Pioneers of television: How Lynda Carter broke all barriers – this is her today

Female action heroes were exceedingly rare when I was growing up – maybe that’s why Lynda Carter became such an icon after starring as Wonder Woman in 1975.

For many, she was a hero for a long time during childhood – a lot of girls would wear their mom’s tiara and use a tea towel for a cape to pretend to be Wonder Woman themselves back in the 1970s.

Lynda was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Indeed, in my opinion, she still is …

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When I hear the name Lynda Carter, only one thing pops into my head: Her marquee role as Wonder Woman. The TV series, launched during the height of the women’s liberation movement in the ’70s, was one of few Hollywood productions with a female lead.

In many ways, Lynda was a perfect match for the role. She was talented, gorgeous, and had class to match her great sense of humor.

But Lynda also had to overcome several obstacles before she landed the role and was catapulted into stardom. For example, she was not a very experienced actress and clashed with the producers.

Lynda Carter was born in 1951 in Phoenix, Arizona. As early as a 5-year-old, she made her public television debut when she appeared on Lew King’s Talent Show. Growing up, however, another interest took over; music. In high school, Lynda joined a band. As a 15-year-old, she started working extra by singing at a local pizza parlor, earning $25 a weekend.

By then, her parents had divorced, and she had to endure other difficulties in her youth. People gasped when they saw Lynda during her childhood, and she constantly had to face comments about her height.

The Wonder Woman actress has always been quite tall, which gave her an early inferiority complex that she fought hard to turn around.

”All these feelings are left over from the time I was a kid. I mean: I was tall! Somebody would say, ’Oh, are you tall!’ And I giggle and say, ’Yeah, I’m tall!’ I was a clown. Inside I felt like crumbling jelly,” Lynda told reporters in 1979. 

But overall, Lynda praised her upbringing. She went to church every Sunday, had picnics, joked around with her sister, and had a mother who dreaded her “going Hollywood.”

“It was so moral, so middle-class, so old-fashioned and so good,” she said. 

Miss World USA

The Phoenix-born Carter did attend Arizona State University for a while, but after being voted ”Most Talented” she suddenly decided to quit. The reason? She wanted to focus whole-heartedly on pursuing a career in music.

However, those plans soon had to be revised – Lynda never managed to make her mark as an artist.

Instead, new doors opened in 1972 when she won a local beauty contest in Arizona. She represented her state in winning Miss USA that same year. Lynda also got the chance to represent her country and compete in the 1972 Miss World. She finished top 15.

In retrospect, Lynda has downplayed her career as a beauty queen.

“I didn’t get any prizes. They smack a little banner on you, they stick a crown on your head and call you a beauty queen,” she said. 

She also branded the experience as “bad” and “painful,” saying that beauty contests have “a certain built-in cruelty.”

Wonder Woman

In the early 1970s, Lynda took acting classes at several New York acting schools. She was determined to succeed in show business and managed to land some minor roles in popular TV series such as Starsky and Hutch and Cos. But the competition in Hollywood was fierce, and while living in Los Angeles to pursue her dream, Lynda almost ran out of money.

All her savings were gone and she was preparing herself to take a ”normal” job.

However, her life changed when she landed the starring role on Wonder Woman in 1975. She was just about to head back to Arizona when her manager called and said that Joanna Cassidy had been turned down and that Lynda had the part of Diana Prince and her crime-fighting alter ego, Wonder Woman.

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The 6-foot-tall beauty, who had $25 in the bank on the day she got the role, was over the moon. The series was based on the superheroine character created in 1941 for DC Comics. Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever – the series was a smash hit among readers when it came.

The creators of Wonder Woman, writer William Moulton Marston, and artist Harry G. Peter, really felt that girls needed a hero too. In the first episode of the Wonder Woman TV series, there was also a strong statement of female empowerment – a message that was totally in line with the era.

A few years before the series aired, 50,000 feminists had paraded down New York City’s Fifth Avenue in the Women’s Strike for Equality March.

“Any civilization that does not recognize the female,” Wonder Woman warned in one of the first episodes, “is doomed to destruction. Women are the wave of the future and sisterhood is…stronger than anything.”

But the feminist message was played down later, to Lynda Carter’s disappointment.

“The network thought Wonder Woman’s feminist talk would turn off viewers – that it was “dangerous,” Carter told PBS.

There were also other signs that things hadn’t changed much in Hollywood. For example, the producers wanted to use a male stunt double (with a hairy chest and big muscles) while shooting risky action scenes. Apparently, it was considered unthinkable to use a female stunt, which pissed Lynda off.

“I can’t have that,” she said.

In one episode, Wonder Woman was supposed to hang from a flying helicopter, and Lynda decided to do the dangerous scene all by herself. After that demonstration, the producers agreed to hire a female stunt double.

