'Bionic Woman' star to speak in Vancouver on domestic violence
by Elisa Williams
Monday, 1st Feb, 2010
Actress Lindsay Wagner's lead role in 1970s TV series “The Bionic Woman” turned her into a cultural icon, but it was a severe bout of stomach ulcers that shaped her life.
Rather than have surgery in her 20s, Wagner undertook an expansive exploration of what she could do to improve her physical and emotional well-being.
She learned how her coping mechanisms were undermining her health and how she could be helped by meditation and visualization, among other things.
That holistic approach has shaped Wagner's career and perspective. It's a vantage point that Wagner, now 60, will share on Saturday when she delivers the keynote speech at a fundraiser for Vancouver's Columbia Pastoral Counseling Center.
Wagner is an advocate for programs that approach the problem of domestic violence by helping all members of the family. She became involved with a program for domestic violence offenders in the Los Angeles County Jail system and eventually co-founded a nonprofit, Peacemakers Community, that helps families develop more constructive ways to relate to each other. It was that experience, and Wagner's ties to the Northwest, that prompted the Columbia Pastoral Counseling Center to seek her out as a speaker at their annual fundraiser, said Keith Hackett, the organization's director.
For Wagner, domestic violence is also a personal issue.
“My family, when I was growing up, struggled with domestic violence and I know it from the inside out,” she said in a phone interview. “After healing myself, I have a profound belief that people can transcend these patterns.”
Wagner's family moved to the Northwest for her stepfather's job. She graduated from Portland's David Douglas High School, attended Mt. Hood Community College and took some classes at the University of Oregon before moving back to California, where she was born, to pursue an acting career. She's had vacation homes in Oregon, Montana and now owns one in Washington.
Among her most memorable roles was that of Jaime Sommers in “The Bionic Woman,” for which she won an Emmy. In the show — which was a spin-off of “The Six Million Dollar Man” starring Lee Majors — Wagner's character works as a government agent after she was rebuilt with bionic limbs following a skydiving accident.
Wagner said she worked hard to ensure the projects she was involved in, including “The Bionic Woman,” reflected the complexity of social issues, rather than painting issues as black and white or people as all good or all bad.
Though the Bionic Woman had super physical power, she didn't solve problems by force. And the show's story lines included the perspective of the bad guy.
“We had stories where it was clear that, though we had to do something to stop whatever was happening, we tried to reveal that this person was doing for their country what they felt was right, too,” Wagner said.
With projects such as the 1991 film, “Shattered Dreams,” which Wagner co-produced, she strived to educate the public that domestic violence can touch any family.
“This isn't just a problem with alcoholics or drug addicts or people who don't have enough money,” Wagner said.
In advance of delivering her keynote speech, “Holistic Healing for Family Violence,” in Vancouver, Wagner talked with The Columbian about her nonprofit work, her personal life and her career.
Following are paraphrased excerpts from that interview.
Columbia Pastoral Counseling Center was interested in bringing you in as a speaker because of your experience in working with domestic violence offenders. How did you become involved with the program through the Los Angeles County Jail system?
It was through a friend I knew through ICAN (Inter- Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect). I've been honorary chair of ICAN for 25 years. I was in a conversation with her about how sad it was that in the domestic violence field there hasn't been a view of helping the whole family heal.
It's understandable that we started with sheltering the women and children in those circumstances, but it seemed like we got stuck there.
When she told me about what she was working on (in the Los Angeles County Jail) and I went to see it, I was blown away.
Having studied a lot of various types of healing modalities, I felt I had something to offer the program.
I started sharing the techniques I had learned to be very profound. I started sharing with the facilitators and then my involvement escalated.
I ended up starting a support group for the men who came out of the program and their families.
Tell us a bit about those techniques?
The techniques help release negative energy and the old wounds from the past. It's a way of diffusing the old stuff, not trudging through it.
One of the challenges the Columbia Pastoral Counseling Center mentioned was finding a way to get families involved in counseling. How have you achieved that with the support group?
The men are very anxious to start working on applying what they've learned (in the program through the jail system). They come out of the jail with a genuine, profound experience. They want to start making amends and re-creating their relationships. The families start sensing that an actual shift is going on. It's different than anyone in the family has experienced before.
Many are able to get their wives and mothers and fathers to come and some even bring their children.
You offer retreats to the public through your nonprofit organization, Peacemakers Community. What kind of help are people seeking when they come to one of your workshop retreats?
People bring all kinds of things to the program.
In the last year, there have been more people stressing out about their financial situations and the profound changes that's having on their lives.
“The Bionic Woman” was one of the first TV series to explore girl power. What do you believe is that show's legacy?
Even though Jaime Sommers was physically strong and had a unique physicality, that was not how she solved problems.
We were working very hard to write the stories in such a way that she would use her mind and heart to resolve problems.
There were several stories where she resolved problems in a way that looked like she was having compassion for the so-called bad guy. But she was seeing the adversary as a human being.
We tried to show it's not always so black and white with a good guy and a bad guy.
In subsequent shows about girl power, it was just the old paradigm repeated with a woman. It was the old-school macho guy in a dress.
What did you think of the recent remake of “The Bionic Woman?”
On a technical level, it was very good, but I don't think they understood the show.
It was steeped in that old-school thinking. It was like a lot of things today, angry and dark.
What are some of the projects from your acting career that you are most proud of?
I like different ones for different reasons.
I was happy with my work on “The Taking of Flight 847.” The role of Uli Derickson was very difficult to play.
I also liked “The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel.” It was my first experience with taking a story and really working and massaging a metaphor. My character represented the medical field and Jane Wyman's role represented the naturopathic. That's a subject that's very important to me, so I loved it for that reason.
There was also “Shattered Dreams,” a story about domestic violence. I wanted to show someone not just surviving it, but someone finding personal growth after it.