Female action heroes were exceedingly rare when I was growing up – maybe that’s why Lynda Carter became such an icon after starring as Wonder Woman in 1975.
For many, she was a hero for a long time during childhood – a lot of girls would wear their mom’s tiara and use a tea towel for a cape to pretend to be Wonder Woman themselves back in the 1970s.
When I hear the name Lynda Carter, only one thing pops into my head: Her marquee role as Wonder Woman. The TV series, launched during the height of the women’s liberation movement in the ’70s, was one of few Hollywood productions with a female lead.
In many ways, Lynda was a perfect match for the role. She was talented, gorgeous, and had class to match her great sense of humor.
But Lynda also had to overcome several obstacles before she landed the role and was catapulted into stardom. For example, she was not a very experienced actress and clashed with the producers.
Lynda Carter was born in 1951 in Phoenix, Arizona. As early as a 5-year-old, she made her public television debut when she appeared on Lew King’s Talent Show. Growing up, however, another interest took over; music. In high school, Lynda joined a band. As a 15-year-old, she started working extra by singing at a local pizza parlor, earning $25 a weekend.
By then, her parents had divorced, and she had to endure other difficulties in her youth. People gasped when they saw Lynda during her childhood, and she constantly had to face comments about her height.
The Wonder Woman actress has always been quite tall, which gave her an early inferiority complex that she fought hard to turn around.
”All these feelings are left over from the time I was a kid. I mean: I was tall! Somebody would say, ’Oh, are you tall!’ And I giggle and say, ’Yeah, I’m tall!’ I was a clown. Inside I felt like crumbling jelly,” Lynda told reporters in 1979.
But overall, Lynda praised her upbringing. She went to church every Sunday, had picnics, joked around with her sister, and had a mother who dreaded her “going Hollywood.”
“It was so moral, so middle-class, so old-fashioned and so good,” she said.
The Phoenix-born Carter did attend Arizona State University for a while, but after being voted ”Most Talented” she suddenly decided to quit. The reason? She wanted to focus whole-heartedly on pursuing a career in music.
However, those plans soon had to be revised – Lynda never managed to make her mark as an artist.
Instead, new doors opened in 1972 when she won a local beauty contest in Arizona. She represented her state in winning Miss USA that same year. Lynda also got the chance to represent her country and compete in the 1972 Miss World. She finished top 15.
In retrospect, Lynda has downplayed her career as a beauty queen.
“I didn’t get any prizes. They smack a little banner on you, they stick a crown on your head and call you a beauty queen,” she said.
She also branded the experience as “bad” and “painful,” saying that beauty contests have “a certain built-in cruelty.”
In the early 1970s, Lynda took acting classes at several New York acting schools. She was determined to succeed in show business and managed to land some minor roles in popular TV series such as Starsky and Hutch and Cos. But the competition in Hollywood was fierce, and while living in Los Angeles to pursue her dream, Lynda almost ran out of money.
All her savings were gone and she was preparing herself to take a ”normal” job.
However, her life changed when she landed the starring role on Wonder Woman in 1975. She was just about to head back to Arizona when her manager called and said that Joanna Cassidy had been turned down and that Lynda had the part of Diana Prince and her crime-fighting alter ego, Wonder Woman.
The 6-foot-tall beauty, who had $25 in the bank on the day she got the role, was over the moon. The series was based on the superheroine character created in 1941 for DC Comics. Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever – the series was a smash hit among readers when it came.
The creators of Wonder Woman, writer William Moulton Marston, and artist Harry G. Peter, really felt that girls needed a hero too. In the first episode of the Wonder Woman TV series, there was also a strong statement of female empowerment – a message that was totally in line with the era.