American child TV star
AKA Mary Anissa Jones
Born March 11, 1958 at West Lafayette, Indiana. She was the daughter of John P. Jones and Mary P. Tweel, born while they were both students at Purdue University. The young family soon moved to Playa Del Rey, California. Her mother enrolled her in dance classes at the age of 4. Her first work was in 1964 at the age of 6 when her mother took her to an open audition for a cereal commercial.
Young and famous
Anissa found her fame at the young age of 8, when she caught the attention of Brian Keith, who lobbied for her to be cast as Elizabeth 'Buffy' Patterson-Davis on the new CBS sitcom Family Affair. She was half of a set of twins, the other being a brother named Jody, played by Johnny Whitaker. They had an older sister named Sissy, a high-schooler played by Kathy Garver. The children had lost their parents due to a tragic auto accident and they were the new wards of their bachelor uncle. The cast was rounded out by the role of Uncle Bill, played by Brian Keith and Mr. French, Uncle Bill's gentleman's gentleman, played by Sebastian Cabot. The character of Buffy was inseperable from a doll named Mrs. Beasley, who she spoke with and claimed to hear.
Her job as Buffy was very demanding, not only meeting a grueling schedule of filming, but additional promotional/marketing appearances. When she broke her leg in a playground accident in 1969, the injury was included in the show's story line. She was considered too integral a character to sideline for recuperation. Over the 5 year run of the show there were 138 episodes. The show ran from 1966 through 1971.
With the cancellation of Family Affair, Alissa was far from sad. She saw it as an opportunity to be normal, hang out with friends, and finally be rid of her personal albatross, Mrs. Beasley. At the ripe old age of 13, she had outgrown the doll, but had been forced to continue her relationship with it as part of her TV personna.
While appearing on Family Affair, Anissa also appeared in the Elvis Presley movie The Trouble With Girls (1969).
After Family Affair ended, Anissa tried for the role of Megan MacNeil, the bedeviled young girl in the hit movie The Exorcist. She lost out to Linda Blair and never auditioned for any other roles in film. The reasons are unclear whether it was by choice or simply fate. She was offered a role by Brian Keith in his new series The Brian Keith Show in 1972. The offer came with the promise that she wouldn't have to audition, but she passed up the opportunity.
Stormy family life
Anissa's parents had endured a bitter divorce in 1965 and continued a running battle over custody of Anissa and her year-younger brother John Paul Jones. Custody was finally awarded to the father in 1973. He was to die shortly afterward from heart disease, with custody reverting to the mother. Her brother moved in with the mother but Anissa instead chose to move in with a friend.
Downward, ever downward
Anissa began a spiral downward, starting to skip school which resulted in her being in juvenile hall. After release she began shoplifting and doing drugs. She failed to complete high school and worked in a doughnut shop for a while in 1975. At the age of 18 she became owner of approximately $180,000.00 in a trust fund. The funds were in large part from her earnings from Family Affair. She and her brother rented an apartment together. She became involved with Allan Kovan, a man known to be involved with drugs.
On August 28, 1976 after a night of partying at a friend's home in Oceanside, California, Anissa was found dead from a drug overdose. She died in her sleep from a lethal drug mix of cocaine, PCP, methaqualone, and Seconal. Her death was ruled an accidental overdose. The coroner stated that she had died from one of the most severe overdoses he had ever encountered.
Though she had a large amount of cash and savings bonds still available at her death, she was cremated and had no funeral, grave or marker. She didn't want to become a tourist attraction due to the fame of her 'Buffy' character. Her ashes were scattered upon the Pacific Ocean on September 1, 1976.
Tragically, her beloved brother John Paul also succumbed to a drug overdose and died in 1984.
Anissa Jones is remembered as a very intelligent, kindhearted young woman. Her generosity was well documented. After receiving her trust fund money, she bought herself a Ford Pinto and her brother a new Chevy Camaro, a car costing twice as much as her own. When working on Family Affair, she was usually accompanied by her brother because of scheduling logistics. As a popular young TV star, she of course often received gifts. She insisted that her brother also get the same gift and if he didn't, she would give him her own.
At the death of Earl Graham, who had been employed as a janitor on the show set, Alissa took out an ad in Variety to say goodbye to her friend. The ad cost her $400.00, but she didn't count the cost.
Her portrayal of Buffy on Family Affair always seemed rather bittersweet, having a hint of melancholy about it. Alissa came to detest acting, hating the requirements it made of her. While it made her a household name in America it also demanded much of her. Mary Alissa Jones left this life far too soon, victim of her own personal demons which finally destroyed her. She is missed by her fans and her friends, both of which never had enough of her.