‘Wonder Woman’ Lynda Carter: This Is My #MeToo Story
In an exclusive interview with Tim Teeman, Lynda Carter, who played the feminist superhero on TV, reveals the sexual harassment she endured, including on the ‘Wonder Woman’ set.
Lynda Carter had been speaking about the positive effects of the #MeToo movement when I asked if she had ever endured sexual abuse and harassment in her career.
“Yes,” the actress most famous for playing the iconic Wonder Woman on TV in the mid- to late 1970s said quietly. Her alleged abuser is presently facing some form of punishment and justice, she revealed. She would not name him, nor divulge the exact nature of what happened. But she told The Daily Beast that she had considered pursuing legal action against him.
“He’s already being done in. There’s no advantage in piling on again,” Carter said as we sat at a table in the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. “And,” she said emphatically, “I believe every woman in the Bill Cosby case.”
And President Trump’s accusers?
“I believe them, too,” Carter told me. “Why would they lie? I believe the women.”
(Later, The Daily Beast asked Carter’s representative if Cosby himself had been Carter’s alleged abuser. The representative responded that, as per her wishes during our interview, “she doesn’t want to name any names.”)
How had it felt to watch her alleged abuser receive some measure of justice? I asked Carter.
Carter toyed with her bowl of oatmeal and brown sugar, a little dish of raisins to the side. “Well, whatever it is, it isn’t enough,” she said sharply.
He had violated not only her, but “a lot of people,” Carter said.
Did she take any satisfaction from the justice being meted out?
“No, not satisfaction. I can’t add anything to it. I wish I could. But there’s nothing legally I could add to it, because I looked into it. I’m just another face in the crowd. I wish I could, and if I could I would. And I would talk about it. But it ends up being about me, and not about the people who can talk about it. I don’t want it to be about me, it’s not about me. It’s about him being a scumbag. So legally I can’t do anything. If I could I would.”
Had it taken her a long time to recover from what happened? I asked.
“Yeah,” Carter said quietly, “and I am probably still.”
She said that watching the #MeToo movement develop had been emotional and moving for her, and that she hoped lasting change would flow from it, “though I think it’s regional. Often in red states you find racism, and where you find racism you also find sexism.”
On the set of Wonder Woman itself, she revealed, “There was a cameraman who drilled a hole in my dressing room wall on the Warner Brothers lot.”
He was a Peeping Tom? “Yes. They caught him, fired him, and drummed him out of the business.” Carter didn’t name the man; The Daily Beast has reached out to Warner Bros. for comment. (Update: on March 13, a Warner Bros. spokesperson said the company declined to comment.)
“I fended off my share,” Carter added of other incidents. “And I’ve been afraid. If a man tried something, I would say, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Typically the male offender would try to laugh off his behavior, “so there was an element of deniability there,” said Carter.
I asked if Carter had ever reported any of the harassment or abuse. “No, because who are you going to tell? Who you are going to tell except your girlfriends and your circle of friends? You’d say or hear, ‘Stay away from that guy.’ ‘Watch out for this casting director.’ And so you would hear it from other people, other people would hear it from other people. ‘Watch out for so and so.’ That’s how you protected yourself: through the grapevine. We were women’s lib, burn the bra. We weren’t going to take any shit from people. So we felt strong in that, but there were still not a lot of parts for us.”
I asked Carter if there was a fear of speaking up in case she, and others, were blacklisted as a result.
“Yes, you wouldn’t do it. Who are you going to tell, your agent? Who’s going to believe you? No one’s going to believe you. And when you did push back by saying, ‘Are you kidding me?’ they would say, ‘Yes, yes.’ But it was everywhere. You’d see girls being shaken in acting classes. And the #MeToo movement is happening not just with actresses but maids and caregivers, everywhere.
“I asked my husband if he was surprised by all the #MeToo stories. ‘Yeah, I’m surprised,’ he said. Ask any woman, they’re not surprised. It’s been going on for years. It’s not news to us [women], but it is news to you [men]. We’ve been trying to tell you. We’ve been trying to tell you for a long time and you haven’t listened.
