker
Fritz Coleman (00:11:25):
<laugh>. Alright, you ready to go?
Louise Palanker (00:11:27):
Johnny woke up in one zip code, had breakfast in another zip code, drove to a third zip code, and then off he was to the fourth zip code.
Fritz Coleman (00:11:35):
Louise Palanker (00:11:36):
It. We caught him in a rare stationary pose.
Fritz Coleman (00:11:38):
Now we're gonna welcome our guests. This man has been acting since he was three. Not an exaggeration to say he's been on every major television show, the sixties and seventies. I mean, Bewitched in General, hospital and Gun Smoke and Bonanza, the Virginian, you name it, including one of the most famous shows of our guests two weeks ago, Marty of Sid Marty Croft Productions, Sigmund and the Sea Monster. But his most recognizable role was one of the adorable twins, Jodi and Buffy on Family Affair, which ran from 1966 to 1971. The handsome Bachelor uncle was played by Brian Keefe. His valet, I love Mr. French, was Mr. French played by Sebastian Cabo. And the older sister of the Twins was Sissy, played by Kathy Garver. Then the focal point of the show I thought was Jodi and Buffy played by you and Anisa Jones. And the only unpaid character on the show was Mrs. Beasley, the doll, who Johnny has some very interesting takes on. I can't wait to talk to him about Mrs. Beasley. In 1999, he received the young artist, former Child Star Award of the 20th Youth Film Awards. Flash forward to Johnny somehow surviving this child stardom to do his life's probably most important work. I think he would agree, being a certified drug and alcohol counselor that is doing the Lord's work, my friend, we're gonna get all into it. Johnny Whitaker is with us. Johnny, we're so happy to have you.
Johnny Whitaker (00:13:01):
Well, thank you. Glad to be with you.
Louise Palanker (00:13:03):
Thank you so much for joining us, Johnny. Um, let's start out with talking about your early childhood, because at a very young age, it was clear that you enjoyed performing and that you were good at it. So by the time you're three years old, you have adults needing for you to do your job well in order for them to make a living. Did you feel that pressure or were, were the grownups in your world always able to make it fun and interesting for you?
Johnny Whitaker (00:13:27):
Well, one of the things that I, I I teach acting to children and adults mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and my one speech that I give to kids is that your number one job is to be a kid and to have fun. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> number two job is to make me and your mom and dad look good, <laugh>. So sometimes your fun doesn't follow through with looking good.
Louise Palanker (00:13:55):
They're not always in alignment. Yeah.
Johnny Whitaker (00:13:57):
You know, so you have to sometimes cut some of the fun to make us look good, but number one job is just to have fun and enjoy being a kid.
Louise Palanker (00:14:07):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And how was that for you? Would, did, do you remember feeling pressure or do you remember it being fun that you got to go and do this every day?
Johnny Whitaker (00:14:16):
Well, I didn't know any different than waking up at six 30 in the morning getting breakfast and with the rest of the family mom getting me into the car by, you know, seven. And then, uh, driving to the studio and being there by eight, going into wardrobe and then going into, um, school, uh, by, you know, by eight 10. And then just waiting until I was called on the set and, uh, ran to the set, did my lines came off. Then around, uh, you know, 12 30, 1 o'clock we had, uh, our lunch and we got an hour for lunch and, uh, came back and did it all again. And then by five o'clock we left, got in the car, went home. That was my day. And I, I mean, that was what was normal to me.
Fritz Coleman (00:15:21):
No. Going to the playground. No. You know, your friends under a tree somewhere. You did not have a typical childhood, which I think you'll agree led to some of your complications a little bit later on. And while we're on the topic, do you, do, do you have any thoughts about, and I know you have this wonderful Facebook, uh, ex Child star page, uh, with Paul Peterson, which really helps people. But do you have a, an opinion about parents, uh, uh, sort of injecting their kids into this lifestyle and they make kid themselves into thinking they're not causing the child to do this, but there's some parental expectation there. So the kid does what his parents want. How do you feel about, about kids starting out too young?
Johnny Whitaker (00:16:06):
Well, I started out at, uh, three and a half, and I liked performing. I liked having people applaud for me. Um, and as long as the child understands that this is fun, and I mean, my, my parents always told me that if at any time, uh, when I was getting any role, they told me, you know, now this is gonna be a lot of work and this is gonna be a lot of time and you're gonna be away from the family. Do you, you know, and I was sick seven, you know, eight years old, and I had to understand, um, I mean, there are, um, five stages of adolescence that anyone is supposed to go through. And one of those is choosing your career path. Another is choosing your companions, um, and your, you know, your group. I had a career already chosen for me, and I already had people who were my peers, uh, that were 20 and 30 years older than I was mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So it is very difficult. I think children need not have to know everything that goes on. I think it's important that they are aware of it as much as their age and, um, their, uh, you know, their growing up is allowing it. But, uh, you know, my parents always ask me every time before I did a job, you know, do you wanna do this? This is your choice. Um, it got bad when they told me that it was my choice when I didn't wanna do the film, Tom Sawyer <laugh>.
