Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, was portrayed by the glamorous Lynda Carter, who not only took on the iconic role full-heartedly but made every girl want to be like her and every guy want to look at her. The now 69-year-old wasn’t even the first choice for the role. She only came on and succeeded after another actress basically didn’t do the job right.
Once Carter took on the role, she changed the way comic books and female superheroes were perceived. Suddenly, women were reading comics – it was no longer just for guys. Despite the immediate fame that Carter experienced, her road following the infamous role was bumpy, which eventually led her to leave Hollywood completely. This is the making of an icon and where it ultimately led her.
Becoming an Icon
Every generation needs its Wonder Woman, and during the ‘70s, the Baby Boomers got theirs when Lynda Carter debuted as the superhero in The New Original Wonder Woman. The TV movie then served as the Wonder Woman series’ pilot. In 1974, ABC tried to turn the character into a Hollywood hit with Cathy Lee Crosby in the lead role. But it just didn’t work, and the series never materialized.
A year later, ABC tried again, and this time, they got it right. 1975 was declared “International Women’s Year,” and the network doubled down on the character with Lynda Carter. Carter quickly became an icon, helping build the Wonder Woman mythology. In fact, it was Carter who came up with the often imitated spin, which turned her into the bad guy-fighting bada$$ that she is.
She Had Made Up Her Mind
Some people were skeptical that Carter would be able to carry a series, but Carter already had the skills and talent to pull it off with ease. At 14, she was waiting tables at her uncle’s restaurant in Winslow, Arizona. She decided to quit, though, and started singing in a band instead.
A few years later, she hit the road rather than accept an Arizona State University academic scholarship. Carter recalled: “My husband once asked my mother, ‘Why on earth would you let your 17-year-old daughter go on tour with a bunch of musicians?’” Her mother’s response was, “Excuse me, have you ever tried to talk Lynda out of something she made up her mind to do?”
A Pageant Queen
Carter then went from singing to modeling, signing with an agency while still a teenager. By 1970, she was crowned Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona, and eventually Miss World USA in 1972. After accepting the crown, she started auditioning for acting gigs. The pageant title served her well as it helped get her foot in the door.
What she realized, though, was that there weren’t many roles for women. For years, she was landing only bit parts. By the time she got the Wonder Woman role, she had already been singing, acting, and modeling for a decade. Audiences fell in love with her superhero role, which is what the show’s executive producer, Douglas S. Cramer, predicted would happen.
They Found Their Wonder Woman
Cramer put it nicely: “There were those at ABC who felt that Lynda could not have carried a show of her own, because she had not previously appeared in a series. But the minute she stepped into the wild costume, I knew — we all knew — that we had found our Wonder Woman.”
The TV movie was such a success that it led to a series. But going from the movie to the Season Three finale on September 11, 1979, was a bumpy ride. Firstly, ABC took its time renewing the series after the first season ended. After all, a World War II setting with endless costumes and classic cars wasn’t cheap.
The New Adventures of Wonder Woman
Warner Bros. accepted the offer from CBS to update the setting from the 1940s to the ‘70s. They also changed the name to The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, which premiered on September 16, 1977. With the 30-year jump in the plotline, Lyle Waggoner (who played Steve Trevor) switched roles and started playing Trevor’s son, Steve Jr.
The new version, however, didn’t have the same magic. CBS ended up scrapping it after two seasons. The series was canceled, but Wonder Woman’s legacy was established. The early ‘40s presented the character as a powerful, liberated woman. But decades later, Wonder Woman became more cliché in the pages of comic books. Lynda Carter’s iconic role embodied strength, wisdom, and compassion.
With Just $25 to Her Name
Carter, who starred in Wonder Woman from 1976 to 1979, will forever be linked to the comic book character. She managed to bring a human quality to the superhuman crime fighter. “People forget that I spent most of the time on television playing an alter ego,” Carter said in 2009. “That’s how I allowed people to really understand her.”
Luckily she found the role, considering she was on her last $25 and about to return to Arizona. But then her manager called her and informed her that she got the role. She actually beat out 2,000 other actresses, including Joanna Cassidy. Even though Cathy Lee Crosby got the first round as Wonder Woman, Carter ultimately won.
The Infamous Spin
It was mentioned earlier that Carter is the one responsible for coming up with the famous spin. Wonder Woman’s transformation is one of the most iconic moments of TV in the ‘70s. In the comic books, when Diana Prince turns into Wonder Woman, she has to leave the room and come back as the superhero.
