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What Happened To The Original Cast Of The Wonder Years?

Hot off the success of "Growing Pains," the husband/wife duo of Neal Marlens and Carol Black's next project would not only be a show about a cherished time in history, but become history itself. "The Wonder Years" was born of their "personal experience of having come of age in a period when there was so much turmoil in the world."

The series about a boy growing up in the late 1960s employed a narrator, which Black said made it unique in giving the audience "a child's and an adult's point of view at the same time." Great detail was paid to every aspect of the production, including the soundtrack, in which she added: "we figured that the same way that 'Miami Vice' has a budget for stunts, we'd have a budget for music." This later became an issue, however, when trying to clear the licenses again for streaming and physical media releases — including the theme, Joe Cocker's cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends."

The show premiered in 1988 as a mid-season replacement, at a time when such designations rarely indicated network expectations of success. It did, however, get a coveted showcase directly after Super Bowl XXII, and "The Wonder Years" became an instant hit. 

After its abbreviated first season, the series won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1988. In its six seasons and 115 episodes, it would garner plenty more honors and adoring fans who either saw their past in Kevin Arnold, or their present in Fred Savage. The sort of rare show loved by young and old, it resonated with both past generations and ones with their future still largely ahead of them.

With a reboot debuting on ABC this fall, let's see what happened to the original cast of "The Wonder Years."

Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold

Fred Savage's angelic face was already lighting up movie screens ("The Princess Bride," "Vice Versa") when he caught the eyes of the "Wonder Years" creators, who cast him in the lead role of Kevin Arnold. 

As audiences tuned in to watch Kevin wade through the awkward adolescent period of puberty, Savage was enduring the same growing pains as his onscreen persona, and experiencing a lot of firsts on set, including his first kiss ("It was terrifying!"). Other firsts included being the youngest ever Lead Actor in a Comedy Emmy nominee, and the third youngest person to ever host "Saturday Night Live," both at age 13. When the show wrapped, he knew he was a part of something special that he could forever be proud of and look back on as "the world's greatest photo album."

Early fame for a child actor can often spell trouble, but Savage's parents kept him grounded, and with a level head he attended Stanford. While he still kept up with his craft (sometimes poking fun at his signature role), he was always interested in working behind the camera, and now has more credits on that side than he does as an actor. Savage directed Disney shows such as "Phil of the Future," before moving on to more adult fare like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Party Down," and "Modern Family."

Savage has stated that there will "never" be a "Wonder Years" reunion — but he is heavily involved in the ABC reboot series, directing the pilot and executive producing the series, which will debut in fall of 2021.

[Fun fact: Kevin's New York Jets jacket resides at the Smithsonian.]

Daniel Stern as older Kevin Arnold (The Narrator)

It's hard to imagine "The Wonder Years" without a narrator (someone did), or it not being narrated by Daniel Stern (he was hired for the job, then fired and replaced by friend Arye Gross for the pilot, then RE-hired with a big pay bump). 

It ended up, as Stern put it, "the greatest job in show business ever. I'd wake up, I'd stay in my pajamas, I'd record the show, and I'd go back to bed." His role as the narrator was never credited, but Stern's name did appear in the credits as the director of 10 episodes. For the series finale, during the final fade to black, we hear the voice of Kevin's son asking him to play catch, and that voice was the uncredited work of Stern's own son Henry, now a California State Senator.

Stern was one of "The Wonder Years" more well-known cast members, having debuted in the Academy Award winning "Breaking Away" and starring in "Diner." He reached new heights of fame at the same time appearing in "Home Alone," "City Slickers," and "Little Monsters," where he played father to ... Fred Savage. The two made fun of their Kevin Arnold dynamic on the "Family Guy" episode "FOX-y Lady." Stern directed the film "Rookie of the Year," voiced "Dilbert," and most recently played Aidy Bryant's father on Hulu's "Shrill."

Dan Lauria as John "Jack" Arnold

"I was the grouchy old dad," is how Dan Lauria characterizes his role as "Wonder Years" patriarch Jack Arnold. The network apparently wanted Elliot Gould for the role, and Lauria wasn't even on their casting radar until a different TV mother he was dating stepped in and landed him an audition. "

"If it wasn't for ['Growing Pains' star] Joanna Kerns, I probably never would have gotten the show," he graciously recalled. It was Lauria's idea to make Jack a war veteran (like the actor was), and the writers ran with it; ultimately, that suited not only his weary character's background, but informed eventual storylines about the escalating conflict in Vietnam.

