Sunday, May 11, 2014

Interview with (another) granddaughter of Wonder Woman’s creator

At a 2013 Virginia school visit, I met Nancy Wykoff, a teacher who is also the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. Marston lived with two women—his wife Elizabeth and another woman with whom he also had an intimate relationship, Olive.

 Olive (in bracelets), Joye Hummel Murchison, 
Elizabeth, William

Nancy is the granddaughter of William and Olive, and she kindly granted me an interview, her first.

As a companion (and sometimes contradictory) piece, Christie Marston, granddaughter of William and Elizabeth and a curator of the Wonder Woman Network, also kindly granted me an interview.

Your grandfather died in 1947 so I presume you never met him?

Correct—he died before I was born.

According to family who knew him, what kind of person was he?

Intelligent, wide open to “outside the box” thinking, and charismatic.

Any funny stories about him? In particular any funny Wonder Woman-related stories?

Really nothing Wonder Woman related, aside from his habit of digging in his heels and refusing to make her something other than his own creation.

Do you know what inspired him to create Wonder Woman?

Sure…my grandmother. Ha! (The story goes that Charlie Gaines suggested, partly in jest, that William Moulton Marston write a comic. WMM went home and spoke with Gram; she said yes, but that it had to be a woman hero as there were already plenty of males. Thus Wonder Woman.)


William and Elizabeth

What amuses me today is that DC seems to have forgotten that Wonder Woman was created by a psychologist hired to help them succeed, not by one of their regular writers. The different perspective resulted in a different type of character, and it was a very successful venture. Yet now they’ve pretty much thrown away all that made Wonder Woman work so well—after paying for that psychological advice. WMM’s DISC theory is still in strong use today, so we know that his psych theories are not outdated…maybe they need to review their thinking a bit?

Do you know about any controversy he had to deal with surrounding Wonder Woman?

Just the ongoing battle to stick to his own creation.

Do you what his opinion of Wonder Woman was?

I believe that he wrote Wonder Woman as his ideal woman/person.

Is Wonder Woman mentioned on his gravestone?

I’ve never seen his gravestone (Gram was very sorry that she caved and allowed him to be buried rather than cremated; certainly wasn’t into hanging out graveside), but I cannot imagine even a slim possibility that Wonder Woman would be mentioned. [NOTE: It appears he has no gravestone.]

What do you do for a living?

At this moment in time, I get to play with Wonder Woman! (Okay, so it’s not exactly a living, but it is what I do.)

My father started collecting Wonder Woman memorabilia about 14 years ago and amassed so much that [he] needed a museum to house the collection. I’ve spent the past five years organizing and displaying all the fun Wonder Woman goodies! I was astounded by the volume and variety of Wonder Woman stuff.

Due to my quirks, I couldn’t just put things on shelves; I had to know what everything was and when/where it came from. Naturally, the more I learned, the more I knew what was missing… (Dad likely rues the day he got me involved!)

Dad also wanted a website to show his museum, so I’ve learned a little about website building as well. And since it is really about Wonder Woman, I couldn’t possibly just let it be pics of memorabilia… (Uh huh, that one rollerballed too!)

What is the oldest piece of Wonder Woman memorabilia you own?

Harry Peter sketches from the early 1940s, which amused me enough to have hung them on my living room wall for about 30 years. Aside from that, I have a giant Wonder Woman clock from 1978 and a watch from 1977; Gram had received them as sample Wonder Woman merchandise from DC and thought—correctly—that I would enjoy them.

I was told that your family still owns Wonder Woman. Does that mean that DC Comics needs the family’s approval for all Wonder Woman stories and products?

No, DC/Warner Bros. has full artistic control. The Marston family has zero input. Since Gram died in 1993, DC has been delighted with the silence from the family… (Hahaha—you’ve hit on one of my pet peeves! I would most certainly not be quiet if I had the choice; that decision, however, is not mine to make.)


Elizabeth

Do you pay attention to the narrative changes DC has made to the character?

I gave up comics for novels when I was six or seven. I picked up a Wonder Woman comic in the early 1970s, burst out laughing at what she had become, and did not repeat the experience all too frequently.

Since returning to the Wonder Woman world, I have—primarily from my very well-versed Wonder Woman friends—learned much of what happened over the years. Some I’ve read, some I’ve glossed over.

Strangely, though, I am a big fan of a few Wonder Woman writers and artists; people who clearly grasp the “real” Wonder Woman. For me, that would be Wonder Woman from the original comics. (When I was three, we would go visit Gram in NYC; after hellos, I ran for the bookcase holding the bound comics and spent the entire time immersed in those books. To me, Gram and Wonder Woman are pretty much the same person. Not surprisingly, I get annoyed when I see Wonder Woman mired in angst and anger and petty thinking…that’s not the real Wonder Woman!)

Tim Hanley’s new book Wonder Woman Unbound gives a great evolution of Wonder Woman’s character over the years, and relates it to the mood of the moment very well. (That was the book I needed five years ago!)

Who would you like to see play Wonder Woman in a movie?

Honestly, I’m pretty useless in the celebrity knowledge department. I couldn’t possibly speak with any authority on known actresses.

The actress needs to look the part, of course, but what matters most to me is her attitude. Nobody—regardless of how skilled—can “act” ethics. They either have ‘em or don’t. Wonder Woman requires a person who has integrity, intelligence, and a sense of humor—and actually cares about the world and its inhabitants. Attitude always leaks through.

Were you ever Wonder Woman for Halloween?

No.

What do the kids in the family think of the family’s connection to Wonder Woman?

Fun!

What is your relationship with Nancy Wykoff, granddaughter of Olive?

Nancy is my cousin. I met her only a couple of times but of course “knew” her through Gram. Gram and Dots (Nancy’s grandmother) kept the family connected. I can say, however, that I wish I did live closer because I was totally taken with her intelligence and sense of humor when we last met (which matches entirely with the story Gram related of Nancy’s junior high principal having fits about the essay Nancy wrote concerning a very popular religious story…).

Have you been interviewed before about this?

I have. 

Anything you’d like to add?

Yes. A little side note on why Wonder Woman matters.

Due to some very out-of-character depictions of Wonder Woman a few years ago, I got together with some Wonder Woman friends and started Share the Wonder, a project to collect messages from Wonder Woman fans worldwide telling why Wonder Woman holds a special place in their hearts. The results have been amazingly consistent, despite the enormous diversity of her fans.

My summary thoughts after reading the Wonder Woman messages:

What makes Wonder Woman unique? And why is she still “alive”?

She’s real to people. A hero. A comfort. A friend. An inspiration. A role model who actually does make the world a better place.

The true life stories that I’ve been reading are mind-blowing. [They are from] very different people; very diverse. Age, gender, politics, race, religious preference, sexual orientation, education, economic and social class all go by the wayside.

The common theme to almost all can be summed up simply [this]: human values. People want and need someone in their lives who represents and upholds values which are dear to them. People are sick of war and misery and lies and suffering; sickened by all of man’s inhumanity to man. People want a role model who points the way to a better life.

Wonder Woman has been that someone for generations. She has inspired individuals to be their best. She has solaced and encouraged. She has helped people make that extra effort.

Wonder Woman may have started out as pen and ink on a comic page, but she has become a very real—and very valuable—part of our world.

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