Like a lot of people who watched it, Danica McKellar will always feel warmth in her heart for The Wonder Years and for Winnie Cooper, the sweet character she played on the show for six seasons, from 1988 to 1993. McKellar was just a teenager herself.
“I feel very close to her,” the actress tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It’s representative of a big part of my childhood.”
Now 48, McKellar notes that the dramedy — which was rebooted in 2021 — stuck with audiences for a reason.
“It was a show that really spoke to the universal themes and issues that all kids go through,” she says. “And what really struck me about the show, too, is that… I’m pretty sure it was the first of its kind, that honored kids’ feelings on a sitcom. Like a lot of shows would really be about the adults and the kids were there, too, and they were there for a punchline or ‘How cute!’ and they run in, they run out. But The Wonder Years said, no, no, the feelings, the emotions that kids are having are valid and worth looking at and honoring.”
McKellar and the rest of the cast regularly continue to promote the show, just as she will do this weekend at 90s Con in Hartford, Conn. Her co-star Olivia d’Abo will be there, too, along with alums of TV shows and movies including Hocus Pocus; Beverly Hills, 90210; Saved by the Bell; and Full House.
The latter means that McKellar’s “really good friend” Candace Cameron Bure will be on site.
The Candace Cameron Bure connection
McKellar recalls meeting Bure in the most ’90s of ways, back when they were both teenagers on ABC shows.
“I think it was Bop magazine… like, Teen Beat, all those kind of magazines… they used to throw parties and invite all the kids who were on TV shows at the time. We would all go, and then they would take a whole bunch of pictures, and then they would have content for their magazines. We would have fun and make friends with people,” McKellar shares. “And apparently she was dating [Growing Pains actor] Jeremy Miller at the time, and I didn’t know it. And Jeremy asked me to be his girlfriend that night, and I said yes. I found out later that they were going out at the time. It was this whole big drama.”
When both McKellar and Bure competed on Dancing With the Stars in 2014, Bure finally (and jokingly) confronted McKellar.
“And that’s when she told me that they had been dating. I was like, what?!”
McKellar and Bure grew closer after that. They also began working together again.
“Candace, at that point, was already doing Hallmark Channel movies. And I have always suspected… because it was shortly after that that Hallmark called me for the first time, and I ended up doing 17 movies for that channel,” McKellar says. “And I’ve always thought, oh, they were they watching, because Candace was on, and then they went, ‘Wait a minute, Danica fits this type of movie perfectly, too. Let’s hire her.'”
Last year, McKellar and Bure both departed Hallmark for new network Great American Family, which is led by a former boss at Hallmark’s parent company. Bure faced backlash in November for saying that, “I think that Great American Family will keep traditional marriage [between a man and a woman] at the core.” McKellar defended her at the time. “When she was talking about the portrayal of heterosexual couples in the movies, she started the sentence with ‘I think,’ which is not definitive, and she ended it with ‘at its core,’ which doesn’t mean exclusively,” she notes, adding that she supports the LGBTQ community.
Behind the scenes of ‘Camp Cucamonga’
But long before the women had appeared in those romantic comedies or holiday tales, the two co-starred in a very different kind of TV movie, a teen flick from 1990 called Camp Cucamonga, which assembled TV stars galore. Just some of the other cast members: McKellar’s The Wonder Years co-star John Saviano; Chad Allen (Our House); Jaleel White (Family Matters); Sherman Hemsley (Amen); John Ratzenberger (Cheers); and a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston.
McKellar remembers it fondly… and vividly!
“We shot it during the summer and so I didn’t have to do any schoolwork. Cause you’re always, as a kid actor, going back and forth between the school room and then doing a scene,” she says. “You could be doing this, like, emotional crying scene and then come back and do the last 20 minutes of your math test and then go back again. You learn how to compartmentalize. But it was such a luxury to go back to my trailer between scenes and go like, ‘I can just hang out.'”
There was a cassette player in her trailer — after all, it was the ’80s — and Billy Joel, whom she had just discovered, was on repeat. (Well, she would rewind and play the tape over and over.) White, who’s also a friend and McKellar’s co-star from a couple of Lifetime movies, kept everyone laughing. And Breckin Meyer, still a few years away from Clueless, gave McKellar the nickname Ica. She’s planning to ask him about that at 90s Con, because he’s scheduled to be there, too.
Her favorite Wonder Years episode
Mostly, though, McKellar will be focused on The Wonder Years at the convention, which aired its first episode on Jan. 31, 1988, in the prime post-Super Bowl time slot. Audiences were introduced to junior high student Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and, yep, his crush, McKellar’s Cooper, who’s just learned that her older brother has been killed in the Vietnam War. In a classic TV moment, the two share their first kiss as “When a Man Loves a Woman” plays.
The moving episode is always going to be McKellar’s favorite of the series’s 115 total.
“I think it’s some of the best television that was ever made,” she says. “We took 10 days to shoot 22 minutes of TV. It’s really amazing to look back at all the love that was put into that first episode.”
And fans are still giving love right back.
Some tickets to 90s Con are still available at the official website.