By Genevieve Fox, Evening Standard
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Date Posted: 09/27/05 2:38:29pm
Lynda Carter is starring as Mama Morton in Chicago.
When Lynda Carter hit the stage as jailer Mama Morton in Chicago last night she gave it everything she's got. Sassy sisters are her lifeblood, after all. She made her name in her mid-twenties as Wonder Woman, the 1970s superheroine who left Paradise Island, where she lived in male-free Sapphic bliss, to save America.
The big-haired, chubby-cheeked Amazonian spun into action in a gold spangly stars-and-stripes corset and hot pants, with bullet-repellent bracelets on each arm and a gold lasso coiled above her seriously toned right thigh. Those red knee-high boots! That cleavage!
By the late 1980s Wonder Woman had done another costume change - as Supermom and hostess-mostess housewife. Married to super-whizz attorney Robert Altman, she was one half of a shimmering Washington couple.
Then, one day, the golden girl and former Miss USA saw power's underbelly when her husband was indicted for fraud in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal of 1992.
Her husband "kicked butt" and was acquitted. Carter, so strong during the trial, took solace in liquor - a bad move, since her mother's side of the family was riddled with alcoholics. One of her uncles died from the disease.
At 54, she looks terrific. Has she, er, had help? "I would not do the knife. It terrifies me. I've just seen people with all the money in the world look horrible." To paraphrase a Dolly Parton song, Carter looks a hell of a lot better than she has a right to, given the toll alcohol addiction takes on one's looks. The addiction, she said, "sneaked up on me" until, in the end, "it was a terror, like standing on a cliff and looking into the abyss.
"I had been so in control of everything in my life. My willpower, my tenacity had all worked for me. It didn't work for this. I always ended up, sooner or later, out of control.
"I drank to dull the pain. But if it worried me, I'd stop." And then, of course, she couldn't stop. "I was out of control, but my children never saw me intoxicated.
"I was really afraid of what people would think of me. There is so much shame and denial involved. I thought, how could anyone love anyone like me? I hated myself.
"I talk about my problem now, but I didn't at the time. I didn't want to be a poster child for reformed alcoholics. That's not all I am. It is a part of my life, and if I can help someone else to identify with the problem, great.
"I never really drank when I was younger. But then, one day, I kind of noticed I would drink differently to other people. It was over 10 years. It also affected me differently. Sometimes it didn't affect me at all, so I drank more than other people.
"Gradually, though, the times in between drinking got shorter. Still I didn't really get it. You hide it because of your job.
"After my husband's father died my husband said to me, 'Please get help.' I promised him if I couldn't do it on my own, then I would. That's when I went to Father Martin Ashley's clinic in Maryland, for four weeks.
"It was like a miracle. Everyone in the place - all the staff, all the patients - were in recovery. No one was saying you have a terrible disease. I learnt it wasn't me or my character, it was my body."
Today, Carter hasn't drunk for 10 years; the self-loathing is history. She clearly revels in who she is - and how she looks. As soon as the hairdresser
finishes blow-drying her freshly dyed chestnut hair she dashes into the laundry room, reappearing in a crushed black silk Robert Cavalli blouse with gold-lined cuffs dangling with gold charms.
"I wouldn't have surgery, but that's not to say I don't try to look as well as I can," she says with a toothy grin that's as shiny as it was in her Wonder Woman days. "I keep my weight down and struggle with the same 10lb and cellulite that everybody does."
Carter hasn't actually sung for 18 years. She's not fazed though. "It's like riding a bicycle," she says, "it will come back." Being on stage again, "that thrills me," she says, shutting her eyes, "to smell the greasepaint and all that. I really can't wait, oh God, no!"
Singing, she says, is what first got her noticed, on TV, aged five, then she sang through high school. Did her mother have stars in her eyes? "I think so. Sure she lived out her dream in some way. But she wasn't a stage mother."
At 21, she left for Hollywood, where she studied acting and did some recordings. Then, just when she had $25 left in her bank account, she got the Wonder Woman role. "It was a heady time, a wonderful experience," she says.
In 1979 she did a "Renée Zellweger", meeting "a fella manager type of person" called Ron Samuels (her manager, in other words) and marrying him in LA four months later.
She came to London for the first time a year later. "I played the London Palladium." She grins. "I did some recording. My album sold about three copies."
Two years later she had divorced her manager, by which time she had been the face of Maybelline cosmetics for 13 years. That is how she met "the cocky, extremely successful and handsome Washington lawyer" who would become her second husband.
Maybelline threw a dinner party for her. The sharp attorney was seated next to her. Was he charming?
"Killer charming," she says, throwing her head right back into the hairdresser's ribcage. "I knew right away he was everything I wanted in a mate. I thought he would be a great father, which he is, and a great husband. He's a lover of music and theatre. A well-rounded sort of guy. Athletic! Smart! Good-looking!"
Now he's hung up his pinstripes, having left the law six years ago. "He's bought a company that makes games for Xbox and PlayStation. Computer stuff. Loves it. He doesn't have to wear a suit."
Her easy smile drops when I ask about the trial. "It was horrible. But it was 12 years ago - '93. To tell you the truth, if you want to know about it you can look it up. But he" - she never once mentions her husband by name - "was brilliant.
"It was a witchhunt and he prevailed. You know how Washington is." I say I don't. "Car-ni-vor-ous," she says, fixing me with her pale blue eyes. "Like a beast. But he's moved on. What's the line? 'Living well is the best revenge?'"
Besides, everything is all right now. "He's deliriously successful. We have a ball. My kids are fantastic. I am starring in a West End musical and have two new movies." Disney's Sky High and The Dukes of Hazzard are both big-budget films.
It's a comeback after time out. Her son is now 17, her daughter 15. How has motherhood been? "I feel privileged with these particular human beings," she replies, by way, I think, of saying "great".
Her children, she says, "are full of piss and vinegar." I baulk. The phrase hardly smacks of maternal pride. "They're not goody-two-shoes kids," she explains. "But they are absolutely fascinating, astounding, smart, funny, talented."
So, Wonder Woman has had no low points as a mother. "Well, it is challenging," she concedes. "But I resent it when people say derogatory things about their kids, like, 'I had to put him in deep freeze until he was 17.' Get a grip. Wake up and smell the roses. It's a rollercoaster. Enjoy the ride! If you don't enjoy the ride, you shouldn't have gotten on in the first place." She would doubtless say the same of showbusiness.
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