Fred Savage and “The Wonder Years” Cast Reflect on Why Their Show Still Matters

The cast and crew of “The Wonder Years” reunited at the American History Museum today to donate costumes and other artifacts

Fred Savage (right) and Josh Saviano (left) of "The Wonder Years" reunited at the American History Museum on December 2, 2014 to donate items, including the New York Jets jacket shown here in a publicity photo from around 1988. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
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One of the most memorable moments from “The Wonder Years” happens in the very first episode. Consoling Winnie Cooper following the death of her brother, 12-year-old Kevin Arnold wraps his green and white New York Jets jacket around her shoulders. That leads to a kiss, the first one in the lives of the characters (and also in those of the actors). That kiss set the stage for Winnie and Kevin’s relationship, which would be on and off from the show’s 1988 premiere to its finale in 1993.

Fred Savage, the actor who played Kevin, said that his mother held on to that Jets jacket and would often joke that it could wind up at the Smithsonian. That’s what happened earlier today, when Savage, his mother and other cast and crew members from “The Wonder Years” gathered at the National Museum of American History to donate the jacket and other artifacts related to the show.

“The first day of school was in that jacket, the kiss was in that jacket,” Savage said today at the American History Museum. “All the iconic moments from the first season, those are all in that jacket.”

“The Wonder Years,” which aired on ABC and was set in the 1960s and ‘70s, had a six-year run, with 115 episodes. Today’s donation also included an outfit worn by Kevin’s mother in the opening credits (during the barbecue shot), the wedding dress worn by Kevin’s sister, photos taken on set and studio tapes and a script that Josh Saviano, who played Kevin’s best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, had saved.

“I think the one character that really truly defines, of all of television and film, the best friend, I think it’s Paul,” said Saviano, now an attorney. The former actor almost lost his “Wonder Years” keepsakes in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy flooded his New York City storage unit. “Pretty much everything that was down there was utterly destroyed. It was completely submerged with brackish water for days,” he said, though he was able to salvage some items. “I could not bring myself to throw away the tapes and I could not bring myself to throw away the scripts.”

Today’s donation joins the museum’s popular entertainment collection, which includes materials from television shows such as “Captain Kangaroo” and “Happy Days.”

“Not only are you seeing the suburban daily life, but you are seeing camera shots of broadcasts of Apollo 13 episodes. You’re seeing ‘flower power’ vans,” entertainment curator Dwight Blocker Bowers said about the cultural significance of “The Wonder Years.”

The cast has reunited several times in recent weeks to promote the series’ long-awaited release on DVD. “There’s such a sweetness to it, and such a nostalgia, and it kind of just makes people happy,” said Jason Hervey, who played Wayne Arnold, Kevin’s older brother. As for his costumes, Hervey added, “with the exception of the jean shorts, I very much loved my wardrobe.”

Savage, now 38, said that even though “The Wonder Years” was set in the ‘60s and ‘70s and already filmed a quarter-century ago, the idea of looking back on one’s childhood is timeless. “We all try and remember those moments growing up,” he said. “We all have a box in our garage or in our bedroom in our parent’s house filled with mementos from that time—photos, team jerseys, clothing. Whatever it is, we all try to reconnect with our childhood.”

As for having a crush on Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar, Savage said: “I think we all did.”

In recent years, Fred Savage has done producing and directing. Here, Savage in November 2014. (Byron Purvis/AdMedia/Corbis)

In recent years, Savage has moved behind the camera, directing and producing for film and television. He’s worked on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the short-lived cult favorite, “Party Down,” which some people have said could be heading to the big screen. “We didn’t make many episodes, but that’s another show that just seems to resonate with people,” Savage said about “Party Down.” “There has been talk of a movie, so we’ll see. I don’t think there’s a script for it, but the fact that there’s even talk of that is very exciting.”

While Savage’s brother, Ben Savage, recently got a spinoff for his ‘90s show, “Boy Meets World,” Fred Savage said fans shouldn’t expect a continuation of “The Wonder Years.”

“He loves the show and my kids love it,” Savage said of his brother's work. “But I think for 'The Wonder Years,' in the title itself, it’s a finite period in your life…That time ends, and that’s what makes that time in your life so special.”

About Max Kutner
Max Kutner

Max Kutner was the editorial intern for Smithsonian. He is now a staff writer at Newsweek and has contributed to Boston magazine and other publications.

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