Dec 302016
 

This post was inspired by a Christmas gift from a good friend who knows of my admiration for and fascination with Wonder Woman, the first female superhero and my childhood idol. Wonder Women was an Amazon princess—Princess Diana—who came to America in 1941 to fight injustice and right wrongs. She eventually fought the Nazis as well.

AS LOVELY AS APHRODITE—AS WISE AS ATHENA—WITH THE SPEED OF MERCURY AND THE STRENGTH OF HERCULES—SHE IS KNOWN ONLY AS WONDER WOMAN, BUT WHO SHE IS OR WHENCE SHE CAME, NOBODY KNOWS!

As did Superman, Batman, and other male superheroes, Wonder Woman had a secret identity: mild mannered Diana Prince. Like Superman, she hid her true identity behind a pair of glasses and no one recognized her. As a kid, I always wondered about that because I had no trouble recognizing her—or Superman.

It was a real kick when Wonder Woman became a television series–Lynda Carter was perfection in the title role. She looked and acted the part so well it was as if Wonder Woman had come to life. I never missed an episode.

I already had a book titled Wonder Woman, which is a collection of the best Wonder Woman comics from the 1940s, the golden age of comics. My friend sent me a copy of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. The volume contains little known and fascinating information about Wonder Woman’s creator Charles Moulton, who was both a feminist and an eccentric who believed women should rule the world. What a lovely idea!

Wonder Woman was the first of several feisty female heroines who captured my imagination as a girl and later on as a grown woman. As a kid, I remember watching a black and white 1955 TV series titled Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. A tall, long-haired blonde in animal skins named Irish McCalla played Sheena. She had a chimp for a sidekick, and she held her own against the bad guys and even rescued the good guys.

1965 brought The Avengers and Diana Rigg as Emma Peel over from the UK to ABC-TV. In a role reversal, Emma Peel was the muscle and partner John Steed was the perfect gentleman. It was a hoot to see Emma in her black leather cat suit using martial arts to wipe up the floor with the bad guys while the impeccably dressed Steed used his ever-present umbrella as a sword. The dialogue between the two was witty and the plots leaned toward spy-fi. It was fun to watch and refreshing to see a strong woman kicking butt.

When it came to kicking butt, Lucy Lawless as Xena, Warrior Princess was as tough as they come. She didn’t need a man to fight her battles for her. She handled a sword as if she were born with one in her hand. She outfought and outrode the men around her and showed the evil ones no mercy. She even gave Hercules and Ares a run for their money.

At a science fiction convention I was involved with in October of 1981, one of our guests was Kay Aldridge, Queen of the Serials. Aldridge is best known for her role as Nyoka the Jungle Girl in the fifteen-episode 1942 Republic Serial The Perils of Nyoka aka Nyoka and the Tigermen. Aldrich’s character Nyoka endures and survives many perils. She aids an expedition in search of the Tablets of Hippocrates. Lots of action takes place along their way. Nyoka is also in search of her father, a scientist who went missing on a prior expedition.

Nyoka is the main character and the focus of the serial is on her. It was a pioneering role in that respect. In that era, it was unusual for the main character to be a strong, self-reliant woman instead of a damsel in distress for the hero to rescue. What is also interesting about this serial is that females are the protagonist and the antagonist. Instead of a hero and a villain, we have a heroine and a villainess. An evil princess, Vultura, vies with Nyoka for the tablets and a hidden treasure. Vultura and her minions attempt to prevent Nyoka and the expedition from discovering the location of the tablets and treasure.

While Aldridge didn’t do all her own stunts, she did a few action sequences that resulted in several bruises and a burn on her leg from dry ice used to create an effect in episode three. She remembers being extremely frightened when the chapter six cliffhanger had her hanging over a fiery pit.

We discussed with Aldridge how she wanted to be introduced for her scheduled guest talk at the convention. She was such fun and such a good sport that she suggested she would wear her Nyoka costume [It still fit her!] and we could have one of our group wear a gorilla suit and chase her from the rear of the auditorium up to the stage. Brilliant! The audience loved it. After her talk about her modeling career and the films and serials she starred in, she posed with audience members for dozens of photos. She was a huge hit with the crowd.

I began writing this post prior to the sad, untimely death of Carrie Fisher, portrayer of the take charge, smart, strong, feisty, kick butt, iconic movie heroine of Star Wars IV, V, VI, and VI, Princess Leia Organa. Being a princess, she could have remained safe behind palace walls. Instead she became a fearless leader of the rebellion. I loved the way Leia took charge on the Death Star when Luke and Han had no plan for how all of them would escape once they released Leia from her cell. She barked, “This is some rescue,” at her hapless would-be heroes. She ended up leading the rescue mission herself, grabbing a blaster, firing at the Empire’s storm troopers, and saying, “Somebody has to save our skins.” And she did.

Carrie Fisher’s death on Tuesday, December 27, 2016, was tragic. It marked the loss of a bright, witty, multi-talented, strong, courageous woman, and selfless mental health advocate. At age 60, Carrie Fisher left us much too soon, but her legacy of inspiring young girls and women to be the heroes of their own stories will live on beyond the life of the Star Wars franchise. May she be with the force and may the force be with us all.

  • Patricia Kiyono

    Great tribute to female warriors. I’d never heard of Nyoka, but I loved the rest.

  • Paul Dellinger

    I agree, great summation. And a wonderful remembrance of Carrie Fisher’s iconic role (made more poignant for those who have now seen “Rogue One”). Kay Aldridge had a wonderful sense of humor. She talked about being in a Gene Autry picture called “Shooting High” (the one time he was loaned out to a different studio) and being primed to give him his first screen kiss – only to have her teeth hang on the thick lipstick makeup as he was singing the song leading up to the kiss. Her female co-star in “Nyoka,” who played the villainess, once recalled Kay hanging over that fire pit waiting to be rescued and murmuring, “God, please send me a man, and make it soon.”

  • Maris Soule

    Loved this overview, Lana. However, I’ve never heard of Nyoka. Wonder Woman was my idol. I always wanted her lasso so I could get people to tell the truth. Wouldn’t that be great? Happy New Year. I’m sure you’re hoping 2017 is better than 2016.

    • Happy New Year to you too, Maris. I wanted Wonder Woman’s lasso and her bracelets too. Funny thing, one year for Mother’s Day MG and the boys gave me a pair of cuff style bracelets that had a thunderbolt cutout in each. They made me feel like Wonder Woman whenever I wore them. 🙂

  • Margo Hoornstra

    Great post, Lana. Although I knew most of those heroines, you provided new info on some others. And what a nice tribute to Carrie Fisher.

    • Thank you, Margo. My favorite heroines not only entertained me as a girl and as a young woman, they inspired me to come out of my shell and stand up for myself when need be. In the advertising agency I once worked in, one of the vice-presidents (a former movie producer) used to go around swatting the women in the office on the butt. I was the youngest in the office and the only one who dared to swat him back. He never touched me again. Ha! Thank you, Wonder Woman. 🙂

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