What 'Professor Marston' Misses About Wonder Woman's Origins (Guest Column)

Christie Marston is the granddaughter of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, who are portrayed in the new film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. It's been established that William had a relationship with both his wife Elizabeth and Olive Byrne, who lived with them. But the film depicts Elizabeth Marston and Byrne, who continued to live together after William Moulton Marston's death, as also having had a sexual relationship, something others have also said there is evidence for, but which the creator's granddaughter takes issue with. (You can read writer/director Angela Robinson's thoughts on crafting the story here.) The film, which stars Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote has gotten strong reviews (including from The Hollywood Reporter). Christie Marston declined to see the film, but she feels able to comment on two points in the film that were made clear from its trailers as well as conversations she's had with comic historians who have viewed the movie. 

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, heavily marketed as “The True Story” (in posters looking remarkably like this year’s very successful Wonder Woman movie posters…), is missing one major component usually associated with Wonder Woman — truth. 

It was a rude surprise to see the film promoted as "the true story." The filmmakers had no contact with the family or people who knew them. When questioned about that, writer/director Angela Robinson said in an interview with Vulture, “It was a conscious choice because I really just wanted to have my own interpretation of the story.” 

The story of the film is about the relationship between Dr. William Moulton Marston, the creator of the Wonder Woman comic in 1941, his wife Elizabeth, and one member of their extended family, Olive Byrne Richard (affectionately called Dots).  The film depicts Elizabeth and Dots as lovers, with William as a third party in their beds. It loosely, with no attention to fact, shows the Wonder Woman comic book being created based upon the threesome’s relationship. 

There are two major areas which are wrongly presented; the relationship and Wonder Woman’s origin. While the imaginary of sexual relationships can be overlooked, the "alternative facts" presented about Wonder Woman’s origin are simply unacceptable. Let's take a closer look at the movie vs. the history.

Wonder Woman’s origin

The film shows William coming up with an idea to pitch a story with a female hero to a comic book publisher. The women roll their eyes. Elizabeth declares that nobody would ever publish it (see below). The reality — and deserved credit — is very different.

William was hired as a psych consultant for what would become DC Comics to help guide comics into mainstream America. Charlie Gaines, credited with inventing the modern comic book, semi-jokingly suggested to my grandfather that he write a comic. William went home and spoke to my grandmother, Elizabeth, about it that evening. She told him that it was fine to write a comic, but that the hero must be a woman.

Elizabeth became the role model for Wonder Woman's character. Illustrator Harry Peter developed Wonder Woman's appearance, a medley of Dots' height and Gram’s curves, wearing bracelets like those which had adorned Dots' wrists for many years. Editor Shelly Mayer suggested that "Suprema the Wonder Woman" be shortened to "Wonder Woman," and the rest is comic book history.

The relationship

Robinson's basis for turning my grandmother and Dots into lovers may be that they continued to live together after William's death. The reality of the matter was that there really were not a lot of options at that immediate point in time. There were kids to feed and bills to pay. Gram worked while Dots directed the four kids. After the kids were out of the house, the two women chose to share a household. They were best friends, so close as to be sisters.  

For those assuming  that a grandchild could or would not know anything about their grandmother’s sex life, I should explain that my knowledge of my grandmother is not as a child, but as an adult. Mine is not the viewpoint of a small child with a sweet old lady grandmother. We had a very close relationship. Gram’s three- or four-week visits several times a year gave us plenty of time to discuss all the woes of mankind. Silly societal taboos on sex and sexual preferences was a topic we covered thoroughly. Gram was very open-minded, and conversed clearly and freely. Gram was a firm believer that people should do whatever they damned well pleased; the only stipulation being maturity and consent. Gram and Dots not only lacked that connectivity which couples have, but would have had no reason to hide.

As to arguments that the relationship as imagined by Robinson's film could possibly be true: I do agree that nobody can ever say what somebody else lived. I can never swear that she and Olive never connected sexually, but I can say with 99.99 percent certainty that they did not. It’s sad, really; it would have been a nice boon for them if they could have been lovers as well.

Something that I came to realize over the past few days in the wake of the new film is just how much interest people have in the Marston family. People have been asking me about the family for years, but it had never really hit me until now. There were so many fans disappointed to learn that the film was not true; they had planned on seeing it to find out more about the family and how Wonder Woman came to exist.

To all of the many who told me that I needed to get the true story out, I will say this: There is a project being pitched which I will endorse if it comes to fruition. It comes from many, many years of very extensive research by a woman of integrity. Over her years of research we have become good friends, and I trust her. Aside from her travels to hunt down papers and clues, my father and I have answered countless questions. She really does know the people involved, even though she never actually met them. Until now, I did not understand that people really want to know. Now, I hope to see her years of research made public.

I have come to know many Wonder Woman fans over the years. They are very diverse, yet so alike because they share Wonder Woman’s values and attitude. They care about others, and want the world to be a better place. Over the past few days, the Wonder Woman community has shown themselves to be every bit as staunchly dedicated to truth as their heroine. They rallied and shared and declared #LassoTheTruth. Such wonderful people.

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