Bracelets and black tie optional
Lynda Carter returns to San Francisco with a cabaret act
by Andy Mangels
It's been 37 years since she last played San Francisco, but fewer years since she graced TV screens all over the world as the shapely and smart superheroine Wonder Woman. Now, having appeared in dozens of films and TV series, headlined Las Vegas and London's West End stage, and raised a family, Lynda Carter is making a triumphant return to her roots when she debuts at SF's Empire Plush Room in An Intimate Evening with Lynda Carter, May 1-6.
"I think what's amazing, and what a lot of people don't know, is that Lynda started out as a singer," says Scott Stander, the concert promoter for the event. "I've been trying to get her back on the stage for over 10 years now. She stopped performing live when her son was born. But when she had raised her children, she decided to return to the stage."
Carter trained for the spotlight at an early age, making a talent-show debut at five, composing songs on her guitar at 10, and joining her first band at 14. As a member of "The Relatives" alongside future M*A*S*H star Gary Burghoff, Lynda made her Las Vegas debut at the Sahara. In February 1970, as the lead singer of "The Garfin Gathering," Carter toured the country, playing SF among her gigs. She told herself that if she ever had a hardcore gay and lesbian audience like Bette Midler, she would know she had made it.
Shortly thereafter, Carter competed in the Miss World USA pageant and won, taking her around the world performing with Bob Hope and others. Once the bejeweled tiara was off, Carter heard Hollywood calling and landed bit parts, before taking on the role of a lifetime â€” coincidentally, one with a different tiara. In 1974, Carter was cast in Wonder Woman, and began to film the series dressed in red, white, blue, and gold satin tights. "Unlike other superheroes, she attained her superpowers through hard work, through competition, a contest of will and skill."
Carter tried to tap into what she saw as Wonder Woman's appeal at her debut in 1941. "Kindness and goodness and hope and dreams and all the wonderful, human yearnings that we all have. To do the right thing and to have a happy life. She wanted everyone to have that. And she was not very impressed with herself. It was everyone else around her that was impressed. So I decided, early on, just to play the human being, not to play Wonder Woman. I never tried to do that 'larger than life.' I just wanted to play her for real."
Carter also played Diana Prince, the dowdier secret identity of Wonder Woman. "You know when you were a little kid, and you knew you were different? You knew there was something special about you and not everyone could see it? I think that's one of the things that women and gay men, certainly, identify with: that goddess within."
She landed a record deal, releasing the album Portrait in 1978. Headlining Caesar's Palace was next, then TV variety specials singing wi
Taking time off to raise her family, Carter has long become sanguine about her time as Wonder Woman. "It's still in the minds and hearts of people in a wonderful way. I decided that I can either make myself miserable, or I can embrace it. Is that all I am? No. Is that all I've ever done? No. Will it always be the one thing that people identify me as? Yeah, and so what? It's not a bad thing. I have had a delicious career, I have done so many things that I dreamed of doing, I'm not dead yet, and Wonder Woman's very cool."
The wife of Robert Altman, a prominent lawyer in Washington, DC, Carter is a fiercely Democratic regular at Capitol Hill functions. "When I first came here, I think there were one or two women in Congress. And now, there are a lot of women. I think women in politics give more of a sense of cooperation, of community, as opposed to who's the top-dog kind of mentality. I think there's the other side to women: 'Don't mess with me. Don't lie to me.' It's fine to have a little emotion within the halls of Congress, the judiciary, and the White House."
After playing a special London engagement as Mama Morton in Chicago, Carter began to long for the stage again. "It is the right time for me to start singing again. My daughter is old enough, and I didn't really want to do the night-lights-on-the-road thing until she was older." So she decided to do a small cabaret show first to test the waters. "I'm thrilled it's San Francisco."
In the Plush Room show, backed by a small musical ensemble directed by Johnny Harris, Carter will sing such songs as "Fever," "Put the Blame on Mame," James Taylor's "Secret o' Life," and "God Bless the Child," plus some medleys and songs from her TV specials.
Carter loves her gay fans, but says, "I don't really single them out." Still, she jokes about one familiar sight she expects she'll see more of: spinning fans. "You know, you'd see them out of the corner of your eye, and there'd be some guy with a beer belly, spinning around in the corner, going 'Wooo!' I mean, there's a picture for you!"
Lynda Carter plays the Empire Plush Room, in the York Hotel, 940 Sutter St., May 1-6. Tickets: (866) 468-3399 or go to www.EmpirePlushRoom.com