Family Support System Crucial for Child Actors

Where are they now? "Wonder Years" stars find success as adults. 

The new sitcom The Grinder marks the return of Fred Savage to the small screen. And while Fred is the best known child actor from the Wonder Years, all of our young friends from the late-80s dramedy went on to success in other acting ventures, on the other side of the camera, or away from show business altogether.

Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold) 

During and after his time as the central character on the Wonder Years, Fred did voice work and starred in a number of film and TV roles, most notably as the Grandson in the cult classic comedy, The Princess Bride. His career behind the camera began in the late 90s, with directing credits for shows on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and, most recently, ABC (for the hit Modern Family). In film, Daddy Day Care marked Fred’s directorial debut; he also continued work on the small screen, producing episodes for a number of TV comedies, including the gritty hit It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Positive role models like Jodie Foster certainly had their influence, but in a 2012 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Savage credited his parents for shielding him (and his actor siblings) from the more toxic aspects of the industry:

"They bore the brunt of everything and never vented to me, so I had no feelings of, 'This industry sucks,' or, 'They'll eat you alive.'”

This protection helped him successfully navigate the sometimes troubled waters of child stardom.

Josh Saviano (Paul Pfeiffer)

After playing Kevin Arnold’s affable sidekick, Paul Pfeiffer, through six seasons, Josh did not go on to become Marilyn Manson, as was suggested in what is considered to be one of the first internet rumors. Instead, he left show business to pursue a career in law. After graduating from Yale and Yeshiva University, Saviano worked for a number of years as a corporate attorney before striking out on his own with JDS Legal, LLC and Act 3 Advisors. Despite this career shift, Saviano does not shy away from his days as a child star, saying in a Yahoo! Interview: 

“There was a time when I wanted to sort of push it away and say, well, I want to be successful in this world on my own and not have to use that. But this is who I am. It was six or seven years of my absolute prime years of growing up."

Josh draws on his show business experiences in his role with Act 3 Advisors, which helps entertainers and entrepreneurs “transition from influencer to brand.” (Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/josh-saviano/2/432/27a). Saviano was not only a lawyer in real life; he played one on TV with a brief return to acting in a 2014 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 

Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper) 

Doe-eyed Winnie Cooper may have stolen Kevin Arnold’s heart, but the actress who played her went on to feed the minds of young readers in an area that may have come as a surprise to her fans. Several years after the final episode of The Wonder Years, Danica McKellar earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from UCLA (summa cum laude) and went on to write a series of best-selling books aimed at encouraging middle-school and high-school readers (particularly girls) who struggle with math. All the while, McKellar appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, though the transition from child star to adult roles was not without its challenges. In a 2007 interview on scienceblogs.com, Danica credits her parents for much of her success:

“I love my parents very much, and am so grateful to them for always reminding me what was really important in life: being a good person, developing education and intelligence, and making a contribution to society whenever you can.”

Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold)

Kevin’s big brother, Wayne, was a character fans loved to hate, so much so that Hervey was once attacked in a bar by a drunken Wonder Years fan whose real-life older brother shared many of Wayne’s “butthead” qualities. Post-Wonder Years, Hervey has done voiceover work for cartoons and video games, but acting roles have been few and far between. His work in show business continues on the other side of the camera, where Jason has served as producer for a number of sports and reality TV shows. Like most of his Wonder Years cast mates, Hersey credits his parents for his successful transition from child star to successful adult, a sentiment he shared in a HuffPost Live interview:

I have an amazing mom, and a great father, and an incredible family support system.” 

All too often, successful child performers end up as fodder for gossip TV or the tabloids. The secret to the success of this group is simple: each was lucky enough to have had a strong and balanced personal support system to guide them. This served them well, and not just in the short term; it laid a strong foundation on which to build their adult lives.