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The iconic Wonder Woman series ran for three seasons, from 1975 to 1979. For many of us, Lynda brought Wonder Woman to life, and she was hailed for her performance on screen. Not a male around was safe from being captivated by her beauty – but Lynda’s portrayal of a female superhero would also inspire a lot of female writers, viewers, and producers.

That said, some viewers found her costume too revealing.

“I wore less on the beach!” Carter protested.

“It was more than a bikini–it was the American flag in a one-piece suit.

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The 6-foot-tall beauty with the hourglass figure largely got her career-making role because she looked the part – but Lynda wasn’t going to play on stereotypes. Some of the producers even warned her that women would be jealous of her.

“Well, I said, ‘Not a chance. They won’t be, because I am not playing her that way. I want women to want to be me, or be my best friend! There is something about the character where in your creative mind for that time in your life where you pretended to be her, or whatever the situation was, that it felt like you could fly,” Lynda explained.

But whether she liked it or not, the smoking hot Lynda Carter became the woman many men dreamed about. She was voted “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” in 1978, and an iconic portrait of her in a tied-up crop top was listed as the top-selling poster that same year.

As one of the most iconic beauties of our era, she had to put up with quite a lot – and the attention she got because of her looks was not always positive.

“I never thought a picture of my body would be tacked up in men’s bathrooms. I hate men looking at me and thinking what they think. And I know what they think. They write and tell me,” she said.

In 1981, Lynda also opened up about her dissatisfaction with that famous, best-selling poster.

“It’s uncomfortable because I just simply took a photograph. That’s all my participation was in my poster that sold over a million copies, was that I took a photograph that I thought was a dumb photograph. My husband said, “Oh, try this thing tied up here, it’ll look beautiful”. And the photographer said “the back-lighting is really terrific”. So dealing with someone having that picture up in their… bedroom or their… living room or whatever I think would be hard for anyone to deal with,” she said in an interview during NBC television special Women Who Rate a 10.

Life after Wonder Woman

After her success with Wonder Woman, many doors opened for Lynda Carter. She shook hands with President Ronald Reagan, made a memorable guest appearance on The Muppet Show, and got her own musical TV specials.

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After earning $1 million for 26 episodes on Wonder Woman, Lynda was living the life and resided in an $1,200,000 French-styled house atop Benedict Canyon in L.A. The mansion was guarded by a pack of German Shepherds. She also owned a slew of Bentleys.

Her next significant role came when she portrayed Carole Stanwyck in the crime drama television series Partners in Crime. There, Lynda played opposite another beautiful and talented actress, Loni Anderson.

During the 1990s, Lynda founded her own production company, Potomac Productions. She also appeared in numerous TV movies and kept herself busy by doing a lot of voice-over work.

Lynda Carter with boxer Muhammad Ali, attending a dinner at Chasen’s, Los Angeles, CA, August 1979. (Getty Images)

When the new millennium came, Lynda continued to appear in more movies. Younger audiences probably recognizes her as Pauline from the big-screen remake of The Dukes of Hazzard (2005). At the same time, she also dipped her toes in theatre, landing a role in the production of Chicago, played at the West End theatre in London. 

However, the classy and elegant actress will always be associated with her career-defining role from the ’70s. Lynda has continued to have close ties to the superhero world. For example, DC Comics named Lynda as one of the honorees. Before shooting began on the 2017 Wonder Woman feature film, director Patty Jenkins reached out to Lynda to try and convince her to make a cameo.

However, she had to turn down the offer because it didn’t fit into her schedule during that time in her life.

“At that time we couldn’t get our timing together. So, this next time, if she writes me a decent part, I might do it,” she explained.

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In 2016, Lynda was also present when the United Nations celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Wonder Woman, declaring the female superhero as its “Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls”.

“The greatest honor and responsibility of playing Wonder Woman was serving as a role model for fans around the world, particularly girls,” Lynda said during the ceremony.

“I’ve seen first-hand how a powerful yet compassionate superhero can inspire women to believe in themselves and men to support equality.”

Love life & marriages

Before starring in Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter was romantically involved with French singer-songwriter Michel Polnareff.

In May 1977, Lynda married talent agent and promoter Ron Samuels. The couple had met the year before at an ABC affiliates party. In the late ’70s, Samuels was a big shot in show business, and worked with actresses like Jennifer O’Neill, Joyce DeWitt, Jaclyn Smith,and Barbara Carreras.

Lynda and Ron’s love story started when he asked her to come to his office to discuss business. But soon, their meetings, dinners, and tennis matches turned into something else, and they realized they were dating.

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Ron was a handsome, successful businessman, so Lynda was impressed by her future husband. Ron, meanwhile, was overwhelmed by Lynda’s stunning beauty, but also fell for her integrity and sincerity.

When they tied the knot, Lynda was 25, and Ron was 35. During the ceremony, Lynda wore a Victorian-style gown made by Don Feld, the guy who designed the iconic Wonder Woman outfit.

For a couple of years, Lynda and Ron were one of Hollywood’s most famous couples – they were rich, young, and very attractive.