Following the series, Lauria had no issues getting cast — playing coaches, military brass, and guys with a tough exterior, but a warm heart. He re-teamed with Fred Savage on his sitcom "Working," and then with Danica McKellar on a short film she directed called "Speechless...", and he also co-starred with her in the 2018 Hallmark movie "Christmas at Grand Valley." Off set, played babysitter for McKellar's son.

Lauria has also handed in acclaimed work on stage, including as infamous Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in a Broadway play from 2010. In the production, his wife was played by another classic '80s TV mom, "Who's The Boss" star Judith Light.

In his free time, after getting "tired of seeing my godson playing on the computer," he and the child's parent, Cathryn Farnsworth, co-authored a series of children's books called "The Godfather Tales" to encourage them to think, write and create.

Alley Mills as Norma Arnold

Alley Mills wasn't an actual mother, but channeled her childhood best friend's mom while shaping her role as the generous and loving matriarch Norma Arnold, a "smart woman who just ended up being a homemaker, but she could've probably run a company." 

She not only looked out for Kevin, Wayne and Karen onscreen, but acted as the kids' advocate off screen as well. Mills kept things light and fun for all while filming, gaining a reputation for sticking peas up her nose and blowing them into her milk between takes. Mills spoke about what she found most touching about the show, "every single half-hour was about the human spirit somehow winning out in the end." However, she did not have kind things to say about the "ridiculous" sexual harassment suit filed against Savage and Hervey that may have prematurely cancelled the series.

The show gave her financial stability, allowed her to take more risks as an actor and tackle "weirder roles." One such role brought Mills back to television for another long haul (682 episodes!), as bipolar spinster Pamela Douglas on the "The Bold and the Beautiful." She was as good at chewing up the scenery as she was at chewing tea bags. Other notable roles include playing Wilson family matriarch Audree Wilson in TV movie "The Beach Boys: An American Family," playing the sister on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," and being Mrs. Orson Bean for 27 years. Her husband, the veteran actor, was tragically struck and killed by a car in 2020.

Jason Hervey as Wayne Arnold

If you looked up "worst older brother ever" in an encyclopedia of television history, there would be a picture of actor Jason Hervey as Wayne Arnold. 

Wayne was not your average middle child, but more of a wild one, making Kevin's life a living hell, and trying to embarrass his "butthead" brother at every opportunity he got. Winnie Cooper did the world a solid when she slapped him across the face. Hervey said his older brother Scott was the "prototype" for Wayne. Scott vouched for how perfect his younger brother was for the role as Wayne: "He'd be a brat, so I used to beat him up. Brattiness comes naturally to him."

By the time Hervey time-traveled back to the 1960s for "The Wonder Years," he was a veteran of the industry, having appeared in over 250 commercials and cast as unforgettable brats in "Back To The Future," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," and "The Monster Squad." While he continued acting beyond his "Years," Hervey grew more and more interested in working on the flip side of the camera in producing, starting with WCW, where he met his eventual business partner Eric Bischoff. The two formed Bischoff Hervey Entertainment, which has been behind shows like "See Dad Run," "The Devil's Ride," and "Scott Baio is 45... And Single."

Hervey and Savage acted together again on an episode of "Working," and switched birth order to voice brothers Hawk and Dove on "Justice League Unlimited" in 2004.

[Fun fact: Hervey's godfather is wrestling legend Terry Funk, who he said in 1990 "once kicked in my pinkie finger."]

Olivia d'Abo as Karen Arnold

Olivia d'Abo played two different roles on "Growing Pains," which inspired show creator Neal Marlens and Carol Black to bring her along for "The Wonder Years." 

As the eldest Arnold child, Karen was a hippie caught up in the counterculture movement, leaving her mom to defend her — and her dad at wits' end. By the end of Season 3, when Karen turned 18 and was at a crossroads, d'Abo summed up her journey, "She began as a 16-year-old who said a lot of rebellious things she didn't really understand. She's matured, and in the final episodes of the season we see that she and her father are very much alike." She would stick around on the show until the end of Season 5, when she married Michael (David Schwimmer) and the two moved to Alaska. d'Abo returned for the series finale, complete with baby bump, where everyone was all smiles.

Born into fame, d'Abo's father was Mike, a songwriter and lead vocalist of the band Manfred Mann ("Mighty Quinn"), and her mother was model/actress Maggie London. Olivia's career started with a bang, making her acting debut opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984's "Conan the Destroyer," and went on to have a chock full resume that includes films like "Point of No Return," shows like "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and voicework for "Star Wars: Clone Wars." She was once engaged to Julian Lennon, lived with her Bond girl cousin Maryam, sang with Bon Jovi and Seal, and to this day, continues to age gracefully.

