Kevin Arnold’s Wonder Years Love Interests

Wendel Meldrum

I’m a fan of full circles.

What I mean is, I like when things complete themselves; when connections are made; when something begins a certain way, then comes back around. For example, the final scene in the final episode of Newhart.

This is not, technically, the final scene in the final episode of anything. It is, however, the 99th Quaz—one away from the big 100—and I wanted to make some sort of connection to the first-ever entry, which featured actress Wendy Hagen from the Wonder Years. Hence, today’s interviewee is Wendel Meldrum from—drumroll—the Wonder Years. If you were a fan of the show, you’ll know her as Miss White, Kevin Arnold’s sexy teacher. If that doesn’t ring a bell, she was also the “Low Talker” on Seinfeld.

Wendel’s acting career has actually been a marvelous run of this and that and that and this, including four seasons on the HBO Canada series, “Less Than Kind.” Here, Wendel discusses being a woman named Wendel; what she remembers of her time with the Arnolds and how she perfected one of the best cameos in Seinfeld history.

One can visit Wendel’s website here. Wendel Meldrum, you are officially the 99th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Wendel, I’ve never started out an interview with such a question, but, hey, such is life. In my life, I’ve probably met three Wendels, and they’ve all been men.  Your name is Wendel Meldrum. Uh … please explain …

WENDEL MELDRUM: My name is Wendel Anne Meldrum and Wendel is a family name that lives on as best it can in my family of three girls.

J.P.:  The reason I contacted you is because my kids and I are heavy into Wonder Years re-runs, and you played Miss White, Kevin’s sexy teacher, in seven episodes. How did you land the Wonder Years gig? What do you recall of the experience? And how difficult is character development when you’re only said character a handful of times? Hell, is it even possible?

W.M.: I was doing a series called ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ with Paul Provenza and from that work I was offered the part of Miss White. I don’t think it was meant to go on more than two episodes. The first incarnation of Miss White she was sporting a snug beehive and I believe a boldly striped shift dress. Her next outing was a softer hair style and a simpler outfit. As to character development, the character is full and developed from the first moment and just like in life, adjusts and grows according to different life experiences. The writing, cast and directing team were all seeking to capture such a lovely world that was guided and held to specifics by the most wonderful creative team of Carol Black and Neal Marlens.

The lovely Miss White—Kevin Arnold’s dream.

J.P.: You’ve been in a Who’s Who of 80s TV shows—Punky Brewster, Cagney and Lacey, Family Ties, Knots Landing. Wendel, there’s a generation of kids—raised on reality TV—who wouldn’t understand 80s television for a second. Having been a player in the  genre at the time, how would you explain 1980s TV? Like, what was the mood? The goal? Was it a good era for the medium, or—in hindsight—a crappy one?

W.M.: Well, I’ve never given it any thought but I think just like any era there are varying levels of quality and longevity with the basic goal of connecting to people through laughter and storytelling. I suppose it offers a snapshot of a cultural reality—from those shoulder padded and big-haired fashions to what made people laugh in the 80’s. I do feel that comedy is a brilliant way to evolve human ideas. It can get us to laugh at ourselves and create a space to reflect and let go of modes of thought that might otherwise remain hidden and brooding. Comedy changes rapidly and I feel so lucky to have had a chance to be a small part of it over the years. I have been doing, what is now called a dramedy, for HBO Canada for the last five years called ‘Less Than Kind’ (it can be seen in the U.S. on Audience Direct TV) and it has been a thrilling challenge to play on the edges of drama and comedy. More please.

J.P.: In 1993 you famously played the Low Talker on Seinfeld—a character people in my life still refer to. What was the experience like? Are you naturally a low talker? And how often, even now, are you recognized for that character?

W.M.: I am not a low talker but I remember they were having trouble casting it. I did the audition sort of twirling my hair near my mouth to give a reason for sounding muffled. Larry David asked me to do it again without the twirl and it worked, I didn’t need it.

The Seinfeld cast seemed to be very grounded, very professional and worked very hard and efficiently to get out the best work possible. It was a joy to work on the show as there was this feeling that it was overseen with such laser care that you could relax and know that if it wasn’t working it would for sure get fixed. Recognized every once in awhile but not often.

As the low talker on Seinfeld.

J.P.: You recently celebrated your 55th birthday, and even though you look wonderful, 55 is 55. In day to day life, aging pretty much sucks. How about in the world of acting? How does it impact you? Your career? Do you think there are different aging standards for men than women?

W.M.: I am not a fan of statistics or spending time worrying. I have made two films of my own and keep on going exploring my own work. I have a booklet on the web called ‘Notes from the Undercarriage’ and a film, ‘Cruel But Necessary’ and am continuing in that direction. I want to continue playing interesting characters, exploring my craft and being part of telling stories. How or if that will happen, I have no idea. This time of my life is the most exciting and dynamic of all but culture doesn’t seem to tell you that so it’s a constant and wonderful surprise.

J.P.: I know you were born in Rome, I know you’re Canadian. But, Wendel, how did you find acting? Like, when  did you know it was something you wanted to do? When did you realize you were good at it? And what—specifically—is it about acting and performing that you love?

W.M.: I was a modern dancer and got into acting in the theatre through being in a dance company. I love having a job where you are completely invisible. Being an actor with your ‘being’ as your instrument is an unending discovery of what it is to be human within a variety of perspectives and circumstances. I love being part of a story, living a life that is not real as if it were.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest? 

W.M.: My best memories of my career are mostly of acting moments where I was ‘in the zone’. The lowest are, I suppose, when I was without much work for a while and raising my son on my own.

J.P.: Your son, Luke Humphrey, is 25 and also an actor. How did you feel about him following your career footsteps? I mean, you’ve certainly experienced some of the dark side of the biz, I’m guessing—irrational rejection, the search for physical perfection, etc, etc. Were you concerned? Did you ever say, “Just go to medical school!”

W.M.: Luke is a wonderful actor and seeing him step effortlessly into ‘Romeo’ at age 16 and live so heartfully inside the Bard’s words left me no choice but to encourage him to follow his passion. He has a BFA in acting from NYU and will be playing D’Artanyon in The Three Musketeers at Stratford this season as well as staring in a new contemporary play. He is a smart, kind, funny and inventive person who loves to learn and whatever this career holds for him I have every confidence he will meet the challenges giving them his best.

