Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wonder Woman Creator William Moulton Marston

“It's too bad for us "literary" enthusiasts, but it's the truth nevertheless -- pictures tell any story more effectively than words . . . If children will read comics . . . why isn't it advisable to give them some constructive comics to read?”~ William Moulton Marston

Born May 9, 1893 in Cliftondale, Massachusetts William Marston received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, his L.L.B. from Harvard in 1918, and Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard in 1921. After teaching at American University in Washington D.C. and Tufts University in Medford MA, Marston traveled to Universal Studios in California in 1929, where he spent a year as Director of Public Services.

Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph. Marston's research quickly caught the eye of the federal government, including the FBI and the Department of War, which wanted to use his techniques to question prisoners during World War I. Marston was called in to consult on the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping case, but his contribution was rejected by the judge.

From this work however, Marston had been convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men, and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of women of the day.

Moulton using the polygraph

In 1928 he published Emotions of Normal People, which elaborated the DISC-Theory and IDISC assessment. Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active, depending on the individual's perception of his or her environment as either favourable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form with each describing a behavioral pattern:

-Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
-Inducement produces activity in a favourable environment
-Steadiness produces passivity in a favourable environment
-Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment

Marston posited that there is a male notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent, and an opposing female notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. His critical view of certain gender stereotypes in popular culture is expressed in a 1944 article published in The American Scholar:

"Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman".

Marston's sexual ethics were based on a theory of gender characteristics that classed men as aggressive and conflict-oriented, and woman as "alluring" and submissive. Marston who was also openly interested in sexual bondage also claimed that his vision of women's submissiveness was actually empowering. Although many guys who like dominating women are prone to such claims, Marston made an effort to expand and explain his vision through his literary output.

Marston's first effort was the 1932 novel Venus With Us, a sexcapade starring Julius Caesar and many, many women. Marston cranked out a few more popular books (in addition to his prodigious academic output), but nothing clicked.

Then in 1940, Marston was working as an educational consultant for Detective Comics Inc (now DC Comics). Judging that the DC line was dominated by übermensch characters such as the Green Lantern, Batman and its flagship character, Superman, Marston decided to create a superheroine to serve as a female role model of sorts. He introduced the idea to Max Gaines, cofounder (Marston's pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines' middle names) of All-American Publications. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman with his wife, Elizabeth (Sadie) Holloway Marston, who Marston believed to be a model of that era's unconventional, liberated woman. Marston was also inspired by a student of his Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/polyamorous relationship, basically an open menage-a-trois relationship.

Marston and his children (two from Elizabeth and two from Olive)

Marston intended his character, which he based on his wife Elizabeth as well as Olive Byrne to be called "Suprema". She would be "tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are," combining "all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility to fight for the powers of good. Of course one could also see Marston's bondage interest shinning through in her appearance. Her basic costume is a bustier, tiny spiked heels, heavy silver bracelets that can be compared to shackles, her magic lasso used to tie up her enemy til she gets what she wants. Don't even get me started on the number of times we would see the lead character in peril and bondage.

Wonder Woman in Bondage

Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name "Suprema" with "Wonder Woman", and the character made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (Dec. 1941). The character next appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942), and six months later, Wonder Woman #1 debuted. The stories were initially written by Marston and illustrated by newspaper artist Harry Peter. Except for four months in 2006, Wonder Woman has remained in print.

William Moulton Marston, Harry Peter, Sheldon Mayer & M.C. Gaines

During his life Marston had written many articles and books on psychological topics, but his last six years of writing were devoted to his comics creation. William Moulton Marston died of cancer on May 2, 1947 in Rye, New York. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in the late 1980s; Elizabeth died in 1993, aged 100.

5 comments:

Dr. Zaius said...

That is a very interesting biography. I am curious about the image of Moulton using the polygraph. Why is the subject wearing a mask? It is an unusual image, with the girl hiding behind the door taking notes.

Becca said...

I assumed it was supposed to be like some controlled test but your right it's a hella freaky picture. It couldn't have looked more artfully posed if Man Ray took it.

Jess said...

I didn't know anything about him until a couple of years ago, but Marston has to be one of the most fascinating figures in early comic book history. Seeing him work through his various kinks in the pages of Wonder Woman is just bizarrely fascinating.

Becca said...

Marston was a real renaissance man of sorts. It's too bad he didn't live long enough to meet John Willie, they might have created some real messed up images. Not as though Willie didn't do that well enough on his own.

Anonymous said...

There are a few errors in your online article, which is crucial that I point out in order to help reverse the constant misinformation that has propagated about Wonder Woman & Dr. Marston in the last several decades. And to help out the situation of people at large not knowing the facts about this character, yet knowing everything about Batman or Superman:


**Marston's lie detector work didn't catch the FBI's eye.....he willingly first brought it to their attention right after Pearl Harbor.

**Marston's contribution was not rejected in the Lindbergh case, since he never got a chance to even use it, never even got near Hauptmann. He was turned away by the powers that be, due to the evil public's deceptions & coverups, all for their interest in seeing a man executed, fast. Hauptmann could have been innocent, but now we will never know.

**Its not that men were classed as aggressive & women were not....actually, Marston's sexual theories stated that men were mainly driven by appetite, while women were naturally driven by love emotion.

**Marston did not decide to create a superheroine...it was the suggestion of his boss, Max. At first upon hire, Marston consulted on the comics to recommend healthy changes to them. His recommendations were so revolutionary & unconventional, that his boss then just more or less suggested, "Hey doc, why don't you just create a superhero of your own!?"...... Once that began, Marston found an easier way to propagate his sexual theories to the masses, to the future generations...and so he designed a superheroine that would embody those theories. And THEN he came to his boss, presenting his proposal. And then they got to work on putting it on print. But it was his boss's idea for Marston to create a superhero in the first place.

**Marston's so-called bondage interest stems from the effects of bondage...namely the submissive, albeit erotic, effect it has on people. He believed that all people should experience this...and that it was considered "love training" to get people to calm their aggressions & just be as submissively loving as women naturally are. It was NOT becuz Marston was an S&M "freak".

** Olive Byrne actually died in 1990, May 19th, in Florida.