Best known to the world as Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter has been working in showbiz since she was a teenager. She started off in Phoenix as a girl singer with a band, and through a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck and a long journey, made her way to being Miss World USA and landed the starring role as Wonder Woman.
These days, Carter has gone back to what brought her to Hollywood in the first place: her music. Tonight and tomorrow night, Carter performs at Lincoln Center, but a few weeks before that, Carter spoke with Fabio Periera over tea and tomato soup at the Regency Hotel in New York city about making it in showbiz, raising a family in showbiz and hanging out in Washington, DC with Arianna Huffington.
You and Arianna Hufffington go way back. Tell me a little bit about what it was like to meet her the first time.
Oh, Arianna. Washington looked a little bit oddly on me when I first came. Back in those days in particular, anybody with an accent or with a personality as exciting she is, you saw a lot of women (she turns her nose up): "Oh, oh..." And it used to crack me up and we ha da couple of great conversations back in the early years and I thought, "This woman is about something." She's really interesting. And so as things progressed with her commentary and Huffpost, I'm always really interested to hear what she has to say, to see what she's doing (on) the Post. Plus, she put a whole bunch of reporters to work.
Well, she definitely did something new and different. And it's definitely paid off because everyone reads The Post.
Right. Yep! But I think more than that, these things don't happen by accident. And not easily. I've been around long enough to know that whatever looks easy isn't. That's the whole point is to make it look easy where it's very complicated to build something like this and getting funding and selling it and you're a woman and you've got an accent and you've got a lalalala. You know, so I am very happy to be doing an interview for Arianna's (website).
(Laughs.) Well, yeah! I suppose we should talk about music, but before we talk about your new album, I'd like to start a little further back. You did your first show in Vegas when you were seventeen.
Yeah! With a band. I was the girl singer with a band.
That's a pretty big deal. How did you make that happen for yourself?
It's what I was saying about Arianna. You can't just skip from age 14 to 17, or age 17 to getting Wonder Woman. There are a lot of steps and particularly as a young person, it feels like forever. Everything starts with discipline and it starts with looking at your choices and making decisions for yourself and making good decisions for yourself and doing anything too rashly stupid before you begin to reach your goal.
So, I started singing in bands when I was fourteen around Phoenix and finally I changed bands because I got more money and--better bands actually. Also more money, but better bands and the band that I was with as a senior in high school--they were from Tuscon and they were much older and I auditioned for them and I got to sing with them and they were going to Vegas in a lounge. And it was a big lounge. I mean, these lounges weren't like the little lounges that you see now. They sat like 800 people or something. And I went around with that band and I was with another band and I kept trying to improve the quality of the musicians I was working with, tried to improve my circumstance. And I realized that being on the road with a band wasn't gonna do it for me and that's when I moved to LA.
Or--actually I moved to Arizona and I won Miss World USA and then I moved to LA. But that was kind of an accident.
Moving to LA?
No Miss World USA.
How was that an accident? That seems like something you'd have to do a lot of work for.
No, that was totally, totally, totally an accident. One hundred percent. I walked into a modeling agency to earn some extra money and they were putting this pageant on. A wonderful woman by the name of Gina Cord--she used to be a runway model--and she said, "I think you can win this." "Oh, I don't know my God..." (Laughs.) So, I entered and won Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona, Miss USA in--I don't know, three weeks or something.
Yeah, because I got in at the end and I entered really quickly and then I went to Phoenix and then it was like right away, you get shipped off to the other one.
So, I wasn't very good though.
What do you mean?
I wasn't very good. I was not a very good crown-wearer, banner-wearer. I just wasn't very good. I'd already been on my own, so I thought it was kind of cheesy.
Did you have to things that you didn't want to do?
You ask any beauty queen--they open grocery stores, they go in May's in front of a cosmetics (counter). I mean, it looks really glamourous much more than it really is. And there's no talent in this at all.
But, what it gave me was a bit of an entrée for curiosity, if nothing else, when I moved to LA. "Oh she's Ms. So-and-So. Well, we wanna see her." But then you have to produce. You have tobe able to do a good reading. They may see you, but they don't take you very seriously.
So, how did your first reading go?
Oh, I was horrible. Cold readings are the worst. It was humilatron time. And there were no parts for women at that time. There were no parts.
