Lynda Carter

The new Wonder Woman of cabaret

by Marijke Rowland

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

1 April 2009


Before she was the daughter of Hippolyta, before she had that Lasso of Truth, before she wore those satin tights, Lynda Carter loved to sing.

While the world may know her best as Wonder Woman, the actress actually started as a singer. By age 6, she had sung on TV; as a teen, she was singing professionally.

In 1972, after winning the Miss World USA title, the Phoenix native moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of singing and acting. It was the latter that came calling first after she was cast out of hundreds of actresses in the title role in the “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.”

As soon as she donned the star-spangled costume and metal cuffs, an indelible TV icon was born. The series ran three seasons on ABC prime time from 1975-1979.

But singing was always on Carter’s mind. During the show’s run, she released her first solo album, “Portrait.”

After the series ended, she hosted five highly rated musical specials with guests including everyone from Kenny Rogers to Tom Jones to Ray Charles.

Throughout the 1980s, Carter appeared on specials, recorded on compilations and headlined venues from London’s Palladium to Monte Carlo’s Sporting Club.

Then, after her son was born in 1988 and her daughter a few years later, Carter stepped out of the limelight to raise her children with her husband, attorney Robert Altman.

“I never intended to quit,” she said in a phone interview from Colorado, where she and her family were enjoying their daughter’s last high school spring break. “It wasn’t an intentional stopping of music. I got pregnant with my son, so I cancelled that summer tour. Then I had my daughter. One thing led to another. I just didn’t want to give up the time with my kids or take them on the road.”

It wasn’t until her son was about to go off to college that Carter said she started to think about performing again.

“This is a bottom-line truth - I cried every time he mentioned college,” said the 57-year-old performer. “So I said to myself, ‘I’d better start to figure out what my life is like when they are gone.’ So I sent it out to the universe. Then I got an offer to do a musical in London and that was the catalyst.”

In 2005, she starred as prison warden Mama Morton in the West End London production of “Chicago.”

The following year, she performed on and was part of the CD release for the the 10th-anniversary Broadway celebration of “Chicago” in New York.

In 2007, she followed that up with an intimate cross-country cabaret tour and then last year made her debut at the famed Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., her longtime home.

Carter spoke about her upcoming new CD, “At Last,” and the lasting legacy of Wonder Woman.

Q: What is it about singing that you enjoy that is different from acting?

A: It is all on me - no one else takes the stage with you. There is an edge to live performing and it is just sink or swim. You are out there and either you do it or you don’t.

Q: Your new CD, “At Last,” comes out June 2. What sort of music is it and how did you select the songs?

A: It was about a 2 ½-year project because I just didn’t want to release this first album in so many years unless I was happy with it, unless I felt it was exactly what I wanted. Thankfully, that happened and I’m happy with it. It’s representative of where I am musically.

It started off as a collection of what I was doing when I returned to singing. But I decided I wanted a different sound. It was a very polished sound and I was looking for something a little more open and earthy. Some of it is bigger band, some is Nashville musicians. Half was recorded in L.A., half in Nashville. There are a couple of standards, some bluesy stuff. It has a nice, open groove.

Q: What kind of performing do you enjoy the most?

A: There is a flavor in each place. What I work for is a connection with the audience ... I know this is a terrible time for people to be spending money on shows. As musicians, we’re so appreciative of people spending their time and money to come see us. We are determined to give them the best show and make them feel as good as they possibly can.

Q: What can people expect from your upcoming show?

A: It is me and nine people behind me. Three singers, six musicians and myself. These musicians are all really triple-A; they are all sessions singers, players. It is such an easy band to play with. It just feels good.

Q: Is it hard that some people who come only have an image of you as Wonder Woman?

A: Well, I absolutely pay homage to Wonder Woman. I always do - she gave me a lot. People ask me often about the movie that has never been made. I think they need to make another movie. This baton has to be passed, because it’s a great character.

Q: When you took the role as Wonder Woman, did you feel a responsibility as a role model?

A: You know, I think that there are things I didn’t do at the time when my instinct was to do them. Like when AIDS first happened and there was a rallying cry because everyone was putting it in a place it didn’t need to be. I really wanted to be upfront about it and I got talked out of it. I regret that. I shine my light wherever I feel like shining it now.

I come from Arizona, as I often say, and I have a lot of high horses that I ride. I’ve been in Washington now for 25 years. I get irritated with some of the things that happen there.

I just want people to believe what they want to believe, to marry who they want to marry, have kids if they want to have kids. I say, stay out of my personal choices unless they are hurting someone else. For the last eight years, I was the loyal opposition. I don’t want to be called unpatriotic because I believe a certain way. I just want to let people live their lives.

Q: How much do you think opportunities for women to play strong roles has changed since the series aired?

A: Not too much. Well, I guess that’s not true. Angelina Jolie has played some pretty remarkable women, and I’m not talking about the superhero thing.

When I got “Wonder Woman” in the ‘70s, the worry was that no one would watch a woman on TV. They wanted Westerns and cop shows and shoot’em-ups - all guys. They didn’t think women would bring in viewers. The only females on the set of “Wonder Woman” were the script supervisor and me.

A lot of the things that we fought for back in the day, my daughter is the recipient of. We’ve come a long way, but we still need to re-energize the young women of today.

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