‘The Wonder Years’: Dan Lauria Wanted to Have Something Meaningful in Common with Jack Arnold and ‘It Paid Off’

One of the cool things you sometimes get to see happen on television shows is that actors can sometimes bring a little bit of themselves to their characters. Examples of this include Johnny Galecki playing the cello on The Big Bang Theory, Jonathan Frakes playing the trombone on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and David Boreanaz being a hockey fan on Bones.

While these might seem like small things, they do provide a way for the actors to connect with the character. When Dan Lauria earned a role on The Wonder Years, he wanted to have something in common with his character.

It was this desire that resulted in the show’s writer creating a military backstory for his character. It turned out to be a decision that paid off for the show.

Who is Dan Lauria?

Dan Lauria
Dan Lauria | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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Even though he has been a Hollywood fixture for several decades and appeared in numerous movies and television shows, Dan Lauria will also be remembered for his role on The Wonder Years. He played the father, Jack Arnold. As a rule, Lauria portrays characters who tend to be a bit on the gruff side and who are confident about speaking their mind, and who have a history of being authoritarian.

Despite the gruffness and sometimes intimidating manner of the characters Lauria plays, they are usually well-respected and liked. One of the interesting things about Dan Lauria is that while he’ll always be remembered as Kevin Arnold’s father, in real life he has no children.

Fred Savage, who played Kevin Arnold, has a great deal of respect for Lauria.

 “He would talk to us about theater all the time and really challenged me to do more readings of plays and watching classic movies,” Fred Savage told Lesley Messer in an ABC News interview. “He made sure to educate us on the history of entertaining and performing, and that education has really served me well in my career.”

Dani Lauria’s real-life connection to Jack Arnold

Dan Lauria served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam Conflict. According to IMBD, he served from 1970-1973 and obtained the rank of Captain.

His time in the military shaped Lauria’s life and he felt it was important that he and Jack Arnold should share the same military background.

“I really didn’t contribute that much,” Lauria explained in Paste interview when asked about how much influence he’d had on the development of his character. “But the one thing I did contribute to the character is that when we were shooting the pilot I said to Neal, ‘Look, I’m a vet. I’m a Vietnam veteran and a Marine, and I think if the story is that I’m a vet, that’d fit the character.’ Before we even finish the pilot, he said, ‘Well, if we go, Dan, we’re going to make you a Korean War vet to fit the frame.’ And so they did, and it paid off. There were a number of episodes where it was mentioned that I was a veteran and when my daughter left for college I gave her my old duffle bag from the service. We always had the Vietnam War in the background on the TV at the dinner table. So there were actual news clips. And that’s one thing that there were plans to delve into more had we not been canceled, that it was the first war to be televised like that. There was going to be an episode where one of the kids would see someone they know die on TV. So, that was going to be used a little more had we come back.”

Veterans remain an important part of Lauria’s life

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The health and well-being of veterans continues to be an important issue to Lauria. He has dedicated an enormous amount of time to causes that involve the military and U.S. veterans.

Lauria is a member of the National Veterans Foundation’s Honorary Board which provides him with a platform he can utilize that helps provide much-needed support for veterans all over the country.

Both the National Veterans Foundation and Broadway World wrote about Lauria’s project which creating short films of celebrities, including Lou Diamond Phillips, reading letters that were written by veterans. The short film series debuted on the NVF website on November 11, 2020.