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PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

Stranger Than Fiction
Almost a decade ago, writer/director Angela Robinson (True Blood, The L Word), was leafing through a coffee table book about Wonder Woman, of whom she was a lifelong fan, when she came across some startling facts about the origins of the comic book superhero. "There was one section that blew my mind," she recalls.

The chapter centered on the superhero's creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, who was also responsible for the lie detector test. (Marston invented the systolic blood pressure test, which he then combined with the polygraph, after his wife, Elizabeth suggested a connection between emotion and blood pressure). Also contained in the chapter was a discussion of the sexual bondage controversy surrounding the Wonder Woman comics in its early days and Marston's polyamorous relationship with Elizabeth and one of his college students, Olive Byrne.

The information was bare bones, but after some careful sleuthing, Robinson unearthed a trove of equally fascinating information. Robinson read Marston's treatise "Emotions of Normal People," in which he propounded his "DISC theory" that all human interaction is broken down into four behaviors: dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. She also discovered that the character of Wonder Woman, which debuted in the early 1940s, was created as psychological propaganda. "Marston believed that women were the superior sex and they should be running the world," Robinson notes. "When I shared all this information with my friends, they all said, 'you should write this as a movie.'"

Her initial impulse was to create a Marston biopic, "but the more I learned about Elizabeth and Olive, the more I realized that I couldn't understand him without understanding the role they'd played in his life."

In particular, she was intrigued by the fact that Elizabeth and Olive (by whom Marston had two children each), continued to live together for thirty-eight years after his death, signifying a bond of affection and commitment beyond their connection to Marston. "Elizabeth even named one of her daughters after Olive," Robinson mentions. "This wasn't the story of a wife and a mistress living together. What I was looking at was a love story between three people."

In writing about a polyamorous relationship, Robinson contends, changing point of view became an essential element. "Viewing the relationship from multiple perspectives was crucial in order for us to understand why the three of them stayed together."

The script begins on Marston, then shifts to his wife, Elizabeth, and finally, to Olive, the object of their desire. Further, "all the scenes examine a facet of Marston's DISC theory," says Robinson, "looks and body language through which thoughts and intimacy are communicated. The power exchange was an important component of the story."

In order to explore the bondage element of the Marston triangular relationship, Robinson met with female dominatrices, "because I wanted it to be explained from a woman's perspective and to include the emotional and intellectual reasons Marston found it attractive. My consultants explained that the submissive person is usually in charge, the guide to what's happening, which added another layer to their behavior."

The script she produced won high praise, but Robinson could find no takers. "Part of it was because independent movies are hard to make, and frankly some people just didn't get it," she observes. "I mean, after all, I'd written a love triangle in which the principles get involved in bondage and, along the way, one of them creates Wonder Woman, and I was asking audiences to root for their love. That's a pretty tall order."

Another factor was that Robinson was ahead of the curve. No sooner had she moved the project to the back burner than there was an explosion of interest in Wonder Woman and its creator. Part of it had to do with the scheduled appearance of the Wonder Woman character on film for the first time ever in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in order to build anticipation for a long in development Wonder Woman stand-alone feature film. Then, in 2014, Jill Lepore's book "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," which was excerpted in the New Yorker, became a best seller. Other similarly themed books followed.

During a social encounter with producer Amy Redford, Robinson mentioned her long cherished project, and Redford expressed interested in reading the script. For Redford, it proved to be love at first sight. "The script was timely and well-constructed and moving and interesting and strange," she says. "I couldn't believe this story hadn't been told before."

Not only were the female characters original and multi-faceted, Redford continues, but the male lead, Professor Marston, was a complex character as well. "You don't usually get the combination of fascinating male and female characters in the same story," she observes.

What separated the script from standard biopics, says Redford, was that in examining how the three central characters forged ahead with their lives in the face of opposition, "it invites us to reevaluate what we consider a family, and how that family can be made of up different constructs, something we are just now beginning to embrace as a society. Not only were the main characters' love for one another daring for the time, but so was the fact that Elizabeth and Olive were trying to have careers for themselves. They were true pioneers in that respect."

Another facet that stood out in Robinson's script, according to Redford, "is how it delineates the architecture of the Wonder Woman character through the experiences and lives of Marston, Elizabeth and Olive. We get to peer behind the curtain and discover where the essence of comic book superhero came from as well as her iconic symbols, the costume, the bracelets, the tiara." And it was this last element that vaulted the project from script to actual production, mentions producer Terry Leonard. "The Wonder Woman aspect of the story proved to be our strongest selling tool in raising financing," he says. "And once people read the script they became passionate about it."

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