“It took powerful women who are famous to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater full of executives that there was one guy [Harvey Weinstein]. He was going down anyway, nobody liked him, he was a bully to everyone. Someone had the courage to take him to task, and then someone else spoke up.
“There is a difference between a guy hitting on you, which everybody has, and a guy assaulting you. If someone is hitting on you aggressively, you go, ‘Back off’ and he does. But then there is the guy who locks you in a room, or who corners you. There is a huge difference when you can’t speak up, or you get blackballed if you say anything. The repercussion of all this has been #MeToo.”
We met as Carter is about to narrate the Smithsonian Channel’s three-part history series Epic Warrior Women, starting March 19. She was dressed in a black silk shirt and trousers, hair artfully tousled and makeup perfect for an imminent TV appearance. She introduced herself with a fistful of vitamin tablets to take. “Water, no ice,” she said to the nearest waiter in her charming, soft drawl.
“I’m very close to Patty, and I think Gal Gadot did a wonderful job,” said Carter. “I was really happy to see they showed a clip of the film during the Oscars, even though they didn’t nominate it for anything. Anything. It should have been nominated. They were left out of special effects, writing, everything. Patty did an amazing job. The essence of the character is not an easy one to find the right balance of. Patty got it.”
Carter didn’t appear in the film; would she like to appear in the sequel?
“We’ll see what Patty does, I don’t know how she’s going to do it. I said to her, ‘Whatever you want to do is fine with me.’”
I asked if it was strange in any way to watch Gadot play the character she had played.
“Yeah, a little bit. But I didn’t watch any of the trailers. I just went to premiere, saw the whole thing, and stood up and cheered.”
The Smithsonian documentary, about Amazons, female Roman gladiators, and the 19th-century Agooji of West Africa, enlightened Carter to the warrior women of historical times. “We think of the suffragettes, and long before them these women were so revered in their cultures. We are still revered. In fact, the problem men have with women is more about the fear of women than it is about anything else.
“Men cannot procreate. I think that’s the issue, probably. What else could it be? It is beyond their control. In these ancient civilizations, the whole woman was celebrated—being female, a mother, companion, and warrior. She bore children, and would even fight with a child on her back. I never knew some gladiators were women.”
In contemporary culture, Carter thinks, a heterosexual man wants to use a woman for sex, or sees her as a virgin, and/or as a mother, “but not the whole woman. We’ve been saying forever that we are the whole woman, just as you are the whole man. You are all of it, and you are a champion of women if you choose to be. If you can conceive of the whole woman in your own brain, then you are a champion of women, and not afraid of the whole woman.”
When I asked if she had ever found—transformed in a twirl from her character Diana Prince’s everyday wear—Wonder Woman’s satin-tights costume objectifying, Carter scoffed and gave me a huge eyeroll.
“Oh, so objectifying, like Superman with a sock in his pocket. They don’t worry about objectifying men. Because she looks like a woman, is that objectifying? Oh my God, ‘She looks like a woman,’ holy cat. It’s the ’70s and she’s wearing more than the bikini-clad girls at the time. I would not say it was objectifying.
“I did not play her as sexy. It was never a come-hither look. Gal Gadot never played come hither. I never played predatory. She is what she is. Ask any woman: When you are 22, and you look like you look then, well, that’s how you look. And then you’re 32 and then you’re 42 and then you’re 52 and that’s how you look. And when you’re 62, 72, 82, that’s how you look. It’s the same thing with men. I don’t think it’s any more objectifying than anything else. You want to virginize Wonder Woman? It’s ridiculous.”
Carter said she has been a feminist her whole life, a baby boomer whose parents raised her in Arizona with the idea she could do anything. Carter started singing at 14, and joined bands; music was her primary passion before acting. She first found fame as Miss World America in 1972.
“Now that was objectifying, that was a meat market,” she said forcefully. “I don’t agree with beauty contests. I did it one time. It wasn’t embarrassing being Wonder Woman, it was embarrassing walking around on stage in a bikini. It was ridiculous, stupid, and humiliating.” The pageant organization almost fired her, she said, for initially refusing to go on a USO tour in Vietnam (she eventually relented).
