Long before there was Gal Gadot, brunette bombshell Lynda Carter was the one kicking ass in Wonder Woman’s thigh-high boots. The former beauty queen won hearts as the eponymous heroine in the hit ‘70s TV show. And over 40 years later, the actress is still known and loved for the legendary role. But how Carter, who’s now almost 70, really feels about her turn as everyone’s favorite female superhero may well surprise you.
You’d think that Wonder Woman would hold a special place in Carter’s heart; it was the show that turned her into a star, after all. As Princess Diana – the superhero’s secret alter ego from an Amazonian civilization on Paradise Island – Carter became an international sex symbol. But it wasn’t just the character’s beauty that fans fell in love with.
Carter’s Princess Diana was totally badass, too. Picture this: it’s the midst of World War II, and Diana’s female society is suddenly disturbed when an army pilot crash-lands on the idyll. She soon falls in love with this visitor and vows to return him to his “man’s world.” In this new, dangerous realm, Diana turns her hand to fighting fascists and criminals – both in her day gig as a military secretary and as the suited-and-booted Wonder Woman.
While Wonder Woman would air for just three seasons before being canceled in 1979, its legacy would live on long after. The show was popular among both genders – despite some TV executives’ reservations about the appeal of a female-led series. With the help of Carter’s endearing portrayal, though, Wonder Woman became a feminist icon and remains so to this day.
And in true Princess Diana fashion, Carter has continued to fight the bad guys. Today she’s an activist, campaigning for causes like gender equality and women’s rights. Though Wonder Woman led to a number of TV, movie and theater roles – as well as the opportunity to indulge her love of music – the actress has clearly used her voice for good. With great power comes great responsibility, after all.
It’s easy to see why Carter is still a superhero for many of her fans – long after hanging up Wonder Woman’s cape. Yet the star’s origins are far humbler than they might imagine. She was born Lynda Jean Cordova in July, 1951, in Phoenix, Arizona. As a youngster, she apparently studied dance and drama. But while Carter later found fame as an actress, music was seemingly her first love.
Aged just 14, Carter gave up her waitressing job at her uncle’s restaurant to earn $50 a night singing with a band, according to The New York Times. Though she attended Arizona State University for a brief time, Carter soon dropped out to hit the road with her rock group. The star then left home at 17 – promising her dad that she would send him every other paycheck so that he could put the money away for her future.
But the allure of touring only lasted so long for Carter. The future actress soon decided that she didn’t want to be singing to the same crowds in ten years’ time. So, Carter returned home to consider her options. It was then that the 5-foot-9 brunette beauty signed up to a modeling agency – embarking on a career that would eventually lead her to the big time.
Soon after becoming a model, Carter went on to receive the titles of Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona and finally Miss World USA in 1973. She certainly looked the part, though the star soon decided that she didn’t like beauty queen life. In 2018 she told The New York Times, “You have to visualize the time. Women’s lib! Burn the bra! Gloria Steinem! And I had some guy telling me I needed a chaperone and had to go cut a ribbon somewhere. It wasn’t me.”
Carter soon returned to music and recorded a few tracks in England with EMI before relocating to Los Angeles. Here, the beauty queen attended Charles Conrad’s acting lessons and used her Miss World USA title to help her secure auditions, The New York Times notes. Though Carter found the roles she encountered uninspiring – nabbing just a few small parts playing the so-called “pretty girl” in TV movies.
Carter secured small jobs playing gigs and providing advertising jingles, but she had difficulty even making her rent. That’s when the Wonder Woman opportunity came up – changing the starlet’s fortunes once and for all. As many of you know, the show was revolutionary for its time. It not only starred a female lead, it also had Carter performing her own stunts to perfectly embody the role.
Carter’s outing as Wonder Woman soon made her a star. She became the face of and spokesperson for beauty brand Maybelline Cosmetics. The actress also had her own show in Las Vegas and has appeared on TV hits such as Two and a Half Men, Smallville and Law & Order. Other career highlights include an appearance in the 2005 film The Dukes of Hazzard and playing Mama Morton in a production of Chicago in London’s West End.