Louise Palanker (00:18:06):
Oh, you didn't wanna do it?
Johnny Whitaker (00:18:08):
Well, that was that summer. I had just done a, the summer before, I had worked all summer and I worked all winter, and I worked all Spring doing some Disney films. And, um, my mom and dad had me go, uh, well, I wanted to go to Boy Scout camp. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and mom and dad, uh, wouldn't pay for my Boy scout camp out of my money. I had to make it like all the other boys did, which was going door to door selling, um, something or other. And, uh, so I went door to door selling greeting cards, is what it was. And, um, I made the $250 for Boy Scout Camp for the week. Mm. And, um, when it came time for Tom Sawyer, I, you know, I said, well, I'm gonna be in Boy Scout camp, so I can't do it. And my agent and mom and dad said, well, just go meet with the producers and see what's going on.
And I said, okay, I'll, I'll meet with them, but I, it doesn't mean I'm gonna do anything. So I met, uh, with the producers and was did was on, um, a screen test with Jodi Foster and Jeff East. And, um, they said, you got the role we want you and you need to be in Missouri in two weeks. And I said, I'm not gonna be in Missouri in two weeks. In two weeks I'm gonna be at Boy Scout camp up in, uh, you know, and go, well, well, no, no, no, we're gonna, I said, ah, sorry. My mom and dad made me make money selling door to door, and it's my 250 bucks that I'm put on the line. So they changed, well, they did the th two days that they could without Tom Sawyer filming, and then brought me in in a helicopter that flew into the Boy Scout camp to took, take me back to LAX <laugh>, which I was mortified, but, um, I just said, you know, that was my choice. You mom and dad, they made me go door to door. But, but, but that's, that's my 250
Fritz Coleman (00:20:25):
Bucks. That's, that's the good thing your parents did. They let you feel like you had some control over your life, which was very healthy for you. I like that <laugh>. You know, it's a tough, it's a tough call for, for parents because you know, your job as a parent to see if you recognize little nuggets of talent in your child, and if you see a child that has this natural charisma as you did, uh, and, and say, well, we would be selling him short if we give him an opportunity to use this talent. So it's this balancing act that parents do. But you're saying don't be obsessive on the other side, give control to the, to the child.
Johnny Whitaker (00:20:55):
Oh, absolutely. That the child must make it must be as, as developed as the child is to be able to make mm-hmm. <affirmative> a decision that he or she knows that she made that, that he or she made that decision along with the parents.
Louise Palanker (00:21:15):
Well, what is it that psychologically that happens to the parents when the child experiences a little bit of success? Because I, I, I think it's probably a lot like a drug, you know, very exciting.
Johnny Whitaker (00:21:30):
Entertainment is a drug. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative> being in the entertainment industry, um,
You guys want me. Right? Right. I mean, today to be here, I want to be there too. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I would stop whatever I'm doing and come and do it because it's, you know, yes. I'm a part of the entertainment business mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it's fun and it's exciting. Um, so overall it, I mean, it is, it is, uh, a drug. It is, uh, addicting, um, the money because in show business today, especially, the money is very good. And, um, money can be addicting as well. But, uh, all of it is, you know, we need to understand that you have to put the brakes on mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there's, um, moderation, the moderation in all things. Absolutely. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Fritz Coleman (00:22:37):
Uh, I, I wanna talk about your experience with Brian Keith early, because he was the conduit for you to get Family Affair, which was this beautiful, warm show, and I loved all the characters. And, uh, you had done a project with him earlier, and then they even changed the ages of the characters you and Anisa, uh, were currently at because they loved your chemistry so much. Tell that story.
Johnny Whitaker (00:22:58):
Well, um, I did, the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming with Brian Keith, his motel room was just a couple doors up from mine. He had two daughters, and I believe that he and his wife were going to adopt some children. Anyway, he had two girls, and he wanted to know what it's like to have a boy. So he made sure to come and play with Johnny Whittaker. And, um, we threw the ball around and had a good time. And, um, when it came time for him to do family affair, he specifically asked for me to be, uh, you know, to be in the screen test as maybe a, you know, a neighbor or something. Uh, the original cast was a 16 year old girl, a 10 year old boy, and a six year old girl. But when they saw me with Anisa Jones, they said, we're gonna change it to twins. And, um, so because of Brian, I got on the set, he said, I don't care. This kid has talent, this kid, he's great. I want him on the show. So I got on the show. Wow.