As for pageants today, Carter said, “I don’t like them. I think they’re meat-markety. I don’t fault the women, I fault what I really don’t like about them: that you’ve got these beautiful women and only one woman who wins. Everyone else is just losers, and these are gorgeous, wonderful, smart women.”
Fame as Wonder Woman, “I did not envision to be a lifelong thing,” said Carter. “You go about and live your life, and feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to play a great character. She has endured and endured and endured.”
There were women on TV at the time, she added—“Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Laverne and Shirley—but nobody like Wonder Woman.”
The character’s longevity is a testament to not just Wonder Woman herself, but also how Carter approached her. “It was all thought out. One of the first things a producer told me is that ‘Women are going to hate you.’ That was the antithesis of how I saw the character, and so I made sure they wouldn’t. There was not a mean bone in her body, no animus. She would get angry, but she would be against bullying. She would have the lasso of truth: It is her inner light, her sense of right and wrong. She was kind, loving, fierce, honest, and able to look someone in the eye. She would be a friend and protector.”
We would all twirl around, boys and girls, in our school playground, wanting to be Wonder Woman, I told Carter. Wonder Woman’s power, impressive leaping (in reality, giant catapults were used), and fabulous costume were everything.
“There were very few stunt women back then,” Carter recalled, “and so men dressed up as her. You’d see them in the costume with chest hair coming out at the top and no curves, and I’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter how far the camera is away. That does not look like a woman.’”
I asked if Wonder Woman had ever felt like a burden. Had Carter ever wanted to escape her? “I knew early on that would be foolish. It really isn’t about me, it is about a role I created, and thank God people identified with it because it’s a piece of magic that I created.
“For me to go against it, why would I do that? People like to tell me their experiences. Like you, your eyes lit up when you told me yours. If I have the chance to connect with another human being for a moment in my life, in this crazy piece of space that we inhabit, that’s kind of cool.”
The show brought its share of odd fan-mail. “One guy, 30 years ago, taped himself talking about how he felt about me,” said Carter. “He would send me VHS tapes of him talking about me. People have a fantasy life.” Some of the attention was worrying. “Sure, everyone has had stalkers. I try to be careful, but I don’t live life in a different way. I have found that the more accessible that you are, the more friendly, less strange, people are.”
The attention of fans, especially backstage, can be hard. “People say, ‘That’s what you signed up for,’ but it isn’t. It isn’t who you are. You’re playing characters. Online, sometimes people don’t want to hear what you are saying politically. They feel their point of view is worth something, but not yours. If I have something to say on my Facebook or Instagram pages, you can say you don’t like it, but don’t tell me to shut up.”
“Other people” thought the Wonder Woman role might limit her potential as an actress, Carter said. She did not. “It is what it is. It’s like fighting the tide. How do you fight that? It is always the tagline, but I’ve managed to do a lot of other things—nothing as big as that, but I love the work I am doing now.”
She returned to singing after the TV show, and on the road was pregnant with her son, James. “Singing and being on the road is not a good place for children, so I quit that and carried on acting.” She smiled. “And then my son was a junior in high school, and then he was looking at colleges, so I thought, ‘I better start looking for something to do.’”
Carter will be singing at D.C.’s Kennedy Center on March 17, New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 20 and 21, and then will receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 3, for which she is “thrilled beyond belief, over the moon.” An unmet ambition is to do comedy. She is inspired by the wryness and timing of Allison Janney.
Carter lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her second husband, Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of the video games company ZeniMax Media.
“I married an amazing human being,” she said. “We celebrated 34 years together in January. He’s the love of my life and he is a tremendous father. He is a lot of fun to be with. He really works hard. He’s my best friend. I adore him. So we have a really, really great marriage.” James is 30, Carter’s daughter, Jessica, is 27. Both are law-school graduates. James is going into the video-game business, Carter said, while Jessica is an attorney.