J.P.: My wife hates Los Angeles and refuses to consider moving there. You live in LA. Please, Wendel, make the sell here for me. Please …

W.M.: Well Jeff, there as many L.A.s as their are people in it. I raised my son here so there is a sweet feeling of home because of that. If you like the weather and can find a community you like it’s great. I have not been in the ‘industry’ part of things for the most part and am fine with that. I managed to raise my son here in a Waldorf school which has it’s own unique way of looking at children, learning and community without the L.A. plague of influence that people talk about. We live up in the hills so have a pretty incredible life in nature that is minutes away from urban facilities. As to convincing someone to move here, sorry, you are on your own with that one.

J.P.: Wendel, I’ve known a good number of actors and—to be 100% blunt and, perhaps, offensive—many irk the crap out of me. It’s that need to always be “on”; to always be the center of the room. Do you know what I mean? Am I making this up, or does that often come with the business? And how do you explain it?

W.M.: I’ve worked with many actors and have a couple as close friends. I really like actors and our job together is to play and connect which is very fun and endlessly mysterious. Your perspective is certainly valid. Maybe try playing with them next time as they are experts at it and opportunities to stretch ones play muscles don’t come often enough.


• “Notes From the Undercarriage” blew my mind. Please explain: Wait. this is a quick response question? Eep! “Notes From the Undercarriage” is my booklet on the web that is a sort of graphic novel about the absurdity of being a woman on this planet. It’s ideas are the essence of my writing. I am so touched that you read it and thrilled that it ‘blew your mind.’

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details: Once, when traveling to London for my first time as a teenager. It was the middle of the night, lights were out and everyone was asleep. I was feeling the vulnerability of being over the ocean in a metal tube hammered together and strapped to an engine. I started to imagine that the screws were slowly unscrewing and got freaked out that I could make it happen if I kept imagining it. Stopped immediately.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: So many to choose from but off the top of my head these are five performances that I love—Anna Magnani (the Fugitive Kind), Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon), Jeff Weiss (‘Couple of Dykes’—theatre actor), Susan Tyrell (Fat City), Meryl Streep (Iron Lady).

• They’re doing a Wonder Years reunion, and they want you back to play Miss White—who’s now a homeless prostitute with a crystal meth addiction and a tattoo of Mike Tyson’s face across her forehead. They’ll pay $5,000 to do the episode—plus a free lifetime supply of dental floss. You in?: Sounds like a challenge I would look into—assuming the tattoo is temporary.

• In 1984 you played “Rita” on Vamping—your TV debut, I believe. Three things you recall from the experience: I loved the camera with it’s quiet nonjudgmental eye. I had many great conversations with the sound man who had done the sound on ‘Apocalypse Now.’ When we did a scene outdoors in the middle of winter, which played for summer, we put ice in our mouths before each take to cancel out the reality that you could see our breath. I was in a cocktail dress.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Three’s Company, John Olerud, knitting, long walks on the beach, The Cable Guy, Leon Spinks, Stone Temple Pilots, Canadian bacon, Elvis Costello, candied yams, Ash Wednesday, the smell of raw shrimp, Burger King: The only things I am really familiar enough with to have an opinion is knitting and walks on the beach so walks on the beach and knitting.

• What happens when we die?: We will all find out.

• What’s more likely—Tupac is alive and working in a Gary, Indiana Burger King or aliens exist and will visit earth within the next week?: One is as likely as the other.

• Number of times a month you Google yourself: 0

• Where have all the bread makers gone?: Looking for a gluten free recipe that tastes good.

Crystal McKellar

Anyone who reads this blog regularly—and especially anyone who has paid attention to the first 20 Quazes—knows I’m all about The Wonder Years. I loved the show as a teen, and now my kids watch it regularly, too. Hence, while I may well reject, say, some wanna-be rocker or the seventh lead on Saved By The Bell, I will never, ever, ever ignore the greatest program in TV history (Need proof? See Hagen, Wendy and Wagner, Kathy).

Hence, in welcoming Crystal McKellar to today’s Quaz, I bring to you my third ex-girlfriend of Kevin Arnold. Specifically, Crystal played “Becky Slater,” the eternally angry girl who famously slugged Kevin in the gut after screaming, “Friends! I’ll give you friends!” POP! Great stuff.

Crystal, however, isn’t just some woman who once appeared on the tube. Along with being the real-life sister of Winnie Cooper (raise your hand if you had any idea about that one), she happens to be a senior associate in the litigation department of Morrison & Foerster, as well as a Yale and Harvard Law grad and former judicial clerk for Marilyn Huff. In other words, Crystal isn’t pitching vegetable-shaped tupperware on late-night TV.

Anyhow, it was my true joy to engage Crystal in childhood stardom, the Supreme Court, a Wonder Years reunion, my daughter’s ill-conceived modeling dreams and lunch with Joan Pearlman.

Crystal, welcome to Quazville …

JEFF PEARLMAN: First, Crystal, let me say that I am very confused. You and your sister Danica were both child actors who had substantial roles on the Wonder Years. Yet you’re a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law (and an associate at Morrison & Foerster) and your sister is a math wiz and New York Times best-selling author. According to the rulebook, you’re both supposed to be either in rehab for the seventh time or hosting WACKY CHILDHOOD STARS: PART 2 on VH1. Crystal, what went wrong?

CRYSTAL MCKELLAR: Great parents and an amazing older sister!  Our parents protected us from the less savory aspects of Hollywood, encouraged us to pursue what interested us, and gave us all of the tools and opportunities in the world to make our dreams come true. Whether it was a dance class we wanted to take, a musical instrument we wanted to learn, or Yale, our parents encouraged us to pursue our passions and gave us the resources we needed to see them through.

J.P.: So I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t actually realize you and Danica were sisters until researching this Q&A. According to Wikipedia, you both auditioned for the role of Winnie Cooper on the Wonder Years. You, uh, lost. What do you remember about that period of your life? And did you guys actually know you were gunning for a definitive role in modern era sitcom history?

