With a big-screen incarnation of Wonder Woman on the way (no pressure, Gal Gadot!), it's a great time to pay homage to the 1970s series that popularized the comic book superhero with television audiences.
Wonder Woman premiered in November of 1975 in the form of a two-hour pilot movie, and ran for three seasons. Starring Lynda Carter as the titular Paradise Island native living among the mortals in Washington, D.C.—under the alias Diana Prince—Carter infused her Amazonian princess with charm, grace, and fortitude. She was a feminist icon without being too hardcore, and a role model who still managed to seem approachable.
Carter herself once referred to Wonder Woman as a "woman's woman," noting that you "wanted to be her, or be her best friend." To this day, Carter's Wonder Woman remains the ultimate interpretation of the character for generations of females, so let's take a look at why the 40-year-old series remains the standard for all golden lasso-wielding aspirants.
1. LYNDA CARTER HELPED BRING A MULTIETHNIC ANGLE TO THE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER.
Back in 1975, when the initial Wonder Woman TV movie was produced (the series then aired from 1976 to 1979), the struggle for diversity in Hollywood was even more prevalent than it is today. But unbeknownst to many viewers, Lynda Carter didn't bring a traditional all-American look to the legendary superhero: thanks to her mother's Mexican heritage, Carter's Wonder Woman was also Latina.
2. DIANA PRINCE WAS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS WONDER WOMAN.
So much so that Carter spoke out against what she called the "dumbing down" of Wonder Woman's alter ego. "I think that Diana Prince was how the public got to know who Wonder Woman was," says Carter in the interview above. At the start of the series, Warner Bros. had her make Diana more of a helpless female stereotype, which completely went against the Wonder Woman mythos. "I said, 'This is nonsense—I don't want to do this. This isn't right.' ... She's capable, she had a personality."
3. CARTER WAS THE BRAINS BEHIND WONDER WOMAN'S SIGNATURE SPIN.
In a 2005 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Carter copped to coming up with the superhero's trademark transformation move: "I invented Wonder Woman’s spin," said the actress. "In the comic book, Diana Prince just left and came back as Wonder Woman. But for the show, they couldn’t figure out how I would make the change. I was a dancer, so I said, ‘I can do a pirouette or a spin.’ They put in the explosion later on.”
Carter was right about the "later on" part: For the pilot movie and the first couple of episodes, Diana did the spin, but it was an elaborate, slow-motion process (and a much quieter one at that, sans "explosion" effect) that left Wonder Woman holding Diana's clothes and awkwardly needing to stuff them in a conveniently placed closet or locker.
4. THE SERIES MADE A MASSIVE TIME JUMP BETWEEN SEASONS ONE AND TWO.
Even Boardwalk Empire's seven-year leap between seasons four and five doesn't seem that jarring compared to the kind of creative changes Wonder Woman endured. The 1975 pilot movie and first season of Wonder Woman took place in the 1940s, with our hero and her pal Major Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) doing their part in World War II by fighting Nazis. But when the series moved from ABC to CBS for season two, the decision was made to update the story to the 1970s—and the show was renamed The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. The immortal Diana/Wonder Woman was now 35 years older but still looked the same, perhaps making agelessness Wonder Woman's greatest superpower of all. Yet again, she worked alongside Steve Trevor, Jr. (Waggoner, again) as a CIA-type operative.
5. CARTER WAS NEARLY BROKE WHEN SHE LANDED THE WONDER WOMAN GIG.
"I had $25 left in my bank account when I got the call from my agent that I got Wonder Woman," Carter dished in the 2004 DVD commentary for the Wonder Woman TV movie. The then-24-year-old actress even had to borrow money to make rent that month because production didn't start for another few weeks.
6. KENNETH MARS AND HENRY GIBSON, WHO PLAYED NAZI VILLAINS IN THE TV MOVIE, SHOWED UP AS THIRD REICH SUPPORTERS IN TWO OTHER FAMOUS FILMS.
It's a weird kind of typecasting to say the least, but two of the actors who played Wonder Woman's Nazi foes in the 1975 pilot have each played memorable Hitler enthusiasts in additional films. Kenneth Mars, who portrayed Colonel Von Blasko in Wonder Woman, will forever be remembered as Franz Liebkind, the man who penned the surefire flop Springtime for Hitler in the original 1968 movie The Producers. Appearing as Von Blasko's sidekick, Nikolas, was Laugh-In regular Henry Gibson who, in 1980, portrayed the head of the local Illinois chapter of the American Nazi Party in The Blues Brothers. Gibson's presence on a bridge would prompt John Belushi's Jake Blues character to utter one of the film's most memorable lines: "I hate Illinois Nazis."
Interestingly enough, it's Gibson—not Mars—who has a Wonder Woman scene inside a large birdcage, in which he selects a carrier pigeon to send a message. (The Franz Liebkind character had a large carrier-pigeon collection in The Producers, and his favorite bird was named "Adolf.") Gibson would also show up on Wonder Woman one more time in a 1970s-set season two episode as a non-Nazi villain.
7. WONDER WOMAN'S BULLET-DEFLECTING BRACELET EFFECT WAS ALL IN LYNDA CARTER'S HANDS—LITERALLY.
One of Wonder Woman's archetypal powers is her ability to deflect bullets off her star-studded cuff bracelets. Since the TV show aired in the pre-CGI era, this meant some ingenuity on the part of the property master when it came to producing this kind of effect. Special bracelets were created that allowed Carter to control the bullet explosions by means of hidden buttons in her hands. "[The property master] wired, almost like matchsticks, these little loads in the front where the stars were," explained Carter in the TV movie commentary. "And within those stars there were some wires. Those wires went up the back of my wrist and into the palm of my hand ... I would fire them depending on which arm was taking the shot. It was pretty ingenious."
