RIP Lyle Waggoner, 1935-2020

Sadly, we’ve lost one of my childhood heroes. Lyle Waggoner, who starred as Steve Trevor in the first season of Wonder Woman and the character’s son, Steve Trevor Jr., in the other two seasons of Wonder Woman, died yesterday. He also appeared for several years in The Carol Burnett Show. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Wonder Woman 1.13 – Wonder Woman in Hollywood

For the end of Wonder Woman‘s run on ABC, they brought back Debra Winger and Carolyn Jones, along with writer Jimmy Sangster, for one of those “run around the backlot” stories that were common in the 1970s. This time some Nazis mount a plan to kidnap four of America’s greatest war heroes by convincing General Blankenship to let all four appear in a morale-boosting movie. At the same time, Drusilla returns to the States to remind Diana that she needs to come home for Paradise Island’s 2000-year anniversary, so she gets to have lots of hot dogs and ice cream along with a new adventure.

Overall, it isn’t a bad story, and much better than the previous two, but it does have the feeling of end-of-season budget woes, and one of the actors almost sinks the whole thing. Robert Hays guest stars as one of the four great war heroes, but the big secret is that he’s really a coward who lucked into a situation where he came out smelling of roses. This is immediately obvious from his first scene. In his defense, this was very early in Hays’ career. He got better.

Our son didn’t mind. He really loved this one, which had lots of opportunities for the heroines to throw villains around. Drusilla is formally called “Wonder Girl” by Hays right at the end, but unfortunately, this would be the final appearance of the character. There have been sixty gajillion different Wonder Girls in the pages of DC Comics, but Debra Winger’s version of Drusilla outshines all of them.

ABC cancelled Wonder Woman, citing the expense of doing a period show along with their desire to drop some of their superhero programming. Funny how in 1977, the two Bionic series and Wonder Woman were thought excessive on ABC, and forty years later, shows like these dominate the CW. Anyway, CBS picked it up, moved the storyline to the present day, and teamed it with The Incredible Hulk for two solid years on Friday nights.

We won’t be watching the CBS Wonder Woman. All credit to Lynda Carter, whose acting skills improved exponentially every week and who left the show looking even more gorgeous than when she began it, but it was the worst kind of cheesy, fad-chasing seventies pablum, with stories about teen idols and skateboarders, and Wolfman Jack as an evil DJ. There were minor format changes every few months, a cute robot like R2-D2, and a completely bizarre hail mary in the final episode setting up a new format, with Wonder Woman joining a team of amateur crimefighters that included an indestructible man and a chimpanzee. There’s exactly one episode I wouldn’t mind seeing again, a creepy one with John Carradine as the voice of a disembodied brain.

After the show was cancelled, Lynda Carter made a million TV movies and variety specials and recorded a couple of LPs, was the face of Maybelline for a while, and co-starred with Lee Horsley in the not-awful ’90s western Hawkeye. She had a small part in Sky High, a film that’s better than anybody expected, and that includes the people who made it. She was in Smallville at least once, and appears once in a while as the president with a big secret in Supergirl. Lyle Waggoner, who got the oddball chance to play Steve Trevor Jr. in the retooled series but was gradually phased out so that Lynda Carter could have a new handsome co-star each week, mostly retired from acting a couple of years later, after starting a business selling home-away-from-home trailers for movie shoots, but occasionally appears in amusing projects like the 2003 TV movie Return to the Batcave.

Wonder Woman 1.12 – The Bushwhackers

So here’s the episode where Wonder Woman wears a red blouse and long white trousers instead of her usual outfit. According to legend, Roy Rogers agreed to guest star in this episode of Wonder Woman on the condition that Lynda Carter put some clothes on. I’m not 100% sure I believe that producer Greg Berlanti would agree to host any actor on Supergirl who’d make a similar demand about changing Melissa Benoist’s costume.