C.M.: Danica and I auditioned for a lot of the same roles, and we always celebrated as a family when one of us earned a job (which, by definition, meant the other lost out). So there were never any hard feelings, and there were plenty of opportunities to go around.  Pretty much every 11-14-year old working actress in Los Angeles auditioned for the part of Winnie Cooper, and we had no idea how big the show was going to be. After I auditioned, Neal Marlens and Carol Black told me that Danica was a better fit for Winnie, and that they were going to create a role for me if the pilot got picked up. So it was a win win.

J.P.: According to IMDB, your final acting role came in 2002, when you played “Actress in Class” in “Hip, Edgy. Sexy, Cool.” I don’t really have a question here—just a confused look on my face. Please explain.

C.M.: Last minute favor for a friend!  I think we filmed the scene a few years earlier, because I was definitely not acting in 2002.

J.P.: You were born in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles when you were young. You started taking tap lessons when you were three. I’m fascinated—why did your family guide you and your sister in that direction? And did you love acting? What was your first gig? Your first taste of the possibilities?

C.M.: Acting was Danica’s idea. My mother was a dancer, and wanted to give her daughters the gift of coordination and rhythm, so she put Danica and I in dance classes as soon as we could walk. They didn’t make tap shoes small enough to fit my 3-year-old feet, so my father nailed taps onto my patent leather dress shoes. When we moved to Los Angeles, we learned that our new dance studio also offered acting classes. They seemed like fun, so we enrolled. A number of agents attended our recital (this is apparently not uncommon in Los Angeles, but sounds a little absurd to me still), and an agent asked my mother if we wanted to be in commercials.  Danica enthusiastically said yes, and I followed. I did enjoy acting, and loved acting class even more. My first job was a radio commercial for Almond Roca—I still love the stuff!

J.P.: You famously played Becky Slater in the Wonder Years. I’d argue you have one of the most famous lines in the show’s history—“Friends! I’ll show you friends!” Then you hit Kevin Arnold. What do you remember of your Wonder Years experiences? Was it fun? Pressure-packed? Were you aware at the time, as a kid, how good the show was?

C.M.: It was fantastic. The set was full of kids and the atmosphere was great. For the scene you referenced, they brought a boxing coach in from UCLA to teach me how to punch and jab. And then I got to dress up like a Star Trek alien—that may have been the best show ever.

J.P.: I joked about child actors in question No. 1, but I love—truly, truly love—that you and your sister escaped the overly clichéd life of child actors-turned-adults and went on to have spectacular careers/lives. Being serious: How did that happen? And was there a point when you said, “I just don’t want to act anymore? I’m done.”

C.M.: There was no single moment.  The first moment of separation came when I was 15 and I was getting serious about ballet. I had to commit to taking five after-school classes per week to get into the pre-professional program, and this meant I would be turning down auditions. So I made the first “choice” then. The next choice came when I began attending Yale. I was much more interested in my economics and history classes than theater arts.

J.P.: My daughter is about to turn 8, and she’s expressed some interest in modeling. She’s tall, blond, blue eyes. Personally, I’d rather how her become a nun (we’re Jewish) than enter a profession that judges its participants on looks. You were in a profession that often judges on looks. What do you think?

C.M.: I think the acting profession is very different today due to the internet. I would not encourage my child to become a television or film actress. In terms of modeling, let’s just say I would rather spend the day re-taking the bar exam than having updated headshots taken. Having your picture taken is fun for about five minutes. Then it is mind-numbing and uncomfortable. Your daughter could be an astrophysicist or a venture capitalist—why would she want to waste her time sitting still for a living?

J.P.: You’re a senior associate in the Litigation Department of Morrison & Foerster’s San Diego office. Do you enjoy your job? And, if so, what does it for you? What about being an attorney works?

C.M.: I absolutely love it. I work with an extraordinary group of people, the issues are complex and interesting, and I get to help smart people who have worked hard to build good companies and develop their careers and reputations, and who find all that they have worked for under attack.

J.P.: When I was growing up, I was addicted to the Supreme Court. What I mean is, I loved the idea of having that impartial, righteous, wise group of nine elders who could look at cases with unbiased eyes. Now, as an adult, I realize this was just youthful idiocy. I know this isn’t even remotely your area of law—but is it possible for a judge to be completely and totally unbiased? To have a 100% open mind.

C.M.: I have a lot of respect for judges. They have given up careers in private practice–and most have taken a significant pay cut—in order to serve the public. In my experience, they do work extremely hard to follow the law and get it right.

J.P.: I notice that nowhere on your current bio is your acting career mentioned. I understand acting has zero to do with law—but it’s a unique part of your history. Do you purposefully not tell people about your past? Do you try and keep it sorta quiet?

C.M.: I challenge you to find any lawyer’s bio—or any professional’s resume—that mentions the activities they pursued in junior high!


Bigger thrill—being named named one of the featured 100 “Women in Antitrust 2009” in the well-respected British publication, Global Competition Review or being nominated for Best Young Actress Guest Starring in a Television Series for the 11th Annual Youth in Film Awards 1988-1989 for your role in “Guns of Paradise”: Women in Antitrust—being named in the same article as Neelie Kroes was huge.  She is a very smart, very powerful woman, and I have a lot of admiration for her.

Wonder Years reunion—you in?: Absolutely.

You work for Morrison & Foerster. At the bottom on the website it says, seemingly without humor, “This is MoFo.” Is this a running joke in the office?: There is a lot of humor on the website!  My husband was thrilled when I joined the firm and he could begin introducing me as “that MoFo lawyer.”

• You, Danica, a boxing ring. Who wins? How many rounds?: It would never happen.  Sorry.  Not an interesting answer, but we are way too protective of each other to let the other come to any harm.  We might hug for a few rounds, and then maybe come up with a neat dance routine.

• How’d you meet your husband? And how did he propose?: My husband and I met at a March Madness party that was hosted by an investment bank during my first year in law school.  We realized we both loved Guinness and golf, and we were hooked.  He proposed in the gazebo in the Boston Common.

• Number of times over the past decade you’ve been recognized as Becky Slater?: More than 50 but fewer than 150.  It comes in waves.