On-screen, though, the show’s creators wanted something a tad more dramatic. Carter is the one who suggested the spin. She was a dancer, after all, so the spin only came naturally. They later added the light explosion effects to make the transition seamless, instead of the previous way that they had filmed it. For the first two episodes, they made it look like she was spinning her clothes off in slow motion. But it was time-consuming and expensive, so what they did was make a ball of light to fabricate the transition.
Her Thoughts on Gal Gadot’s Version
After a long hiatus, Wonder Woman returned to pop culture in 2016 in the movie Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But today’s Wonder Woman has a different attitude and costume than the one from Lynda Carter’s day. The new one, played by the lovely Gal Gadot, is darker and edgier.
What does Lynda Carter think? Carter says she’s happy that a new Wonder Woman is finally here, although she finds it odd that an Israeli actress is playing an all-American superhero. Once the movie came out, people were upset about Wonder Woman’s minor role, but according to Carter, “It’s not a bad way to reintroduce her that way.”
Not Just for Men
Many people considered Wonder Woman an object of male fantasy, but Carter always emphasized how much the series was supposed to empower women. In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, she said she still has women at airports coming up to her and saying: “Oh, you don’t know what it meant to me.”
“That’s really where the fantasy became a reality, where Wonder Woman became something much more than a TV show or a comic book,” Carter explained. “If a guy comes up and says, ‘Oh my God, I had such a crush on you when I was a teenager,’ I say: ‘Talk to the hand. I don’t want to know.’”
Forever a Typecast
Because of Wonder Woman, Carter is forever the superheroine. When she was asked if she had a problem with being typecast, Carter told Film Monthly, “I’ll always be typecast,” that she’ll always be Lynda ‘Wonder Woman’ Carter.
She said she’s proud of the role that made her famous, but something she may not be proud of is where her life went after the series. During the three-season run, Carter married Ron Samuels, the series’ producer, and manager, in 1977. Carter referred to that period as “an unfortunate chapter” in her life. The couple divorced in 1982, after which she turned to something darker: alcohol.
An Unfortunate Chapter
Carter said, “Alcoholism is an abyss. You are terrified of the addiction. You just can’t stop. The disease has taken over, it is not a matter of having will-power. Addiction feels so shameful, but it really is a disease, and if you have got the gene that turns it on, it is devastating.”
Carter said her alcoholism got worse after she married her second husband, and after the scandal, her second husband found himself in (will be explained next). Carter met attorney Robert Altman the same year she divorced Samuels. The two met at an event for Maybelline cosmetics (she was a spokesperson). “When you hear lawyer, you think, how dull,” Carter once admitted. “But Robert is a very successful lawyer who loves rock and roll.”
A Downward Spiral
After the success of Wonder Woman, Carter became an in-demand performer. She was featured in a variety of TV specials and promotional work. Her relationship with Altman soon deepened, and the two married in 1984. In the early ‘90s, Altman and his partner, Clark Clifford, were suddenly amidst the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal.
Altman and Clifford, of First American Bank, were indicted on “charges of fraud and lying to banking regulators about First American’s illegal ownership.” Throughout the trial, Carter was often seen at her husband’s side, continually declaring that he wasn’t guilty. He and his partner were ultimately acquitted, but it led to Carter’s addiction spiraling out of control.
Moving on to Maryland
Since Carter was based in Los Angeles and her new husband was a Washington-insider from D.C., she had to decide where to call home. For Carter, the answer was easy. “I had a large body of work already,” she recalled to People. “I spent a lot of time on movie sets… But I didn’t have a lot of substance in my life.”
After leaving Hollywood behind, the couple headed east to Potomac, Maryland, just outside D.C. In 1987, they built an 18,000 sq. foot home, which became the place where they raised their two children: James (b. 1988) and Jessica (b. 1990). Carter said that she wasn’t present enough for her children in those years.
Not Being Present
“I didn’t drink during my pregnancies, but I wasn’t really present for my two children, though my kids never saw me out of control,” Carter admitted. She explained that when she had a drink, she just couldn’t stop. Despite how good she was at keeping her addiction concealed, her family was still aware of it.
Her husband urged her to get help if she wanted to keep their marriage intact and for the sake of the children, who were then 20 and 17 years old. In 2008, Carter opened up about rehab and how it helped her fight her addiction. By then, she had been sober for nearly 10 years, and she said, “the best measure of a human being… is how we treat the people who love us, and the people that we love.”
Carter Speaks Out About Her Past
In 2002, Carter came on Larry King Live to speak about her experiences in rehab. Carter said, “It’s like going back to school; That’s the way I felt about it. You go to classes all day long and take notes and participate in group discussions.” Once she became clean, she found new fulfillment as a mother.
