Who Knew?

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

One never knows where an innocent hour or two invested in something as simple as enjoying a movie kicked back with family, munching popcorn, comfy in front of a TV, will lead. The movie was one that I had been keen to see ever since it came out over a year or so ago, a movie featuring a woman in a “Blockbuster” title role: a full-length movie starring gorgeous Miss Israel Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. “The Woman,” one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, was for the better part of my life a role model. She was what many young girls dreamed of being: beautiful, brave, smart, and What I found out is that I didn’t really know this Amazonian princess or her secret-self, Diana Prince a secretary in the OSS, Office of Strategic Services during WWII. I had no idea that this woman was a feminist before the word was even a word, and before that a woman suffragette. I certainly had no idea that she was created by a man, William Moulton Marston, who lived a secret life himself with two wives and four children, living together in the same home “off the grid,” as we would say today. Nor did I realize that the image of that first Wonder Woman was probably modeled on what we would label “soft porn” today.
Wonder Woman was born just 18 months before I was and has been fighting for women’s rights (yes, in a bathing suit with a crown and high-heeled red boots) for a very, very long time. The author of “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” (2015) Jill Lepore says in her introduction that “this is the story of her origins—the stuff of wonders, and of lies.” The history of my long-ago “idol” is so strange, bizarre even, that I have spent hours and hours poring over the tale of Marston’s youth, his relationship with Sadie Holloway, a fiery suffragette, of his college years at Harvard, his tinkering with the new field of psychology in the early 1900s, and his eventual invention of the Lie Detector. (And there it is! Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso—extracting Truth from whomever it ensnares!)
Too much to tell here of how those early years studying Law, Philosophy, and Psychology, of how his experiments with “truth,” and writing photoplays (now called screenplays) for silent films in order to pay his way during his student days, of how all of this came together in the female superhero’s 1941 debut in All Star Comics.
No, I never concerned myself with the origins of the comic strip Wonder Woman, had never given it any thought. But The Amazon princess has always, for as long as I can remember, fascinated me. First, I admit, I loved her costume, which did not seem nearly as skimpy during my girlhood. Diana’s original outfit consisted of a short, but modest skirt (then blue shorts with white stars), a red strapless top with a gold eagle (a neckline minus the daring plunge of the movie version). I particularly coveted her crown and wristlets, again quite different from the expanded gauntlets she wears in the film. I even remember saving the inside of my dad’s Lucky Strike cigarette packages in order to fashion little silver foil bracelets.
I loved Princess Diana’s Island home, her beautiful sisters, and her goddess mother Hippolyte who explained to her daughter, “In the days of ancient Greece, many centuries ago, we Amazons were the foremost nation in the world.” It was Diana’s mother who sent her to America with the WWII pilot the princess had fallen in love with. She was to “help Steve Trevor wage the battle for freedom, democracy, and womanhood” aided by her marvelous golden rope and the very cool invisible airplane she traveled in.
Wonder Woman didn’t pop out of Zeus’s brain fully grown, nor did her mother sculpt her from clay as one story goes. No, William Marston was enlisted to combat the rising furor against comic books in 1941. Ironically, with his credentials as a psychologist and professor of history and because of his magazine articles about parenting co-written with his secret “other wife,” Olive Byrne (niece to Margaret Sanger, and yes, of birth control notoriety) the producers of DC Comics sought his help in creating a softer super hero. It was publicity such as this newspaper piece that was the catalyst:
In 1940, the Chicago Daily News called comics a “national disgrace.” “Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month,” wrote the newspaper’s literary editor, calling for parents and teachers to ban the comics, “unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one.”
Wonder Woman was a great antidote, and her strong, athletic, patriotic and moral female presence was just the thing needed to battle the Nazis and to satisfy the Daily News. And her stories were just the thing for a kid whose weekly allowance just about covered the cost of a 10 cent comic book. I am still a huge fan. Just a little wiser.

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