• In 1992 you played yourself in 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. What was your simple thing? And was anyone listening?: I don’t remember if I had a designated “simple thing” in that show.  I was volunteering with Treepeople at the time, so I was encouraging kids to plant trees pretty much every chance I got.

• You can have lunch with Todd Bridges, Dwight Gooden or my mother. Who do you pick?: Lunch with your mother sounds lovely.

• Do cell phones cause cancer?: I leave that to the experts.

• Bigger concern: Climate change, or the price of gas?: Climate change.

Kathy Wagner


So when I kicked off this Quaz thing back in March, my governing rule was simple: No Kevin Arnold girlfriend goes ignored.

I’m being serious. I’m currently addicted to Wonder Years re-runs, which means (this is just how my mind works) I’m also addicted to finding out whatever became of past cast members. And since Kevin (played by Fred Savage) always seemed to like one girl or another, there are about 8,000 actresses to choose from.

That being said, save for Winnie Cooper (Kevin’s longtime sweetie, played by Danica McKellar), no other Wonder Years love interest stands out more than Lisa Berlini. First, she was insanely cute. Second, she was way out of Kevin’s league. And third—and most important—there’s an oft-repeated scene when Lisa’s face is frozen on the screen, just as she’s about to tell Kevin that she just wants to be friend. It’s an image few Wonder Years fans can forget, because it’s so, well, uh, goofy. Hell, here it is …

I digress: Kathy Wagner, the actress who played Lisa Berlini, has done a helluva lot more than merely one role. She’s had a varied acting career, ranging from stage to commercials to Growing Pains to—no joke—Redman’s hottie in the unforgattable How High. She also happens to be a proud UMass grad and the mother of two. This is her website, if you’d like more information.

Here, Kathy talks Berlini, olive juice, chillin’ with hiphop superstars and her status as the only person to appear in both Iron Eagle and Poltergeist II.

Kathy Wagner, The Quaz is yours …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So let’s start with the reason you’re here: Lisa Berlini. Back in the day, you were right behind Winnie Cooper as one of Kevin Arnold’s love interests. How did you land the Wonder Years gig, and what do you remember about the experience? The exposure? The time period? Also, there’s a scene in one of the episodes—you tell Kevin you just want to be friends—and they freeze your face in a truly awkward position. I was wondering how, as a young teen at the time, you felt about that? Elated or mortified?

KATHY WAGNER: I was 10-years old and went on auditions everyday. When I got the audition for The Wonder Years it was a little different—exciting because it was the new hit show. I don’t remember much about the audition process, except that at my third call-back they actually brought Fred Savage into the room to read with me and I was nervous about that. I remember my agents being very excited when they called to tell my mom I had booked the roll. Then I remember getting fit for my costumes and they told me I needed to wear a bra … which was devastating. Once I got past that, I did love working on the show very much. Everyone was really nice and it was very fun having to take 60s dance lessons. I thought Fred was pretty dreamy! One day he mouthed across the set “I Love You.” I couldn’t believe it—I was on cloud nine! Fred Savage just said he loved me! Being young and awkward I said, “I love you” back and then he started laughing and said, “I didn’t say I love you … I said ‘olive juice'” I was mortified!!! To get him back—on the last day that I was shooting I knocked on his dressing room door and said “Can I have your autograph?” He said sure and I said “Not you, your little brother Ben” and I walked right past him and asked his not-at-all-famous-at-that-time brother for his autograph. You probably had to be there …

After the first show aired I was really afraid to go back to school. I guess because it was such a big show and everyone watched it so I was nervous about what people were going to think of me. It’s not easy being a love interest at age 10! The girls talk behind your back and the boys tease you. Especially about that awesome face you mentioned. That was mortifying! I couldn’t believe out of all the frames they could have frozen on, that was the one they used! There had to have been a more flattering one.

All in all it was a great experience and although I have had much bigger roles throughout my career … this was the show that gave me the most exposure. I got tons of fan mail for years after those shows first aired and, funny enough, 23 years later I still get recognized all the time as Lisa Berlini. I was on vacation with my husband recently and group of teenage boys came up to me and asked if I was on The Wonder Years. I was floored since they weren’t even born when I did the show. Good ol’ reruns! Its a thrill to be able to say I was a part of such an iconic show.

J.P.: You first modeled, for JCPenny, when you were 3 months old, and you landed your first McDonald’s commercial at age 3. Then, until your teens, you worked semi-steadily as a child actress. Did you enjoy the life, or was it thrust upon you? And why do you think soooo many child actors wind up taking the Diff’rent Strokes route to adult turmoil?

K.W.: I did enjoy it all. My parents made it fun, though. I never felt any pressure from them. It was just a hobby that my mom and I did together. I got to meet people who were on the covers of teenie bopper magazines and I got out of school a lot. The only time I remember it holding me back was when I joined a Brownie troop and never could make any of the meetings because of auditions.

As far as why I believe so many child actors have such a hard time—there are many different reasons, I guess. You get so much praise for being cute, famous, etc. People look at you like you are different … important. You have money to burn and a lot of friends for shallow reasons. Then one day maybe your show is over or you aren’t the cute little kid anymore and you are faced with not getting jobs like you used too. Or maybe the pressure just gets to you because this is what makes you feel like you matter and if it goes away what do you have?

A lot of shady things happen in Hollywood. I had a very close family friend who had a huge career at a young age. She was the “It Girl.” Before her parents knew it, producers were helping her go to court to get emancipated. They gave her anything she wanted and because these were big Hollywood schmoozing producers, she did what they said. In the end without her parents’ protection they were able to take advantage of her. Hollywood is not always a nice place—and not a stable environment for anyone. Especially young people in their formative years.

J.P.: A bunch of years ago there was a TV show called Love Monkey. It starred a pretty eclectic cast—Tom Cavanaugh, Larenz Tate, Jason Priestley. TV Guide assigned me to write a piece on it, so I spent several hours at the studio. In my time there, they shot one scene. Literally, one. Over and over and over and over and over. From this angle. From that angle. Later on, when I was talking with Priestley, I said, “Man, I’ve gotta say, this looks really boring.” He said, “Bud, you have no idea.” You’ve done a lot of TV and film—is it as boring and repetitive as I now think?

