Carter, Lynda: 1951—: Actress

views updated

Lynda Carter: 1951: Actress

Lynda Carter became famous in the 1970s for her starring role in the television series Wonder Woman. The five-foot-nine-inch Carter won thousands of fans as the super-powered Wonder Woman, dressed in her shiny red boots, star-spangled hot pants, golden breastplate, headband, and bracelets, completed with a golden lasso that, when wrapped around evildoers, forced them to tell the truth. The three-year series was her biggest break and her most difficult burden. In the years that followed, Carter struggled for public and critical acceptance as a talented actress, dancer, and singer. She had a productive career as a regular in made-for-television movies, as well as successfully staging variety shows both in Las Vegas and on television.

Won Miss USA

Carter was born on July 24, 1951, in Phoenix, Arizona, as Linda Jean Cordoba Carter, the youngest of three children born to Colby and Jean Carter. Her parents divorced when she was ten years old, and her mother, who is of Spanish and Mexican descent, found work at a Motorola factory to support the family. Lynda admired her mother, telling People Weekly, "She taught me more than anything to survive in a dignified, honorable, gracious way." Lynda, who changed the spelling of her first name during grade school, was exceptionally tall during her youth, leading kids to call her "Olive Oyl," referring to Popeye's lanky girlfriend. "I was taller than all the boys except the tackles on the football team," she told TV Guide. "And all my girl friends seemed to be 5-foot-3-inch blonds. I even was rejected as a pompon girl because I towered over everyone else." Always athletic, Carter competed in swimming and volleyball.

Although she had few dates during her days at Arcadia High School, Carter found a release for her teenage angst in music. At the age of 15 she began singing professionally, performing at a pizza parlor in Tempe for $25 a week. By the time she turned 17, she was making $400 a week singing in lounges in Reno and Las Vegas. After graduating from high school she sang for two different groups, traveling about the country. Tired of constantly being on the road, she quit singing after two years on tour. Carter then attended Arizona State University in Tempe for a time. Carter, now considered tall and beautiful rather than lanky and awkward, entered the Miss Arizona contest in 1972 on a whim. She quit school after being named Miss USA in 1973. Although she failed to secure the Miss World title, she did represent the United States at the international pageant.

At a Glance . . .

Born on July 24, 1951, in Phoenix, AZ; daughter of Colby and Jean Carter; married Ron Samuels, 1977 (divorced, 1982); married Robert A. Altman, January 29, 1984; children: (second marriage) James Clifford, Jessica Carter.

Career: Actress, 1975.

Awards: Miss USA, 1973; Jill Ireland Award for Volunteerism; Unihealth's Pinnacle Award.

Addresses: Agent William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90212. Manager Baumgarten Prophet Entertainment, 1640 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 218, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

After a year of fulfilling her duties as Miss USA, Carter moved to Los Angeles to begin acting lessons, training for the stage with Stella Adler, Lieux Dressler, and Charles Conrad. Within months she was getting bit parts on television, including a small guest shot on NBC's short-lived series Nakia. In 1976 she appeared as Bobbie Jo in the forgettable film Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw. She also continued to work on her music, releasing her only album, Portrait, in May of 1978. Her big break came when her agent urged her to audition for the lead role of Sharon Fields in the movie version of Irving Wallace's novel The Fan Club. Although Larry Gordon, the film's producer liked Carter, he felt she was wrong for the part. He did, however, call his friend Douglas Cramer of Warner Bros., who was in the midst of casting a second pilot based on the Wonder Woman comic strip, to be known as The New Original Wonder Woman.

Became Wonder Woman

The Wonder Woman series was based on the 1942 comic strip by Charles Moulton, who had decided that little girls needed a superhero because little boys already had Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. Diana Prince, the comic's main character, comes from the uncharted Paradise Island, which she and fellow Amazons fled to around 200 B.C. to escape the male-dominated society of the ancient Greeks and Romans. When needed, the character, Diana Prince, could whirl into her brief and sexy Wonder Woman costume, complete with star-spangled hot pants and a golden breastplate. Her golden belt gave her superhuman strength, her bracelets deflected bullets, and her golden lasso ensnared evildoers, forcing them to tell only the truth.

