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Few gay icons have so seamlessly spanned the yawning gap between lesbian infatuation and gay worship as Wonder Woman. While the Judy Garland mystique is lost on most lesbians and Martina Navratilova is about as foreign as she sounds to the boys, not so with Wonder Women. The girls all wanted to bed her and the guys wanted to BE her. After all, who can resist a woman in short shorts and a cape?
But Lynda Carter, who portrayed the Amazonian princess on television from 1975-1979, was pretty much clueless about her gay following at the time. In a recent interview with The BottomLine she describes the day she found out.
“My kids were really small—it was 18 or 20 years ago and there weren’t that many gay and lesbian magazines out there talking to celebrities,” she remembered. “I agreed to do this interview ... and this woman came over. She was very nice and very well-spoken and she’s saying these things about this rally and that. Then she stopped and said, ‘You don’t know, do you?’ And I said, ‘Know what?’ And she said, ‘You’re like an icon in the gay community.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ She started telling me this and that, and I said, ‘God, I feel like I’ve finally arrived!’ Because if you have the support of the gay and lesbian community, it is, I think, such a privilege.”
While the LGBT obsession may have been a delightful surprise to Carter, the superhero’s broad appeal was no accident. Carter, who will be bringing her show to the desert later this month (she is also an accomplished singer—more on this later), cites Wonder Woman’s accessibility and humility as key factors in turning the DC Comics superhero into a multimedia phenomenon—a phenomenon she thinks needs revisiting.
Carter believes that even 30 years later, Wonder Woman would be as popular today as ever.
“I think she’d be even more popular! I think she’d be fantastic,” she says. “It’s an archetype, you know. You have people like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton—even Sarah Palin, whether you like her or not. They’re out there... . Strong women who work, raised a family, but are really smart and intellectual, and that’s not a bad thing. They don’t have to dumb themselves down ... Every step that we all take—you and I and other women who are out there working—it’s a step for my daughter when she’s out in the workplace. Every good thing we do is a step for our daughters and granddaughters.”
When asked whether she would do Wonder Woman over again, she affirms without skipping a beat.
“I would’ve done it for free! I’d still do it,” she says. “It was a role, but it was also a persona, an idea, a piece of various peoples’ lives as it was mine.”
For those who don’t know the lore of Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman, she was a member of an all-female tribe of Amazons, created by Dr. William Moulton Marston (Psy.D.), as a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.” Her powers included super strength, super speed, stamina and flight. She used her Lasso of Truth (which forced those bound by it to tell the truth), a pair of indestructible bracelets and the ability to fly unaided.
While Wonder Woman might be considered a textbook feminist, she was hardly a man-hater, says Carter. “She wasn’t against men; she wasn’t against anyone! She was just who she was.” The same can be said about Carter herself, whose own life was guided by strong women, most notably her mother and other examples she’d seen throughout her life.
“I grew up in an era, not against men—because I’ve always had a lot of wonderful men in my life—but for women. And my theory really is that our mothers—based on my generation—our mothers were the ones who, in their young lives, went to work to take over the jobs for men who were away at war. …So I grew up with a mother who was always telling me, ‘You can be whatever you make up your mind to be.’ I just had a feeling that if I didn’t do it, no one was going to do it for me. I had to be able to stand on my own two feet. I didn’t come from a well-to-do family; I had to make it on my own.”
Lynda’s road to success stepped off in Tempe, Arizona, where she had gotten a singing gig at the tender age of 14—long before beauty pageants, Maybelline modeling and Wonder Woman.
“Singing is in my soul,” she says. “I grew up in Arizona with juke joints music, old 78s that my mom used to play, Chuck Berry and all the old rock and roll, and country, of course. But I love the blues.
“I’ve been singing for a long, long, long time. It’s what I always did; it’s what I did before I became an actor and in the middle of. Then I had my family and I didn’t want to take them on the road, because I’d been on the road all of my life, singing in clubs and joints and honky-tonks and jazz bars—everywhere.”