Fritz Coleman (00:24:18):
Louise Palanker (00:24:19):
That is, can you describe the personalities of each of your family affair? Costars,
Johnny Whitaker (00:24:24):
Well, we'll start with Anisa. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, who unfortunately died of an overdose in 2000, in, uh, 1976. She was almost two years older, a year and a half older than I mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but very small for her age. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, she hated as she got older. Um, I, we stopped family for when I was 11, and she was already 13. They wanted her to continue wearing the Buffy braids or, you know, the ponytails and all of that. And she hated that. Um, they had, uh, Buffy line of clothes along with a Jodi line of clothes. And during the hiatuses, we would go out throughout the country and we would do, um, fashion shows with the clothes in the big malls all over. And did you
Fritz Coleman (00:25:15):
Participate in the prophets of that early merchandise? That was a question I had
Johnny Whitaker (00:25:19):
Personally, no. My family. Oh, okay.
Fritz Coleman (00:25:22):
<laugh>. That's, that's what I meant. Um,
Johnny Whitaker (00:25:24):
Me personally. No, I mean, it
Louise Palanker (00:25:25):
Sounds like, you know, you did whatever was necessary, whatever was asked of you. And then as Buffy as Buffy as, as Anissa got a little bit older, she kind of resisted some of this.
Johnny Whitaker (00:25:36):
Well, it was just, you know, she wanted to be a teenager. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, she was 13, and, um, she was trying to do the best she could, but her mother, um, did not believe in God. And I remember in our, um, educational pursuits, um, uh, a niece's mother made sure to tell our teacher, uh, Mrs. Dini, that, you know, if the subject ever goes onto religion, you need to stop it. Because I do not want, they knew that I was very, um, religious with the latter day Saint Mormon faith. And they didn't want, she did not want Anisa to be involved in any of that. And I just remember one time while we were doing schooling that the subject had something to do with religion or God. And Anis said, I believe in God, but don't you tell my mother I said that <laugh>. Oh. So, you know, that was the first that I had that, you know, there was some dynamic that was very bad.
I had found out after Family Affair. Well, when Anise and I found out that Family Affair was canceled, we were on a junket somewhere in the middle of the United States. And, um, we had just planned to do a Don Federson newspaper, um, and be the writers. We had started it the, the year before, just a couple of little deals that we would send out. And we made 5 cents per copy, <laugh>. And, uh, we didn't have to pay the production company, but we got the money. Um, and so, you know, we would make a hundred copies and it was, you know, whose birthday is it this month? And who's having something? And we were little, you know, writers part of our schooling, and we were going to then expand to the other sets. And, uh, that's what got us most upset that we would not be able to go on and have our names known in the, uh, world of, of news
Louise Palanker (00:28:05):
Journalism. <laugh>. Ah, that's adorable. So as far as, you know, what you could, you got along with her fine while you were doing the show? Oh,
Johnny Whitaker (00:28:14):
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, we were like brother and sister, we would fight, but uh, you know, like brothers and sisters do, we fight, but we get back together and we accept. Um, Kathy Garver Sissy, uh, was older. Um, she actually was 21 playing a 16 year old. And, um, we happened to have the same birthdays. Oh, okay. December 13th. Um, but, you know, she was nice and when she wanted to, she would play with the kids. And when she didn't, she would play with the adults. Um, but yeah, she was nice. And, you know, we got along fairly well. Um, and then Sebastian Cabo Yeah. Was very proper and everything that, uh, when we went to play and we were around Sebastian, he'd say, the ATO prepares <laugh>, would you like to go over your lines? <laugh>, you know, and unless there was a, a newspaper or somebody there, then he would make sure to bring the kids in and read us from Winnie the Poo or something. As long as it was something that they could do for, uh, you know, for publicity. Then of course, the kids, you know, family Affair was Buffy and Jodi. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Absolutely. Um, every, everybody else were just extras,
Louise Palanker (00:29:43):
<laugh>. That's pretty much the way it went down. Tell us about Brian. Keith.
Johnny Whitaker (00:29:47):
Brian Keith. Um, he was with us only three out of the nine months.
Louise Palanker (00:29:54):
Oh, he did a Fred McMurray.