Was it worth it? Well, the episode is dull and dry – it’s about rustlers stealing cattle for “the mob” and the black market during wartime rationing and targeting a kindly rancher who’s taken in five war orphans – but I distinctly remember my parents being really impressed that Roy Rogers was in this episode. All the kids in the 1940s who could see Rogers’ cowboy movies loved them. Maybe it meant a spike in the ratings that week? I’m actually a little curious now.

Sadly, our son really didn’t enjoy this story. He was squirmy and restless and very disappointed, especially since he told us after last night’s episode of Ultraman that he had really wanted to watch Wonder Woman instead. Maybe the next one will go over better.

Henry Darrow plays the villain in this one. A couple of years previously, when Harry O, in which Darrow co-starred as Lt. Quinlan, moved production from San Diego to LA, they gave David Janssen a new police contact, freeing him up to guest star in practically everything made for TV in the 1970s. In fact, he’d be back on Wonder Woman just ten months later playing a different villain.

Wonder Woman 1.11 – Formula 407

Several months ago, I read a detailed episode guide to Wonder Woman and was surprised that this episode, in which Steve and Diana fly to Argentina – and boy, does California do a laughable job pretending to be Argentina this week – to obtain a secret formula that will make rubber as strong as steel, didn’t sound at all familiar. Watching it tonight, it kind of rings a bell, but nothing in it stands out at all. It’s a “heroes tied up in the basement while the Nazis threaten to kill the professor’s daughter” story, and it is the most ponderous hour of this series, by leagues.

It is talky and long and basically a half-hour of plot padded out to an hour. I’d say it’s a tedious bore, but with the exception of a long scene at a formal party at the professor’s house, our son really enjoyed this one, somehow. Good, I’m glad that he enjoyed this more than us.

Of note on the production front: the story is by Elroy Schwartz, brother of sixties sitcom superstar Sherwood. Guest stars include John Devlin as the Nazi-of-the-week and Maria Grimm as the professor’s daughter.

Wonder Woman 1.10 – Judgment from Outer Space (part two)

Ah, yes, the corridors episode. Predating Castle Wolfenstein by years, in this episode Wonder Woman and Andros run up and down lots of hallways in the underground fortress of Schloss Markheim with a series of locked doors on either side. The far wall is either blank or has one or two different combinations of swastikas and eagles. Of course, it’s the same set, redressed in slightly different ways, just like the long central hallway of my childhood home was the same hallway no matter how many times my friends and I would barrel up and down the thing, turning around and pretending we were racing down another corridor.

This episode sparked a million games of escaping every conceivable enemy fortress, and it retains its weird, imaginative power. “I loved it when they ran around the Nazi building!” our son exclaimed. Then he looked around and confessed “I have to get some ants out of my pants,” before barreling toward the front door.

This was the last episode for Tim O’Connor’s Andros. Wonder Woman turns down his offer to see the galaxy with him, and he leaves Earth with a promise to return and ask her out again in 1992. As it turned out, Andros would return the next season, when the show moved to the present day, so he waited 35 years, not 50. In his return appearance, Andros would be played by the ever-so-slightly younger and hunkier Dack Rambo. I loved the bit at the end when Steve Trevor confides to Diana that he’s glad that Andros is gone, because he saw how Wonder Woman looked at Andros, and he didn’t want the competition.

Wonder Woman 1.9 – Judgment from Outer Space (part one)

You want a time capsule look at what science fiction right before Star Wars was like, look no further than this story by Stephen Kandel. It was broadcast thirty-two years after World War Two ended, and is forty years old today. It is closer, historically, to the war than it is to us. There was a feeling then that space travel was right around the corner, which is what this story is about.

Tim O’Connor, who was then best known for a few years starring in Peyton Place, plays a scientist named Andros. He’s sent by the Council of Planets to determine whether Earth would become a threat to other civilizations. I’m not sure who came up with that concept first. The Day the Earth Stood Still did it in 1951 and it seemed to be repeated in comics and juvenile-aimed short fiction for decades. What results here is a very slow and very measured story that the director, Alan Crosland, just can’t rescue. It’s talky and remarkably predictable, but it’s full of that seventies feeling that space travel was in our immediate future. Four decades later, we still have nowhere to go.