After gaining national fame by winning Miss World USA in 1972, representing Arizona, Carter quit the road and moved to Los Angeles to study acting. “I supported myself by doing some studio work because I read music, mostly jingles and things like that. I was told, ‘Don’t tell anyone you’re a singer, because they don’t want to hire a singer who’s trying to act. They want an actor.’ So I didn’t tell anyone until after I got famous. Then some people heard my music and I started to get noticed for that.”
She recorded her first album, Portrait, in 1978 to very little fanfare. “I didn’t sell very well,” she says with a laugh. But now, more than 30 years later, Lynda Carter’s return to her musical roots has been heralded a success with her latest recording At Last, which came out last summer. “We entered the market at number 6 on Billboard. That was really wonderful. And I can tell you no one was more surprised than me.”
Carter nurtured her passion for singing by doing a host of network specials with musical greats such as Ray Charles, Tom Jones, George Benson, Kenny Rogers and others. “That’s really where I got used to excellence in music, the caliber of players that I was able to work with,” she recalls. “But I’d just been on the road for so long and I just didn’t want that life for my young family.”
In fact, her kids, Jamie and Jessica, had never even heard her sing until four years ago, Carter admits. “I think they were kind of surprised actually ... I even asked permission of my son in his senior year. I asked him, ‘How would you feel about me going to London for two months to do Chicago in the West End of London. And he said, ‘Go for it, Mom!’ That’s kind of what put me back singing again. It was scary! Horrifying!”
When asked to describe her style of music, Carter sagaciously resists classifying herself. “Like everyone’s music it starts in one place and it moves. Like any artist, whether you’re painting or writing, there’s a movement,” she says.
“When I listen to music, I can’t listen to the same artist. It’s kind of like how your mood strikes you. If it’s a Sunday morning and you’re reading the paper, to hear classical music or opera is wonderful, or if you’re watching the sunset or some quiet peaceful thing and you want that kind of music in the background because it feels good. Then at night, you’ve got friends over ... it’s different.” Think iPod shuffle, she suggests.
One thing Carter’s very proud of when it comes to her music is that it’s uniquely her. “It’s based on what I really wanted to do, not that I don’t care what people think or say—I do care what they think and if they enjoy it and all of that, because I work hard at it. But if they’re going to like it or not like it I’d like it to be based on what I really wanted to do as opposed to being ‘handled,’ doing what I think other people want me to do. If I’m going to put myself out there I’d rather it be what I like and what I think is funny, cool, bad, groovy, in the pocket, irreverent, seductive—whatever the music is saying—that’s the way I can connect with all the parts of me.”
As for her upcoming performance on January 29 at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs, Carter sees it as a spirited show that crosses genres, peppered with some light banter about her background. “I come up with arrangements for music that hopefully surprises people. They know that they know the song but they’re not quite sure why they know the song ... it’s whatever settles right in my body. I can’t keep doing the same music over and over. I have to change it up all the time.
“I have a fantastic band,” Carter continues. “They’re all session players … a lot of them are out of Nashville, one’s from L.A. and one’s from New York. They work all the time with various kinds of artists so it fits really well. Some of these guys I’ve known for 30 years.”
Most of all, Carter emphasizes, it’s a fun show. “It’s not the dreary kind of, ‘I’m going to sing the same things that everyone else sings—the American Songbook circa 1940.’… Those packaged things drive me nuts. I’m so ‘unpackageable,’” she says with a generous laugh.
“There are a few memorable, poignant moments, but for the most part there’s not a lot of ‘down.’ It’s much more ‘move in your seat, get up and dance, don’t take yourself too seriously.’
Of course, says Carter, you don’t have to dance. “But this band is just so good that you can’t help but move around. You just can’t help it!”
If You Go— An Evening with Lynda Carter, January 29 at 8 pm at the Annenberg Theater in the Palm Springs Art Museum. Tickets are $45/$55. For tickets and more information call 760.325.4490 or visit psmuseum.org. The Palm Springs Art Museum is located at 101 Museum Drive in Palm Springs.