K.W.: It is definitely a long process and there is a lot of hurry up and wait. But it’s always been nothing but fun to me. I have a pretty mellow personality and was taught from a young age to be patient and follow directions so I guess I was molded to enjoy the process. I love being on set. You really do form a family bond with your fellow cast and crew so its fun hanging out and joking around. Getting your hair and makeup done,  having yummy craft service to munch on … and I’ll never complain about getting to relax in a dressing room and read a book all while getting paid. Never.

J.P.: My wife and I recently had a debate, and maybe you can tell me who’s right. I don’t recall what film we saw, but it was truly awful. Afterward I said, “What amazes me is the actors surely know this was crap when they were done, yet they still promote it as if it’s a quality work.” The wife, on the other hand, thinks performers don’t always realize they’re in a bad movie until everything is over. So please tell me—do y’all generally know midway through when something sucks? And, along those same lines, when something’s amazing?

K.W.: I know I’ve been on a set thinking that something was not going to turn out very well—but, hey, work is work and most of us aren’t in a position to turn down anything right now. On the other hand there have been times when I thought I was part of a brilliant production and when I saw the final product it was junk. So I guess you both win. It can happen both ways. I recently did a short film and I was so excited to see it because I had a lot of emotional scenes and reached places I had never been given the opportunity to go on camera. At the screening I was floored that they cut it all out! The editor said the director decided to change the meaning of the movie so he cut it out—which made some of my scenes not make any sense! Watching it you would think I was making horrible acting choices when really, so much was cut out that what was there didn’t fit together. A lot can happen in the editing room once the actor’s job is done that we’re not aware of until we see the final product. Like they can decide to freeze your face in a weird expression—which can really kill a 10-year old’s self-esteem. But I digress.

J.P.: Twelve years ago you played Susan Dey in the made-for-TV movie, “Come On Get Happy.” Was that a positive experience? And I’m fascinated by what it’s like to portray a real, living person? Are you nervous she’s gonna hate the depiction? Do you care at all about her reaction?

K.W.: That was one of the highlights of my career. I loved playing Susan Dey because I could relate to her in many ways. I had a gut connection to her emotions and what she had gone through but I also had an on-set coach who watched tapes with me and helped me get her mannerisms down. Because she was a real person who many people loved I wanted to wanted to be able to deliver “her” as best as I could to our audience. I cared about portraying her in a real way and I did care what she thought about it. I never heard what her reaction was … but I’m hoping that since some of her biggest fans gave me kudos, perhaps she felt the same.

J.P.: Here’s the oddball question of the year. I mean, it’s really out there. So when I was growing up, my brother used to make fun of me—relentlessly—because I had a beauty mark on my face. I mean, he was vicious. Nicknamed me “Mark,” made me try and hide it, made me feel 1″ tall. Finally, my wife was like, “If it bothers you so much, why not have it removed?” So I did—and I sorta feel like a sellout (odd but true). You have a tiny beauty mark above your lip, and you work in a business where appearance and, to a certain degree, homogeny seems to matter; where magazines airbrush any little mole/wart/scar/etc and imperfections (even if they’re not, as in this case, actual imperfections) are scorned. Again, I’ve never asked anyone this, because it seems so trivial and stupid: But have you ever thought about your beauty mark—either as something that gives you character (a la Cindy Crawford) or defines you or that you love or that you don’t like? Or am I just mental because of my dickhead sibling?

K.W.: No, I never really think about my beauty mark—thanks for putting it in my head (Just kidding)! However, when I was in the fifth grade some girl told me I had a big butt and that insecurity stayed with me for a long time. I’m happy to say I grew into my butt … but agents have pointed out other things about me in the past and those comments have definitely stayed with me.  Damn people and their negative comments!

J.P.: According to your website, you went to college (UMass), returned to acting, then had your two kids (Oliver and Kate)—and now you’re getting back into the acting game. In the real world, being 33 is nothing. Young. Fresh. Still youthful. In acting, especially for women (sadly), it’s up there. Have you found it difficult getting the roles/opportunities you want? And why is it so much harder for women over, oh, 30 to stay hot than it is for men?

K.W.: Yes, I have found it very very difficult. When I got out of college I had absolutely no problem getting back into the game right away. In fact, I landed the Partridge Family just three months after I graduated. This time getting back in the game has been a struggle. Why? Well, for one there are less roles written for women in their 30s. I guess we’re not very entertaining to watch. And when there are roles that fit me, the competition is fierce. A casting director will put out a notice to the all the agents for a role and they will get thousands of submissions. At the end of the day they can only bring in maybe 20 people to actually audition. If you aren’t already known and liked by the specific casting director, it’s hard to get in the room. Not to mention a lot of huge actors are now taking parts they never would have taken before—which only pushes us lower level actors down the chain. You see a lot of movie stars doing cameos and guest parts on TV. That didn’t happen 10 years ago.

J.P.: Best moment as an actor? Worst moment as an actor?

K.W.: I think my best moments have been while I was doing theater. There is something about the thrill of a live audience and telling a complete story in sequence from start to finish. My favorite show was The Wizard of Oz and I played Dorothy. It was a thrill to live in that world with the colorful sets and fun characters.

Worst moment—I was doing an episode of Growing Pains. I think I was 12. They just gave me the part without an audition. I only had one line and I couldn’t remember it for the life of me. “Isn’t it true that most TV reporters are vapid news readers without any real journalism credentials.” I felt so stupid for not being able to memorize this stupid line. I was friends with a bunch of the actors on the set and they were all making fun of me. As the pressure got worse it became harder and harder to remember the words. Luckily when we did the actual taping I was able to spit it out. But it was traumatic and embarrassing. Now I realize I didn’t understand what I was saying, which is why I couldn’t remember it. If someone would have just explained to me what “vapid news readers” were and what a “journalism credential” was it might have been easier.

J.P.: You were in How High with Method Man and Redman. I would like to type that again, because it’s so odd: You were in How High with Method Man and Redman. How the heck did that happen? And, well, what was it like working with the two rappers?