The first Wonder Woman pilot, which had starred Kathy Lee Crosby, was a flop, and, among the hundreds of Wonder Woman-hopefuls, Garner thought Carter had the perfect look for the revamped version of the comic heroine. Thus, at the age of 25, Carter stepped into her role as Diana Prince. The ABC pilot aired on November 7, 1975, and did very well in the ratings. Despite the good showing, the future of the show was uncertain. ABC, which already had a female-based comic strip show The Bionic Woman in its fall 1976 lineup, ordered two more one-hour episodes that ran in the spring of 1976. When those airings proved equally popular, ABC committed to the Wonder Woman series.

Carter worked hard on her new leading role. She followed a strict diet (mostly vegetarian) and exercise program to keep in shape, and she did most of her own stunts. Carter understood the limitations in portraying a comic book character realistically. "I think that being convincing in a part like mine takes a lot of acting," Carter told Ladies' Home Journal in 1978. "I've never stopped trying to stay true to the character, hoping to make her believable. I doubt that anyone but me could play that part and pull it off." Although the series was very popular, Carter earned few accolades from critics for her acting skills. Following the debut of the pilot TV Guide noted, "[Carter's] acting is rudimentary, but it doesn't matter. Just as in the comic strip all she has to do is stand up real straight and say lines like the following to Major Trevor, played by Lyle Waggoner: 'Follow me, Major. I'll teach those dirty Nazi agents a thing or two about democracy.'"

Carter starred in The New Original Wonder Woman on ABC for one season. In this version, the show was set in the 1940s, during World War II, true to the comic strip. The following season CBS purchased the show and introduced a revamped version with a contemporary setting, titled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, which aired for two more seasons. Carter's career was managed by her husband, Ron Samuels, a talent agent, whom she married in 1977. Samuels also managed the careers of Jaclyn Smith of Charlie's Angel and Lindsay Wagner of The Bionic Woman. Samuels helped Carter reap financial benefits from her success as Wonder Woman. During her first season, she was paid $3,500 per episode. By the final season, she was making over $1 million for the season, a record amount at the time for a woman in a television series.

Samuels was involved in every aspect of Carter's career, from sponsorships to photo shoots. Carter seemed to have foretold her future in a 1980 interview with Money when she said, "If money became the preoccupation, we would have no business being married." In the same interview, Samuels noted, "We make decisions jointly. But if it comes down to a final decision, Lynda will defer to what I have to say as the man of the house." By 1982 Carter was done deferring and filed for divorce.

Life after Wonder Woman Career

Although Wonder Woman was still pulling in decent ratings, CBS let the series go after the 1979 season. The series left Carter financially secure, but with a comic book character monkey on her back. For the next several years she worked hard to shed the image of Wonder Woman and be accepted as a serious talent. Pouring $200,000 of her own money into the project, Carter produced her own Las Vegas variety show staged at Caesars Palace, which was based around her singing and dancing. To the surprise of some, the show was a popular and financial success. Carter followed up her career in television with several variety show specials airing on CBS in the early 1980s, including Lynda Carter: Encore, Lynda Carter's Special, Lynda Cart-er's Celebration, and Lynda Carter: Street Lights. Although People Weekly panned it, her last special, Lynda Carter: Body and Soul, received an Emmy nomination.

Carter's first starring role in a made-for-television movie came in 1980 in CBS's The Last Song. She followed that with Born to Be Sold, which aired on NBC in 1981. In 1983 Carter stretched her acting skills by portraying Rita Hayworth in CBS's Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess. "I knew I'd be subject to a lot of criticism for the part," Carter told People Weekly in 1983. "But I really, really wanted the challenge. We both had Hispanic backgrounds. We were both in show business at an early age. We both sing and dance. We were both married to our managers." Around the time of the filming of the Hayworth movie, Carter's life was changing. Raised Catholic, she was led by her sister to religious renewal that filled a spiritual void in her life. She also met her next husband, Robert Altman, a Washington, D.C., lawyer. The two were married on January 29, 1984; they have two children: James, born in early 1988, and Jessica, born in late 1989.

