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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flying Blind with the Queens

Let's face it...I'm a child of the 70's. I was born in the late 60's but my childhood was spent in front of the TV during the best decade of television. Don't get me wrong. I know there are good shows on now and in recent years, but nothing that compares to the cheese on the boob tube then.

Case in point: Wonder Woman

For this I am only going to deal with the Lynda Carter version. Trust me, I will touch on the Cathy Lee Crosby one in a later post (btw, I actually like it).

Now I'm not going to talk about a specific episode or the update to the 70's from the 40's when the show changed networks. This is about two things.

The Queen and the plane.

Three actresses portrayed the queen in Wonder Woman. Two were Oscar® winners and the other was nominated. The queen (named Hippolyta or Hippolyte depending on which years you read the comics) went unnamed on the show.

Cloris Leachman played the queen in the pilot movie. She chewed the scenery in some scenes yet in others she seemed more royal. The pilot was written by Stanley Ralph Ross who was famous for his tongue-in-cheek scripts for Batman. He definitely wrote this one with tongue firmly in cheek.

Also, the cast was known for more comedic roles like Kenneth Mars, Red Buttons, Fannie Flagg, and of course Ms. Leachman. This is not to say that Cloris Leachman only did comedies, she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her role in The Last Picture Show. When talking one on one with her daughter Diana (soon to be Wonder Woman) she portrayed the little comedy bits that she was famous for or did things that I could see Phyllis Lindstrom do on Mary Tyler Moore.
While overseeing the competition (with Fannie Flagg) for the Amazon champion her regal persona stood out.

During the ABC World War II version of the TV series, the queen was portrayed by Carolyn Jones. Ms. Jones, famous for her role as Morticia on The Addams Family, played this role as a little more befuddled and motherly. Of course, her motherly quality came out of the fact that they had introduced Drusilla, Diana's little sister, soon to be Wonder Girl (Debra Winger).

Carolyn Jones still kept a royal air about her, but could become flustered by her youngest daughter. Ms. Jones also had an Oscar® connection when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in The Bachelor Party. Why she didn't come back for the second season when the show moved to CBS and the update, I don't know, but maybe John Saxon wouldn't let her return.

But Beatrice Straight, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her small role in Network, came in and played her in the most queenly way of all three.

Her queen was majestic and yet, because she loved her daughter Wonder Woman, could still be motherly.

I, of course, fell in love with Ms. Straight from her performance in Poltergeist. She only a appeared in a couple of episodes, one on the island, and another when her daughter contacted her through the mirror (yeah, I know).

The special effects for the TV show were great and still hold up well today. The "Wonder Jumps" (executed with wonderment by Jeannie Epper) were so much better than the bionic jumps on The Bionic Woman or The Six Million Dollar Man. The "Bullets and Bracelets" with the sparks coming off the bracelets controlled by Lynda using a device curled in the palm of her hand were believable. The super strength displayed by bending steel bars, holding back trucks, throwing men around were also done with sleight of hand techniques and special effects that didn't distract me or ruin my enjoyment of the show.

Then there was the Invisible Jet. What were they thinking?

The best representation they did was of course in the pilot. They super-imposed Lynda sitting in a chair onto a model. It looked okay. The plane tilted and except for the fact that the chair wasn't invisible, but looked more like my office chair at home without wheels, it passed as okay. They reused shots in another of the TV movies before it got greenlit for series.

Once they went to series, I guess it was too expensive to do that shot over and over, so they just put a doll in a clear plastic plane and hung it in front of a sky backdrop and played the dopiest music behind it. It floated like it was on strings in a marionette show.

But it got worse. The show got updated to the present time (late 70's) and of course the jet got a makeover too. It got sleeker and more stupid looking at the same time. They again put a doll in a clear plastic plane with barely any head room in front of new sky backdrops but the same dopey music.

I don't understand why they couldn't do some establishing shots like the original pilot and just reused them. The establishing shot of the three Fords in front of the Townsend Agency on Charlie's Angels is a good example. Do you think they parked the three cars every week in front of that building and went and shot it? No, they shot it with all three, or just two, or just one, or none and interchanged them based on the plot of the show. They could have done a day flight, a night flight, an action maneuver and a calm flight and just reused them for the remainder of the show. I'm sure the cost would have been minimal if it was spread over the entire season.

I'll review some episodes of the show in future What's On? Wednesday posts. There are some really campy shows that I have just got to put my two-cents in on.

Warner Bros./DC comics

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