K.W.: How High was a really fun and unusual experience. I got a call for the audition one day and I was really really sick. I told my manager I couldn’t make it—could he try and reschedule. I was literally in bed and out of commission.  He said that this was the only day they were seeing people and I was a direct request from the director. The director was Jessie Dylan—Bob Dylan’s son. I had no idea how he possibly knew me. It turns out he was the director on a Pizza Hut commercial that I had auditioned for a few months before but didn’t get (My counterpart in the movie was the girl who actually did the commercial). My manager begged me to go and I was flattered that Bob Dylan’s son knew who I was, so I dragged myself out of bed.

It was originally only supposed to be two scenes but once we started they kept writing more and more scenes and I ended up shooting about 16 scenes. They didn’t all make it into the movie but it was a blast. I didn’t know who Method Man and Redman were but I quickly learned. They had a whole entourage on the set at all times. They were so funny to work with—always making jokes and didn’t take anything too seriously. Including themselves. We did have one scene where I was in bed with Redman … that was pretty awkward. I kept in touch with Redman for a very short while after the filming. He invited me to a bunch of parties but it wasn’t really my scene so we lost touch.

J.P.: I’m guessing this won’t be your favorite question, but I have to ask: On your reel, there are scenes from the 2006 romantic comedy, You Did What? which you co-starred in with Edward Kerr (and which was written by your husband, Jeff Morris). I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but your parts look strong. And yet—what the hell? On Netflix, the film is unavailable. It doesn’t exist on Wikipedia. There’s a trailer on YouTube … but nothing else. Please solve this mystery for me, Kathy. What happened to the movie? And was it any good?

K.W.: The movie was great if I do say so myself. We shot this film with great actors for next to nothing. We actually got one of the editors from How High to edit the film for us. We sold it to a distributor and it has played all around the world—except for the U.S. It had a video release date for the U.S. which is why you can find the title on Netflix, but then something happened between the distributor and the video label and it’s now in limbo. Our contract is up with them this year and when we get the rights back we will try and get a new distributor. Hopefully you’ll be able to rent it soon …


• According to your website you trained with Joseph Pearlman. Any idea if he’s related to the New York Pearlmans? And if, so, could you ask him to send me some dough?: I have no idea. I can ask … but if he is I’m first in line for the dough!

• You were in The Ryan White Story—a very well-done TV movie. Why do you think so many made-for-TV films stink?: I’m not in them. 🙂

• Five favorite smells: Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil, popcorn popping, night blooming Jazmin, California Baby Bath and Body Wash and my husband’s cologne (it doesn’t matter what kind it is).

• Peter Cetera or A Tribe Called Quest?: Peter CeteraTonight it’s very clear/As we’re both lying here. I loved Karate Kid!

• You are the only person to appear in both Iron Eagle and Poltergeist II. Emotions?: But how much better would Poltergeist II have been with Jason Gedrick?

• A director says, “I want you to star as Martin Lawrence’s love interest in Big Mama’s House IV: Mama Makes Good” but you have to gain 80 pounds—do you do it?: Um no—losing baby weight was hard enough.

• Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker or Axel Foley?: Luke Skywalker. I’m trying to think of a witty reason why but all my life saber and force jokes just don’t seem funny right now …

• Why UMass?: I’m a romantic and to me college meant bricks and ivy and snow. I think I watched Love story one too many times. I applied to all East Coast schools and was actually going to go to Boston University, but when I went to visit I realized I didn’t want to be in a city. I really wanted to go somewhere very different from Los Angeles—UMass’s beautiful campus won me over. I loved the snow … the first two years. Then I just made the best of it knowing I only had two years left.

• Most famous person you know?: I’ve met a lot of really famous people in passing but Jorge Garcia from Lost was a really good friend of mine. We were in an acting class together for a couple of years and he was in my husband’s first short film before he moved to Hawaii to become a star. He is one of the nicest people and deserves every bit of his success he’s receiving.

• Fred Savage is across the street? Do you yell out to him, or keep walking?: I probably would say keep walking for a lot of people … I can be kind of shy. But I think I would yell out to Fred. Everyone else recognizes me from The Wonder Years … I’m sure he would, too.

Wendy Hagen

I have become addicted to Wonder Years re-runs. My wife laughs about it—”Really … again?” My kids ask to watch with me (they’re a tad young, but every now and then we hunker down). I love the nostalgia element to the show, but I also love the nostalgia element of the nostalgia element of the show. I was a perky teen when The Wonder Years was hot, and when I catch the re-runs I drift back to my youth.

Anyhow, last week I was watching the 1992 episode where Kevin, now in high school, dates a cute, semi-crazy chick named Julie. She’s one of three sisters, and all the women of the house control men, and Julie starts telling Kevin that he needs to wear stripes, come over every day after school, etc, etc. Good stuff.

When the program ended, I was sorta curious what ever became of “Julie.” The credits showed she was played by “Wendy Cox.” Did some Googling and a little IMBDing, found out Wendy Cox is now Wendy Hagen—and that Wendy Hagen is pretty darn fascinating. In no particular order: Wendy was a child actress who appeared in a handful of commercials (her Coke story below is priceless), popped up in such shows as The Wonder Years and Growing Pains, starred in The New Lassie, did some crazy circus stuff—then left. Just said, “Adios,” and went on to UCLA, where she was a cheerleader situated right below the basket when Tyus Edney hit his famed March Madness layup of 1995 (she’s sitting next to the bear in the photo down below).

Wendy is now a wife and mother of three, an author of the parenting book, “Totally Desperate Mom,” real estate maven, possessor of a cat who eats toilet paper, a Tweeter of some magnitude and a blogger of all things random, odd and funny. She has survived the death of a child and is a woman of deep faith and conviction.

It’s a true honor to have her here. Enjoy …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I first became aware of you while watching a re-run of a Wonder Years episode you were in. You played Kevin’s girlfriend. Am curious what, if anything, you remember about that specific experience.

WENDY HAGEN: Good experience. I think I was 16. Nice cast. Loved that show—great writing. Had an interesting conversation at lunch with the cast about abortion and that somehow led to talking about the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). I don’t know how or who started that dialogue, but it wasn’t me.