No. You could be someone's girlfriend, a secretary, a hooker, a mommy. I mean, there wasn't a lot of--there was that group of us. Kate Jackson was working but Farrah (Fawcett) and myself and Jaclyn Smith and a whole bunch of the same girls that later on got series. We were all going on the same auditions. We'd walk in and I'd see Farrah there. "Well, I'm not gonna get this one!"
Did that happen to you?
Did it ever happen the other way around?
I'm sure! I don't remember it happening that way, but I'm sure it did. Particularly after Wonder Woman, I would get a lot of Movies of the Week that they wouldn't necessarily be getting--not that Farrah really needed it, but that was just kind of the way it was. And once Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman--and I actually just saw Linday Wagner in Palm Springs and we used to be really great friends and we kind of rekindled our friendship when she came to hear me sing in Palm Springs. It was great, a lot of great memories. But it was her show and my show that kind of broke--"Oh, women can get ratings." Don't get me wrong, there was Carol Burnett, there was Mary Tyler Moore, there was LaVerne and Shirley, there was Angie Dickinson. But it was a different genre, it was a different group.
How was it different?
Well, comedy. A lot of comedy. And then Angie had to share her thing with a man because they didn't think a woman could carry a show.
So, when you first started doing Wonder Woman, was there a lot of pressure to deliver ratings?
Of course! It's just money. It's really just a bottom line, dollars and cents, ratings, that sort of things. It really is. But being at the forefront, I didn't realize how absolutely phenomenal it was to have a successful series of any kind. So I kind of took it for granted and started singing and I was singing all over the world.
You started singing again while doing Wonder Woman?
Yeah, I was singing and doing jingles and studio work and writing music when I quit to move to LA. And I also had a recording contract in England. When I was over there for the Miss World pageant, I did a couple of sides for EMI. The problem that I ran into--and everybody does, everybody has stumbling blocks, everyone has their stuff. So, when I moved to LA I was told, "Don't tell anyone that you're a singer. Because they don't want a singer who's trying to act, they want an actor who's serious about acting." So, when I got famous and I wanted to sing, (I heard)--"Oh, here's another actress who thinks she can sing."
Really? So the acting didn't help in exposing your other talents?
It did. No, it did because I did five specials for CBS. I did a lot but there was a perception. I was basically on the road since I was seventeen and working in bars and clubs until I had my son. And when I got pregnant with my son, I decided I didn't want them to live a life on the road. It just isn't healthy.
And when you're working in show business, how is to have a family?
Well, something will sacrifice and there really isn't a choice. And it wasn't a sacrifice.
What wasn't a sacrifice?
Not singing or being on the road or pursuing things that took me away. It was a privilege. I tried to do a couple of series, a few things. And you know, I'm missing my daughter's third birthday. You know we are the stars--or at least we think we are--of our families. The center of attention and focus. I mean, that's just the way we think. And I think it is not in the natural order to always have the focus being on your parent. When you're out becoming, you know? So, I didn't expose my kids to very much of that at all.
How did you keep them out of the limelight?
I just didn't do things that I took them to where there would be a lot of fans. People would recognize me and they'd kind of get that and realized that other people kind of thought it was a big deal, but that was--
How did you explain that to them?
With the exception of my daughter, when someone said "Oh, you look just like your mom." And she said, "I don't think I do: you've got short hair, I've got long hair," you know, "I'm little, you're old," But the focus was always on what they were doing. I'd drop whatever I need to drop to be around when they have time now. And I really asked my son, it was his senior year, about how he felt about me going away to England to do Chicago that year and he said, "Go for it, Mom." And that was really nice of him. And that started all of this and I'm having a ball. And I'm glad to be doing it. I love it. I have a great time.
In addition to performing at Lincoln Center, you're also working on a new album. What's it like?
Well, I wrote a song for my daughter and that will be on the album when it comes out. It is a collection of songs from various genres but they're--I do what I want to do, basically. I do the songs I feel like singing at the time the album's being made. And I always approach the music in a different way if it's a cover, which most of them are. It's not really a cover because I treat it as though someone handed me a piece of music with lyrics on it and I get to do what I want with it. Which is what it is, I mean you may have heard it one way but it's not just to do it differently. It's reimagining the song. It's not putting a reggae beat, it has to feel like once you've heard it that way, hearing it the old way, you couldn't even imagine it anymore. Like that.