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High School Gets a Role in 'Wonder Years' : Television: After being expelled from John Burroughs High School in Burbank, the series changes filming sites.

September 22, 1991|MICHAEL UTLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A crowd of the curious gathered around the Rosemead High School faculty parking lot one recent Friday afternoon. They were trying, without much success, to get a look at the set of "The Wonder Years."

"Step back please. We're filming here," warned a staff assistant for the television show.

"But I wanted to get a picture of Fred Savage," said Martha Mendoza, a 1965 graduate of the school. The 15-year-old actor, who plays the central role of Kevin Arnold in the Emmy award-winning show, was there that day. But Mendoza never got the picture.

"Maybe later," the staff assistant said.

Such scenes may become commonplace at the Rosemead campus this year. Over the summer, Rosemead apparently became the high school of Kevin and his classmates, who were dislodged last spring from John Burroughs High School in Burbank.

Burbank school officials said the frequent filming was beginning to disrupt the educational environment and restricted use of the campus to the hours before and after class.

"Wonder Years" has been filmed at Rosemead three times since Aug. 27, and twice during the first week of classes. Exterior shots of the school--along with a few students who were used as extras--will appear in some of the first episodes of the show, which premieres Oct. 2 on ABC.

Officials at the show, still sensitive over their experience in Burbank, won't confirm that Rosemead has become Kevin Arnold's new school.

In a strained interview, supervising producer Ken Topolsky insisted that he still films after-hours at Burroughs and occasionally uses other campuses for atmospheric shots. Publicist Justin Pierce of New World Entertainment said the choice of Rosemead was mostly a scheduling matter. The school has implemented no restrictions on filming.

Rosemead Principal Denton Todd speculated that the school was chosen because its post-World War II architecture resembles that of Burroughs.

Students, faculty and administrators, though, like to think the producers just loved their campus. Most approve of the filming and say they can't wait to see their school on TV.

Mendoza, the 1965 graduate who has a 14-year-old son attending the school, said she is proud that Hollywood found her alma mater interesting--even though she never got her photo of Savage.

"I love the show," she said. "It has a good message, and I can let my kids watch it."

She doesn't think the filming will get in the way of her son's education. In fact, she said, "when I read about the problems in Burbank, I just told my son to stay out of their way."

"I think it's great," said Kimberly Packer, a 15-year-old sophomore who got to be an extra on the show. "It shows that the students here have the maturity to handle something like this without it getting in the way of their school life."

Principal Todd said he doesn't see an educational conflict, either.

"I feel it's a positive experience for the kids," he said. "They get the benefit of seeing how a television series is made."

The school receives $750 every time the "Wonder" crew shoots on campus. Todd said the money goes toward campus maintenance, and may also be used to help economically disadvantaged students pay the $50 Advanced Placement testing fee.

"We're benefiting from this," Todd said. But he also concedes there are drawbacks. For instance, during much of the filming, the front entrance to the school has been closed off, and students have had to use the side gates.

And during the most recent shoot, on Sept. 13, the crew set up in the main faculty parking lot, forcing teachers to park their cars in an adjacent lot near the Rosemead Pool.

But history teacher Hugh Zegers, who said he approves of the filming, was a little annoyed when he had to ask permission of crew members to drive his convertible BMW through the set to his parking spot near the back of the school.

"If the teachers have to park somewhere else all the time, that could get old real fast," Zegers said.

Student Richard Magallanes, 17, already thinks the crew has worn out its welcome.

"They're becoming a real hassle," Magallanes said. "This is our school, and they say we can't come in through the front door? I can't wait until they leave."

But, by far, the No. 1 concern was a matter of school pride.

During filming, the crew covered over the school's nameplate and panther insignia with the blue-and-white shield of the fictional "McKinley High School" Knights.

The real-life blue-and-white knights reside at El Monte's Arroyo High School, Rosemead's arch cross-town rival.

"We just sort of gritted our teeth when we saw that," Todd said with a smile. "But we've learned to live with it."

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