Josh Saviano as Paul Pfeiffer

Nerdy neighbor Paul Pfeiffer had about as many allergies as he did brain cells, so when auditioning for the role, Jersey boy Josh Saviano landed the part by being able to sneeze on command

Paul always wanted to do the right thing, was often the voice of reason, and no matter how many times Kevin was mean to him, Paul was always there for him. He didn't get many girls, but lost his virginity before Kevin did; Saviano became a man in a different way, three times Bar Mitzvahed, on "The Wonder Years," another show called "The Discovery," and once in real life. Mazel tov!

Saviano took a break from acting to attend Yale, then closed the door on the vocation when he moved onto law school and became interested in representing talent over being the talent. He worked at the firm Morrison Cohen for 12 years to "help individual artists, talent brand themselves, and grow that brand," before branching out on his own, co-founding the Spotlight Advisory Group "helping creatives thrive." He did briefly return to being in front of the camera, as Counselor Don Taft for three episodes over three seasons on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

For the record, Saviano claims once and for all that he is not Marylin Manson (nor Lady Gaga), although he admits he once came close to meeting up with the gothic rocker when Manson's tour had a pit stop in Hartford, Connecticut, while Saviano was in school in New Haven.

Danica McKellar as Gwendolyn "Winnie" Cooper

The tomboy in pigtails from down the block was quickly blossoming into a young woman, and made Kevin Arnold think about rounding a different kind of bases. 

This was the power and allure of one Gwendolyn "Winnie" Cooper, played with perfect innocence by Danica McKellar, who for 104 episodes tugged and pulled at Kevin's heartstrings, and the audiences' too. When she broke up with Kevin in the show, McKellar had broken up with her real world boyfriend a week prior, so the emotions and crying poured into the scene were real.

One of her favorite storylines "was that Winnie Cooper scored higher on her math SATs than Kevin Arnold, which ended up being kind of foreshadowing for all my mathematics." After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Mathematics, she penned several books on the subject, including the New York Times bestseller "Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail."

Re-defining her image as an adult, she posed for "Stuff" Magazine in 2005. She has certainly grown up since those "Wonder Years," appearing in lurid movies on the Lifetime network, "The West Wing," providing numerous voice overs for video games and cartoons, and has written and directed two short films. She has come full circle on her wholesome image, and is now a staple on the Hallmark Channel and very visible every Christmas time. She has also worked opposite Savage a handful of times, on episodes of the sitcom "Working" and the cartoon "Generator Rex."

Michael Tricario as Randy Mitchell

Outside of Paul, Randy Mitchell was one of Kevin's only male friends to follow him from RFK Junior High to McKinley High School. Played by Michael Tricario, Randy was more into teasing his friends and less into his schoolwork – he failed three trigonometry tests in a row and only got a 730 on his SATs, but through it all the tall guy always had a smile on his face.

After the show, Tricario attended UC Santa Barbara, then jumped into the TV industry. He was a producer at VH1, where he worked on a "Where Are They Now" piece on former child stars and a documentary on the Ramones. He then jumped to Nickelodeon, where he has worked in several departments and roles including on-air promotions, movie promotion, executive producing, and is currently a Vice President and Creative Director at the network.

Brandon Crane as Doug Porter

Brandon Crane was cast three times on "The Wonder Years" for three different roles, before they settled on him to play the jolly and eager Doug Porter, who surfaced in Season 2. 

Crane relished his time on "the best show of the era," getting "paid to swim in gumballs, drink untold gallons of #yoohoo, become the ultimate Monopoly hustler, chronic pratfall man and be the best #fifthwheel to the wagon I could be. Other gigs would come, but none as sweet as this."

In between seasons, Crane took time to star in the revered 1990 TV miniseries of Stephen King's "It" as young Ben Hanscome (John Ritter played the older version). Following this run of roles, he "reached the awkward years and the work dried up." Crane thought of switching up career paths, but was lured back and studied theatre. Mainly sticking to the stage, Crane did make a cameo in "Chapter Two" of the big screen adaptation of "It" as one of elder Ben's employees.

He considers himself an "accomplished errorist," and is most happy to relive the past at fan conventions, as well as recording special messages for you and yours through Cameo. He also goes by Mister Culture Bakehouse, because his wife is rolling in (sour)dough. He helps her out by creating delicious looking videos and photography for the business.

[Fun fact: Acting runs in Crane's family. His grandfather Fred spoke the very first words in "Gone With the Wind."]

Andy Berman as Chuck Coleman

Chuck Coleman was both doofy and lovable, forever chewing on gum and elevating annoying to an art form. 

