POTOMAC -- OK, let's cut to the chase: Yes, Lynda Carter spent a lot of years living down Wonder Woman. But that's all in the past; right now, she's pretty happy with herself, her career and her legacy, and that includes a three-year stint as television's most bodacious post-feminist superhero.
"I have never been down on Wonder Woman," insists Carter, seated in the study of the Montgomery County home she shares with her husband, Washington lawyer Robert Altman. "It really is what catapulted me from obscurity to being well-known. So I think that that's great.
"But more than that, it sort of had a life of its own. Wonder Woman, and I happened to play her, was kind of breakthrough television. [The networks] didn't think that a woman could carry a series. It was a real breakthrough at the time. And it was feminist. It was a positive image for girls.
"It was a lot more to the boys, I think," she admits with a wide smile and slightly self-conscious laugh. "There was that element."
Yes, there was -- an element that made "Wonder Woman" as popular with young girls, who doubtless appreciated seeing a woman beat up the bad guys for once, as with their older brothers (not to mention their fathers). But the show's been off the air 20 years now (it ran from 1976 to 1979), and Carter's parlayed that early notoriety into a career that's made her a staple of the TV-movie circuit.
Her latest debuts on CBS tonight. "LaVyrle Spencer's 'Family Blessings' " casts Carter as a widowed mother of three who, after the death of her eldest son in a motorcycle accident, falls in love with his best friend. The casting, Carter maintains, presents a challenge that helps further her evolution as an actress. Gone are the sexy outfits and glamorous trappings that characterized many of her earlier roles.
"It was a unique opportunity for me, to play a role in which I had to sort of swallow my pride," says Carter, 47. "Older woman, younger man. And unfortunately, [co-star] Steven Eckholdt, he was so boyish that it was like kissing your kid brother or something. It was very strange."
Still striking two decades after throwing her last magic lasso, wearing a royal blue blazer she admits was chosen to accentuate her famous blue eyes, Carter cheerfully answers questions about her status as a pop-culture icon. ("It's pretty bizarre," she says. "It sort of has to be brought to my attention by other people.") But she's happiest talking about the career she's forged in her post-"Wonder Woman" years.
"I don't know why," she says with mock exasperation, "but I seem to be cast in these heroine roles. They're all the good mother or the positive-thinking, save-the-day type. I did get the chance to play sort of a bad guy once, a lawyer [representing] a dentist who was anesthetizing patients and molesting them. The movie had a horrible name -- 'She Woke Up Pregnant' -- but it was a lot of fun to do.
"I like my image, my cast-able image," she adds. "I think it's a positive image, and I think that, because of the characters I've played, particularly in the '70s and early '80s, that it was a role-model type thing. Which, in retrospect, is great. But during the time, it's a lot of pressure."
One role she wasn't so enthralled with was the one she and her husband were forced to play by government investigators. He and his partner, the late Clark Clifford, were key figures in the BCCI bank scandal of the late '80s and early '90s. Altman was eventually acquitted of criminal charges, and the last of the civil suits arising from the mess was settled just last year.
"It's a club that you don't want to belong to," Carter says of the experience. "Once you've ridden that tiger, you're never the same."
These days, Carter sees her main role as wife and mother. She and Altman have two children, Jamie, 11, and Jessica, 8. By concentrating on movies, with their typical one-month shooting schedules, Carter's able to spend most of her time at home -- where she's able to enjoy the sort of mother-daughter moment that marked the return of "Wonder Woman" to cable's Sci-Fi channel.
"I was really excited," Carter says. "My 8-year-old girl was sitting there watching something after school. I turned the show on and she said, 'Oh, that's very neat, Mommy.' And then we sat there for a minute watching it, and she looked up and she said, 'Mommy, is it OK if I watch my own shows now?'
"It was a little dose of reality," she says.
Not that fantasy doesn't continually intrude on her life. And not all of it courtesy of cable TV.
"Playboy recently came out with their 100 [sex symbols] of the century. It was very cool -- I was there, one of the few people with clothes on. My husband thought it was great."
When: 9-11 tonight
Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13)
Pub Date: 2/02/99