It succeeded in worrying our son, at least. He didn’t really care for this episode, either, but I think that’s because he’s very concerned that Andros, inevitably captured by Nazis, will not report back in time and his testy colleagues in outer space will blow up our planet. At least he’ll only have one night to worry about what will happen next instead of the week we had to spend in 1977.

Wonder Woman 1.8 – Last of the Two Dollar Bills

Steve Trevor finally asked Wonder Woman out on a date – of sorts – this week! He met her for a private tour of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, which is actually a pretty original idea for a first date. Naturally, this happens because the bureau has been targeted by Nazi counterfeiters. There’s a deeply bizarre coda to this episode, where it’s explained that to combat any future German attempts to flood our market with phony $2 bills, they’re taking them out of circulation. In our world, they still print $2s, though they’re quite uncommon, and when they do make some, the print runs are much, much lower than $1s, by a factor of about 45 million to 8.4 billion a year.

There are some very familiar faces in this episode. There’s Barbara Anderson, who had played Eve on Ironside and Mimi, the little-seen agent in a couple of months of Mission: Impossible. Her boss, top Nazi agent Wotan, is played by James Olson, a familiar face on seventies with dozens of credits. He’s probably best remembered today as one of that gang of expendables in the Battlestar Galactica story “Gun on Ice Planet Zero.” But the most familiar thing this week is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The episode is filmed on the Culver City backlot that Batman had used a decade earlier. The bureau is the same facade as Gotham police headquarters!

I wasn’t sure that our son would enjoy this one, but he really did. I had to pause to explain a clue – the villains don’t recognize a menu that Wonder Woman had autographed as anything important and just left it on the counter of the cafe across from the bureau for anybody to use – but he loved a scene where Steve Trevor defuses a bomb (or “took out the clock and made the dynamite not explode”) and also when Wonder Woman hurled her tiara at the villain’s raft, puncturing it and preventing his escape by sea.

Wonder Woman 1.7 – The Pluto File

Would you believe Robert Reed – dad Mike on The Brady Bunch – as an international super-assassin? He honestly pulls it off, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Before he got typecast as everybody’s favorite sitcom dad, Reed had been a very highly respected dramatic actor. He co-starred with EG Marshall on The Defenders for five seasons, and almost every one of his dozens of non-Brady roles saw him playing a huge variety of dramatic parts, either in films or as a go-to guest star in practically every American prime-time show of the seventies. The Brady Bunch, however, was such an earthquake on popular culture that it’s easy to overlook all the cops, lawyers, criminals, and doctors that he played.

Earthquake. Hee hee. This one’s about a professor, played by I Dream of Jeannie‘s Hayden Rorke, who develops a way to start earthquakes, and Reed plays the Falcon, an international mercenary who wants to steal the formula and start an atomic explosion outside Washington. Also, he’s carrying the bubonic plague. The Falcon doesn’t do things by halves.

Wonder Woman 1.6 – Wonder Woman vs. Gargantua!

Our son hasn’t bolted behind the sofa quite the way he did tonight in some time. When Wonder Woman first meets the programmed-by-Nazis gorilla, she has to jump back as he lunges at her from his cage. He was over the top of the sofa and down on the ground with a whack, and then he gingerly made his way over to my side of the couch for some next-to-dad reassurance.

This episode’s heart is in the right place, but it sure is dopey. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure you can’t train gorillas anywhere nearly as quickly as it’s depicted here, and I’m also pretty sure that, even in 1942, military policemen knew better than to try to tackle a seven foot tall gorilla in hand-to-hand combat.

