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Wonder Woman in the Media

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Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman! All the world is waiting for you, and the power you possess. In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, and the old red, white and blue! No superheroine before her had so dominated the public consciousness, so it seemed that the theme song for ABC's Wonder Woman series wasn't strictly hyperbole. All the world was waiting for her, but it would be a long time after her January 1942 debut in All-Star Comics #8 that Wonder Woman would rule the airwaves.


Although some efforts had been made to interest Hollywood in a Wonder Woman serial in the early 1950s, it wasn't until 1967 that any filmed version of Wonder Woman existed. With the success of the campy Batman series on ABC, in 1966 that series' executive producer William Dozier commissioned a script for a Wonder Woman pilot for Greenway Productions and Twentieth Century-Fox Television. Writers Stan Hart and Larry Siegel wrote a silly tale called Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? It told not only a revised version of Wonder Woman's origin, but included a plot about computer saboteurs as well.


Director Les Martinson shot almost five minutes of pilot footage, using comedienne Ellie Wood Walker in the title role, with Maudie Prickett as her whiny suburban mother. When the plain Walker would look into the mirror, she saw herself as a gorgeous version of Wonder Woman—the narrator intoned And who thinks she has the beauty of Aphrodite—played in the mirror by busty actress Linda Harrison. The never-aired mini-pilot wasn't enough to generate interest in a regular series, however, and a live-action Wonder Woman would take almost another decade to appear.


Instead of live versions, Wonder Woman did become an animated staple, beginning in 1972. She first appeared in Filmation's The Brady Kids on ABC, guest-starring as both Diana Prince and Wonder Woman in a time travel story that found each of the Brady children competing at the ancient Olympics. The following year, Wonder Woman was a founding member of the Super Friends on ABC's new Hanna-Barbera superhero team series for 1973. Teamed with Batman, Robin, Superman, and Aquaman, Wonder Woman fought aliens, androids, and an occasional supervillain. Her voice was provided by Shannon Farnon, and her slightly simplified costume design was by comics legend Alex Toth.


SuperFriends evolved almost yearly, changing titles and formats as it went, but Wonder Woman reamained a constant. It became The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977–1978), The Challenge of the Super Friends (1978–1979), The World's Greatest Super Friends (1979–1980), The Super Friends Hour (1980–1981), The Super Friends (1981–1984), Super Friends—The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984–1985), and, finally, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985–1986). A few Wonder Woman concepts made it onto the small screen, including Paradise Island, Queen Hippolyta, the villainous Cheetah and Giganta, and love interest Steve Trevor. The last two incarnations of the series also incorporated the new double-W design of Wonder Woman's comic-book bodice, and B. J. Ward took over as Wonder Woman's voice.


Even as Super Friends brought young viewers to know Wonder Woman, plans were afoot for a live-action television launch. Unfortunately, the first effort was a worse offering than the 1967 pilot. ABC aired the first Wonder Woman telefilm on March 12, 1974, but viewers barely recognized comics' premiere superheroine. Blame fell on producer/screenwriter John D. F. Black, who cast blonde Cathy Lee Crosby in the title role, dressing her in blue boots and tights, and a red-white-and-blue jacket and mini-skirt combination that didn't flatter Crosby or the camera.


In addition to being forced to follow a donkey around to get clues, Crosby faced multiple perils: twin spies who knew her secret identity (as did everyone else in this film); a melting wall of multicolored Silly Putty; a rogue Amazon (Anita Ford); and finally Ricardo Montalban as Abner Smith, the villainous leader of a supposed international spy ring. Virtually no stunts or special effects were used, and the low budget was painfully obvious. And while plans for further Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman projects were quickly squashed, ABC remained interested in the concept.




Spurred on by the success of Police Woman and the Bionic Woman's appearances in The Six Million Dollar Man, ABC ordered up a new telefilm in November 1975. This film's script, meticulously researched by writer Stanley Ralph Ross, was—in most critical and fan opinion—the perfect treatment for Wonder Woman. Set during World War II, the movie featured Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), General Blankenship (John Randolph), the Amazon Queen Mother (Cloris Leachman), and Nazis galore. The role of Wonder Woman went to newcomer Lynda Carter.


The nearly six-foot-tall brunette seemed born for the role. Carter was tall, shapely, beautiful, and looked right in the star-spangled costume, which designer Donfeld had taken almost directly from the comics, with the exception of a red-white-and-blue cape Carter wore for special occasions. Carter had been a singer, dancer, variety show performer, and former Miss World USA before landing the role. Although her acting wasn't rock-solid as the series began, Carter gave the role a sense of seriousness; she made the viewer believe she was Wonder Woman.


The New, Original Wonder Woman debuted on November 7, 1975, and was an instant success. High ratings told ABC that it was on the right track. It ordered a series of further one-hour specials, keeping the flavor of the 1940s comics; in them, Wonder Woman met Baroness Paula von Gunther (Christine Belford) and Fausta the Nazi Wonder Woman (Lynda Day George). There was no shortage of villains, as spies and Nazis were always on the loose, and Steve Trevor was always captured.


The shows had a sense of realism to their superhuman stunts; the heroine deflected bullets with her bracelets, hurled her tiara like a boomerang, and used her magic lasso to rope villains and force them to tell the truth. Perhaps the most spectacular stuntwork involved the wonder-jumps, performed mainly by stuntwoman Jeannie Epper. Wonder Woman jumped over tanks, buildings, and other assorted obstacles with the greatest of ease. The invisible plane was used a few times, then abandoned, but one aspect that was kept was Diana Prince's transformation to and from Wonder Woman; she would spin around, and in a burst of light, portions of her civilian clothing would be replaced by her costume.