J.P.: On your website, you write ” … back in the good ol’ days when you could actually watch shows with your children.” What do you mean by that? And are there shows in 2011 that you watch with your children?

W.H.: Seems like there was a lot more wholesome (and yet still witty, clever, entertaining) programming back then. Prime-time shows that you could sit down and comfortably watch with as a family. Cosby Show, Family Ties, Wonder Years, Growing Pains . . . to name a few. Maybe I am wrong, but these days there it seems that there are less and less television shows that are suitable for the entire family to watch together. I think Modern Family is ridiculously funny, but not something I could watch with kids. Right now we don’t have any shows we watch as a family. Off the top of my head American Idol is the only show I can think of that would be conducive to family viewing, but right now my oldest is 7 and he goes to bed at 8:15 pm. Plus, I don’t know if I could bribe my husband to watch American Idol anyway. He’d rather watch NBA games.

J.P.: I’m an agnostic Jew. I read with interest—and genuine sadness and empathy—about you losing your daughter Faith (pictured, below left) after four days. I can’t imagine what that was like, but I’m always amazed to hear people go through such an experience and emerge with renewed faith. I mean, it would strike me that, at such an inexplicably horrific moment, you’d think, “There’s no meaning for this.” So how did you and your family emerge more faithful? Because I think it’s striking—and fascinating.

W.H.: Even as I look back on our journey with baby Faith I  sometimes think how did I even get out of bed in the morning? Strength, hope, peace, purpose from God. That’s the only way I can explain it. I know that is hard to understand as an outsider looking in—and not just from a faith perspective, but from a perspective of not being in the situation. But honestly, during that period (when I was pregnant with a baby who I knew was going to die, but didn’t know when) I experienced the reality of God and His love more than any other time in my life! I know that sounds so ironic because many would question how could a loving God allow that to happen? God showed up in so many ways and so many times during that journey. Not physically and wearing a white robe, with a long beard with a lamb over His shoulders, but through the Scriptures and through other people. At just the right time. It is really a book’s worth of explanation, but suffice it to say that even in the midst of our deepest pain, God was faithful to us and proved Himself to be real.

Let me give just one example. A few months after Faith died, my husband and I went on a trip to Hawaii (thanks to a bunch of friends who had sent money to a travel agent on our behalf). The last day of our trip we ended up in a strip mall in the middle of Kauai. And there were several circumstances (both good and bad) that brought us to that location at that time. A skeptic might call them coincidences, but I say no way. There were way too many events that brought us to that particular place at that specific time. We walked by a Calvary Chapel Church in the middle of that strip mall and then went to the ABC store. And the ABC trip is significant and part of God’s design—not because of the chocolate covered macadamia nuts or because of the awesome magnets you can pick up there. But because it all goes back to timing. To all the pieces working together to bring us to a specific place at a specific time where God would show up and remind us of His continuous love for us.

We left the ABC store and decided to go back to the church to check it out—not that there would be anything going on there on a weekday afternoon. When we walked in to the church there was a man in the foyer with a headset on. We introduced ourselves and asked what was going on. He was the pastor and informed us of what was going on right at that moment: “Oh, we are actually having a memorial service for people who have lost babies.” Tears. Disbelief. God had not forgotten us. He has a plan even when we don’t understand it. He shows up.

I believe there is purpose even in the worst of circumstances. Sometimes we can’t see the purpose. Sometimes we see glimpses. I saw a lot of those purposes while I was pregnant and when baby Faith ditched us for heaven after 4 days on earth. It was a devastating time in our lives and yet it was also full of blessings. (I am totally not trying to hijack your blog and make it a Jesus freak forum so if you don’t want to include that whole story, I understand. But by sharing that illustration I hope it helps you/others grasp what I mean when I say God showed up and how we could emerge more faithful under such tragic circumstances.)

J.P.: Along those lines—how do you know, 100%, that you’re right? I mean this with total respect, because it fascinates me. There are probably 500 religions in the world, and people of all faiths are convinced theirs is the way. How do you know, sans uncertainty, that you’re correct?

W.H.: Do I know 100% that I am right about Christianity? Some days yes. Some days no. That is where faith steps in. I don’t think you have to be 100% certain. But are you certain enough? I have not looked into 500 religions, but I have looked into a lot of them. (Was not raised in a Christian home.) And I have concluded that Jesus is as he claimed “the way, the truth, and the life.” Doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. Doesn’t mean that I like everything about it. There are some concepts that are difficult to understand and things I think I would do differently if I were God. But I trust that as Isaiah 55 says “His ways are Higher than mine” and ultimately I would really suck at being God. I look at Christianity as kind of like a puzzle—there are a few pieces that I can’t seem to make fit, but so many of them fit together that I trust that those pieces actually do fit. I just can’t understand it or see it right now. Most of and enough of the pieces make incredible sense to me. Add that to my personal encounters with God and it’s enough for me to commit my life to being a follower of Christ. It is definitely not blind or uneducated faith. I care about truth. So far I have not read or seen anything that has proven to me that what I believe is a fairy tale. And I read more than Christian literature and the Bible. In fact, right now I am reading Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. I like to try and understand different points of view.

J.P.: I like your blog, because I don’t entirely get it. I mean that as a compliment—it seems very personal, very heart-felt … and very random. Kids here, Hollywood there. What are you trying to accomplish? And why’d you start it?

W.H.: I don’t really get my blog either so you are not alone . . . I started it as sort of a scrapbook for my own family and friends. Mostly stuff about my family and then at some point I randomly threw up some old Hollywood memories. I love to write. It was therapeutic to write about some of the crazier motherhood stuff. And I since I had a good experience in Hollywood it has been fun for me to walk down memory lane in that way. When I started writing my book I thought I should broaden my blog world a bit. I had no idea there was such a huge blogosphere out there. I began writing more regularly and started reading other blogs. A few people suggested that I write a regular post about my Hollywood stuff because they found it interesting. Ultimately, I write what I feel like writing about when I feel like writing about it and it is therefore a hodgepodge. Motherhood, Hollywood, Jesus, a toilet-paper eating cat, ugly family photos, dirty minivan contests, and a Q&A with a Sports Illustrated writer. You never really know what you’re gonna get.