Johnny Whitaker (00:29:56):
Exactly. That is how they got Fred McMurray, Don Federson Productions. They got Brian Keith telling him that he only has to work three months out of the nine months. And so all of the scripts that he was in, all of his scenes we did in the first three months. And then we would do all the rest of the scenes of everybody else for the next six months. Um, so we would be going from script 21 to script five, to script eight, to script 27 to script four all in one day. And so lemme
Fritz Coleman (00:30:35):
Just stop you right there. So when you get home from work every afternoon, did you have to memorize sides or, I mean, you, you had to commit a good deal to memory. So you, you, your work, your day, even though it went till five o'clock was would kill a child. You had to keep working beyond that, memorizing your copy.
Johnny Whitaker (00:30:54):
Right. Um, I had to, um, be on point and on, you know, on script. Um, and what happened is, on the way home from work, I would read the next day's lines, then I would have dinner and play with my brothers and sisters. My mother would then, um, read me my lines while I was sleeping, oh, the next morning that's really in the car on the way to work. I'd go through them again. And then when we got onto the set, you know, that's the way that I memorized.
Louise Palanker (00:31:35):
Did your siblings feel like they got less of your parents' attention because your career wa ne required so much?
Johnny Whitaker (00:31:42):
You know, as I got older and as I am older, <laugh> and, uh, my brothers and sisters, and I am one of eight children mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, there was definitely some animosity and some frustration, and some family members are more upset about it than others. But, um, most everyone kind of accepted the fact that we got to go to Disneyland for free anytime we wanted to. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and, you know, there were certain perks we got to move into a big home from a little home mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so some of the kids just, uh, you know, kind of took it in stride. Now I'm kind of the middle of eight, if there can be a middle <laugh>. Um, but I'm the youngest of the first group, which was 1, 2, 3, 4, mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and then a couple of years for me, and then a couple of years after me, and then 1, 2, 3.
So I'm the oldest of the younger generation and the youngest of the older generation. Kind of a little bit of both worlds. My younger brothers and sisters. Um, my younger sister, Mary, she was in the classroom scenes with me, so she gotta come on the set and be a, an extra. And, um, so everybody got a chance to, you know, to be in show business. Yeah. My sister, my brother and sister Dora and Bill, um, did some animation voices. Uh, if you watch the film, um, uh, Robinhood, my baby sister Dora plays, um, tag along Rabbit and my brother plays Skippy, the Rabbit <laugh>, who are the ones. And, um, you know, so they, they, they got a chance to, to work not as prolifically as I did, but they did. And my sister Dora continues today to have her own production company and, uh, uh, entertainment conglomerate.
Fritz Coleman (00:33:59):
Well, you, you talked about being able to go to Disneyland for free, and, and on the topic of Disney, you did three Disney movies,
Johnny Whitaker (00:34:08):
Fritz Coleman (00:34:08):
Four Disney movies. And, and you, you, you were wise beyond your years cuz you tried to talk your parents into buying Disney stock, <laugh>, and, uh, talk. And at the time it was 99 cents a share. So talk about that.
Johnny Whitaker (00:34:23):
Well, um, when I, I, I did four Disney movies in, in the year in 1971. Wow. And they were also preparing for Walt Disney World at the Disney Studios in any corner they could. And, uh, one of the artisans, uh, became a friend of mine, you know, like, uh, those are my peers. And I would come and watch him at lunch, sculpt things. And, um, he said, you know, Johnny, they're putting, uh, Disney is giving one for one stock options. Um,
Fritz Coleman (00:35:01):
<laugh>, how old were you? Do you know what a stock option? How old were you at the time?
Johnny Whitaker (00:35:03):
I was 11 <laugh>.
Speaker 5 (00:35:07):
Let's talk about your portfolio,
Fritz Coleman (00:35:09):
Johnny Whitaker (00:35:10):
And I, and I said, what's, what's a stock option? He says, well, what you do is
You get your check from Disney and any money that you give back to Disney, they will match it with like Disney bucks, you know, Disney dollars, <laugh>. And it was on about my second or third film. I said, mom, dad, you know, let's put in half of the money from this next film, which was about $15,000 of films that would be 7,500 bucks into Disney stock. And Disney will give me $7,500 in Disney stock. That would've been 15,000 shares of Disney stock. And today, <laugh>, that would be worth, if nothing happened from that time to this, that would be worth about $50 million.
Fritz Coleman (00:36:11):
<laugh>, your parents didn't take your financial advice. I mean, how, how could they turn you down at 11 years old? Well,
Louise Palanker (00:36:17):
I mean, eight kids, that's how Oh, okay. They had eight kids. That's a good point. So now you teach, you teach a class called Actors Toolkit and, and you say it's not just for actors that any, everybody can learn.