But there were cracks in the facade. 

In retrospect, Lynda has revealed she was unhappy during the marriage, which lasted from 1977-1982. In an interview with New York Times, she said that it was ”an unfortunate chapter” in her life. But if you go back to the archives and read interviews with the couple during the midpoint of their union, certain problems are already identifiable then. 

For example, the couple disagreed on having children. Lynda wanted to be a mother, but Ron wanted to wait a couple more years. When those two years had passed, her husband said he wanted to wait two further years.

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In an interview with the Daily Press in 1980, Lynda opened up about the complications that arose in the marriage.

“The most stress between us occurs when I’m between projects. I get insomnia. And I pace alone. If my husband says one word, just one word that hurt my feelings, I analyze it. I go over it a million times,” she said. 

In June 1982, their divorce was finalized, and one of Tinseltown’s hottest couples went their separate ways.

“I hope he forgives me and I have forgiven him because it was painful for both people. And I wish him – honestly and truly – wish him well,” Lynda stated.  

Leaving Hollywood

After splitting up from her first husband, Lynda would find love again. In 1984, she married Robert A. Altman, an attorney from Washington D.C.

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Lynda and Robert first met at a business dinner in Memphis, Tennessee, and it was pretty much love at first sight. The cosmetic brand Maybelline, for whom Lynda was a spokeswoman, organized the event and Robert was persuaded to go to the dinner by a friend. The friend tried to tempt Robert by saying that the Wonder Woman actress would be present.

“I know that she was a good-looking actress who modeled for Maybelline, but I couldn’t quite place her,” Robert said.

“I was intending to go back to the hotel and watch a football game. I thought the last thing I wanted was to go to dinner and get mixed up with some Hollywood actress.”

Thankfully, Robert changed his mind.

After being placed next to Lynda, the couple hit it off immediately. The attraction was obvious and intense for everyone at the dinner. In fact, they were so interested in each other that it almost seemed rude to the rest of the table. Coming from a rather bad marriage, Lynda was delighted when she met Robert, and she couldn’t hide what she felt.

“This is (Robert’s first marriage, my second. But for me, it’s my first… Robert is my best friend. I’ve heard that phrase, your spouse is supposed to be your best friend. But I never experienced it before. He’s for me and I’m for him. A friend doesn’t try to control you,” Lynda told Newsday in 1985. 

Lynda Carter children

The couple exchanged vows at the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades, California, in front of guests including Ed McMahon, Barbara Mandrell, and acting colleague Loni Anderson. 

The newlyweds then decided to settle down in Potomac, Maryland. Having the man she always wanted, Lynda decided to leave Hollywood and step away from the limelight.

After moving into their 20,000-square-foot Georgian-style mansion in Potomac, she focused on raising her and her husband’s two children: James Altman (born January 1988) and Jessica Carter Altman (born October 7, 1990).

In 2018, Lynda shared some of her thoughts on motherhood, and you can tell how much her children have meant to her.

“Turns out my greatest adventure of all was becoming a mom. And I have loved every minute of it,” she wrote on Mother’s Day, while posting a photo with her kids on Instagram.

Lynda Carter today

Lynda Carter has now turned 72 and she’s still active in the entertainment industry. Even so, the past few years have been very difficult for her.

In February 2021, she was forced to say goodbye to her beloved husband. Unfortunately, Robert was stricken with an unusual form of leukemia and died in a hospital in Baltimore; he was 73.

Indeed, Robert’s death has taken a heavy toll on Lynda. In February this year, she tried to put her grief into words when she posted a photo of her and her husband a year after his passing.

“Today would have been your 75th birthday. To me you cannot be gone, because the love you gave so freely endures. It lives on in me, our children, and the many people whose lives you touched. You gave so much of yourself while you were here, and today we honor your love, your life, and your legacy.

“If I were up on a mountain today, I would sing to you through the mountain’s canyons. Instead, I woke to the dawn, over the ocean and sang my heart and love to you.”

In recent years, Lynda has also spoken openly about her drinking problem. According to the actress herself, she started drinking because there was unhappiness in her first marriage. But now she’s celebrating over 20 years of sobriety.

Her husband Robert was a huge help to her when she needed support – he was her “knight in shining armor” during her recovery battle.

“I’ve been in recovery for 23 years. And I didn’t even start drinking till I was in my mid-20s. I would stop drinking for two or three years, then start again and it just felt terrible. That was a long time ago and now I’m very happy,” she said in 2021.

In 2024, she captivated viewers once again with her timeless appearance when she posted a throwback photo showcasing her remarkable looks spanning decades.

She captioned the photo with: “How it started vs. how it’s going.”

Admirers showered praise on the “timeless” celebrity, commenting, “You look just as youthful as ever, darling!”

You truly are a Wonder Woman, because you have used your fame for great things!

I have admired you and your work for many years, and I hope you keep going! You are one of God’s shining lights in a darkening world.

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