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The Man Behind Wonder Woman: Transcript

View the full graphic comic here.


Full transcript of the graphic comic: The Man Behind the Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman casts a long, male-shaped shadow. The lasso in her hands wraps around the male shadow’s torso.

Text reads: Featuring the amazing adventures of William Marston and the sensational history behind the most famous female comic book character of all time!

Wonder Woman holds a lasso in her left hand with one end of the rope in her ears like a physician’s stethoscope. The other end is wrapped around William Marston’s right arm. They are surrounded by studio lights.

Text reads: Wonder Woman’s origin story is one of secrets. She first came to the U.S. in 1941, the brainchild of  a polygamist psychologist, his wife…and his other wife. Dr. William Moulton Marston claimed to have invented the lie detector test, which wasn’t altogether true. What he did invent was a character whose feminist worldview changed comic books forever.

Marston sits at a desk working with collegiate pennants decorating the wall above him.

Text reads: It was December 1911 and William Marston was a freshman at Harvard. 

A crowd of young men listen raptly to British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst on stage, her finger held high. Marston looks excited. Pankhurst says, “The most ignorant young man, who knows nothing of the needs of women, thinks himself a competent legislator, because he is a man.”

Text reads: Almost a decade before women in the United States had the right to vote, he heard radical British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst speak to a sold-out crowd of students. She made a strong impression on Marston. 

Marston opens a door to a room filled with lab equipment.

Text reads: As a sophomore, Marston began to study psychology, and worked on lab experiments that tried to see if it was possible to tell when someone was lying. He decided to study law after getting his undergraduate degree. Confident that this research into lie-detection would be a powerful tool.



A lab test subject sits at a desk with a blood pressure cuff around his arm. Marston, administering the test, says, “I have tried 100 experiments and everyone has come out right. I can tell whether I am getting the truth or not.”

Text reads: Researchers in other parts of the country were also working to develop lie detecting machines. Compared to theirs, the Marston Deception Test was fairly crude and wildly inaccurate—but that’s not what he told reporters.

An audience looks up at a movie screen in a darkened movie theater.

Text reads: Ever ambitious—and fascinated by the young medium of cinema—Marston also wrote screenplays on the side, even winning a screenwriting competition sponsored by the Edison Company.  The short “Jack Kennard, Coward” played in theaters across the U.S. in 1915, sharing billing with a Charlie Chaplin comedy.

Marston and his wife, both wearing bathing suits, take a picture on the beach. She waves at the camera. 

Text reads: In 1915, Marston married his college sweetheart. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sadie Holloway considered herself a “New Woman” and intended to be just as accomplished as her male peers.

Marston and Holloway sit at their dining room table, supposedly working—but she’s concentrated on the notebook in front of her, while he’s peering over the stack of books between them to sneak a look at her work. 

Text reads: Both Marston and Holloway went to law school. She was a much better student. He then went on to get a PhD from Harvard while she got a Masters from Radcliffe.

A view of State Street in downtown Boston, busy with early 1900-era cars and male pedestrians wearing business suits.

Text reads: With so few women in the legal field, Holloway struggled to find work. Marston, meanwhile, had a string of professional failures. He founded a law firm, an engineering company and a fabrics concern. All three businesses went under. 

Marston and a young woman sit on his front porch, posing for a photograph. He’s supposedly taking her blood pressure but instead gives a big smile for the camera.

Text reads: But what Marston did have was a flair for self-promotion. And he hadn’t given up on his reputation as a lie detector. In May 1921, Marston staged a mock interrogation on his porch with his secretary as test subject. With a press release, he sent photos of the scene to newspapers across the country. It worked. 

Marston, a young man, and several onlookers sit in a police interrogation room with a reporter. Once again, Marston holds a blood pressure cuff around the young man’s arm, but instead of concentrating on his work, Marston looks intently into the reporter’s camera.

Text reads: In 1922, Marston’s so-called lie detector got its day in court—almost. A young man named James Frye was being tried for murder in a high-profile case. Marston, by then a professor at American University in D.C.—interviewed Frye in jail and said he believed Frye was innocent.

A judge bangs his gavel while pronouncing to the court, “so far the science has not sufficiently developed detection of deception by blood pressure to make it a useable instrument in a court of law.”

Text reads: But when Frye’s defense team called Marston as a star witness, the judge threw out his testimony. Marston’s bid at fame was thwarted. Frye was convicted and spent the next 18 years in prison. He always believed his defense got lost amid the media hubbub about Marston’s deception test. 

Closeup of a newspaper page and a headline that says “Arrest Inventor of Lie Detector. W. L. Marston Accused of Helping Conceal Assets.”

Text reads: Marston’s troubles grew when former business colleagues accused him of fraud, allegations that led to his arrest. Though the charges against him were dropped, the scandal cost Marston his job.

PANEL 15: 
Two young women walk through an ornate iron gate onto a college campus.

Text reads: He was able to land a professorship at Tufts University—but couldn’t seem to help courting trouble. Marston started an affair with one of his students. Olive Byrne was a senior with a famous benefactor…

Margaret Sanger holds up a newspaper titled “The Woman Rebel,” saying, “I believe that woman’s freedom depends upon awakening that spirit of revolt within her against these things which enslave her…I believe that these things which enslave woman must be fought openly, fearlessly, consciously.”

Text reads: Margaret Sanger, Byrne’s aunt, had opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. Her ideas had deeply influenced Marston’s view of women’s rights.

Byrne, Marston, and Holloway pose for a photo at Byrne’s graduation, Byrne and Marston both wearing caps and gowns. Marston is in the center with his arms around both women.

