Childfree Celebrity Spotlight: The Wonder Years & The Wonder of a Childfree Jack & Norma
Ahh, The Wonder Years. Who among us didn’t laugh our asses off when Wayne lurched his car down the street while “Butthead” tried to hop in? Or cry our eyes out in the final episode when (spoiler alert) Kevin and Winnie didn’t get married?
With any good show, I’m always curious how much of it is the result of a stellar performance and how much can be attributed to the actors playing roles that parallel their “real” lives. Turns out the Kevin/Wayne rivalry wasn’t too difficult to muster up, with Jason Hervey (Wayne) describing Fred Savage (Kevin) as a “little know-it-all” and Savage admitting that it was hard for him to separate Wayne from Jason in the first season. Danica McKeller was a true-to-form goodie-two-shoes, always deep in her studies during set breaks and eventually graduating summa cum laude from UCLA in Math. But what about Norma and Jack? The ultimate sixties housewife and grumbly working-man dad? Turns out, they couldn’t have been further off character: these beloved 80’s sitcom parents never had any kids of their own.
“I just wasn’t the mother type,” Alley Mills once told People Magazine. “Not only do I not have children, I wasn’t married. And here I was representing a whole generation of mothers who stayed home.” Dan Lauria, who played her husband Jack during the show’s six-season run, even questioned at first whether they could make her look like a believable housewife. But a bathrobe, a pair of pedal pushers, and what Alley calls a “dorky Doris Day hairdo” seem to have done the trick.
It wasn’t just the Costume department that helped her put out that motherly vibe. In talking about Fred, Jason, and Oliva d’ Abo (who played their older sister Karen), Alley said, “I really do feel like their Mom, in a way.” Just one week after filming the final episode, she married Orson Bean of game show panelist fame. Though this was her first marriage, it was the second time around for Orson (who just so happened to be 23 years her senior). So at age 49, Alley found herself a stepmother to two grown children. They now live next door to one of the kids (plus two grandkids) in Venice, California – not too far from my own hood! “My whole life changed,” she said on becoming a stepmother. “I never expected to have a family. I feel blessed.”
Alley’s on-screen hubby Dan Lauria got a taste of vicarious parenting as well, with dads all over the country identifying with Jack’s struggles. After the episode where he brings Kevin in for Take Your Son to Work Day, he received loads of letters saying, “Thanks a lot. Now I know why my son thinks I’m such a jerk.”
Though he and his charity-fund-raiser wife, Eileen, have no children of their own, it’s clear he feels a fatherly affection for Fred. When Fred indicated an uncertainty about continuing in show business after the end of The Wonder Years, Dan said, “I think he’ll become the next Ron Howard—a marvelous director.” And it’s a two-way street, with Fred saying, “Dan’s always been a really big influence in my life.” Dan was even trying to get Fred to follow in his footsteps after the show ended, determined to broaden his interest in the theatre by making sure he’s a semi-regular performer at one of his own frequent haunts, the Coronet Theatre in L.A.
This creative pseudo-parenting from two Childfree celebs is a great reminder that you can have rewarding relationships with children without having to change a single diaper.