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Chloe Effron/iStock/photo:DC
Chloe Effron/iStock/photo:DC

William Moulton Marston, the Psychologist Who Created Wonder Woman

Chloe Effron/iStock/photo:DC
Chloe Effron/iStock/photo:DC

A new film version of the comic book Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot, won’t hit theaters until 2017, which leaves a little time to read up on the man who created the character more than 70 years ago. William Moulton Marston, who originated the most popular female comic character of all time, was something of a character in his own right—and his reasons for creating arguably the first feminist comic book were as complicated as he was.

Born in 1893 in Saugus, Massachusetts, Marston attended Harvard University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1915 and a PhD in psychology in 1921. He taught at the American University in Washington, D.C. and at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Throughout his life, he wrote journal papers and articles on psychology, but he first gained national attention because of an invention. Marston, who had a lifelong fascination with the secrets people keep, is credited with inventing a precursor to the modern lie detector test.

As a graduate student at Harvard, Marston had introduced the idea of measuring systolic blood pressure to gauge whether a person was lying. The systolic blood pressure test was suggested by Marston’s wife, a law student named Elizabeth Holloway, who noticed that her blood pressure rose when she was upset. Marston worked hard to convince the public of the lie detector’s infallibility, but wasn’t successful; when he attempted to introduce the lie detector into court cases in 1922, the court (Frye v. United States) decided there was just too much opportunity for error. Marston also tried to convince the Committee on Psychology at the National Research Council to use his lie detector to ferret out spies, but they refused to endorse the idea, citing skepticism about its consistency and reliability. Even today, the American Psychological Association says that lie detectors are not reliable, because there is no verifiable bodily reaction that proves deception. 

Marston testing his lie detector in 1922. Image credit: Wikimedia // Public Domain

Marston, however, was convinced that his invention was a game changer. He contributed articles about the machine’s veracity and usefulness to a popular women’s magazine and various medical journals—and he would eventually use a comic to indirectly popularize the idea. 

Besides being an inventor and a psychologist, Marston was also a writer. He won a nationwide contest for “best moving picture scenario” while at Harvard, which became the film Jack Kennard, Coward. In 1928, he was hired as director of the Public Service Bureau at Universal Studios, charged with  “[applying] psychology wherever psychology is needed.” The employment advertisement he answered requested a psychologist who would help analyze plot situations and forecast “how the public might react to them.” Marston also co-founded a film company, Equitable Pictures, with the hope of making films about women who were economically and sexually independent. But the film company was incorporated only days before the stock market crashed in 1929. Neither it nor Marston’s job with Universal survived the onset of the Great Depression.

Comics were popular escapist fiction during the difficult years of the Depression, and with the advent of superheroes who could solve insurmountable problems, the industry exploded. Superman debuted in 1938, and Batman first appeared in Detective Comics in 1939. Yet, despite their growing popularity, comics drew criticism; some criticized them for being too violent and racy. Newspaper editorials called them “a national disgrace” and nicknamed them “sex-horror serials.”

In 1940, former elementary school principal and comic book publisher Maxwell Charles Gaines hired Marston, who had spent most of the Depression unemployed, as an educational consultant for Detective Comics (now known as DC Comics). Marston agreed that existing comics tended to be violent and wondered why there was not a female hero, one who could find peaceful solutions to conflict. At the same time, he reasoned, that comic book heroine could serve as a role model for young women and inspire them to achieve.

Marston explored the subject of a female comic book hero in a 1943 essay titled “Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics,” published in the The American Scholar. While his words don’t sound particularly feminist today, Marston thought of himself that way, and worked to promote the idea that women should be strong and powerful.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power,” he wrote. “Not wanting to be girls they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Marston said he wanted to inspire girl comic book readers, and to introduce boys to what he saw as a feminist icon. A press release at the time explained, “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men.”

Gaines told Marston if he wanted to see that comic book become a reality, he would have to write it himself. So, he did—and thus Wonder Woman was born. The character debuted in All-Star Comics in late 1941, and was featured in Sensation Comics in 1942. Six months after that, the very first issue of Wonder Woman was released.

Wikimedia // Fair Use

Wonder Woman’s story was based on the Greek myths of women warriors. She was an Amazon princess named Diana who had lived in an all-female society on a hidden island. Fearless and skilled, she was the best warrior around. When Steve Trevor, a U.S. intelligence officer, crashed his plane on the island, Diana won a contest to take him home, since no man could remain on the island. At the same time, she was also charged with returning to the world of men so she could fight the Axis powers.

