FOUR DECADES AFTER HER ICONIC PORTRAYAL OF WONDER WOMAN GRACED TELEVISION SCREENS, LYNDA CARTER IS STILL STOPPED BY FANS ON THE STREET
Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter remains as popular as her alter ego.
Sometimes, people want to stop Lynda Carter in the street, or at the airport, or in a hospital corridor to hug her. And they do. She has had to get used to that.
Carter only played the archetypal female justice fighter Wonder Woman for three seasons, but nearly four decades later the still-gorgeous actor, jazz singer and feminist remains the “Elvis” of female power icons to her fans.
“It’s always a surprise to me how enduring the character has been, and I’m constantly amazed when I go through an airport or something and someone will stop me. I was just at the hospital with a family member and people would stop and say they just wanted to hug me,” Carter says, sounding not unlike her old Amazonian princess alter ego on a good phone line from New York.
“It really is touching, [ Wonder Woman represents] some enduring place where fans feel connected and safe – and wanting to hug me. How cool is that?”
The 65-year-old is regularly stopped, too, by people just wanting to tell her how the character’s strength made them feel. Women tell her that Wonder Woman, with her bulletproof power bracelets and golden lasso of truth, did them a world of good at a time when they were struggling in their youth.
Men tell her how they fantasised about her or had her picture on the wall of their room, or “their bathroom”… but she’s not quite as keen to hear about that.
“There’s some kind of phenomenon that’s part of the [lasting] appeal,” Carter says of the character she played in the original TV series from 1975 to 1979.
“There have been times when I think I’ve figured it out, then something comes along to stun me that someone has said [about the impact of the character]. I really do enjoy to this day hearing people’s stories.”
Carter hit headlines again late last year when she was asked to represent Wonder Woman – along with Gal Gadot, the star of the upcoming movie reboot – as an honorary ambassador to the United Nations. It was intended as a symbol of female empowerment and “to fight for gender equality”. Hardly controversial, you may have thought? Well, think again.
The appointment of an animated character was regarded as insulting by the 44,000 people who signed a petition stating the fictional Wonder Woman could not represent all women as she was “overtly sexualised”.
The protesters, many of them UN staff, wrote that Wonder Woman’s “shimmery, thigh-baring bodysuit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” meant using her as a global role model was also culturally insensitive in many parts of the world.
The feisty custodian of Diana Prince’s fine pins wasn’t impressed. “It’s such BS,” she tells Stellar of the decision to withdraw Wonder Woman as an ambassador. “I think [the protest] was more about them not picking a woman to run the UN; it was more about that than about a fictional character.”
She finds the claim that non-white women may have felt excluded from the empowerment message Wonder Woman was intended to spread as
“IT’S THE ULTIMATE SEXISM TO SAY AS SHE HAS BIG BREASTS AND A COSTUME ON, THAT’S WHAT REPRESENTS HER”
ridiculous, because, “I’m half Hispanic and the other girl [Gadot] is Israeli.”
Carter’s mother, Juanita Córdova, had Mexican, Spanish and French ancestry and her father, Colby Carter, is of EnglishScottish and Irish descent. Carter was born in Arizona in 1951 (a decade after the Wonder Woman character first appeared in comic book form), and started pursuing singing while in high school. Carter also won Miss World USA in 1972, representing Arizona.
Though she was voted the most beautiful woman in the world in 1978 by a beauty industry and press panel, Carter is bemused by the critical focus on Wonder Woman’s looks. She particularly objects to the fact Wonder Woman, as embodied by her, was knocked back by the UN protesters because she had “big breasts”. “Well, excuse me, women have breasts!” is her heated response.
“Superman has got a big pouch in his crotch, so does Spider-man and Green Lantern and their muscles are bulging – no one has a problem with that,” says Carter, a mother of two adult children.
“If they have a problem with a female who is strong, they’re missing the entire point; it’s the ultimate sexism to say because she has big breasts and a costume on, that is what you think represents her and who she is.
“Women do have breasts and women can defend themselves and fight back. Wonder Woman is about telling the truth.”
Though Wonder Woman is also about strength, courage and integrity – and those are the things viewers of a certain generation remember about her (other than the rad boots) – the character’s body is still something of an obsession in pop-culture land, too.
When it was announced by Warner Bros. that Wonder Woman would star in a new solo movie, fan forums went into overdrive speculating who could or couldn’t cut it physically in the title role. Carter’s ’70s image is still fetishised by some, something she has not always been comfortable with.
“I never thought a picture of my body would be tacked up in men’s bathrooms. I hate men looking at me and thinking what they think. I know what they think; they write and tell me,” she has said.
A self-declared “feminist before I knew what a feminist was”, she raised her children, James, 29, and Jessica, 26, with gender equality as a focus. “I think it’s so important our voices unite and that we teach our sons as well as our daughters the language of strength and of solidarity and right from wrong,” she says.
Carter was a vocal supporter of her friend Hillary Clinton’s presidential run – she and her husband of 32 years, Washington lawyer and media CEO Robert Altman, have known the Clintons since the ’80s – and publicly endorsed her. She has also spoken out in favour of the legalisation of same-sex marriage and in defence of women’s reproductive rights.
“I have been speaking out all my life; I’m sure I was speaking out before I ever got the part,” she says. “I was a product of the baby boom; when all the men went off to war, our mothers went to work and they realised, ‘We can do all these jobs,’ and Pandora’s box opened.
“They tried to put the genie back in the bottle, but women said, ‘Wait a sec, we can do this, he-lloooo!’ They told their daughters, ‘Go out there, you can do it, you can do so many things.’”
The many things Carter is still engaged with professionally include a new Mother’s Day campaign for Australian sleepwear tsar Peter Alexander. Shot alongside daughter Jessica in New York, it sees the two pose side-by-side in flannelette PJS, velvet robes and knitted loungewear as a way of celebrating the unique bond between the two women. Carter also still tours with her 10-piece jazz outfit, is recording a new album in Nashville and does voiceover work on video games, including Fallout 4 – the 2016 game of the year – for which she also wrote five songs.
On top of this she remains politically engaged, and admits to being at a loss for words when Clinton lost the US election to Donald Trump last November.
“It was stunning, I have to say, there’s no other way to say it. It was stunning to more than half of us. I don’t even know what to say except I love Australia, and the prime minister and foreign minister are fantastic, and we love Australia!”
Her political views sometimes attract aggression on her Facebook page, but in a style that her old character would approve of, she says she confronts her detractors head on, rather than allowing them to “spew hate” unchallenged.
“I warn people that everybody needs to own who they are, I don’t just ban them if they are spewing hate language or calling women names, I say their name. I just say, ‘No, no, no, your friends need to know who you are’ – I out them and I think all celebs should.”
You might say Lynda Carter never quite lost her alter ego’s golden lasso of truth.
“I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING OUT ALL MY LIFE; I’M SURE I WAS SPEAKING OUT BEFORE I EVER GOT THE PART”