He made his first appearance in Season 5 as a dork on Kevin's soccer team that he didn't want anything to do with. Apparently, when filming the episode, bugs were swarming around, causing actor Andy Berman to squint and twitch, and the director told him to adopt this trademark facial expression for his character going forward. He would end up in a hot and cold relationship with his "Pooky," Alice Pedermeir, played by Lindsay Sloane.

"The Wonder Years" wouldn't be the last of the Berman/Sloane pairing, as she would appear on two episodes of "Psych" (both of which he wrote) and directed one. In fact, Berman directed four, wrote 33, and produced 97 episodes of "Psych," and now series star Dulé Hill will be playing the father figure on the "Wonder Years" reboot. Berman held similar duties in the show "Rosewood," and he continues to act and even directed a short fictional comedy about the actors who played Oompa Loompas in 2000 called "Bit Players." He also appeared in "Rookie of The Year," directed by narrator David Stern.

Giovanni Ribisi as Jeff Billings

Giovanni Ribisi arrived in the final season, described as "Jeff Billings, the new kid in school. Believe it or not, he was the first kid I ever knew whose parents were divorced." Kevin was quick to befriend him, finding a kindred wiseguy spirit and enjoying his YOLO way of life. Jeff's fun-loving exterior, however, was a way to shield him from the pain of his parents separating, moving to a new town and school, and being asked to fit in.

Post-"Wonder Years," Ribisi's career shifted to feature films, as the original drummer in "That Thing You Do!," a medic in "Saving Private Ryan," the protagonist in "Boiler Room," Scarlett Johansson's aloof boyfriend in "Lost In Translation," and the greedy corporate suit Parker Selfridge in "Avatar." 

He has continued to mix in TV projects as well, making memorable guest appearances on "Friends" and "My Name Is Earl," and shifting about as the title character on Prime Video's "Sneaky Pete." He'll next return to Pandora with director James Cameron for several sequels to "Avatar." Ribisi remarked, "I've read the four films and it's incredible. You can't imagine how it could even be done." The first sequel is due in theaters in 2022.

Scott Nemes as Ricky Halsenbach

Scott Nemes' acting career came to a conclusion on a high note as Kevin's high school buddy Ricky Halsenbach, over the final two seasons of the show. Ricky was the first of the crew to get his license, and the first to call dibs on the leftovers on your lunch tray. Ricky was unlucky in love, and a terrible liar (his cousin didn't really have duck webbed-feet), but was a dependable friend with endless optimism and a bright smile to the very end.

Before "The Wonder Years," Nemes built up quite the resume as a child and teen actor, working with Mr. T (THREE times!), the Brat Pack in "St Elmo's Fire," Kirk Douglas in "Tough Guys," and as Garry Shandling's neighbor Grant Schumaker on the classic Showtime series (with one of the greatest theme songs ever) "It's Garry Shandling's Show."

He later moved to the executive side of the industry, working at Cinemax, before moving on to Universal Content Productions as head of development and programming. He was recently tapped to head a new division to "acquire the rights to books, podcasts, news stories and other IP" for the Universal Studio Group. He also has produced several movies, including 2011's "Hanna" and 2018's Paul Rudd drama "The Catcher Was a Spy."

Crystal McKellar as Becky Slater

When casting Winnie Cooper, the two finalists for the part were Danica McKellar and her older sister Crystal. According to the girls' mother Mahalia, they ultimately went with Danica, since she had the same color hair as Fred Savage. But the producers liked blond Crystal enough to write her a part also — as fiery Becky Slater, who Kevin only dates to make Winnie jealous. When that doesn't happen and he ends up dumping her, Kevin enters a hell beyond the fury of the girl he just scorned, complete with infinite dirty looks and a punch to the gut.

When Becky finally left Kevin alone after nine episodes, Crystal traded in a fictional school for real ones, earning an undergraduate degree at Yale and a law degree from Harvard. While she does have two minor roles on her resume in this century, she has no real interest in rejoining the industry, or even her sister as Hallmark Channel movie royalty, and instead is "focused on investing in innovative tech companies that improve our world." She is the founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm Anathem Ventures.

Julie Condra as Madeline Adams

In Season 4, new girl in school Madeline Adams was described as "[having] a knack for showing up at exactly the wrong time." 

As Kevin's long-distance relationship with Winnie was on a rocky road, temptress Madeline made a play for his affections. She presented Kevin with endless opportunities to give in, including licking her chocolate laced finger, but he held his ground and told her to "get lost" in the end, when she didn't see "what the big deal about Winnie Cooper was anyway." Julie Condra was actually five years older than Fred Savage, and was well past her own teen years when she guest starred in those four hot and bothered episodes.