After taking Trevor home, Wonder Woman decided to stay near him, where she could protect him. She continued to rescue him but was reluctant to declare her feelings for him. In between battling super villains, who were often narrow-minded misogynists, she shadowed Trevor disguised as Plain-Jane assistant Diana Prince. He never suspected she was Wonder Woman, whom he also secretly loved. 

Though young readers seemed to respond positively to Wonder Woman, the heroine still had plenty of critics. Most of the criticism centered on her sexy outfit, featuring a red and yellow bustier and form-fitting blue shorts, which caused the Catholic Bishops’ National Organization for Decent Literature to put the comic book on its banned list.

"There are a lot of people who get very upset at what Marston was doing,” Jill Lepore, Harvard professor and author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, explained in a 2015 interview with NPR. “Is this a feminist project that's supposed to help girls decide to go to college and have careers, or is this just like soft porn?”

Critics also took exception to the suggestion of bondage, which some felt was implied by Wonder Woman’s frequent depiction in chains. The chains were a key part of Wonder Woman’s story: Just as Superman was vulnerable to Kryptonite, Wonder Woman was vulnerable to a man chaining her up, which caused all her strength to sap away.

Marston shrugged off criticism that focused on the frequency of Wonder Woman’s bondage, telling one critic that he’d spent his life studying psychology and was convinced that bondage could be a healthy means of sexual expression. And according to Lepore, the imagery of chains also evoked other influences in Marston’s life.

“Almost every story Marston writes in the '40s, she’s tied up or chained up or gagged,” Lepore said in an interview with The Telegraph. “He says that it’s totally necessary because she’s an allegory of the emancipation of women. If we want to show the emancipation of women she has to break her chains.”

The imagery of a woman enchained by oppression had been a popular cultural motif during Marston’s early life. As a young man, Marston had greatly admired the suffragettes, and during his college days he had witnessed suffragettes chaining themselves to fences as an act of protest. Marston was also a vocal advocate of Margaret Sanger, the birth control advocate who founded what would become Planned Parenthood. She published a collection of letters from women titled “Motherhood in Bondage,” which described the lack of birth control as enslavement. A 1923 magazine illustration for Sanger’s Birth Control Review pictured a woman chained to a ball that read “Unwanted Babies.” The popular motif implied that women would never truly be free until they could control the size of their families.

When Sanger was charged with obscenity for promoting birth control in her magazine Woman Rebel, her supporters sent a petition to President Woodrow Wilson. It read in part:

“While men stand proudly and face the sun, boasting that they have quenched the wickedness of slavery, what chains of slavery are, have been or ever could be so intimate a horror as the shackles on every limb—on every thought—on the very soul of an unwilling pregnant woman?”

Other details of Wonder Woman’s wardrobe and accoutrements were also significant. That includes the magical lasso she carried that forced her captives to tell the truth—likely a reference to Marston’s invention, the lie detector test.

“Anyone caught in the lasso found it impossible to lie,” said Geoffrey Bunn, author of “The Lie Detector, Wonder Woman and Liberty” [PDF]. “And because Wonder Woman used it to extract confessions and compel obedience, the golden lasso was of course nothing less than a lie detector.”

Wonder Woman also wore two thick bullet-deflecting bracelets, which may have been a reference to Marston’s unconventional romantic life. The jewelry was similar to the thick bracelets worn by Olive Byrne, Marston’s lover and Margaret Sanger’s niece. Though Marston had married Elizabeth Holloway in 1915, by 1925 he was also romantically involved with Byrne. She moved into their home a few years later, and together the three adults raised four children. Byrne kept their secret by pretending to be a widow, claiming that her children with Marston were from a previous marriage. It has been suggested that she wore the bracelets in lieu of a wedding band.

Marston died of skin cancer in 1947, at age 53. Following his death, his wife and Byrne continued to live together until Byrne died in the 1980s—which has led some to speculate that this unconventional relationship was Holloway’s doing as much as, or perhaps more than, Marston’s.

Marston’s personal life may have been unusual, and some of his ideas radical for his time, but the author and inventor managed to create the most popular female comic book superhero of all time, a woman whose strength resonated with both male and female readers. It’s no wonder she adorned the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine as a symbol of feminism; she inspired a generation of women with her strength and resolve.

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Pop Culture
Cheerleaders and Chicken Suits: Funko is Releasing Several Special Edition Deadpool POPs!