Johnny Whitaker (00:36:28):
Oh, sure. I all of us grow up as children and we lie <laugh> or we don't tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so we are acting all the time mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, if you've had children or nieces or nephews, you've seen them have a temper tantrum and get over it just like that <laugh> that's acting. Yeah. You know, um, and that's able to turn on the waterworks or turn it off. And as a child, we learn all of these things. And as an adult, we need to know how to, you know, turn on the charm and turn it off or be however we can to, um, get what we want. You know, it's, um, when we're asking for a raise, we need to turn on the charm and have proof, but we have to act it out a little bit. And, uh, I always tell people, especially if you're coming up for a raise or, or, or something like that, first thing is you need to practice it, you know, uh, kind of alte <laugh>, um, in front of the mirror or whatever, but, uh, you know, do both sides and, and prepare for it.
But, uh, yeah, that's exactly, uh, actors, I think, uh, well, Fritz, you're a good actor. Oh,
Fritz Coleman (00:37:59):
I, I like to think I'm a, in the Shakespearean class of acting <laugh> absolutely. <laugh> mm-hmm.
Johnny Whitaker (00:38:04):
<affirmative>. Um, but, you know, we have to take on different roles and in life and however we can best perform those roles, the better outcome mm-hmm. <affirmative> can come from those roles that we have created mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, you know, sometimes you gotta be good cop, bad cop, whatever it is.
Fritz Coleman (00:38:31):
That's a really interesting point. Yeah. That everybody acts every day just to get by in their lives. What they really
Louise Palanker (00:38:37):
Do, what what he's saying is not just the performance, but like reading the room and knowing which performance to put on <laugh>.
Johnny Whitaker (00:38:44):
Louise Palanker (00:38:45):
So that you could, that that, you know, because so much of life is really meeting other people's needs and meeting them where they'd like to be, but don't even realize they'd like to be there. So how can we help each other and
Johnny Whitaker (00:38:55):
Right. Well, the language that I use when I go to the, um, uh, to the jail here in, uh, up in, um, Castaic mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I do that about twice a month. My language in my demeanor has to change from being a good Christian boy mm-hmm.
Fritz Coleman (00:39:14):
<affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Johnny Whitaker (00:39:15):
Um, and saying, you know, grow the F up guys. Come on. You know, you need to, uh, take responsibility for your actions. And you know, one of the things is doing the time that you're doing here, great. But it's not the same person that I'm going to be when I'm teaching my, uh, D U I class. Um, got it. But, you know, we have different roles every single day. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, you come home, you're a mom, you're a dad, you come to work, you're a, a worker among workers or whatever the case is, those are the things that you do.
Fritz Coleman (00:39:51):
Life is method acting. I just learned that from him. It really is. Yeah. It's, it's, Hey, I wanna talk about, uh, you being a D U I teacher, because this is a thing that's very dear to me in my own personal life without getting too far into the weeds, but the darkness of your life came from a not unfamiliar story among child stars. You lapsed in a drug and alcohol abuse when, when, when you were young. And you're very forthcoming about that. And I've seen interviews the way you really, very honestly share your story, but there's an added part of your equation. You came from a Mormon family and probably, I don't know if all of your, uh, siblings were teetotalers, but I have Mormon friends who won't even drink a Dr. Pepper. I mean, depending on how devoted you are to it. So there was the extra pressure of really going outside the rails in your family situation right. When you, when you started.
Johnny Whitaker (00:40:42):
Well, I was a virgin when I got married at 24 years old mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And my wife and I, um, you know, consummated the, the, the marriage on our wedding night. And I was very excited and happy. And, uh, four years later she decided to divorce me and marry the man who gave me my bachelor party.
