Lynda Carter: more than a ‘woman’
Published Thursday, 24-Apr-2008 in issue 1061
For someone cemented in pop-culture history as the high-flying, iconic television character “Wonder Woman,” actress Lynda Carter is rather grounded about the character’s lasting appeal.
“You can never live up to it,” Carter said, in an interview last week with the Gay & Lesbian Times. “But, I haven’t let it stop me. I understand it, I get it and I think that I’ve reaped the benefits of having people identify Lynda Carter with the persona of Wonder Woman. I mean that is not a bad thing, because she’s wonderful. I can’t change that, might as well embrace it. I think that the thing you fight the most, it just persists, and it takes way too much negative energy to [fight] that.
“People that know me really well forget about that, they just forget about it. And, I’m certainly not aware of it, except in a public setting. I think that is the case with every actor that has ever played an iconic role – Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, it goes all the way down. It’s hard for me to separate, not knowing an actor of some kind, and they can be entirely different from the characters they play. It just means they’re good actors, and I think the real person is somewhat disappointing.”
Carter was everything but disappointing when she chatted with us about her television background, her foray into theater, her music and her legions of gay fans – of which she wasn’t aware until more than a decade ago.
“I finally sort of figured it out, it was only maybe 15 years ago,” she said. “I had a woman come in from a lesbian magazine and she said, ‘You don’t know, do you?’ And I said, ‘I don’t get it, no, what?’ I lived in a little bubble, I guess. And she said, “You’re so big in the gay and lesbian community!’ And I said, ‘Really?’”
Those fans have followed Carter’s career from screen to stage. She will perform her music at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center on April 25, The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on April 27, The Hotel Nikko in San Francisco April 2 through May 4 and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on May 10.
When Carter was a child she entered talent shows and, as a teen, joined her first band, The Relatives, which included fellow ’70s TV alum Gary Burghoff, who later starred in “M*A*S*H” as “Radar.”
In 1970, Carter sang lead vocals for The Garfin Gathering and was crowned Miss World USA in 1973, which led to her worldwide performances with Bob Hope. During her tenure as Wonder Woman, she recorded an album, headlined Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and did five Emmy-award winning television variety specials.
“I had it in my blood,” Carter said about what initially drew her to music. “It was always there; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing.”
More recently, she won raves for her portrayal of “Mama Morton” in the London West End production of Chicago in 2006. Last year she returned to the stage as herself, belting out standards like, Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”
Carter is excited to be back performing live in front of an audience, and be “on the road again.”
“It’s about the music, and the connection to people,” she said. “And whether I’m in a big theater or I’m in a small setting, to me I have a desire to relate to audiences through music and through whatever parts of me I can give on the stage. …
“It’s never been any different in acting work. It’s finding the truth of things, and when you’re coming from an honest place, I think it connects. I have a lot more control on what goes on in my stage performance – there’s a lot more pieces to the puzzle. It’s not costume changes or big lighting tricks or a giant orchestra – it is really putting yourself on the line. I’m comfortable with it, I like it, and I knew I was going to be an actress and a singer, and that’s it.”
That’s not it, though – in addition to her roles as television icon and stage performer, 57-year-old Carter is also a wife to D.C.-lawyer, Robert Altman, and a mother to son Jamie and daughter Jessica.
Being a celebrity mom was more of a challenge when her children were younger, Carter said. “They had to grow up learning that there was something different about me,” she said. In one case, five-year-old Jamie carted mom and the Wonder Woman costume to show-and-tell.
When Carter asked her son to join her at the front of the class and opened the floor for questions, one classmate asked the boy, “What’s it like to have a mom that’s famous and played Wonder Woman?”
“And, Jamie kind of looked up at me and said, ‘Well, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,’” Carter recalled, laughing.
Now that Carter’s kids are nearly adults, she’s had more time to devote to her career.
“My kids … I’m not saying they don’t need me, but in many ways it is easier for them for me to be busy,” she said. “I’ll drop anything for my kids – if I can do it physically, I will. I would not schedule something in the middle of my time with them – a singing thing that interferes with what I am doing with them. I don’t want to miss anything and without a rich, personal life, all of the success in the world does not mean very much.”
Despite being Wonder Woman and super mom, Carter has some of the same concerns as everyday people – one in particular that surprised us.
“I’m always fighting my self image of ‘I’m too fat, I hate this about my thighs,’” she said. “I’ve never quite mastered the whole, ‘Don’t hate me because I’m thin’ thing. I’m fine now, and I’ll never be 20 again and I’m OK with myself these days. But I’m no different from anybody else. Things start shifting and moving around. And it’s like, ‘Oh my god! When did that happen?’”
While Carter embraces her role as Wonder Woman, her past and its impact on the pantheon of pop culture, she is not defined by it.
“I’m doing what I’m doing now, I’m not thinking about my past accomplishments. I’m always interested in where my life is now, because that’s how we remain full,” she said. She related a story of roses she had planted that became overshadowed by trees, and had to be moved in order to flourish – a fitting analogy, she said, of her own life.
“I had to move them into a sunny place … well that’s kinda my life story.”

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