This past weekend, the remarkable story behind Wonder Woman was unveiled in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. The super biopic dives beyond the pen name Charles Moulton to the American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who dreamed up the Amazon princess Diana with the inspiration of the extraordinary women in his life, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne.
For decades, this loving triad was either smugly ignored or the subject of sneering gossip. (Christine Marston, Wiliam Marston’s granddaughter, has called the film “a work of fiction.”) But long-time Wonder Woman fan Angela Robinson made it her mission to unearth the unconventional love story which birthed the goddess. CBR spoke with Robinson over the phone about Professor Marston and the Wonder Women‘s most taboo aspects, and one curious omission.
After recalling her Wonder Woman lunch box and devotion to the the Linda Carter-fronted TV series, Robinson revealed it wasn’t until production wrapped on her debut feature D.E.B.S. in 2003 that she heard anything about the Marstons. That was when Jordana Brewster gifted her director a book about the history of Wonder Woman. “There was one chapter in there on the Marstons,” Robinson remembers, “I read it, and it just blew my mind. It was such an incredible story in that era.”
Aside from the polyamorous relationship that made them the source of gossip, the Marstons invented the lie detector ahead of Wonder Woman, raised a family together and faced the ire of Josette Frank; a children’s author and advocate who took issue with the books’ recurring bondage and BDSM imagery, which came from the Marstons’ sex lives.
“There was just so much in it,” Robinson marveled. “I became totally obsessed with telling their story.”
As a self-described queer filmmaker, Robinson approached their lives with a more modern, sex-positive and LGBTQA+ friendly perspective than many past biographers bothered. But it was a process. “When I began my project about eight years ago, I thought I would write a movie about a man who had a wife and his mistress, that’s kind of what initially I thought that story was.” But she felt that take on the Marstons was “incongruous” to the Wonder Woman stories that grew from it, which were “overwhelming positive.”
“I wanted to do my own investigation,” she said. “Then, I kept researching. I was like, ‘Oh, Olive and Elizabeth lived together for 38 years after Marston dies. Elizabeth named her only daughter after Olive.’ There was so much love in their life.” She added, “There’s a bunch of facts about the Marstons about that are indisputable, that everybody agrees on. Then, there’s a lot that are open interpretation. The film is definitely my interpretation of their story.”
Realizing her audience may not be easily charmed by this three-way romance, Marstons made a creative decision that has divided critics. “I made a decision early on to approach it like your classic, prestige biopic,” Robinson revealed. “I was like, ‘Why should I tell their love story in some other way?’ I just wanted it to be organic and accessible. I also felt that the content itself, there are a lot of ideas in the film may have potentially been controversial. I thought, ‘I’m going to tell a story about unconventional people using a lot of those bells and whistles, very accessible, conventional storytelling.’ Just because I thought that was a lot of what Marston did, Marston wrote this book called The Emotions of Normal People.”
“The first line in it is ‘Are you normal?’ Which just really struck me, and I found it very emotional, this idea of ‘Are you normal?’ I thought why not tell the story is the most ‘normal’ way possible,” she continued. “I didn’t want to wink, or put anything in quotes, and I really didn’t want to otherize their experience. I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, look at what those people are doing. Aren’t they kinky and weird?’ I wanted it to feel like just a love story. I could totally see how these people fell in love with each other, and I’m rooting for them to be together.”
Robinson did break from biopic convention by shifting protagonist and perspective from Professor Marston to the Wonder Women. “I started writing the movie from Dr. Marston’s point of view,” Robinson explained, “Then, I quickly realized that if you’re going to write about Wonder Woman, you also have to write about the women. I started exploring their point of view. The movie really distinctly shifts point of view.” She added, “I found that it was really important to tell everybody’s story, and to have everybody’s arc. It starts with Dr. Marston, but then it switches to Elizabeth’s point of view. Then, it switches to Olive’s point of view, and then back to Marston’s. It does a round robin, where I begin to think of their relationship in the movie, and as characters, as a tripod. You couldn’t leave somebody’s point of view for too long, you needed all three of them to sustain it, and to sustain their relationship, and to sustain the movie.”
However, this bold biopic did leave somebody key out of the origin story of Wonder Woman. Today comic historians may regard H.G. Peter as a co-creator of iconic superhero, but he gets only a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman. “That’s just a bummer,” Robinson confesses. “I would’ve love to have spent so much more time in the publishing world, specifically with Sheldon Mayer, and Harry Peter… Honestly, time and budget [are why I didn’t]. We had to shoot the movie in 25 days. I would’ve loved to dive more into it, but I just didn’t have enough time to kind of explore more. ”
This omission aside, Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is a sensational and scintillating biopic that gives an awe-striking insight into the birth of Wonder Woman and a rousing romance unlike the big screen has ever seen.
Directed by Angela Robinson and starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is now in theaters.
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