She’s also an advocate for a number of causes that are important to her, such as Pro-Choice rights for women and LGBTQ rights.
Carter had more to reveal later on in her life. Sadly, it isn’t surprising that Carter exposed what really happened behind the scenes during her Wonder Woman days.
An Outspoken Supporter
The iconic actress revealed that she was sexually harassed while playing the superhero in the ‘70s TV show. In a Daily Beast interview, Carter discussed the experiences that led her to become an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement. A longtime activist, Carter was the symbol for female power, which ironically occurred during a time when the industry was strife with abuse and harassment.
Carter didn’t want to name any specific names, though, or provide details about the worst of her experiences. According to Carter, “He’s already being done in. There’s no advantage in piling on again.” When asked about it, Carter said that her predator violated “a lot of people.”
An Unfortunate Incident
She didn’t add anything more, saying, “there’s nothing legally I could add to it because I looked into it. I’m just another face in the crowd.” Unfortunately, this mystery man was just one of many in Carter’s life. On the set of Wonder Woman, she discovered that a cameraman drilled a hole into her dressing room.
In this case, Carter explained that they caught him, fired him, and chased him out of the business, thankfully. When asked if she ever formally reported one of these instances, Carter said no. “Who are you going to tell, your agent? Who’s going to believe you? No one’s going to believe you.”
She’s Got the Moves
Carter didn’t let her bad experiences dictate her future. Lynda spent the ‘80s performing on stage as a showgirl at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace. In 2007, she went on tour for her one-woman cabaret show called An Evening with Lynda Carter. Then, in 2015, she wrote and recorded songs for the latest installment of the Fallout 4 video games.
Carter has been politically active in recent years, and she even revisited her early music career. She released an album called Red Rock N’ Blues in 2018, which her daughter was a part of as well. Both of her kids followed in their father’s career footsteps, though, rather than banking in on their mom’s fame. Jessica, however, loves to join her mother at the microphone every once in a while.
Feuds on the Set
Towards the end of the series, Waggoner and Carter were in fewer and fewer scenes together because of alleged tensions between the two. Waggoner, who was already a big TV star by the time he was cast, apparently didn’t like playing second fiddle to Carter.
According to sources, Carter simply didn’t want anyone else in the same scene. She supposedly felt that Waggoner was bringing the show’s energy level down. In recent interviews, however, Carter denied the existence of any sort of tension between them. There was also speculation that Carter had a feud with Winger, who played Wonder Girl. Carter actually said she thinks Winger did a great job.
Her Female Costars
Actress Beatrice Colen played Etta Candy, Wonder Woman’s best friend and sidekick. But Etta only appeared in the first season. After the series was revamped, her role was dropped. Actress Debra Winger appeared as Diana Prince’s younger sister, Drusilla. Drusilla became Wonder Girl, but she was only in three episodes.
While producers wanted to keep her on the show, she took herself out of her contract as she wanted to move on to “better” acting pursuits. Winger was even offered the lead in a spin-off series of Wonder Girl, but she declined the opportunity. It looks like she made the right choice, though, since she was nominated for Golden Globes and an Oscar for Urban Cowboy and Terms of Endearment.
Stanley Ralph Ross
Co-creator Stanley Ralph Ross wrote a third of the episodes for the ‘60s Batman TV series. An earlier version of Wonder Woman was created by writers Stan Hart and Larry Siegel in 1967. After the first version tanked, Ross was asked to bring Wonder Woman to the small screen the right way.
Ross, who didn’t like the choice of Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman, nor how the character was represented, developed his own version of Wonder Woman. His version stayed true to the comics, and he insisted on casting Carter and Waggoner in the lead roles. While she became everyone’s favorite, it took a while for some fans to get used to her.
A Multi-Ethnic Wonder Woman
It was kind of a big deal to have Lynda Carter cast in such a role in the 1970s. After all, Carter’s mother was Mexican, Spanish, and French, and her father came from English and Scottish-Irish ancestry, which technically made the character a multi-ethnic comic-book superhero.
Not only multi-ethnic, but Diana Prince was also a feminist. As was Carter, who wasn’t happy about the way in which Wonder Woman’s alter ego, Diana Prince, was being “dumbed down.” So, she spoke up about it. Carter tried to make Wonder Woman and Diana Prince valuable contributions to society. Wonder Woman was still taken the wrong way sometimes. Carter said, “I never meant to be a sexual object for anyone but my husband… I hate men looking at me and thinking what they think. And I know what they think. They write and tell me.”
Did She Save DC Comics?