So as we’ve seen, Carter has continued to have a presence in popular culture. Though she hasn’t lived in Hollywood for many decades. In 1982 the star met lawyer Robert A. Altman at a Maybelline dinner. He was based in the Washington D.C. area and the actress relocated there when the relationship took off. The pair then married two years later.
Carter and Altman would go on to raise two children together in a house they built in 1987. Carter took a step back from her career while her kids James and Jessica were young, and she appeared in just a handful of TV and films. The star also gave up singing on stage until she took the Chicago gig in 2005.
And it seems that Carter’s experience on stage reignited her love of singing! Two years after her Chicago debut she toured a cabaret show entitled An Evening with Lynda Carter. The performer also revived her recording career around this time. While she released her first album back in 1978, the star didn’t make a second until 31 years later. Since then, she’s released a further three studio albums – the latest of which came out in 2018.
Though Carter has never been able to shake her superhero origins. And prior to 2017 she was approached by the director Patty Jenkins when the latter was making a new movie adaptation of Wonder Woman. At that time though, Carter was touring with her band and didn’t have time to accept.
Carter and Jenkins had reportedly first met at an event to mark Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary at the United Nations in 2016. It was then that the former was pictured alongside Gal Gadot – the actress who would take on Wonder Woman in the movie adaptation. Apparently, Carter also approved of her replacement.
Carter and Gadot later reunited at the Wonder Woman movie premiere in 2017. And the older actress would go on to make a cameo appearance in the film’s sequel Wonder Woman 1984 three years later. But did Jenkins include the original star as a nod to the character’s past? Or will Carter return to the franchise in future outings?
Whatever the significance of Carter’s appearance in Wonder Woman 1984, having the iconic actress involved in the project was no doubt a dream come true for Jenkins. The director picked up Glamour’s Woman of the Year award in 2017, and she declared her admiration for the actress. Jenkins said, “Lynda Carter, oh my God, is the woman who when I was a child came to life and showed me a woman who is everything.”
Jenkins added that Carter’s depiction of Wonder Woman was “so incredible and strong and fighting but also sweet and smiling and just and thoughtful and so great.” She added, “I’m so honored to be here with you… because you are both that on the screen and off and have inspired me my entire life.”
So, we know that Jenkins clearly had buckets of admiration for Carter. But was the feeling mutual? Speaking at DC Fandome in August 2020 – prior to the release of Wonder Woman 1984 – Carter said of the director, “I’m beyond excited. I’ve been a fan from day one of [Jenkin’s] when she was first attached to the film.”
Carter also paid tribute to Gadot, who she had handed the Lasso of Truth on to. The former said, “My daughter finally saw [her] as Wonder Woman, and she said, ‘Mom, I finally get it.’ I finally understand why everyone idolizes you. I finally get what Wonder Woman means to everyone. And that’s my daughter. That’s my flesh and blood! So, thank you, Gal. Thank you, Patty.”
And it wasn’t just Carter’s daughter who found herself looking back to her mom’s portrayal of Wonder Woman in the wake of the character’s revival. The success of the new movie led to the actress finally being offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. Although many fans were shocked she hadn’t been honored already.
Prior to the unveiling of her star in 2018, Carter told The New York Times, “Most people say, ‘You don’t have a star yet?’ And I say, ‘Nope!’ When the new Wonder Woman movie came out I guess it reinvigorated the idea.” In the wake of the film, the actress found herself reflecting on her experiences playing the superhero in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper in January 2021.
For many, the original take on Wonder Woman is remembered for its depiction of female empowerment. The United Nations declared 1975 to be International Women’s Year. And at the time of the show’s debut, feminist issues like the Equal Rights Amendment were top of the agenda.
In real life, women were struggling to occupy an equal space in society. But on-screen Wonder Woman was fighting crime and beating baddies in the “man’s world.” What’s more, she did so with ease. The character could deflect bullets with her bracelets and overthrow vehicles without sustaining so much as a chip to her nail polish.
