For someone who has been recognized as the iconic television character of “Wonder Woman,” and more than 30 years ago tooled around the skies in her character’s Invisible Jet, actress Lynda Carter is certainly a very down-to-earth and grounded lady about the character’s long lasting appeal.
“You can never live up to it,” Carter stated. “But, I haven’t let it stop me. I understand it, I get it, and I think that I’ve reaped the benefits of having people identify Lynda Carter with the persona of Wonder Woman. I mean that is not a bad thing, because she’s wonderful. I can’t change that, might as well embrace it. I think that the thing you fight the most, it just persists, and it takes way too much negative energy do that. ”
She did, however, cite one drawback about her days as a hero.
“I guess I always worried about how my thighs looked,” she answered with a laugh. “You couldn’t have any jiggly thighs happening there.”
Carter is happy to have spent time in Wonder Woman’s satin tights, fighting for her rights and the old Red, White and Blue, even if people sometimes have trouble separating her character from her real-life persona.
“People that know me really well forget about that, they just forget about it,” Carter said. “And, I’m certainly not aware of it, except in a public setting. I think that is the case with every actor that has ever played an iconic role – Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, it goes all the way down,” Carter recanted. “It’s hard for me to separate, not knowing an actor of some kind, and they can be entirely different from the character’s they play. It just means they’re good actors, and I think the real person is somewhat disappointing.”
During Carter’s phone interview with me, she was anything but disappointing, as she displayed a sweet disposition and was most gracious, which is good news for legions of gay and lesbian fans, as Carter’s turn (or spin, as the case may be) as Wonder Woman, conjures up many a happy childhood memory. But the actress was unaware of her gay appeal until a little more than a decade ago.
“I finally sort of figured it out, it was only maybe 15 years ago,” she replied. “I had a woman come in from a lesbian magazine, and she said, ‘You don’t know, do you?’ And I said, ‘I don’t get it, no, what?’ I lived in a little bubble, I guess. And she said, “you’re so big in the gay and lesbian community!’ And I said, ‘Really?’”
Ironically, Carter’s own ideal of a personal superwoman, is another community favorite.
“My heroine, the person I so wanted to be like was Bette Midler,” Carter stated. “Because she’s got that irreverence, and I’m nothing like Bette Midler, and I would never be anything like Bette Midler – Bette Midler is all her own, she kind of finds that goddess from within in her own way.”
But, there are commonalities between the two women, aside from the gay connotations surrounding their career fan base, which lies in the area of music.
When Carter was just a child she entered talent shows, and as a teen, she joined her first band, “The Relatives,” which included another ’70s TV alumni, Gary Burghoff, who would later star on M*A*S*H as “Radar.”
In 1970, she sang lead vocals for “The Garfin Gathering,” after that, Carter was crowned Miss World-USA in 1973, which led to her performing on a global scale with Bob Hope. During her tenure as a certain superhero, she recorded an album, headlined Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and did five Emmy-award winning television variety specials.
“I had it in my blood,” Carter stated about what initially drew her to music. “It was always there; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing.”
More recently, she won raves for her portrayal of “Mama Morton” in the London West End production of Chicago in 2006, and last year saw her return to singing on stage as herself, belting out standards like, Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.”
And Carter is set to hit the stage again, and will begin touring with whistle stops at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center on April 25th, The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on April 27th, a six evening run at The Hotel Nikko in San Francisco from April 29th through May 4th, and on May 10th, she will be performing at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Carter is excited to be performing live again in front of an audience, and be “back on the road again,” as she put it.
“It’s about the music, and the connection to people,” she recanted. “And whether I’m in a big theater or I’m in a small setting, to me I have a desire to relate to audiences through music, and through whatever parts of me I can give on the stage.”
Fortunately, Carter has a two-fold stage presence, one of which entails memorizing lines and hitting a mark, to the other stage medium of nailing a song and captivating a live audience; and she sees the similarities and differences inherent in how both avenues of performance lend themselves to each other.
“It’s never been any different in acting work,” Carter said. “It’s finding the truth of things, and when you’re coming from an honest place, I think it connects. I have a lot more control on what goes on in my stage performance – there’s a lot more pieces to the puzzle. It’s not costume changes or big lighting tricks or a giant orchestra – it is really putting yourself on the line. I’m comfortable with it, I like it, and I knew I was going to be an actress and a singer, and that’s it.”
But that’s not it, as for the life that the 57 year-old Carter has led and is leading, she’s also a wife to Robert Altman, a well-known Washington, DC lawyer, and mother to son Jamie and daughter Jessica.
Carter relayed that being a celebrity mom was more of a challenge when her children were younger, “they had to grow up learning that there was something different about me.”
One of the ways in which they were educated on this fact was when Carter was her son’s show-and-tell, bringing her Wonder Woman costume to her then five-year-old son’s classroom.
And embodying the good natured spirit of the character she had portrayed on television for three years, Carter asked her son to come up to the front of the class, to see if his classmates had any questions for him. Naturally, the very first question was “what’s it like to have a mom that’s famous and played Wonder Woman?”
“And, Jamie kind of looked up at me and said, ‘Well, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,’” Carter laughingly recounted.
The balance of motherhood versus having a career has shifted nowadays for Carter, as her children are entering adulthood.
“My kids, I’m not saying they don’t need me, but in many ways it is easier for them for me to be busy,” she said. “I’ll drop anything for my kids, if I can do it physically, I will. I would not schedule something in the middle of my time with them, a singing thing that interferes with what I am doing with them. I don’t want to miss anything, and without a rich, personal life, all of the success in the world does not mean very much.”
Sometimes, fans can forget that the celebrities we admire are in fact human beings, which come equipped with the same set of worries that everyone can have from time-to-time. And, when you think of Lynda Carter, the word statuesque immediately springs to mind, when asked what is the one thing that fans might be surprised to learn about her, the answer did, in fact, come as a surprise.
“I’m always fighting my self image of ‘I’m too fat, I hate this about my thighs,’” she replied. “I’ve never quite mastered the whole, ‘don’t hate me because I’m thin’ thing. I’m fine now, and I’ll never be twenty again, and I’m o.k. with myself these days. But I’m no different from anybody else, things start shifting and moving around. And it’s like, ‘Oh My God! When did that happen?’”
Since she has already conquered her fair share of stages during her career, Carter admitted to one area of the entertainment tree that she has been would love to branch out into.
“I think I can be very funny, and if you look back on ‘Wonder Woman,’ there’s a self deprecation in there,” she answered. “I would love to do a comedy, and I’m kind of good at the straight man thing.”
And certainly, a lot of gay men would support her straight man desire, and she did impart some wisdom for those of us who spent countless hours twirling about, trying to transform ourselves into her television alter-ego as children, (c’mon – I know I wasn’t the only one waiting for that clap of thunder to change me into her) and how to recapture that moment in time today.
“Go someplace where if you fall down, you won’t hurt yourself or hit your head on something, and do it again.”
While Carter acknowledges her past and its impact on the pantheon of pop culture, she is not bogged down by it.
“I’m doing what I’m doing now, I’m not thinking about my past accomplishments. I’m always interested in where my life is now, because that’s how we remain full,” she explained, and told a story of roses she had planted that became overshadowed by trees, and had to be moved in order to flourish – which she found to be a fitting analogy in regards to herself. “I had to move them into a sunny place, well that’s kinda my life story.”
This interview was first published on April 24th, 2008.