Episode Title: The New Original Wonder Woman
Original Airdate: November 7, 1975
Like many hour-long television series’ in the 70’s and 80’s, Wonder Woman began its run with a TV-movie. This 90-minute premiere was divided into two episodes when the series made it to syndication, but we will look at it in its original form. So get ready to travel back to the 1940’s, when the world was at war, for the pilot episode The New Original Wonder Woman.
We begin behind enemy lines, deep inside the third reich, where Colonel Von Blasko (Kenneth Mars) is briefing Captain Drangel (Eric Braeden) on his new secret mission. He is to fly his bomber to launch an attack on the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. Specifically, he is to target one building in particular where a new weapon for the US is being developed. Little does Von Blasko suspect that his assistant, Nikolas (Henry Gibson), is using carrier pigeons to send this information on to the Allies.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Major Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) is dispatched to take down Drangel. The two pilots engage in battle over the ocean and both planes are destroyed. The fight even continues as they parachute down with Drangel shooting Trevor. Thing is, Trevor lands on an island, while Drangel lands in the jaws of some sharks. This island is called Paradise Island, and Trevor is found on the beach by the beautiful Princess Diana (Lynda Carter) and a friend. Neither one has ever seen a man before. You see, the island is inhabited only by women who have lived there for thousands of years having fled oppression in Rome and Greece.
Trevor is nursed back to health, but now someone must take him back to the US. Queen Hippolyta (Cloris Leachman) determines that a tournament will be held to determine who will take him back. However, she forbids Diana from participating. In the end, a blonde amazon wins after the tie breaking “bullets and bracelets” competition. Wouldn’t you know it, though, the winner is really Diana in disguise. Before leaving, she is given her iconic uniform, and then hops into her invisible plane to take Trevor back.
Diana drops Trevor off at a hospital and then tries to blend in. That’s tough to do considering her flashy outfit. She soon draws attention by stopping a bank robbery, deflecting the bullets of the crooks in the process. Eventually, she is signed by a shifty producer (Red Buttons) to do her bullet act on stage. This is where she’s given the name “Wonder Woman.”
Meanwhile, Von Blasko decides to attack the Brooklyn Navy Yard himself. Upon hearing the news, Trevor leaps from his hospital bed to head him off…however, he ends up getting captured. You see, his secretary, Marcia (Stella Stevens) is actually a Nazi agent. For that matter, so is the shifty producer Diana has been working with. When Diana learns that Steve has been captured, it’s up to Wonder Woman to take down the Nazi plane and save Major Trevor before it’s too late. Once the day is saved, Major Trevor is in need of a new secretary…so, enter Yeoman First Class Diana Prince.
Of the three seasons of Wonder Woman, only the first takes place during World War II. That took a lot of guts to even try. The show didn’t necessarily succeed with maintaining the atmosphere of a different time as the first season continued, but I certainly admire the attempt. In this episode we get some help with the war era atmosphere thanks to some good Nazis. That’s kind of weird to say, “good Nazis.” Two of our primary Nazis in this episode are played by actors that have been called upon to be a part of the Third Reich a few times in their careers. Kenneth Mars played the writer of the musical “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Mars is a perfect choice for playing a Nazi. He brings both a strong sense of villainy and a buffoonish quality that we like to see in our Nazis. Henry Gibson, who played an “Illinois Nazi” a few years after this episode aired in The Blues Brothers also brings some nice comedic touches to his part as a double agent.
The whole supporting cast really is fantastic. Stella Stevens does a nice job as the secretary who swoons over Steve Trevor in the office but reports to the Nazis once he’s out of sight. Red Buttons is good at doing slimey, and we also get Severn Darden in a small part as another Nazi Agent. On the good guys side, Cloris Leachman is a treat as Wonder Woman’s mother. Leachman is a very skilled comedic performer and she definitely brings a subtle comedic streak to her performance. At one moment her character talks about how she called her island “Paradise” because their are no men…yet she shows some traits of having a school-girlish crush on Trevor, and even a bit of jealousy that her daughter is the one who gets to escort him back. Oh, and one other supporting player I need to mention, in a bit part as a cantankerous cab driver is none other than Anne Ramsey…future star of The Goonies and Throw Mamma From the Train.
It should come as no surprise, though, that the highlight of the cast is Lynda Carter in the title role. Wonder Woman is a character that has long struggled to make a return to the small screen. The character actually didn’t appear in a feature film until The LEGO Movie. Now we have the live action version played by Gal Gadot, but it remains to be seen if the character will succeed in her own feature. I think part of why this has been a challenge is that Lynda Carter made for some awfully big go-go boots to fill. Carter is an absolutely magnetic presence on screen. She’s everything Wonder Woman should be: powerful, confident, and strong…not to mention gorgeous. The tone with which Carter approaches her role is perfect and makes even the more ridiculous aspects of the story compelling. One of the best moments comes when she and Stella Stevens square off late in the episode. Stevens boasts about having been “Nuremberg Judo Champ” before a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two ladies that is one for the record books. It’s a little silly but Carter really sells it, which is what she’d do throughout this somewhat campy series.
We see a number of series hallmarks for the first time here. The show tried to create the feel of a comic book come to life by having scenes begin with an establishing shot coupled with a yellow box with the words “Washington D.C.”, or something like that. Much like you would see in a comic book panel. We also get the first spin transforming Diana into Wonder Woman. There is no explosion, lights or sound effects like we would get later on. Plus, we also see Diana actually toss aside her clothing as she transforms. In later episodes her garments just disappeared and were replaced with the stars and stripes outfit.
Yes, there is certainly some silliness here. I watched this episode with my two teenage kids and they just couldn’t get past the Invisible Jet. My son exclaimed, “the plane is invisible, but you can see her sitting in it! What’s the point of that!?!?” He’s got a point, but I don’t mind. This is a fun start to this 70’s classic. Next time the first season proper begins with Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther.