Rowing down the Styx: The history of Wonder Woman (not being) featured in the media

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2nd Stage of Development Hades: Fields of Asphodel - The history of Wonder Woman (not being) featured in the media

The Silver Screen

The 50’s was not the best time for superheroes, or comics, in general. If you’ve watched ANY retrospective on the history of comics, you know it (heck they mention it in almost every featurette included on a DC Comics property DVD) If you don’t, they were being persecuted by the government and judged by the public as the biggest bad influence on youth since… well since ever, comics were really the first youth oriented medium in way. During the 50s we  there was a need to shift the roles of woman back to a more traditional setting after the war… see many women had to fill the jobs of the men that had gone to fight, and they eventually came back… but the most important gift of the good old fifties was TV!

At the beginning of the decade Superman was the first and pretty much the only one to move onto TV in this decade (1952-1958), probably because of the success of the radio show. A show that at some point even featured Batman and robin on some episodes, however, with the witch hunt of superhero comics, Batman was ironically not the most popular of the bunch, he was deemed a rather bland character to feature on TV: he had no powers and most of his adventures took place at night (a big no no for the early days of TV). His biggest foe is a non lethal clown, Catwoman had been erased from the comics because she had to much cleavage and a whip… oh yeah and he was probably, not only gay but, a bit of an ephebo…  So yeah, no Batman for the 50’s due to simple lack of popularity; plus there was Zorro who embodied most of what batman did but had that popular old western feel.

But what of old Wondy? She unlike batman had no radio appearance on the superman show for some reason. My bet is that Wonder Woman, although much like superman, wasn’t really supposed to be out there kicking Nazis by now, so it didn’t make much sense, and in the back of the mind of many, her Nazi kicking magazine covers stuck; now she was supposed to go back home let the men take over like all women folk did.

Looking at the wonder woman of the fifties is very unique cos she never quite got married and held a clean house hold with trevor. Not that they didn’t try:

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But overall, she didn’t move onto longer skirts and baking. She remained a scantly dressed superhero (also a good bet why she didn’t move onto tv).

It would take 8 Years, for DC to have another live action TV series after Superman. That series was Batman (1963-1966) and despite Batman being quite unpopular in the comics then, the series becomes insanely popular, general consensus being that while the show was children safe  it was full of sexual innuendo for the adults to see.

It seems during this time, and thanks to the 60’s sexual revolution, that William Dozier the creator of the batman TV show stumbled onto the discovery that superheroes could also be sexy which in the long run would mean, they could be marketed to adults. And so it was that Catwoman saved Batman from oblivion by being “sexy as fuck”.

Now with the success of all these sexy girls and whacky, surreal villains and stories, wouldn’t you think wonder woman could work to?! after all she is sexy and whacky as hell, And William Dozier thought of it too. He commissioned two Pilots for Batgirl and for Wonder Woman!

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Wonder Woman 1967 Screen Test / TV Pilot

They recorded only 5 minutes of a 41 page script. and those 5 minutes are the weirdest piece of TV you can encounter. From what I can gather, it was written by MAD comedy writers Stan Hart & Larry Siegel and the series was called  “Who’s afraid of Diana Prince?”. In it Diana Prince is a young woman who is not a very dashing looking girl that lives with her over bearing mother who insists she should have a boyfriend and a healthy life. However Diana is also Wonder Woman, wise and fast but not as beautiful as she thinks. Apparently Diana thinks she becomes a beautiful woman when she becomes wonder woman… but really is not. This makes for a really kind of cruel comedy. With Diana acting all confident and sexy in the misogynist 60’s when she really is not. Steve trevor is mentioned and we one can assume will be Diana’s unrequited love interest. In essence this Wonder Woman is “Ugly Betty” (the original one not the crappy US remake) with a jewish mother stereotype thrown in.

I can just imagine Steve Trevor’s expression of exasperation at seeing this shabby Diana coming on to him at every chance, even when he doesn’t really need her help and he not daring to put her down because he needs her as Wonder Woman, I can picture his chauvinist co-workers making fun of him. Then he would need Wonder Woman and… awkwardly he has to conquer her, make her think he loves her. She is thrilled and then as the series progresses he starts to actually like her and fall for her because she is so confident. Finally she would learn after battling some petty enemy that she is actually not the sexy bombshell she thought she turned to at all, and understands that Steve was only courting her back as a ruse and to use her. He realises he can´t live without Wonder Woman, and persists and tracks down the real Diana and tells her he doesn’t care he loves her and proposes she realises she is as valuable and lovable as she was being wonder woman all the time and accepts. Now because its unthinkable to have an unattractive couple on TV,  Aphrodite would then grant her the real gift of beauty and she and Steve live happily ever after.

If 60’s TV’s were making breakthrough and a comment on beauty conventions and gender roles, I would have said this was a great idea. But if the Batman series serves as an indicator it would probably mean that the series would not move forward but be a repeating sketch of a poor young unattractive Diana flirting with Steve and being the butt of all the cruel jokes every week.