8. WONDER WOMAN CAN BE CREDITED FOR PIONEERING THE FEMALE-CENTRIC TV SHOWS THAT CAME AFTERWARD.
In the 1940s-set first season especially, a lot of Wonder Woman's statements about feminism could've been misconstrued as being a bit on the preachy side. But Carter felt Wonder Woman's zealous outlook was necessary in helping to reduce the ever-present gender inequality on TV. "[At the time] you had to go to the extreme in order to get someplace in the middle in terms of fighting for women's rights," said the actress in the TV movie commentary. As it turns out, Wonder Woman's feminist stance was vital for the eventual success of countless actresses and series creators: "I don't think we would've seen Roseanne Barr on television or a lot of future things that occurred without Wonder Woman leading the way," echoed executive producer Douglas S. Cramer (who would go on to produce popular series like Dynasty and The Love Boat) in the same commentary.
9. ONETIME WONDER GIRL DEBRA WINGER POKED FUN AT HER AMAZONIAN PAST DURING A 1993 LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN VISIT.
Although Lynda Carter has embraced her Wonder Woman legacy over the past several decades, the same can't exactly be said for actress Debra Winger. Prior to her most famous film roles (Urban Cowboy, Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman), Winger played Wonder Woman's younger sister Drusilla, a.k.a. Wonder Girl, in the series' World War II-era first season.
While visiting The Late Show With David Letterman back in September 1993, Winger seemed to take issue with her second-class status on Wonder Woman, mentioning how her costume, compared to Carter's, was a little on the flimsy side. She also slipped in a slightly snide reference to the then-relevant BCCI scandal (Lynda Carter's husband was indicted, then acquitted, on fraud charges in 1992). Whether she was joking about those grievances or not, none of it mattered at the end of the interview, when Winger stripped off her dress to reveal a skimpy Wonder Girl costume underneath. As Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra played the familiar Wonder Woman theme music, Winger ran up the aisle of the Ed Sullivan Theater for one unforgettable exit, leaving a "stunned" Letterman in her wake.
10. LYNDA CARTER PREFERRED THE MORE "MODERN" VERSION OF WONDER WOMAN.
When the TV series shifted to the present day (read: the late 1970s) and was renamed The New Adventures of Wonder Woman in the second season, many of its campy, comic book-style elements were eliminated—which pleased Carter, who always believed in playing her character straight. "I never wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek," she said in the 2004 TV movie commentary. "I think I was much better in the part when it was modernized," she observed in Wonder Woman: The Complete History.
11. IN THE SECOND SEASON, CARTER INSISTED ON DOING A BIG HELICOPTER STUNT HERSELF, WHICH DID NOT SIT WELL WITH NETWORK EXECUTIVES.
Season two's "Anschluss 77" episode featured an elaborate stunt where Wonder Woman hangs onto a flying helicopter. As Carter tells it in the TV movie commentary, no matter what the cameramen did to get the shot, it was still too obvious that the Wonder Woman hanging from the helicopter was a stunt person, and not the show's star. Just as her onscreen alter ego would have done, Carter immediately jumped into action and insisted on latching onto the helicopter herself. Courageous? Yes. Smart? Eh, not so much. Carter said she "got into big trouble" as a result of her, well, stunt. But the actress had no regrets about her bold decision. "It was so much fun," she confessed. "Where else in your life can you have all these adventures?"
12. THE 1975 TV MOVIE PILOT WAS, IN FACT, THE SECOND ATTEMPT AT PRODUCING A WONDER WOMAN SERIES.
It's for this reason the pilot has the clunky title of The New Original Wonder Woman. In 1974, ABC produced and aired a Wonder Woman TV movie that starred tennis-pro-turned-actress Cathy Lee Crosby. But aside from having Crosby's Diana Prince be an Amazonian, there was nothing terribly "Wonder"-ful about her Wonder Woman. She relied on gadgets rather than her supposedly superhuman abilities, was more of a spy than a superhero, and her appearance hardly reflected her character's comic-book origins (her star-spangled jumpsuit suggested the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team rather than Wonder Woman). In a surprise to absolutely no one, the Crosby TV movie did not result in a series, allowing Warner Bros. to try for a much more faithful adaptation the following year. That one worked.
13. TEENAGE HEARTTHROB LEIF GARRETT MADE A SAVVY WONDER WOMAN APPEARANCE TIMED TO THE RELEASE OF HIS NEW ALBUM.
By the third season, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman was trying really hard to appeal to a teenage audience—so much so that our heroine was reduced to skateboarding (the spin and explosion just to get yourself a helmet and knee pads? Come on, WW!) and riding a motorcycle. So what better way to get the kids watching than to feature shaggy-haired Tiger Beat pinup Leif Garrett? And not just one Leif Garrett, but two Leif Garretts (yep, the singer played twins).
In the fall of 1978, the third-season premiere of Wonder Woman had the superhero saving Garrett's—what else?—pop-idol character and his identical twin brother. This was also around the time Garrett's second album, Feel the Need, hit stores, which gave the singer the perfect opportunity to perform his hit song "I Was Made for Dancing'" in the episode's happily-ever-after concluding scene—with himself, natch. Sadly, Wonder Woman wasn't able to rescue Garrett from his subsequent drug addiction—or from his Behind the Music-level of notoriety.
Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine, by Tim Hanley
Wonder Woman: The Complete History, by Les Daniels
2004 DVD commentary of the 1975 New Original Wonder Woman TV-movie pilot by Lynda Carter and executive producer Douglas S. Cramer
This article originally appeared in 2015.