Wonder Woman debuted as a comic book character in direct response to the public’s negative reaction to Superman. Superman was released around WWII, which meant that many comparisons were made between Superman and the Germans (the Germans apparently believed in the idea of a superior race or “Superman” (“Ubermensch”) who should dominate the “undesirables.”)
DC comics thought that perhaps a female superhero might help add some balance to the violent, male world of their comic books. In 1940, psychologist William Moulton Marston penned an article arguing that there was “great educational potential” in comic books. He was then approached by comic book publisher Max Gaines, who hired Marston as an educational consultant. Marston created Wonder Woman with a modern version of women in mind. He wanted to create a “new kind of superhero, one who would conquer not with fists or firepower, but with love.”
The Lasso of Truth
Marston supposedly based the character on both his wife and a student of his, named Olive Byrne. After getting intimate with Byrne, both Marston and his wife invited her to join them in a polyamorous relationship. Both Byrne and Mrs. Marston had two of Marston’s children each, and all three raised the four children in one household.
Marston developed the systolic blood pressure test, which is integral to the modern polygraph lie detector. And it came from a suggestion from his wife: Whenever she got mad or excited, her blood pressure rose. Many connect this with Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, which forced people to obey orders and tell her the truth.
For Men and Women
Wonder Woman was made to appeal to both men and women, but she was actually intended to appeal to women more. Men were already welcome in the superhero world, so DC Comics wanted to make women feel welcome as well. Thus, they created a whole marketing scheme in order to attract women.
Wonder Woman was accepted into the Justice Society in the mid-‘40s, but she was still subject to sexism. She was held back from participating in the society’s battles (the superhero team was called the Justice Society before becoming the Justice League in 1960) and given the role of the team’s secretary instead. It was a start, as later on, Wonder Woman clearly took on a more prominent role in the League.
A Powerful Woman, a Powerful Costume
Carter kind of got to live out Wonder Woman’s goals of being the President when she guest-starred on the 2015 series Supergirl. In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Carter spoke about the inspiration for her role as the President of the United States. “It was Hillary,” Carter said, “I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 35 years. She is the kindest, most wonderful human being.”
Wonder Woman was a feminist icon, but she was also a piece of eye candy, thanks to that iconic costume. “I never really thought of Wonder Woman as a super-racy character,” Carter revealed. “She wasn’t out there being predatory. She was saying: ‘I am who I am, get over it.’”
Never Formally Canceled
While it was being filmed, the cast and crew of Wonder Woman never knew if and when their show was going to get the axe. They heard the rumors of it being the last season but weren’t told of its cancelation until the last minute. As it turns out, CBS had an option to renew the series, but they let the offer expire before making a final decision.
As a result, Wonder Woman was never formally canceled. According to Lyle Waggoner, “If Wonder Woman had been allowed to keep fighting the Nazis, she would have been on for a very long time.” He figured that transition from NBC to CBS, as well as the story’s plot from the 40s to the 70s, was the reason ratings began to sink.
Beating the Rest
It was a surprise when producers went with Lynda Carter for the role of Wonder Woman, and it’s mostly because a number of bigger stars not only wanted the part but auditioned and were rejected. The actress Angie Bowie, David Bowie’s former partner, reportedly wanted to be Wonder Woman.
As was mentioned before, Carter got the part over Joanna Cassidy, a well-known actress at the time, who was in other series like Mission: Impossible, Starsky & Hutch, and Taxi. Cassidy wasn’t upset about it, though, seeing that she earned a Golden Globe Award for her work in Buffalo Bill.
The Helicopter Stunt
There is a Season Two episode called “Anschluss 77,” with a scene where Wonder Woman jumps onto a helicopter and holds onto it as it flies away. In a commentary, Carter recalled that they used a stuntwoman at first, but no matter what the cameraman did, it was too obvious that the stuntwoman wasn’t Carter.
So, the brave Carter made a decision to try and perform the stunt herself. “It was so much fun,” she recalled. “Where else in your life can you have all these adventures?” Her bold move didn’t please the network executives, though. If they had known she was going to do that, they never would have signed off on it.
Bracelets of Submission
Wonder Woman’s bracelets, or the Bracelets of Submission as they’re called, acted as a force to protect her from any harm that came her way, from gunshots to explosions. To create this effect, Carter explained that they wired little loads in the front where the stars were.
Within those stars, there were some wires that went up the back of her wrist and into the palm of her hand. She would fire them, depending on which arm of hers was taking the shot. As lore has it, the indestructible bracelets were crafted from the remains of her father’s (Zeus) destroyed shield. Sources say Marston incorporated the bracelets when he created Wonder Woman “as an allegory for his philosophy on loving submission and the emotional control associated with it in order to balance out the strength of the human ego.”