Happy Birthday Fred Savage: Celebrating the ‘Wonder Years’ Actor’s Best Moments

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Fred Savage is 45 today. No matter what he does the rest of his career, he’ll always be known for his Wonder Years.

That means Savage is forever a teenager, forever Kevin Arnold. He was the main focus of the Wonder Years, which ran from 1988-93. ABC aired the pilot right after the then Washington Redskins beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Its target audience, no doubt, was younger Baby Boomers and the Gen X crowd. Fred Savage was its star and people wanted to follow the life of Kevin, his best friend Paul and Winnie, his crush.

Americans always love nostalgia, no matter the decade. The show, which premiered at the end of the 1980s, was set in the turbulent 60s. So Fred Savage, as Kevin, could be impacted by many key moments, including the Vietnam War and movements for women and civil rights. The show ranked in the top 30 for its first four seasons.

Show Creators Knew Fred Savage Was Right Kevin

Fred Savage basically was the unanimous choice to play Kevin.

Show creator Neal Marlens, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988 raved about Fred Savage. He was “a marvelous actor with a natural quality, which essentially means he has no quality at all except being a kid. It sounds funny, but it’s a rare thing to find in a child actor. “

The show’s pilot tugged at our hearts. Kevin’s parents tell him that Winnie’s brother was killed in Vietnam. So Kevin goes for a long walk in the neighborhood, in hopes that he can find Winnie at the climbing tree.

She’s there. An adult version of Kevin is the narrator. He said, “I was scared to approach her.” But he sat alongside her and put his jacket around her shoulders. Then they shared a sweet, innocent kiss as the song When a Man Loves a Woman serves as the scene soundtrack.

Adult Kevin tells viewers: “It was first kiss for both of us, we never really talked about it.”

Savage Became Youngest Actor Ever Nominated for Emmy

Because of scenes like this one, Fred Savage was nominated for an Emmy in 1989 and 1990. In 1989, he was only 13 years old. He became the youngest actor ever to earn an Emmy nomination and he did all that before high school.

Kevin and Winnie reunited in an episode called The Accident. Kevin rushed over to Winnie’s when he heard she was in a car accident. They told each other “I love you” through the windows of Winnie’s bedroom. The soundtrack for the episode included Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.”

But the Wonder Years didn’t give Winnie and Kevin a happily-ever-after ending. Winnie moved to Paris for school, while Kevin stayed home. In a flash-forward, we see Kevin, with his wife and new baby, meet Winnie at the airport.

In 2014, the key characters came together for a reunion to talk all things Wonder Years. Of course, the ending still was a concern. Fans still bemoan the fact that Kevin and Winnie didn’t end up together.

“Your first love when you’re a kid is so idealized,” Fred Savage said. “You never end up with your first love. Your life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would when you were 12. That’s one of the lessons of the show.”

(Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage)