* Welcome to the 21st installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every Thursday on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m listening.
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!
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CRYSTAL MCKELLAR
• 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.
Quaz 1: Wendy Hagen
Quaz 2: Chris Burgess
Quaz 3: Tommy Shaw
Quaz 4: Russ Ortiz
Quaz 5: Don McPherson
Quaz 6: Manny Mota
Quaz 7: Geoff Rodkey
Quaz 8: Meeno Peluce
Quaz 9: Karl Mecklenburg
Quaz 10: Amra-Faye Wright
Quaz 11: Phil Nevin
Quaz 12: Jemele Hill
Quaz 13: Drew Snyder
Quaz 14: Roy Smalley
Quaz 15: Michael Shermer
Quaz 16: Kathy Wagner
Quaz 17: Travis Warren
Quaz 18: Scott Barnhardt
Quaz 19: Chris Jones
Quaz 20: Cindi Avila
Quaz 21: Crystal McKellar