Not everybody knows that there was a short period in the mid-nineties when Stanford was the school of choice for the former child star. This was just before Chelsea Clinton began her Freshman year, and Jennifer Connolly–post-Rocketeer but long before A Beautiful Mind–was already on campus. Later, you would find out that Reese Witherspoon was an undergraduate at the time, though nobody had heard of her yet. And as far as surreal dorm experiences went, there was nothing quite like the time when you were sitting in the one-room double in Lagunita (where you had been stuck by the vengeful Gods of Unguaranteed Housing when the living arrangement with post-psych ward Tanya was no longer feasible), and Danny Pintauro (aka Danny Pituitary Gland of Who’s the Boss? fame) walked in and introduced himself.
Fame was a thing. Because even if none among the Formerly Famous were at the top of their game at the time, there could be no question that you, whoever you were, would know who they were sans introduction. Danny Pintauro did not introduce himself as Danny Pintauro, he was simply, “Dan,”–unassuming, totally normal and average “Dan.” Similarly, Summer Sanders was “Summer,” and Tiger Woods–had you ever met him–would probably have just been “Tiger,” rather than “Tiger Woods, the Top Amateur Golfer in the World.” And without these epithets–without “two-time gold-medalist,” “First Daughter,” or “the star of Freeway, alongside Kiefer Sutherland,” to reify it–the fame would sit there in the air between you and the celebrity, unacknowledged, but certainly felt by both of you.
What was the protocol? Should you acknowledge it? Was it appropriate to say, “Yes, I know who you are, you’re the little annoying kid from that show with Tony Danza. And, what’s more, I know that you know that I know, because otherwise, why would you come introduce yourself to me in my dorm room? Who does that?” Or did you ignore it, pretend that you were far too intellectual and self-important to have watched even one, much less every single show, possibly multiple times in syndication and definitely once or twice dubbed over in French when you were in Paris for the summer?
So yes, of course you knew, along with everyone else, that the latest addition to the campus’ list of the Formerly Famous was the kid who played Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years. It was the talk of the town in a manner of speaking. Not because anyone cared about Fred Savage, of course. No, he had cultural currency only because of the effortless witty repartée his presence promised you. Just the thought of the Fred Savage attending classes or trying to fit into the campus community provided you with a list of easy one liners, e.g. “There I was, in my first Constitutional Law seminar,” “There I was, trying to get the SAEs to like me, to really like me,” “Would Winnie Cooper be waiting for me at the tailgate?” &c.
Still, you hadn’t seen him yet, you had only heard OF him, because Fred Savage, unlike others of the Formerly Famous, had aspirations to join the greek system, and so had been seen around the usual places at the usual times. And it was a strange thing, because you had been used to the Formerly Famous acting as if there were no fame to begin with, and even if there was some awkwardness, you didn’t begrudge them their shot at a normal college experience. They went their way, and you went yours. And you presumed they had their friends, and perhaps among those friends they would occasionally speak of celebrity, and what it meant to them, and try to decide if it was a good thing. Maybe they felt as if they could be known by these friends, for the first time, as just normal people. But you would have had no way of knowing, because they kept to themselves.
But Fred Savage, he was different. He wanted fame, and he wanted it in the particular variety that existed at Stanford. He wanted to be friends with the top athletes, to go to the best parties, to date the prettiest women. He wanted to be famous in a Big Man on Campus kind of way. And OK, it might be funny, but certainly he wasn’t alone, was he? Lots of people wanted that kind of fame. But to have it be Kevin from the Wonder Years wanting this fame, this kind of secondary, bizarre and geographically specific fame, was odd. There was no other word for it. Because would he use his real fame, the kind that results in TV shows and B-movies that depict switching lives with Judge Reinhold, would he trade THAT real, dollar-sign fame for the kind that could really only be used to get him past the bouncer at the Phi Delt house?
Late in the evening, on an average party night during your junior year, you would be smoking outside the Sigma Chi house, again, with Tanya. It was a typical Thursday. You had your Marlboro 100s, and she her Camel lights. And she would take out her little powder compact from the depths of her biker jacket, along with the eyelash curler that she carried with her always, and she would begin to curl her eyelashes. And after she finished this, right in the middle of a party, she would powder her nose. And this was for real, it was not a staid euphemism for something else–she was constantly checking to make sure that her nose wasn’t shiny, as if she was the chaste and pristine heroine of a movie from long ago. Except then she would ruin the illusion by saying something like, “You know, the guys this campus are just so pathetic. There’s not even one of them here I’d like to fuck.”
And before you could answer, the crisp white t-shirt in front of you would turn, and respond to Tanya’s claim by asking, “What are you talking about?” With the kind of smirky grin that meant he knew he could change her mind.
And Tanya, annoyed that somebody would butt into your conversation, said, “Who are you?” before she got a good look. Then, as recognition spread across her face, she said, “Oh, you’re Fred Savage. You’re a fucking star.”
And went back to powdering her nose.