But never mind, because the guest cast is amazing. Robert Loggia and John Hillerman play Nazis, and Gretchen Corbett (Beth from The Rockford Files) is Gargantua’s trainer, and the gorilla himself is none other than our old pal Mickey Morton. About one month before this was originally broadcast (on Dec. 18 1976), Morton had worn a different furry costume as a seven foot monster in a Land of the Lost episode.

This suit, incidentally, has a terrific mask. I wonder whether it was reused from the 1974 Planet of the Apes TV series? The rest of the suit is pretty woeful, but the mask is of very high quality and gives Morton a lot of room for expression.

Wonder Woman 1.5 – The Feminum Mystique (part two)

So some Nazis attack Paradise Island. The reality of seventies television means that we didn’t get what modern superhero teevee would do in this sort of situation. I can totally imagine the team that makes those four shows on the CW pulling off a full-scale pitched battle, with Amazon archers bringing down German soldiers on the beaches. Here, bizarrely, the expeditionary force happens to choose to land on the remote part of the island where the Amazons mine feminum, from which they forge their bracelets. And so the eight soldiers run into Diana’s group of unarmed (!!!) Amazons, and they overcome the women with gas grenades.

No, nobody gets an arrow or a javelin in the chest. The Amazons are content to… well, throw the villains into the water. Oh, the seventies, how you disappoint us so. Even before the Nazis get their minds wiped before being shipped into Allied hands, they have no idea that the island has a large population.

On the other hand, our son was incredibly pleased by the stunts and the tame violence. He loved seeing the villains tossed into the pond, as well as the climax, in which Wonder Woman stops an experimental jet from being stolen by an agent by grabbing a wing and letting it spin in circles. Full credit to the producers and Lynda Carter for pulling that off: it wasn’t a stuntwoman, and it looked pretty dangerous.

Honestly, my favorite part of the episode came when John Saxon’s villainous character briefly justified the Nazi cause to Carolyn Jones’s Queen Hippolyta. I say this not because of the scene’s content, but because these are two really great actors working extremely well together. Saxon is still working; he has nearly 200 credits at IMDB and I notice that we’ll be seeing him again down the line in other projects.

Overall, it’s a good story, with some very intelligent bits – watching the villains determine Paradise Island’s location based on Drusilla’s recounting of constellations is really clever – and some very good acting, from the veterans as well as from newcomer Debra Winger. Times have changed and expectations have evolved, but for its day, this was not bad at all.

Wonder Woman 1.4 – The Feminum Mystique (part one)

The first two-part episode of Wonder Woman is another that everybody remembers. It introduces Debra Winger as Diana’s younger sister Drusilla. In other Paradise Island news, Carolyn Jones takes over the role of Queen Hippolyta, and Erica Hagen, who had been in a couple of first season Land of the Lost episodes, plays another Amazon named Dalma.

The Queen has decided that Diana has spent enough time in America and should return home to fulfill her duties. This is set in June 1942. I was saying the other week that this show would make more sense if it had been set in ’43, but now we’re meant to believe that Major Trevor washed ashore on the island in the spring and the queen thinks Diana should have ended the war already? Oddly, that’s precisely what John Saxon’s bosses in Germany say this week: a proactive Wonder Woman would end the war within weeks.

The original story was written by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, who would later create the iconic cop drama Cagney & Lacey, and the teleplay credited to regular Hammer Films scribe Jimmy Sangster, who had moved to California in the early seventies and was popping around various studios writing TV episodes. The title is a cute pun on Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, but it doesn’t make any sense in this show yet. “Feminum” is the name of the indestructible metal that the Amazons use for their bracelets, but that is not explained in part one of the story.

Our son really enjoyed this one, and was excited when Drusilla does a spin and turns into a costumed hero. He was less happy when she gets into trouble and is captured by John Saxon’s gang. I enjoyed the way that Drusilla is shown to be naive and doesn’t understand our culture, the way that Wonder Woman was all too briefly in the original film. But our son is still learning our culture as well, and I had to pause a couple of times to explain things like code phrases and how Drusilla’s yellow dress is garishly unlike what teens in 1942 were wearing.