Dispelling Myths About The Sexual Harassment Suit Brought Against Fred Savage During ‘The Wonder Years’

Though it’s been off the air now for over 20 years, The Wonder Years is finally getting a release on DVD sometime during the second half of 2014. The hold-up was in song licensing, and anyone who has attempted to watch The Wonder Years on Netflix will understand how important the original songs were the second they hear that lousy theme song done by someone not named Joe Cocker.

The show has been a long-time favorite of mine. I was the same age as Fred Savage, so I grew up with Kevin Arnold, and the show obviously meant a great deal to me (this scene still remains one of my all-time favorite television moments).

But there was always one little black mark against the show, and most of that was silly urban legend. For years during the late run of The Wonder Years and afterwards, people would mention the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Fred Savage in 1991. Accounts being the way they are, these myths began to spread with exaggerated force. You’d hear people say things like, “I loved The Wonder Years, but the matter with Fred Savage was ugly.” The way people misremembered it, you’d hear people say that Savage had sexually harassed Danica McKellar, the actress who played Winnie Cooper. There were even whispers that he’d raped the woman who played Becky (who was, in fact, Winnie Cooper’s real-life sister, Crystal McKellar.) The story got so badly twisted that some had even suggested that Savage — who didn’t do much work in the business during the decade after The Wonder Years — had been chased out of the industry by the sexual harassment claim.

All untrue. Well, mostly. In fact, a sexual harassment lawsuit was brought against Savage and his co-stars, Jason Hervey (who played his older brother Wayne) and Dan Lauria, who played the Arnold patriarch, Jack. But Winnie Cooper was not involved.

The suit was brought by a 32-year-old costume designer, who had been fired from the show because, according to one crew member, she often fell asleep on the job, was never around when she was needed, or was off in the bathroom “primping.” The accusations, however, did not rise anywhere near the level of rape.

The designer claimed that 16-year-old Savage had asked her to have an affair with him, saying “Oh, Monique, I’m so in love with you. Please have an affair with me.” The accusations against Hervey were a little more salacious, as Hervey purportedly suggested that the costume designer was wild in bed or, if she were having a bad day, Hervey would suggest that “she didn’t get laid” the night before. The accusation against Lauria was the weirdest of all. The designer claimed that Lauria had suggested to her that she should be Savage’s “first” (the charge against Lauria was dismissed early on in the suit).

In either case, nine months after it was filed — and despite the furor it had caused in the media — the lawsuit was dropped. Why? I can find no reports specifically stating the reason why it was dropped (because naturally, the media is all over sexual harassment charges, but nowhere around when they’re dismissed) but it might have had something to do with what Alley Mills — who played the mother on Wonder Years — had said (via):

“This lawsuit is beyond ridiculous,” she says. “Fred is the purest young man I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.” And state welfare worker Caryl Pine, who under California labor law was with Savage constantly on the set during the same months as the alleged incidents, says of the suit: “It’s absurd. If Fred said anything, 20 people would have heard it — he was miked most of the time.”

And that’s the whole story. Asked about it five years later, Fred Savage’s only comment was “I was completely exonerated. I really don’t want to talk about it. It was a terrible experience.”

Was Fred Savage inappropriate with another woman on the set of The Wonder Years? Possibly. Did he rape Becky Slater? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Sources: SFGate, Variety, Peter Reynders.