Condra was a woman in demand during that time period, also being a staple on the daytime soap "Santa Barbara," as well as short-lived, beloved shows "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" and "Eerie, Indiana." In 1995, she met actor, martial artist and future husband Mark Dacascos (aka The Chairman on "Iron Chef") on the set of "Crying Freedom." She would slow down her acting career to raise their three children, but returned after a 14-year hiatus to star alongside her husband and daughter Noelani in 2019's "The Driver." Her most recent project was 2020's "One Night in Bangkok," in which she acted alongside Dacascos.

Robert Picardo as Coach Ed Cutlip

From 1988-1991, Robert Picardo was stuck in the 1960s, pulling double duty for ABC as a gynecologist in Vietnam on "China Beach," and as well as hapless P.E. teacher Ed Cutlip on "The Wonder Years." 

A man with almost too many emotions, he often confused his students, especially when attempting to draw the female anatomy during sex (mis)education. Picardo described his transformation into the role in 1990 by saying: "I don't remember actually creating the character. He sort of came out of me. The moment I put on the whistle and the cap on, he comes from some deep recess of my soul." For Picardo's physical challenges, he was nominated for an Emmy in 1989.

At Yale, Picardo was on a pre-med path, but switched to drama — and eventually Hollywood came calling with his first movie part, in Joe Dante's 1981 horror film "The Howling." He'd go on to collaborate with Dante on over 20 more projects including "Innerspace" and more recently, a 2016 episode of "Salem." His pre-med background helped with a slew of roles as doctors, including his best known one, as the Emergency Medical Holographic Doctor on "Star Trek: Voyager." "I'd always felt I had the nicest butt in the acting company," Picardo said, but when Jeri Ryan joined the cast, "it's hard to hold onto the title."

Currently he has a recurring role on Apple TV+'s "Dickinson," and keeps his head above the clouds as a board member of the Planetary Society, the space Advocacy nonprofit led by friend Bill Nye.

[Fun fact: Picardo's face became the inspiration for Johnny Cab in "Total Recall", and since he had a head up on the competition, he landed the role of Johnny's voice as well.]

Ben Stein as Mr. Cantwell

Junior High was a place that Ben Stein never wished to revisit, but had a change of heart when he was granted tenure as science teacher Mr. Cantwell at RFK. 

Continually boring students with nap-inducing, full narration of biology slides and 16mm films, Mr. Cantwell said goodbye to the students when they moved onto high school — but Stein continued to stay in touch with his former pupils far beyond those "Years."

Before embarking on his accidental career as an actor, Stein worked a full life as a lawyer, professor, conservative columnist and speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford. Writer/director John Hughes told Stein, "Your voice is so boring. It's like every teacher we've ever had and hated." With that backhanded compliment, Hughes cast him in his second screen role as the repetitive attendance-taking teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." He said the part was the "kind of person I have always been — a big, monotoned nerd," and changed the trajectory of Stein's life.

Similar roles followed, from Hughes' follow-up "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," to "Ghostbusters II," "Melrose Place," "Full House," "Seinfeld" and even providing voiceovers on "Animaniacs." He saw big dividends when he hosted and competed on his own game show "Win Ben Stein's Money," which also helped launch Jimmy Kimmel's career. Today, he continues to serve as a talking head on news programs, writing for various publications, writes a blog on his own website, and hosts a podcast, "The World According To Ben Stein."

Raye Birk as Mr. Diperna

Raye Birk read for P.E. teacher and coach Ed Cutlip, but ended up playing Assistant Principal Mr. Diperna, a role he ruled for 10 episodes over four seasons, including the pilot. 

From the beginning, the character singled out Kevin for being a troublemaker, and the two butted heads over many things, including the hiring and then firing of Kevin's mother as his secretary. As Kevin's Junior High days were winding down, Birk unsuccessfully tried to lobby showrunner Bob Brush to let Diperna get promoted to high school, so that Kevin could never escape him.

Ironically, Birk was studying to be a physical education teacher, but fear of being stuck in a gym for the rest of his life made him opt for the life of an actor. During his 20 years in Hollywood, he turned in memorable work cemented on his "permanent record" in two "Naked Gun" films as Papshmir, Cliff Clavin's postal rival on "Cheers," the bandleader on "Coach," an appreciative pig giver in "Doc Hollywood," and as Dr. Shapiro in the Coen Bros' "A Serious Man." Two shows he was particularly proud of appearing on were "The X-Files," and "Babylon 5." Birk also has a long career on the stage, including playing Scrooge in "A Christmas Story" well over 500 times, and runs his own training studio, The Actors Work Out.