PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN
Stranger Than Fiction
Almost a decade ago, writer/director Angela Robinson (True Blood, The L Word),
through a coffee table book about Wonder Woman, of whom she was a lifelong fan,
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
emotion and blood pressure). Also contained in the chapter was a discussion of
bondage controversy surrounding the Wonder Woman comics in its early days and
polyamorous relationship with Elizabeth and one of his college students, Olive
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
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
character of Wonder Woman, which debuted in the early 1940s, was created as
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
Robinson, "looks and body language through which thoughts and intimacy are
The power exchange was an important component of the story."
In order to explore the bondage element of the Marston triangular relationship,
with female dominatrices, "because I wanted it to be explained from a woman's
to include the emotional and intellectual reasons Marston found it attractive.
explained that the submissive person is usually in charge, the guide to what's
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
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
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
seller. Other similarly themed books followed.
During a social encounter with producer Amy Redford, Robinson mentioned her long
project, and Redford expressed interested in reading the script.
For Redford, it proved to be love at first sight. "The script was timely and
moving and interesting and strange," she says. "I couldn't believe this story
hadn't been told
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
combination of fascinating male and female characters in the same story," she
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
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
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
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
producer Terry Leonard. "The Wonder Woman aspect of the story proved to be our
selling tool in raising financing," he says. "And once people read the script
passionate about it."
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