Crazy things we just learned about the guy who created Wonder Woman
The Secret History of Wonder Woman a new book by Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, hit bookstands last week. The book has been the talk of the town for the fascinating peek it gives into the life of the superheroine’s creator William Moulton Marston, a man who lived a life of secrecy while creating his female vigilante whose superpowers included wielding the Lasso of Truth.
1. The guy who invented the lasso of truth also invented the lie detector
As a Harvard undergraduate in the 1910’s, Marston used systolic blood pressure readings to invent the lie detector test AKA the real-life equivalent of his future fictional creation Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. Well, at least that’s how Marston tells the story. The polygraph was patented by Leonarde Keeler in 1931, but Marston promoted the bejeezus out of himself for his entire life, making sure that anyone who would listen knew that he got there first.
2. Marston led a professionally “experimental life”
Marston wasn’t just a comic book character creator. In fact, creating Wonder Woman was basically the third act of Marston’s professional life. Before inventing the world’s most famous Amazon warrior, Marston earned a Ph.D in psychology and worked in academia, in law, and in Hollywood. Lepore dubs Marston’s existence “an experimental life.”
3. The man who would create a feminist icon had strong ties to the feminist movement
As a young man, Marston sympathized with the suffragists who fought to gain American women the right to vote (a battle won with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920). Most dudes at the time were of “retreat into a cloud of smoke and congratulate themselves on being masters of the universe mindset” as Rose DeWitt-Bukater so awesomely put it in Titanic, so for Marston to be so progressive was big.
Also, all three of the primary romantic interests in his life were linked to the feminist movement. His wife Sadie Holloway was a suffragist who both demanded the right to vote and refused to give up work upon marrying. She later became an editor in New York. Marston’s research assistant and lover Olive Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League (which later became Planned Parenthood). Marston had another lover, Marjorie Wilkes Huntley, who was a New Age Feminist. That’s a LOT of feminist influences, it makes sense that someone with that much feminism in their life ended up inventing Wonder Woman.
4. Marston was a secret practitoner of polyamory
Before you go thinking “For someone who invented a feminist icon, Marston sure cheated on his wife A LOT,” the fact of the matter is that Marston and Holloway enjoyed an open marriage, the two lived with Marston’s lover Byrne, who took care of both Holloway’s children and her own while Holloway worked in the city as an editor. And apparently both ladies were cool with Huntley, who would show up at the house every once in a while and hang out in the attic.
5. Wonder Woman getting tied up all the time was art reflecting life
Marston and the women he loved were practitioners of bondage. In the comics, Wonder Woman was CONSTANTLY getting tied up by bad guys, breaking free time and time again. What seemed like an unremarkable comic book trope now, with Marston’s biography to shed some light, seems like it well might have been a dirty inside joke Marston slipped into his narrative to crack up the women he loved.