Yet it wasn’t just Wonder Woman who was a true warrior. It also seems that the actress who played her was, too. That’s because Carter performed her own stunts in the show and relished in doing so. She told the Daily Mail, “I loved leaping on the helicopter and I loved all the fights Wonder Woman had to do. In what other profession could you fling guys around, hang from a helicopter, jump on trampolines and drive stunt cars?”
At one point, Carter apparently had to put her foot down when producers wanted to bring in a stuntman for bolder action scenes. She recalled, “I remember looking at this one guy who was small, bow-legged and had a hairy chest and underarms. They said, ‘We’ll shoot him from far back’ and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter how far back you go, that’s not going to look like me!’”
The success of Wonder Woman made Carter the highest-paid female in television, according to the Daily Mail. What’s more, she inspired an action figure which, for the first time, meant that girls were encouraged to create adventures with their dolls rather than simply dress them up. It seemed that times were changing, but female equality still had a long way to go.
Carter was summoned by the show’s producers during her first season working on Wonder Woman. Recalling the meeting to the Daily Mail, the actress revealed, “They said, ‘We found a cameraman drilling a hole into your dressing room.’ So, he was basically like a Peeping Tom. He was a really good cameraman and seemed a nice guy.”
The cameraman in question was dismissed from the show, and Carter thought little of the incident. She explained, “I was so busy working 16 and 18-hour days that when they said they’d taken care of it, that’s how I dealt with it. But at a fairly young age, I’d learned to call guys out on their behavior.”
Nevertheless, Carter claimed in 2019 that she’d previously been a target of abuse. Speaking of the perpetrator, she confirmed that they had been charged with other offenses. Though Carter gave no further details of her experiences.
Carter then explained why she had not come forward with the full details of her ordeal. The star said, “There’s nothing I can add. It’s not about me. It’s about the women it’s happening to today.” She added, “There’s more to the #MeToo movement than sexual harassment. It’s about bullying and intimidation, too, from tone of voice to demeaning women with looks and attitude.”
Carter continued, “But this is not all men, it is just these few. It’s important in the #MeToo conversation to include all the champion men in our lives who love and protect us just as we love and protect them. I have a great husband and son and father, and the men in my life are all fabulous.”
Another struggle Carter has opened up about in recent years is her battle with alcoholism. She first revealed her addiction problem while speaking to People in 2008. The actress explained she had gone to rehab in the late 1990s and had managed to stay sober since then.
Carter told the Daily Mail, “… I didn’t even start drinking until I was in my mid-20s.” At that point in her life, the star was in an unhappy marriage to her one-time talent manager Ron Samuels. While speaking to The New York Times, Carter described the period as “an unfortunate chapter” in her life.
Eventually, Carter beat alcoholism, which she said runs in her family. The actress told the Daily Mail, “I would stop drinking for two or three years, then start again and it just felt terrible. That was a long time ago and now I’m very happy.” She added, “I’ve been in recovery for 23 years.”
Carter will apparently celebrate her 70th birthday in July 2021. She still takes care to look good, but the star did admit to having insecurities. She said, “I’m just like everyone. Sometimes I look fat and sometimes I don’t. I dye my hair and put creams on my skin but I’ve not had any work done – I’d be afraid of looking scary. I have a little Botox now and then.”
It’s clear that Carter continues to look back on her time as Wonder Woman fondly. She even keeps two of the original superhero costumes! The actress hopes to pass the outfits onto her kids, but until then she’s never tempted to pull on the iconic corset for old times’ sake. Carter told the Daily Mail, “The costume is really tiny! I’d be afraid to even try.”
According to Carter, we need Wonder Woman as much as ever. In 2016 she told Variety magazine, “We’re still fighting the same fight. We still need more female role models. But Wonder Woman is much more than a cartoon character. She’s fighting for truth and justice and the secret self that exists in all women and girls. There’s a moral fiber and a goodness about her that all women have.”