Louise Palanker (00:41:11):
Johnny Whitaker (00:41:11):
Goodness. And that sent my belief structure and my faith to be waning and waddling. And I met up with a young lady and her four and a half year old daughter who, um, I kind of fell in love with a four year and a half year old as a dad figure, you know, very mm-hmm. <affirmative> nice and positive, nothing weird. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But, um, and she introduced me to her mother and we started a relationship. And even though it was verboten, we did have, uh, physical knowledge, Arnold knowledge, she became pregnant. Um, her daughter was the product of a rape Oh no. And decided to keep the baby. But when she was pregnant with my child, she wasn't sure if she wanted to keep the baby. Hmm. And I told her, sorry, but you know, whatever's gonna happen, I'll raise the child if you don't want to. But she had a lot more, uh, other problems emotionally and unfortunately chose to take her life in the life of my baby. Oh. Oh
Fritz Coleman (00:42:23):
Johnny Whitaker (00:42:23):
I'm sorry. And, um, that same week or the next week, I got a letter saying that my divorce was final and I had made a decision that God did not exist, and that I was going to the dark side. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I made a conscious decision to do so. And so in making that decision, it was not difficult to go into bars, go into places, and start a life of sex, drugs, rock and roll. Plus
Fritz Coleman (00:42:57):
You were, you were self-medicating. I mean, uh, you were
Johnny Whitaker (00:42:59):
Trying to Absolutely. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. And, um, you know, found that I loved the way that alcohol and drugs made me feel mm-hmm. <affirmative> and that I could either feel better than anybody else or not feel anything. And that was, you know, vacillating between the two. But, um, my family came up and found out that I was smoking marijuana. They didn't know about the meth and the coke and <laugh>, the heroin that I'd done, but they thought that I was, you know, bad because I was smoking marijuana. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Anyway, they said, uh, that I had to go into treatment. And so I did. And, um, I realized that my sponsor is in the 12 step program. You have a guide, a spiritual guide. And my sponsor told me that I had to find God and I said, I don't want God. I already did that. And he told me that I could have any kind of a God or any kind of a higher being that I wanted. And so, um, I chose good orderly direction and group of drunks and druggies, g o d. And um, that's how I accepted it. And then in about four years of recovery, I found my own higher power, which I, you know, today is the Lord Jesus Christ and my father in heaven. Um, and actually three years ago I was rebaptized into the Mormon faith, and now I'm a full-fledged card carrying member of the l d s church. Oh,
Fritz Coleman (00:44:45):
Wow. Wow. Amen. May I, I, if you'll permit me to ask you, and I really appreciate your honesty, how, how your family did an intervention. How did that work? That's a pivotal moment in, in somebody's life.
Johnny Whitaker (00:44:55):
Well, my youngest sister had a friend, uh, who was an interventionist. And, um, one Sunday the family got together and I was not allowed to be in the room when they were talking, and I had to go watch the, the grandkids. I didn't know what was going on, but, you know, screw them. Anyway. Um, and then the next week I was the star of the day and each of my family members told me how much they loved me. And then my younger brother gave me a contract saying, if you want to see your nieces and nephews ever again, you need to do A, B, C, D, and E. And had they not, you know, seen the adults, I didn't care about them, but I did care about my, my nephews. I, especially the three that lived in the vicinity where I did, um, they were very important to me. And so for that reason, I decided to get sober and clean and, um, you know, thanks to them, I, I, you know, I've got almost 25 years now
Fritz Coleman (00:46:07):
And, and there's a gift in that experience cuz now you're saving lives and you're, you're, you're making the planet a better place, which I always love those third acts.
Johnny Whitaker (00:46:15):
Well, I try to mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the thing is, you do not have to have gone through everything that I did to help other people who have a drug or alcohol problem. But when I'm able to use my stories and the situations that I went through to understand how this deal works about recovery, because the brain of an addict alcoholic is very different from a brain of a non-ad alcoholic. And it is that brain chemistry and that brain information that I love to share with other people so that they know the reason that, um, an addict or an alcoholic can't stop drinking or can't stop doing drugs is because their body and their mind, their emotions and their spirit are all futzed up. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And until they can kind of get all of those four things together, um, you're going to continue to drink and use.
Louise Palanker (00:47:21):
So you, you, we spoke earlier of the, the Facebook group for ex child actress. Since you truly understand trauma, are you the guy that fellow former child stars call when they are in distress or in crisis?
Johnny Whitaker (00:47:34):
I am available and open. Absolutely. And, uh, I mean, when Lindsay Lohan had her first little troubles back when mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I actually called, uh, and spoke with somebody who was in charge of her and told them my name and my background and my information and I said, you know, I'm here. I'd love to be able to talk with her and help her. Oh, we've got it all taken care of. Okay. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, then she went way off the rails and then, you know, now supposedly things are okay. But, um, you know, I am always available, especially with, um, I, I do interventions today. Oh, you too in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese
Louise Palanker (00:48:21):
Now. Yeah. How did you, you are a very gifted person cuz you're also good at tech and you're just a really, really kind of renaissance guy. Yeah.
Fritz Coleman (00:48:33):
You were like a computer specialist at CBS for a while, right? You, you're, you're a tech. Yes.
Louise Palanker (00:48:36):
But how did you master all these languages? When did you have time for that?
Johnny Whitaker (00:48:42):
Well, Jodi Foster and I, when we did, uh, the film, um, uh, Napoleon and Samantha, which was my second Disney film, Jodi was preparing to go into Luis Fae. And so her mother insisted that the social worker teacher that we had that summer be fluent in French. And you can only speak a language if you have somebody to speak with mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so Jodi and I practiced French together, <laugh>. So, you know, one of the things I remember was [inaudible] mm-hmm. <affirmative>, this is a car repeat <laugh>.