In 1984 Carter appeared in her secondalbeit short-livedtelevision series, Partners in Crime, costarring Loni Anderson. Carter and Anderson portray ex-wives of a recently deceased private detective who left his agency and posh San Francisco house to both of them. The two, armed only with their charms and designer wardrobes, set off to solve crimes and corral bad guys. Even though the series was quickly cancelled, Carter remained very busy, including a long-standing relationship as a spokesperson for Maybelline. She and Altman, who was the president of First American Bank, built a 20,000-square-foot home in Potomac, Maryland, and Carter loved to play hostess to many well-known financiers with whom her husband associated. She continued to appear in television movies, including Stillwatch, Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All, Danielle Steel's Daddy, and Posing: Inspired by Three Real Stories.

Late Career Plagued by Bank Scandal

Carter's picture-perfect world came to an abrupt halt in 1992 when unscrupulous business practices were alleged between First American and Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). When Altman was indicted for bank fraud in relation to his dealings with BCCI, Carter was outraged and defended her husband vehemently in the press. After a year, Altman was cleared of any wrongdoing. However, fighting the charges had cost Carter and Altman $10 million in legal fees.

In 1994 Carter appeared in her third television series, the syndicated adventure series Hawkeye. In the show Carter starred as a beautiful and brave frontierswoman Elizabeth Shields. The series lasted for two seasons before being discontinued. During the 1990s Carter continued to live in the Washington, D.C., area, traveling back to Hollywood to take on parts in television movies. In the late 1990s her made-for-television appearances included A Secret Between Friends, Shadow Zone: The Undead Express, She Woke Up Pregnant, A Prayer in the Dark, Someone to Love Me, and Family Blessings.

Although Carter has scaled back her acting engagements, she continues to work occasionally. In 2002 she had a bit part as the governor in the raunchy police parody Super Troopers, which was panned by critics but developed something of a cult following. In 2003 she appeared opposite Parker Stevenson in a PAX Network production titled Terror Peak. Even though her role as Wonder Woman lasted just three years, she has never completely broken away from her most famous character. Carter told Entertainment Weekly in 1994: "Pretty soon people will look at me and say, 'That old woman was Wonder Woman?'" Continuing, she added, "But it's kind of fun to be regarded as a cult figure. I could resent it and be miserable. Or not. What am I going to fight it for?"

Selected works


Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, American International Pictures, 1976

The Shape of Things to Come, Film Ventures, 1979 Super Troopers, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2002.

Television movies

The Last Song CBS, 1980.

Born to Be Sold, NBC, 1981.

Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess, CBS, 1983.

Stillwatch, CBS, 1987.

Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All, CBS, 1989.

Danielle Steel's Daddy, NBC, 1991.

Posing: Inspired by Three Real Stories, CBS, 1991.

A Secret Between Friends, NBC, 1996.

Shadow Zone: The Undead Express, 1996.

She Woke Up Pregnant, ABC, 1996.

Somone to Love Me, 1998.

Family Blessings, CBS, 1999.

Terror Peak, PAX Network, 2003.

Television series

Wonder Woman, ABC, 1976-77.

The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, CBS, 1977-79.

Partners in Crime, NBC, 1984.

Hawkeye, syndicated, 1994-95.

Television specials

Lynda Carter: Encore, CBS, 1980.

Lynda Carter's Special, CBS, 1980.

Lynda Carter's Celebration, CBS, 1981.

Lynda Carter: Street Lights, CBS, 1982.

Lynda Carter: Body and Soul, CBS, 1984.



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Vol. 31. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2000.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1996.


Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 1994; August 9, 2002.

Ladies' Home Journal, July 1978.

Money, January 1980.

People Weekly, November 7, 1983; March 19, 1984;

October 15, 1984; September 2, 1991; September 12, 1994; July 17, 1995.

Saturday Evening Post, May-June 1983.

Time, January 25, 1988.

TV Guide, January 29, 1977; October 24, 1981.


The Wonder Woman Pages, (June 4, 2003).

Kari Bethel