In the fall of 1976, ABC scheduled the retitled Wonder Woman as a regular series. It began with a two-part episode called The Feminum Mystique, which introduced a new young starlet named Debra Winger in the part of Drusilla, Wonder Woman's younger sister, a.k.a. Wonder Girl (clad in a costume remarkably like that of her comic-book counterpart). Popular with viewers, Wonder Girl appeared again, and a spin-off series was planned, but Winger bowed out, citing difficulties behind the scenes. Another popular episode guest-starred Roy Rogers, but by early 1977, ABC had decided not to renew the show, despite high ratings.


In an unusual move, rival network CBS snapped up the series for its fall 1977 schedule. Under the title The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, a new telefilm on September 16 updated the story for a more modern setting. The premiere episode showed young Steve Trevor Jr. (Waggoner again) crash-landing near Paradise Island, to which Wonder Woman had retired almost thirty years prior. Princess Diana once again fell in love and returned to Man's World to become a superheroine. There she flew an updated plane, wore an updated costume (skimpier, with a different star-pattern on the shorts and a different chest-eagle and bracelets), and sported an updated hairdo.


Wonder Woman eventually got two additional skin-tight spandex costumes: one for riding a motorcycle and one for swimming. Both were all-blue and star-studded, and she wore either boots or flippers depending on the situation. A skateboarding outfit—complete with helmet and knee-and-elbow-pads—also made one appearance. The new Diana Prince worked alongside Steve at the Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC), an intelligence network linked with the White House. She would often go on specialized missions alone, leaving Steve in Washington with the talking IRA (Internal Retrieval Associative) computer.


Although villains on the series sometimes had superpowers, none were from the comics. The heroine fought a vengeful, telekinetic Japanese veteran who was obsessed with her; black Amazonian Wonder Woman counterpart Carolyn (Jayne Kennedy); magician Count Cagliostro (Dick Gautier); insect-controlling Formicidia (popular mime Laureen Yarnell); a psychic disco vampire; the mind-stealing alien Skrills; and a dastardly toymaker who had created an evil, life-size Wonder Woman robot.


Despite strong ratings and a deluge of fan mail, the network put The New Adventures of Wonder Woman on hiatus during its second CBS season, airing the final three episodes in the fall of 1979. One episode of the final trio was actually intended as a relaunch for the show's third season, moving Diana Prince to the Los Angeles IADC offices, and dumping Lyle Waggoner for a supporting cast that included a superstrong male co-worker, a cute African-American kid, and a monkey. Given this revamp, perhaps it's best that the third season wasn't produced.


Although not on the air nearly as long as her DC friends Superman and Batman, the Wonder Woman series has remained a favorite in syndication and video release, and almost thirty years after its debut, licensed material featuring Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman is still sold. Direct references to the series have shown up on The Naked Truth and Frasier, and Carter is still a popular guest on talk shows.


Although her live-action adventures ended in 1979, Wonder Woman hasn't been idle in the animated arena. She guest-starred in an episode of 1988's Superman series on CBS, in which Themyscira (the renamed Paradise Island) and her post–Crisis on Infinite Earths comic-book continuity were referenced. In 1993, producer-director Boyd Kirkland began work on a Wonder Woman and the Star Riders pilot, which would have helped promote a series of Mattel toys that teamed the heroine up with Dolphin, Ice, Starlily, and Solara against the evil Purrsia. Only a minute of test animation was produced before the project was canceled (due to low orders for the toys), but Kirkland also developed a more serious Wonder Woman cartoon a few years later; it did not sell.


Meanwhile, in 1997–1998, a much-publicized plan to return Wonder Woman to live-action for an NBC series was underway. Deborah Joy Levine, who had successfully developed Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was brought aboard to oversee the series and write the pilot script. Her version found Prince as a UCLA professor of Greek history. A nationwide casting call began, with applicants encouraged to show up at certain Warner Bros. stores in December 1997 and January 1998 with photos and acting resumes. Although casting eventually narrowed down to a few Hollywood newcomers, development on the series was shut down before any filming began.


On November 17, 2001, the Cartoon Network debuted a new animated Justice League weekly series, from the same Warner Bros. animation crew that worked on the Batman and Superman shows. On the series, Wonder Woman (voiced by Susan Eisenberg) is a no-nonsense warrior who has been exiled from her home on Themyscira/Paradise Island. Some episodes have shown Queen Hippolyta, World War II hero Steve Trevor, villainess Cheetah, and renegade Amazon Aresia. New episodes featuring Wonder Woman are still airing as of 2004.


Since the late 1990s, Warner has had plans to shoot a big-budget feature film, with Silver Pictures and producers Jon Peters and Leonard Goldberg. Multiple scripts have been written, including passes by Kimberlee Reed (1999), James R. Harnock and Eve Marie Kazaros (1999), Jon Cohen (1999), Todd Alcott (2001), Becky Johnston (2002), Philip Levens (2003), and Laeta Kalogridis (2003). Ivan Reitman had been set to direct since 1996, but he eventually left the project. Although Jennifer Aniston and several other actresses were rumored for the lead role, the only person the part had been locked to was Sandra Bullock; she eventually dropped out of the project following statements she did not want to wear the traditional costume.


Whenever Wonder Woman does reappear in live action, the costume won't be the most difficult aspect for the lead actress to master. The most challenging task will be to replace the image of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the public's mind. Although her time as the character only lasted four years, the appeal of the series cemented Carter's image as the Amazing Amazon for almost three decades. You're a wonder, Wonder Woman! indeed. —AM 



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