Marvel’s “Merc With a Mouth” is not only getting a sequel—he’s also getting some new swag. Deadpool, the sardonic superhero/villain in red spandex, will soon be immortalized in a new line of special edition Funko POP! vinyl toys.

In keeping with the franchise's eccentric sense of humor, there will be several outlandish outfits to choose from, each one sold exclusively by a different retailer. Among the outfit options Funko lovers will find are a mermaid get-up (complete with starfish bra) at Target; a cheerleader uniform for BoxLunch; a king’s robe and crown at FYE; and a chicken suit for Amazon shoppers. There’s even one of Deadpool holding a chimichanga while wearing ninja gear for 7-Eleven.

These parody dolls seem to be keeping in character with the Deadpool films, which themselves are parodies of the superhero genre. The title character, played by Ryan Reynolds, often breaks the fourth wall in order to poke fun at both DC and Marvel. (The filmmakers also famously signed off on spending $10,000 for a quick shot of the unlikely superhero wearing a tank top with Golden Girl Bea Arthur's face on it.)

The figures will be out this summer following the release of Deadpool 2 on May 18, 2018. Funko also recently released its royal family line of POP! dolls, depicting Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, and her kin.

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20 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Locations You Can Visit in Real Life
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

While most of Marvel Cinematic Universe is magically brought to life on sound stages, the box office-busting superhero movie franchise also makes use of real-world locations around the world to bring its stories to life. Here are 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe movie locations you can visit in real life.

1. WARRIOR FALLS // BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Connie Chiume, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, and Daniel Kaluuya in 'Black Panther' (2018)
Disney/Marvel Studios

If you want to be the next king of Wakanda, you have to challenge the current king to ritual combat at Warrior Falls. While close-ups and action footage of Black Panther’s Warrior Falls were filmed on a soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia, establishing and wide shots were filmed at Iguazu Falls, a water system on the border of Argentina and Brazil in South America.

2. STARK INDUSTRIES // IRON MAN (2008)

After three months of being held captive by a terrorist group in Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to the United States and gives a press conference about his ordeal at Stark Industries HQ in Los Angeles. However, the press conference scene was filmed on location at the headquarters for Masimo, a medical technologies company based in the city of Irvine. The company’s offices have also been featured in Transformers (2007) and Dodgeball (2004).

3. CULVER UNIVERSITY // THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a nuclear physicist and biochemist at Culver University in Willowdale, Virginia. For the film, the campus of the University of Toronto was used for the fictional school, while Morningside Park in Scarborough, Ontario was used for the university’s quadrangle. The park was the main filming location for General “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt) attack on the Big Green Guy.

4. RANDY’S DONUTS // IRON MAN 2 (2010)

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark—in full Iron Man armor—lounges inside the large, iconic donut on top of Randy’s Donuts when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meets him to talk about the Avengers Initiative. The exterior of the real Randy’s Donuts location in Inglewood, California was used for filming, while the interior of the scene was filmed at Yum Yum Donuts in Playa del Rey, about 20 miles away.

Randy’s Donuts has also been featured in Get Shorty, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Earth Girls Are Easy, Dope, and episodes of Arrested Development.

5. COUNTY HOSPITAL // THOR (2011) 

As soon as the Mighty Thor arrives on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) immediately hits the God of Thunder with her van. She rushes him to a small county hospital in Santa Fe. The production team used an office building called the Toney Anaya Building in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the hospital’s exterior.

6. PIER 13 // CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

After small and skinny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is transformed into the tall and hunky Captain America, a HYDRA infiltrator steals the super soldier serum and speeds away through the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York. Instead of filming in the borough, the film crew simply used the exterior of the Titanic Hotel at Stanley Dock in Liverpool, England for the climax of the chase scene at Pier 13.

7. LOKI’S PLATFORM // THE AVENGERS (2012)

In The Avengers, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in Germany when he delivers a rousing speech about humanity. In real life, the scene was filmed just outside of Tower City Center on Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Square. (You can actually see the city’s iconic Terminal Tower in the background.)

8. NEPTUNE’S NET // IRON MAN 3 (2013)

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has a panic attack when he’s signing autographs for fans at a seafood restaurant called Neptune’s Net. While there is a real Neptune’s Net in Malibu, California, the scene was actually filmed at Dania Beach Bar & Grill in Dania Beach, Florida. The production moved from California to Florida because the real Neptune’s Net is located on the Pacific Coast Highway and it would’ve been virtually impossible—not to mention expensive—to shut down the busy highway for filming.

9. OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE // THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

In Thor: The Dark World, the climactic battle between Thor and the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) takes place at Old Royal Naval College, located on the south bank of the river Thames in Greenwich, London. Thor even asks a confused subway rider how to get to Greenwich after he’s transported away from the fight.

Due to its popularity and cinematic look, Old Royal Naval College has also been featured in Cinderella (2015), Skyfall (2012), The King’s Speech (2010), Les Misérables (2012) and Netflix’s The Crown.

10. THE MALL // CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

When Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are on the run from undercover HYDRA soldiers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the superheroes hide in plain sight at a mall in Washington D.C. However, the scene was not filmed in the nation’s capital; it was shot on location at Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

In fact, much like The Avengers, most of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was filmed at various locations in “The Land” (Cleveland’s nickname), including the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Arcade, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Pilgrim Congregational Church. Even the city’s highways were used to film the movie’s exciting chase scenes, namely the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway over the mighty Cuyahoga River.

11. XANDAR PLAZA // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

While Guardians of the Galaxy takes place on the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a few real-life landmarks and buildings were used during filming. Most notably, the Liége-Guillemins Railway Station in Liège, Belgium was used for the centerpiece of Xandar Plaza, where the group of alien misfits are arrested at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy.

12. HYDRA RESEARCH BASE // AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

At the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the titular superhero team fights their way through a forest in the fictional country of Sokovia. Their goal is to retrieve a Chitauri Scepter and the Mind Infinity Stone from inside a castle-like HYDRA research base, which was filmed at Fort Bard (or Forte di Bard) in Bard, Aosta Valley, Italy. The old fort was used as an outpost to protect the valley from Napoleon Bonaparte during the 19th century. Fort Bard is currently the location of the Museum of the Alps.

While Fort Bard was used to film the exterior, England’s Dover Castle was used to film the interior of the HYDRA research facility.

13. MILGROM HOTEL // ANT-MAN (2015)

After he is released from prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) moves into his former cellmate Luis’s (Michael Peña) apartment at the Milgrom Hotel in Ant-Man. However, the real filming location was the historic Riviera Hotel on Jones Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It was originally built as a luxury hotel in 1907, but now serves as low-income housing.

14. THE AIRPORT BATTLE // CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

In Captain America: Civil War, the epic showdown between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America takes place at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Schkeuditz, Germany. The airport was also the location for other movies, such as Flightplan (2005) and Unknown (2011).

15. EXETER COLLEGE // DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

When the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) conjures a dark and mysterious spell from the Book of Cagliostro in Doctor Strange, he contacts Dormammu of the Dark Dimension. He recites it inside of the chapel at Exeter College in Oxford, England to seek revenge on the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

16. DAIRY QUEEN // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

At the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and Ego (Kurt Russell) pull into a Dairy Queen in Missouri in 1980. That Dairy Queen is actually the location of BB’s Cafe, a restaurant in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 20 miles outside of Atlanta.

17. FORESTS OF ASGARD // THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

In Thor: Ragnarok, Heimdall (Idris Elba) leads a large group of refugees through the forests of Asgard to find sanctuary in the mountains. A majority of the superhero movie was filmed on sound stages in Australia, while Tamborine National Park and Cedar Creek Falls in South East Queensland were used for Asgardian forests and waterfalls.

18. MIDTOWN HIGH SCHOOL // SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) attends Midtown High School in Forest Hills, Queens. The production team for Spider-Man: Homecoming used Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, New York as the exterior for the fictional high school, while Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia was used for its interior.

19. MUSEUM OF GREAT BRITAIN // BLACK PANTHER (2018)

In 2018’s Black Panther, we meet the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) while he's viewing African art and artifacts at the Museum of Great Britain, a stand-in for the British Museum in London. Instead of traveling to England, the film’s cast and crew filmed the scene at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

20. SHAWARMA PALACE // THE AVENGERS (2012)

At the end of The Avengers, Iron Man remarks that he’s never tried shawarma after he spotted a shawarma joint while flying around Manhattan during the Chitauri Battle. During the last post-credits scene, we find the very exhausted superhero team chowing down on the yummy Middle Eastern treat.

Director Joss Whedon filmed the scene at the then-Elat Burger (now Shalom Grill), located at 9340 West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. To keep the scene a secret, Whedon filmed it a day after the film’s world premiere, when the entire cast was in Los Angeles.

Fun fact: Sales of shawarma rose in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Boston following the release of The Avengers in May 2012.

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