Fritz Coleman (00:49:24):
So you're a certified drug and alcohol co, uh, counselor. And, and, and do you work with a specific facility or are you a freelance? I know you do prison work and, uh,
Johnny Whitaker (00:49:32):
Well, I, I currently work for a, uh, uh, a Center for Counseling and Education in, um, Canoga Park. And, um, it's a D U I school, but I also have private clientele, uh, and do interventions and, um, help, like I said in the four different languages, uh, including actually, uh, American Sign Language. Wow, that's wonderful. But, um, and I've been able to use all of them, but, um, I, you know, as an interventionist, as a drug and alcohol counselor, um, we just keep on doing the do you know, and, um, when people call, I try to help them out as best I can. Um, sometimes the problem is greater than I can help or they don't have the finances, so I need to find them someplace that they can go. I have a nonprofit called Paso Port Paso, which means step by step in Spanish mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that's specifically to help the non-English speaking addict, alcoholic fine treatment and recovery. And, um, you know, many times they don't have the finances to go into a, a program, uh, but you know, we will do our best to help them. And, uh, you know, Anissa Jones, she died, um, in 1976 of a drug, an alcohol overdose. And about 12 years ago I started with another organization to celebrate, um, overdose Awareness Day, which is August 31st. And this year on September 10th, I'm going to have a free to the public, uh, open, um, zoom call. And it's a, um, remembering lives lost and lives recovered. And we name each of the 150 names that we get with 25 more every year of people who have died of an overdose death. Where
Fritz Coleman (00:51:54):
Do they find out information about that? That sounds
Johnny Whitaker (00:51:56):
Very inspirational. They can go to johnny whitaker.com mm-hmm. <affirmative> and or, um, overdose awareness 0 8 31 gmail is where they can send the information or Johnny Johnny Whitaker dot com. They can ask for more information indefinitely. Um, if anyone has a family member or a friend who is died due to an overdose, then if you send us their name and some information about them, we will make sure to put them this year on our list. If those individuals wish to share three to five minutes about the life of their loved one, they're welcome to. As we read each of the names, many famous, many infamous, and I've got seven that I have. Anisa was the first. And then, uh, Lonnie O'Grady, who was the oldest sister in eight is enough. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, she was like a sister to me. And she died of a mixture of op opiates and, uh, uh, mental health meds. Um, Eric Douglas, who is uh mm-hmm. <affirmative>, Michael Douglas's, half-brother. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> died of a cocaine overdose. Um, and then Dana Plato, I was her last manager and she died of an overdose. And 11 years to the day of her mother's death, of his mother's death, her son, uh, shot himself, uh, in a drug-induced rage. And so then, uh, Celeste Holmes actually who played Aunt Polly mm-hmm. <affirmative> while she was in the hospital, she was, um, overdosed by the hospital. No. Um, and she died. Oh. And, uh, I ne
Fritz Coleman (00:53:47):
I never heard that.
Johnny Whitaker (00:53:49):
Fritz Coleman (00:53:49):
Yes. Oh my goodness.
Johnny Whitaker (00:53:51):
And, uh, I mean, and you know, overdose, I do not believe people who die of overdoses really wanted to kill themselves. Yes. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Yes. In a niece's, um, situation because of the amount that was there. It's kind of definite that, you know, she was trying to, but the only thing that we do as addicts and alcoholics is we try not to feel or try to have, feel differently. And we do not know, nor especially today with the fentanyl, um, that is injected and put into a lot of the drugs. We don't know how much or how little is there
Fritz Coleman (00:54:32):
And 50 times stronger than heroin. That's an awful, awful chemical.
Johnny Whitaker (00:54:36):
Yes. And just three little beads is enough to kill you.
Fritz Coleman (00:54:41):
I I I I I'm guessing then that you're a fan of this Narcan distribution, this free distribution system.
Johnny Whitaker (00:54:46):
Absolutely. Yep. Yep. Yes. I, I have taught, uh, the distribution, I've taught people how to use it. Um, I've never used it myself, you know, that I've, I've needed it, but I have it. And, uh, when I find people who are on the street and I have a, you know, something in my car and, um, you know, I'll go to them, I'll give them a quick lesson and then give them his, you can't just give it to them. They have to be educated about how to use it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but, you know, I am an authorized educator and so, you know, I will do that. And it, you know, it has saved thousands of lives. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Louise Palanker (00:55:31):
What a blessing. Now you have some other upcoming events. Before we close, I know you've got a Tom Sawyer golden anniversary coming up and, uh, Western Legends Heritage and Music Festival. So tell us about those events and we'll have all of this information in our show notes. If you're listening in your car, don't do anything dangerous, <laugh>, just go home and check the show notes and we've got all the links for you.