When they were younger, Carter said the children never got punished for anything they did, but they would if they had been caught lying—which is kind of appropriate for the woman who played a superhero most famously armed with a lasso of truth.
“Lying was like kiss of death, whether it was by omission, or just lying, any type of lie. I told them, ‘If you don’t tell me, I can’t help you. If it’s bad news, I want to know right away because I can’t help you. Why are you lying? What part of whatever it is is so shameful that you don’t feel you can share the truth with me?’”
Carter sighed when asked if President Trump could benefit from the lasso of truth.
“I try to respect the presidency because this is America. But I am against the crumbling of the policies that were in place to protect us in almost every department: from environmental to parks and services to the EPA and land management, Treasury, taxes. It just seems to be that we are crumbling. One good thing I see is a lot of people working very hard to shore up protections to fight this erosion.”
A committed advocate for women’s rights and LGBT equality, Carter has been the grand marshal of Pride parades in Arizona, New York City, and Washington, D.C. In 2016, Carter was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Gracie Awards, celebrating women in media.
She finds most disturbing the lack of checks and balances on the present administration’s policies. “I don’t know long it will take to undo some of the damage. I don’t blame everything on President Trump, I put lot of blame on the Republican Congress for not doing things in the proper way. You’ve got people doing things that are shocking. [Devin] Nunes running back and forth to the White House, being a patsy. It’s shameful.”
A few years ago, Carter revealed she was in recovery from alcoholism.
“I would say that anyone in recovery would probably tell you that it should terrify you, and it should continue to,” Carter told The Daily Beast. The opioid crisis, she said, began when companies started producing and marketing opioids “like candy” over 20 years ago.
“I didn’t have a pill addiction,” Carter said. “I didn’t drink till my mid-20s. It was a genetic thing. My mother was extremely allergic to alcohol, my family had a lot of alcoholism in it. I didn’t drink for years at a time, and when I did it was like falling off a cliff.
“So I got into recovery when the times between became shorter and shorter. I had no understanding of alcoholism at all. It’s been 20 years’ recovery for me. I don’t white-knuckle it. It is something I’m always conscious of. I try to help other people with it, and try to do what I can do for my sobriety.”
Asked how she found aging, Carter sighed and repeated the word three times. “It is what it is. I’m not going to get all cut up. With all that stuff, I’m too afraid of looking different, so I don’t think I will.”
She said she had not had plastic surgery, but—touching her cheek gently—added, “You have your little Botox. I do a little bit now and then… not very much, as you can tell. Listen, when my mom passed away she was almost 90. She didn’t have a wrinkle on her face when she died, I’m not kidding you. I think part of it is just genetics. And my dad looks really great. He’s 95, he looks amazing. I know too many people who have had work done and they look terrible. I think my ego’s too fragile. I think I’d be afraid of looking scary.”
Carter smiled when I asked if she still had any of her Wonder Woman costumes. “I still have a costume of my own and I have a second costume that a fan gave me. I said to him, ‘If you ever want to sell it, let me know because I have two children and one costume.’ He just gave it to me, and I told him he could have tickets to any of my concerts for the rest of his life.”
She won’t say where she keeps the costumes, both of which she wore on the show. “No, I don’t wear them now,” she admitted. “They are awfully tiny. I was a little, itty-bitty thing. You have to realize I was 22 years old when I wore them. It’s so great to have them. I have no idea what they’re worth now. But they’re invaluable. They make me smile.”
Carter’s luggage had been piled into awaiting transportation. An assistant appeared with a long brown coat, which Carter shrugged on. She had a plane to catch. But first, she slapped me on my back. “You’re adorable,” she said. “But I thought we were going to spin around.”
And so it was that Carter indulged my childhood self’s love of Diana Prince’s moment of wondrous transformation. There, as waiters cleared away the breakfast dishes, Wonder Woman and I twirled for the whole St. Regis Hotel to see. There may not have been a kaboom, and we didn’t transform into superhero-issue satin tights, but it was most definitely a moment of magic.