They had the template set by Batman why couldn’t they just use it for wonder woman? The pilot casts the very attractive and amazon looking Linda Harrison as Diana’s delusional version of herself, we see her on the mirror as Diana checks herself out. That was a good cast! But in the era of Bond girls and the such, really I can’t see how Diana could have carry on a campy comedy inspired series without it being a joke. It would be 7 years later, when we got a Wonder Woman TV Series! that lasts 3 seasons (1975-1978)

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Why did that one work? My opinion. Well they allowed themselves to do it wrong first. The 60’s pilot is only 5 minutes short… they made an attempt but they really didn’t try.

Years pass and by the 70’s Wonder Woman was an unrecognisable character in the comics, she had no powers, no costume and owned a boutique. The feminist movement was outraged by this. And this attention to the character with the women liberation movement must have sparked the interest in the character. In 1974 Warner/ABC created a TV Movie pilot for wonder woman, Originally Angela Bowie (David Bowie’s wife) had been considered for the role of Wonder Woman for the upcoming ABC-TV movie but lost the part for her refusal to wear a bra.

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The role of Wonder Woman later went to the tennis player Cathy Lee Crosby. In the movie, Wonder Woman, who is also known as Diana Prince, is called in by Steve Trevor to fix a hostage situation regarding some infiltrated CIA agents who are at the hand of criminal mastermind Abner Smith, played by none other than god-mother-fucking Khan (Ricardo Montalban)! And man what a Villain he is. Now in this version of Diana and Socialite Diana, she spends better part of the movie in Paris, dining with her enemies and avoiding deathtraps all while in the comfort of the most tacky 70’s hotel ever portrayed on TV. All this while having the most delightful and fancy chitchat. Halfway through, we are revealed Abner has allied with rogue Amazon warrior, Angela which leads to the most action packed girl on girl action America daytime TV could allow (Javelin hand to hand combat!).  The movie really starts three thirds in, when Steve receives a special delivery in his office, a crate with a fucking donkey inside! The donkey, shockingly, becomes the cornerstone of the movie, as it’s the medium in which the Ransom has to be paid. Steve Send the donkey off with the ransom and Diana Flies from Paris in her unseen Invisible Jet to Alba Nevada to stop it.  (Both the audience and Montalban are denied the opportunity to see the plane which makes me wonder if it was going to remain unseen through out the series.

Eventually Diana catches up with the damn donkey after surviving more deathtraps and arrives riding it (That’s right Diana actually makes an entrance riding a donkey in this movie) to confront her  amazon sister gone rogue, Angela. Once she is lazily defeated, she moves on to the real baddie Abner Smith, who really is as charming as Khan. After what’s like 15 minutes of pleasantries between them, Diana re states that she has no intention of letting the Smith keep the ransom money and uses on of her bracelets to blow up Abner’s Helicopter launch pad (Yeah those are one dangerous peace of jewellery to wear) yet Abner makes an exit via an inflatable boat. Diana goes after him in a motorcycle and jumps in the river and swim up to him. As to the reason why Abner didn’t just knock her unconscious with the row and continue his way is revealed in the Cop Car scene that follows where he declares his undying love to Wonder Woman right before being shipped to jail. The movie ends with a pretty soaked and shivering Diana covered in a white towel as Abner seems confident they will meet again.

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Now I for one, enjoyed listening to Montalban most of the movie, he gets all the crappy lines just right. I would have loved to see him appear again, having his love towards Wonder Woman inspire him to construct wacky plans to lure her, then in a further episode become an unexpected ally,  only to finally have him kill Steve Trevor and rise as the ultimate Wonder Woman foe and die himself trying to destroy her.

In truth, the pilot WAS poorly written, Montalban is only heard and his face obscured most of the movie and only appears on camera for the third act, which is a really lame villain reveal as we know its Khan right from the opening titles sequence. Wonder Woman had an awkward outing here, her most memorable moments include she riding a donkey and calling room service to overcome a deadly snake. Yet it has in some measure enriched the mythos. You can actually see Cathy Lee Crosby’s Wonder Woman in more recent comics, making cameos.

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The TV series, was the first comic faithful adaptation of the character. Everything from the amazons, the island, the costume, invisible (inflatable) plane, Steve Trevor and Etta Candy is there.  It also gave us the first live action Wonder Girl, not the comics version of course (no one in their right mind would go into something as complicated that), The show introduced so many thing to the mythos us to some cool things like but Drusilla

The show also introduced so many thing to the mythos like a completely unnecessary K-9 like mascot named IRAC, Skater Wonder Woman, Diving Wonder Woman and most important of all the transform Spin!

The show managed to mix the powerless fem fatal spy  with the classic amazon. By having us see Diana in two different time periods, the Second World War and the 70’s

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My only “but” with this series is that none of the comic books villains except one, make an appearance (Veronese Van Gunther in case you are wondering).  It did give us one recurring villain: Andros, a form of Oan type alien representative sent to earth to destroy it if he finds humans to dangerous for the good of the galaxy.

 

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