Actress Lindsay Wagner speaks about her humanitarian efforts and the hope she has for today’s society.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
Actress and Malibu resident Lindsay Wagner, who won an Emmy for her role in the ’70s TV show “The Bionic Woman,” has turned her career commitments from higher Arbitron ratings to public and private support for passionately held humanitarian beliefs.
Wagner spoke about these beliefs Friday to about 30 women from the film industry at the Women in Film monthly breakfast at the Chart House Restaurant.
“When I was a kid, what I really wanted to be was a psychologist,” Wagner said. “But I was dyslexic and couldn’t do the academic part. So I decided to take what gift I have-taking a story and turning it into something else-and make real stories from experiential knowledge. Out of the seventy-something TV shows and movies I’ve made, most of them are about real people.”
Wagner, looking at least 15 years younger than her age, 57, has been one of television’s most dependable leading ladies, but her distaste for the direction cable programming was taking TV entertainment, coupled with her “desire to help others,” led her to quit the business three times.
“All they wanted was sex and violence,” she said. “I knew this was coming from a place of fear and chaos in our social system, and I felt there was so much more to our human potential, so I started counseling [others] on the side. But one day, someone came up to me in the supermarket and said that a film I had made transformed her life. Fine, I thought. I’ll go back and do more films.”
Her determination to use media as a platform of social advocacy has played out in films like “I Want to Live,” a 1983 remake of the Susan Hayward film about the moral dilemma surrounding capital punishment; “Child’s Cry,” about child sexual abuse; “Evil in Clear River,” about the rise of neo-Nazism in America; and “Shattered Dreams,” a profile of domestic violence, which she starred in and produced.
This last example hit close to home for Wagner. Domestic violence was part of her childhood experience.
“Domestic violence is a cycle that involves everyone in the family, not just a battered spouse,” Wagner said. “That’s why healing it must come from the entire nucleus, not just the batterer. My family never healed as a nucleus, but I worked individually with family members, and I’m grateful I did.”
Wagner’s work in this field led her to developing a program for jailed batterers, helping them to reintegrate into society and to live constructively with their families again outside a cycle of violence, . Eventually, the voluntary program, Peacemaker’s Community, was absorbed into the Los County Sheriff’s Department.
“The problem with convicted batterers is that they would serve their time and work with us to break their violent instincts,” Wagner said. “But when they went home, their families didn’t think of them as being any different. It was the same language, the same mindset. They had no support outside of jail. Eventually, the Sheriff’s Department was able to provide a support group.”
Wagner’s respect for unrealized human potential has led her to study meditation in India and develop techniques to “quiet the mind and open the heart.”
“I learned that it is our own perspective that creates our experience, not the phenomenon itself,” Wagner explained. “We generate our own suffering, not the phenomenon. So forgiveness comes when you are willing to just let go of all judgment.”
Despite evidence to the contrary-war, racism and economic inequality-Wagner believes that mankind is on the cusp of a transcendent, evolutionary wave.
“We have the opportunity to make a giant leap,” she said. “It’s like when you hit bottom, you have the chance to push off to something much higher.”
After describing workshops she offers and something she calls “The Oneness Blessing,” Wagner offered to lead the group in a short meditation, which was filled with peaceful music and the unusual sight of 30 women in business suits sitting quietly with their eyes closed.
Afterward, Wagner showed remarkable accessibility, speaking privately with anyone who had questions.
Candace Bowen, the WIF Breakfast founder and facilitator, showed photos of Wagner at other breakfast meetings over the years.
“Lindsay has always had a lot to say to our group,” Bowen said. “Her movies speak to a real place and real need.”
Wagner said she looks for a common denominator in films she is considering. “The core issue is a lack of connectiveness to ourselves. That’s where the story is.
“Even though the world is a mess right now, I am so excited,” she said. “An awakening is happening.”