Johnny Whitaker (00:55:52):
Beautiful. Well, yes. Um, on July, the July 4th weekend, um, we will have, um, 50 years since we filmed the, the film Tom Sawyer in the little town of Arrow Rock, Missouri, which is on the Missouri River, not the Mississippi, but it's on the west side of, uh, the Missouri
Fritz Coleman (00:56:16):
And that's the Tom Sawyer musical.
Johnny Whitaker (00:56:19):
Oh, yeah, exactly. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so we're gonna have, um, that whole weekend, lots of different free events and, uh, lots
Louise Palanker (00:56:28):
Of fence painting people, <laugh>,
Fritz Coleman (00:56:30):
Come on. Do you pay for the French
Louise Palanker (00:56:32):
Painting? Come for the balloons, stay for the fence. Pa
Johnny Whitaker (00:56:35):
<laugh>. Exactly. And, and, but, um, myself and Joshua Hill Lewis, who was, um, cousin Sydney. Oh, were gonna be there. Okay. And, uh, I've got Frank Capra iii. Oh, mm-hmm. <affirmative>, who, um, Jeff East, myself. He and the three other boys played Spin the Bottle while we were filming Tom Sawyer. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But, um, he's going to join us along, along with, uh, Jeff East from France. And I haven't gotten to settle down yet, but Jodi Foster, um, has agreed to send some something to us. Oh. Hopefully she can join us. And, um, then, uh, we're gonna, on the 4th of July, Monday, we're going to have a big picnic out in the same park where they had the 4th of July picnic in, um, in the film. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then the end of August, I'll be in southern Utah at the Western Legends. I filmed, um, gun smoke, two episodes of gun smoke there. And, uh, we, I'm invited there the last three years to, uh, meet up with fans and friends and, uh, go down the, the, uh, parade route within a horse and <laugh>, get it, be a cowboy for the day. <laugh> <laugh>.
Fritz Coleman (00:57:58):
I I just wanna ask you one more question and then we we'll close up. And, um, but do you find in the darkness of the world that we currently find ourselves in, that people are really seeking those older things And you can name any of the shows you were involved in, I'll say Family Affair. Cause there was so much love emanating from the TV screen with that show and Tom Sawyers, you know, come on. It's the icon. Do you find people are seeking that stuff out more in some of these independent channels like the Me channel and what are the other ones that have? Uh, but but I mean, it seems like people are reveling in that right now, the old Andy Griffith shows and all that, just because it was a gentler more human time.
Johnny Whitaker (00:58:37):
Well, parents especially don't know what to trust.
Fritz Coleman (00:58:45):
Johnny Whitaker (00:58:46):
They can look at a film or a TV show, you know, Netflix or Hulu or whatever, and think, wow, this sounds like a really good thing. And it, and then all of a sudden there's sex, drugs, and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, they don't, they can't trust it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, you can definitely trust the old shows. Yeah. Yeah. They're thing, they're shows that everyone loves, love to watch and love to watch today. And they can feel comfortable and say, yes, you can watch every single one of these episodes and not have any concern whatsoever. Mm-hmm.
Louise Palanker (00:59:23):
<affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Well, Johnny Whitaker, you are a hero and I wanna just thank you for being with us. I'm gonna be well, thank you. I'm gonna read our closing credits right now. Thank you so much for joining us. We would love Thank you Johnny. We would love to continue this conversation with you on Instagram and Twitter, where we are at Media Path Pod and on Facebook where our show page is, media Path Podcast. And our Facebook group is Media Path with Fritz and Weezy podcast community. You can find full video podcast episodes loaded with bonus visual content on our YouTube channel Media Path podcast. You can write to us at Media Path firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoy this show, please give us a nice rating in Apple or on Spotify and we would just really appreciate you for that. You can sign up for our Fun and dishy email@example.com. We wanna thank our wonderful guest, Johnny Whitaker. Our team includes Dina Friedman, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble Mason Brown, and tell us your last name. Chris Paul, Chris Baldwin, and you. Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I am Louise Lanker here with Fritz Coleman and Johnny Whitaker. And we will see you along the media path. Johnny, do you have two seconds to to pose for
Johnny Whitaker (01:00:34):
Johnny@johnnywhitaker.com? For johnny whitaker.com and paso po paso.org?
Louise Palanker (01:00:42):
Yes. And we'll have all of that in the show notes for you.