Text reads: He also told Holloway that he and his student were in love—and that Byrne would be coming to live with them. The threesome made an unusual family unit.

An untidy office with a briefcase that has papers spilling out of it. The top sheet of paper on the desk is a letter typed on Columbia University letterhead.

Text reads: After losing the job at Tufts Marston took a teaching job at Columbia—but lost that after a year, too. He had failed at law and academia. It was time for another publicity stunt. Marston decided to reinvent his old deception test—or as he now called it, the Love Meter.

Six glamorous women sit in the front row of a movie theater, all wearing blood pressure cuffs and straps across their chests to measure their respiration. Marston stands behind them, once again posing for a picture.

Text reads: Ever the showman, Marston staged another photoshoot, this time at a movie theater in New York. He hooked chorus girls up to blood pressure cuffs to see how they reacted while watching a silent film. Marston said that his “Love Meter” proved brunettes were more easily excited than blondes.

Marston stands in front of a movie screen playing a scene from the 1929 MGM film “The Love Trap.” The scene is a close up shot of a man and a woman staring into each other’s eyes.

Text reads: Marston’s “experiment” got the attention of the head of Universal Studios, who was looking for a consulting psychologist to advise him on audience response to the studio’s new “talkies.”

Another lie detection expert, Leonarde Keeler of Keeler Polygraph, Inc., stands in front of a movie screen playing a scene from the 1931 MGM film “Frankenstein.” Keeler administers a polygraph test to someone watching the film. The scene onscreen is a close up of Victor Frankenstein’s face.

Text reads: But it only took a year for Marston to wear out his welcome in Hollywood. He was replaced at Universal by a rival lie detector.

A man and woman clasp each other’s hands. She wears gold bracelets. A small inset panel shows the Wonder Woman comic book character repelling bullets using her own gold bracelets.

Text reads: In 1928, Marston and Byrne got “married,” at least symbolically. He gave her a pair of gold cuffs that she wore like bracelets. Those cuffs would later find their way onto the wrists of a very famous character…

Marston, Byrne, Holloway, and four children sit on the front steps of a house, posing for a family photo.

Text reads: By 1933, Byrne and Holloway each had two kids with Marston. Byrne raised the children while Holloway worked to support the family. Calling Byrne the family housekeeper, they hid their unconventional domestic arrangement in plain sight.

A glum-looking Marston sits at a table in a bookstore, surrounded by piles of his novel Venus With Us. No one is waiting to get his signature.

Text reads: Meanwhile, Dr. William Marston, LLB, PhD had yet to find a job he could keep longer than a year. After going back to New York, he tried to start his own motion picture company and an advertising agency. Both failed. Next he wrote a novel—that hardly anyone read.

Marston stands in a Manhattan office with an impressive view of the city’s skyscrapers, gesticulating animatedly. He’s directing an address to the head of DC Comics, seated in front of him at a large desk. Marston says, “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Text reads: But a few years later he got a very lucky break after the head of DC comics read a glowing magazine article Byrne wrote about Marston. This time it was DC Comics who needed a consulting psychologist. And when Marston, inspired by the opinions of his two leading ladies, told DC it needed a female superhero…

The man seated at the desk behind a nameplate that reads M.C. Gaines (Max Gaines, the head of DC Comics) responds to Marston, saying, “Well, Doc, I’ll take a chance on your Wonder Woman! But you’ll have to write the strip yourself.”

Marston types the first Wonder Woman script on his typewriter. Arrayed around the typewriter are four books: Woman and the New Race by Margaret Sanger, Angel Island by Inez Haynes Gillmore, Child of the Amazons and Other Poems by Max Eastman, and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Text reads: Borrowing heavily on suffragist and feminist literature, Marston invented the story of Diana Prince, whose secret identity was Wonder Woman—an Amazonian superheroine who fights for peace, justice and women’s equality. 

DC Comics artist Harry Peter sits at a drafting desk, drawing a sketch of Wonder Woman. Marston leans over him, saying, “This is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”

Text reads: Marston, urged on by Holloway and Byrne, was determined to create a strong female role model for American readers.

Wonder Woman, wearing a golden tiara and a red, white, and blue costume, whips her golden lasso toward the reader.

Text reads: Her magic golden lasso compelled anyone she commanded to tell the truth.

Kids and adults sit and stand at a newsstand, all reading issues of the Wonder Woman comic book.

Text reads: By the third issue of her comic book, Wonder Woman was selling more than a half million copies. And in 1944, she became the only comic book character besides Superman and Batman to get a newspaper strip. 

A diminshed-looking Marston sits in a wheelchair. 

Text reads: Marston had finally found success—but he didn’t get to enjoy it for long. In August 1944 he contracted polio. Cancer followed.

PANEL 32: 
Two tombstones stand near each other in a cemetery. The one in front says “Elizabeth Holloway ‘Sadie’ Marston, Feb. 20, 1893-Mar. 27, 1993, Attorney & Psychologist, Wife & Mother, Gave the concept of Wonder Woman to her husband” and below that, “William Moulton Marston, May 9, 1893-May 2, 1947, Attorney & Psychologist, Creator of the Lie Detector, Author of Wonder Woman.” Behind this tombstone is a smaller one that says “Olive Byrne, Feb. 19, 1904 - May 19, 1990, Wife & Mother.” The two tombstones are connected by a ghostly lasso.

Text reads: Marston died in 1947. Holloway and Byrne lived the rest of their lives together—and when they passed, took the biggest truth of their lives with them. End.

View the full graphic comic here.

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