I’d like to open this piece with respect and admiration for both of the Cartwright sisters, two child stars that survived that gauntlet with a successful and graceful transition into adulthood, personally and professionally.
Of the pair, Angela Cartwright arguably had the more successful career, as a Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and with roles in two classic series – Make Room for Daddy and Lost in Space.
But to me Veronica was the more intriguing sibling. She brought a formidable intensity to any character she played, but she also had a chameleon-like quality that made each one unique. I can always spot Angela immediately, whether she’s sitting in a classroom on Room 222 or sailing on The Love Boat. But I’ve watched shows over the years and didn’t know Veronica was in them until I saw her name in the credits. That is a testament to her ability to sink so deeply into a role that one sees only the character and not the actress.
With this guide to some of her memorable TV appearances, hopefully you’ll be able to notice her faster than I did.
Leave it to Beaver (1960)
In “Beaver and Violet,” Veronica Cartwright made her second of three series appearances as Beaver’s pig-tailed classmate Violet Rutherford. She kisses Beaver on the cheek at the urging of her father, who takes a picture of the moment that winds up on the cover of Ward’s company newsletter. This was not a happy moment for young Theodore. Cartwright reprised Violet 25 years later in The New Leave it to Beaver – which, let’s face it, wasn’t a very good revival, but it was still fun to see her again.
Make Room for Daddy (1961)
Nepotism alert: Veronica got a couple of guest spots on her sister’s series. In “Teacher For a Day” she plays…a girl named Veronica. Roles that required a bigger stretch were still to come.
The Twilight Zone (1962)
“I Sing the Body Electric” is best remembered as the only TZ episode written by Ray Bradbury, but it also features the first Veronica Cartwright performance in her child-star phase that requires some deep-down acting. She plays Anne Rogers, one of three siblings mourning the loss of their mother, and the only one reluctant to accept a robot grandmother as a substitute caregiver. It’s a strange, understated episode, one without the sting ending for which the series was famous.
Daniel Boone (1964)
Cartwright’s longest-running TV role was Jemima Boone, daughter of the famed frontiersman played by Fess Parker. She appeared in more than 30 episodes during the first two seasons, and then disappeared without anyone knowing if she got married and left town or was killed by a grizzly bear. Apparently there were no hard feelings, as Cartwright appears in the series’ DVD sets happily reminiscing about her time on the show.
Family Affair (1969)
Prim and proper Cissy is lured into the East Village pad of some filthy
hippies in “Flower Power.” Will Uncle Bill’s eldest soon become a burden on society? I love culture clash episodes from this era, even though their sympathies are always with the clean-shaven. Spouting lines like “We can just be…here we just are,” Veronica Cartwright plays Jo-Ann, one of the flower children whom Cissy finds fascinating, until little Buffy opens her eyes to the pitfalls of a life with no responsibilities.
How’s this for versatility: in the same year she played a flighty flower child on Family Affair, Cartwright appears in “Personnel: The Shooting” as the conservative young wife of a police officer shot in the line of duty. In powerful scenes with Friday and Gannon she unleashes a torrent of bitterness toward the police department she never wanted her husband to join.
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (1970)
Sometimes you meet a character that appears in only one episode of a series, and you find that character so captivating you want to see where life takes them next. Such is Mary Gaffney, coffee shop waitress in a dead-end Colorado town, featured in an episode of this underrated series entitled “Point of Honor.” It’s my favorite Veronica Cartwright performance and one of her least seen, though the series is available on DVD and highly recommended.
Tanner ’88 (1988)
This 1988 miniseries about a Democrat presidential campaign arrived with quite the pedigree: Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau wrote it and Robert Altman directed. I thought it was boring, to be honest, even with Cartwright’s typically forceful performance as a reporter covering the story of Tanner’s extra-marital affair. The series has historical significance, as an early example of the “mockumentary” genre and for the appearances of some real Washington politicians and insiders. But everyone here seems to work so hard to achieve what The West Wing did without breaking a sweat.
L.A. Law (1989)
Cartwright appears as one of several recurring attorneys to go up against those from the titular law firm where the series is set. She has one of her best moments as no-nonsense D.A. Margaret Flanagan in “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” when she wipes the floor with Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) after he makes the mistake of putting his client on the witness stand.
And even though it’s out of the time period I associate with Comfort TV, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Cartwright’s standout work as alien abductee Cassandra Spender on The X-Files.