What’s True About The Kinky Love Story Behind Professor Marston & The Wonder Women

Earlier this year, Wonder Woman got her very own feature film — at last. It only took her 76 years. Diana, played by Gal Gadot in the film, is the dream heroine: She’s fearless, principled, and believes, to an endearingly naive degree, in the power of love. If she inspired you, then you were fulfilling the intention of her creator, Professor William Moulton Marston.
Marston lived an incredibly interesting life — the kind which, one day, would make for a great biopic. Marston was a lawyer, scientist, and professor. He invented the lie detector. And, from 1925 until his death in 1947, Marston lived in a happily polyamorous union with his wife, the lawyer Elizabeth Holloway, and a woman named Olive Byrne.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, out October 13, tells the story of how Marston’s relationship with Holloway and Byrne led to the creation of the comic book character we know and love today. In the film, Marston is played by Luke Evans, Holloway by Rebecca Hall, and Byrne by Bella Heathcoate. Here’s the truth behind the movie.
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In real life, their family “arrangement” was more Marston’s decision than Holloway’s.

In the film, Elizabeth is reluctant to let Olive Byrne, the student her husband is so obviously lusting after, into their lives. Then, she grows close to Olive, and develops romantic feelings of her own. In fact, Olive and Elizabeth are the first pairing to kiss.

Holloway's input was less important in the true events. Marston and Byrne began their affair in 1925, when Byrne was a senior at Tufts. Marston told Holloway that either Byrne moved in with them, or he was moving out.

Though Byrne moved in with Marston and Holloway, no one knows whether they all shared a sexual relationship as they do in the film.
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Holloway and Marston did invent an early lie detector — and Holloway never got any credit.

In the movie, Elizabeth is the one who figures out how to get her husband's lie detector prototype to work. She's incredibly intelligent woman, and is frustrated by the lack of professional and educational opportunities available to her because she's a woman.

This frustration carried over to her real life. After getting a psychology degree at Mount Holyoke, Holloway went to law school. "Those dumb bunnies at Harvard wouldn't take women," she told the Times in 1992, "so I went to Boston University." In the movie, Holloway's still bitter about not going to Harvard.
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Marston, Byrne, and Holloway did raise a family together.

Between the years 1928 and 1933, Holloway and Byrne had two children each. The family told everyone, including their own children, that Byrne was Marston's widowed sister-in-law. Byrne's sons found out Marston was their father in 1963, long after his death.

In 1963, Holloway wrote a letter describing what life was like back then, which Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, summarized on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Lepore said, "We both loved him. And he loved us. And there was lovemaking for all. That's the phrase she uses. And the kids will say it was actually a delightful way to grow up. That they were deeply loved by everybody in different ways. "

As with the movie, Holloway was away from the house all day, working at MetLife. Before writing Wonder Woman, Marston didn't have a steady job, and wrote pop-psychology articles for magazines.
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Olive Byrne had a day job not seen in the movie.

While staying at home in Rye, New York, with the family's four children, Byrne worked as a staff writer for Family Circle, where she churned out advice articles for housewives. Ironically, she was writing for a fairly conservative, conventional magazine while raising her own children in a "triangular," three-pronged family.

In fact, Byrne's job is how M.C. Gaines, Superman's publisher, found out about Marston. Byrne frequently interviewed Marston as an expert in child psychology for her magazine articles. In one such article, called "Don't Laugh at the Comics," Byrne wrote how Marston thought comic books, which had a terrible reputation, might actually be beneficial for children. Reading Marston's opinion, Superman's publisher, M.C. Gaines, called Marston up to hire him as a consultant.
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Marston did design Wonder Woman to indoctrinate people into feminist thinking.

In 1940, the time of Marston and Gaines' meeting, comic books at the time had a reputation for being too violent, and for corrupting youth. Marston proposed a solution to DC Comics' PR problem. DC comics needed a female superhero, whose powers revolved around love and empowerment, not violence.

Wonder Woman had feminist roots. While writing the story, Marston and his co-writer, Joy Hummel, read Margaret Sanger's Woman and the New Race. Early plot-lines included running for president, and organizing women to strike for equal pay.

Mostly, though, Wonder Woman was Marston's way to help young boys get accustomed to the idea of powerful women, so when women eventually took over the world (as was inevitable, in Marston's mind), the boys would welcome the new social order.

“Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world,” Marston wrote.

He held a press conference in 1937 to publicly predict that women would, and should, take over within the next 100 years.
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Wonder Woman partly was based on Holloway and Byrne, and partly on the suffragettes.

The film draws a parallel between the comics' themes of bondage, and the bondage-centric bedroom activities the "thrupple" experimented with.

While we can't speak to the real couple's bedroom activities, we do know that Marston modeled Wonder Woman's bracelets off bracelets he gave Olive Byrne for their anniversary in 1928.

As for the bondage storylines. Wonder Woman was frequently in chains, because the symbol of the 1920s suffragettes' movement was a woman in chains. Bondage was a metaphor for the way women are tied up by domestic responsibilities (and possibly a remnant of Marston's personal kinks).
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Byrne and Holloway did live together for the rest of their lives.

Apparently, the whole Marston family referred to Byrne and Holloway as "the ladies." Holloway died in 1993 at the age of 100, and Byrne died a few years earlier. Before that point, they were inseparable.

"The ladies went everywhere together. They were devoted to one another. They were also devoted to the memory of Marston. But they were incredibly close," Lepore said on Fresh Air.
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