J.P.: Will Smith and Jaden Pinkett Smith (as examples) seem to relish placing their children in the spotlight. Two of their kids act, sing, dance, etc. From afar, I can’t think of anything worse for a child than celebrity. You’ve been there—agree or disagree?

W.H.: Children in Hollywood—that’s a tough one. Personally, I had a great experience. But I think several factors go into that:

1. I dragged my parents into it—I did not have a stage mom or a mom who took me to night clubs.

2. My family was supportive, but they were not living through me or depending on me financially.

3. I was 14 when I moved to Hollywood and had already began my faith journey. My faith was a priority.

4. My show was not a big hit. I was never famous.

5. Hollywood is a whole different ball game now. With the internet, cell phones, rampant paparazzi, and reality television. Not that those things are bad, they have just taken celebrity to a whole new level.

I would prefer that my kids do not get into the business, but if one of them wants to do it as badly as I did . . . I don’t know. I am so thankful that my parents made sacrifices to allow me to pursue my dream. So far my 4 1/2-year old has expressed interest a few times, but I was able to talk her out of it by telling her “You have to drive really far for auditions. Then wait around. Then go into a room full of strangers and do what they say to do.” She is really strong-willed so getting bossed around didn’t really appeal to her.

J.P.: What made you write the book, “Totally Desperate Mom”? And did you find the process as torturous as I do?

W.H.: I spoke at a Mothers of Preschoolers group at my church about taking care of mom. Afterwards Debbie Alsdorf (author and speaker) approached me and said, “You have to write a book about this stuff and call it Totally Desperate Mom.” At the time I was pregnant with my third baby and thought she was crazy. But then that third child arrived and the desperate mom material was hurled at me on a regular basis so I began to write. “Taking Care of Mom” is a section in the book. While I enjoy writing, it was a lot of work. A lot of late nights. And then there is the whole thing of promoting it and trying to get it sold! People ask me if I am going to write another book. I tell them I am still in recovery from writing the first.

J.P.: You starred in The New Lassie. Which, I must confess, I didn’t know existed until right now. Should I rent the DVD of the first season?

W.H.: If The New Lassie was successful and well-known enough to have the first season on DVD then you should totally rent it. Good luck with that.

J.P.: Best acting gig you ever had? Worst?

W.H.: Best acting gig was probably Growing Pains because that was the only time I taped a show in front of a live studio audience. My appearance on Circus of the Stars on The Russian Swing was not acting, but it was the highlight of my Hollywood performances. We trained for 3 1/2 months, 6 days a week, an hour a day. Then we performed our stunt in front of a live audience. I had a ton of friends and family come to see the taping/performance.

Worst acting gig I did was a Coke commercial. I was probably about 12-years old. It was pouring down rain. I was standing on a tractor with an open can of paint in one hand and was supposed to jump off the tractor . . . into a flock of chickens. I was freezing and scared to hurt the chickens. I think I did the jump once, the chickens didn’t really flee (none were injured or anything, but it was awkward) and paint went everywhere. Then the social worker/studio teacher put an end to that action and they changed the scene up a bit. And of course, that scene was cut out of the commercial (which happens a lot) so I wasn’t even in the commercial when it aired.

J.P.: Wendy, I know you’re religious, but I must ask bluntly: How the f— did you wind up in a photo alongside NWA’s Eazy-E?

WH: Seriously. Drug dealer, gang banger and little Lassie girl.

I have no idea why Athletes and Entertainers for Kids had him at their events. Well, it was an outreach to inner-city kids so of course they all loved him. But was he a good example of how to escape the hood? And they seriously had to be on the lookout for rival gangs. He was really nice, though.

I was the teen spokesperson for AEFK one year and he was at a lot of their events. He came to several of their events as well so we were homies.  🙂

I probably introduced him to Amy Grant music, and I am sure he loved it.

J.P.: You took an acting class with Leo, then worked with him on an episode of Growing Pains. What do you recall from the experience? And is it true he sends you half of all his paychecks?

W.H.: Leonardo was nice enough. Seemed like a pretty typical boy at the time. There was a girl in our acting class who had a HUGE crush on him and I totally didn’t get that. He was kind of scrawny and looked like he was 12 or 13 (when he was 15). This was all before he busted out into big time fame with that Robert DiNero movie and then of course, Titanic. He was sick the week we did Growing Pains. But he showed up, knew his lines, did a good job.

Hilary Swank had a small role in the Growing Pains episode. She and Leo were buddies.

I think Leo is an incredible actor. One of my favorite movies is Blood Diamond. And please don’t spread rumors about Leo giving me half of his paychecks. It’s only 25 percent.

J.P.: You have a cat who eats toilet paper. Please explain …

W.H.: I have no explanation for the cat. He makes his own choices. Maybe he was a child-actor cat before he got to us?


Favorite actor and actress: Don’t have one. But more recently, I thought Christian Bale was phenomenal in The Fighter.

Five things in your purse: Wallet, snacks for kids, receipts, cell phone, lipstick. That’s on a good day. On a normal day . . . oh my word. Just read this post.

How’d you meet your husband: On a retreat with the college group from our church. We both went to UCLA.

$10 million or you never have to go to the bathroom again: $10 million for sure. The bathroom is not so bad. With the exception of outhouses—I would not swim in one for ten mill.

• Would you rather have 25 kids or 1?: If I could have 4 nannies and 3 husbands then I would definitely have 25 kids. Otherwise, just one.

• Favorite UCLA cheerleading memory: NCAA tourney. 1995. Sat under the basket when Tyus Edney drove across the court to shoot the winning basket in 4.8 seconds.

• Hall & Oates or Celine Dion?: Celine because my heart must go on.

• In the past 10 years you’ve been recognized [FILL IN THE BLANK] times for a childhood acting appearance: Zero. Was rarely even recognized in my prime.

• More worried about climate change or the price of cereal?: Neither, because I don’t fully understand what’s behind either one.

• Who wins in an arm wrestle between you and Kate Winslet?: Me for sure. I am almost finished with doing the DVD workout Insanity.