Space Vixen Colonel Deering Saves the Day!
Every fan of science fiction knows - or should know - about a fine lady named Erin Gray (born 7 January 1950). She played the righteous military vixen Colonel Wilma Deering in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," the cult classic series from the late '70s that practically defined sexy space-faring.
However, there's a lot more to Erin Gray than just Buck Rogers - though that's enough for anyone, to be truthful - so let's take a closer look at the delightful Ms. Gray.
Erin is a Hawaiian girl, having been born in Honolulu before it became a State.
Erin moved to California when she was eight, and wound up, after a while, in Larkspur, California.
Erin was a very pretty girl. After a meeting with modelling honcho Nina Blanchard, Erin decided to move to New York and pursue the runways as a career.
|Erin with "Buck Rogers" costar Gil Gerard.|
Some of Erin's accounts during the '70s included L'Oréal, Max Factor and Bloomingdale's. She was famous for her English Leather commercials in which her tag line was "My men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all." Everybody remembers that line.
As with many top models during the '70s, the acting bug eventually bit. Erin moved from NYC, the capital of modelling, to LA to be closer to the power centers in film and television. It turned out to be a shrewd move.
Universal quickly signed Gray to a standard seven-year acting contract.
Universal put Gray in the four-hour miniseries "Evening in Byzantium" (1978) playing, what else, a pretty girl. Everybody loved her. At first she was told that she didn't get the part, but then got a late-night phone call to get to the location the next morning.
Erin's next role - which she got before shooting for "Byzantium" was even over - was the iconic role on "Buck Rogers." At first, the plan was to make Buck Rogers, based on the old serial, only as a theatrical film. This was a time when almost anything involving science fiction was being greenlit due to the phenomenal success of "Star Wars."
|Erin being introduced in the film that preceded the "Buck Rogers series.|
She had to beat out a roomful of other starlets for the part after a night with little sleep, and her grumpiness/seriousness helped her to get the part. The film was duly made - and was very well received.
The film version of "Buck Rogers" was such a spectacular creative success that Universal turned Buck Rogers into a weekly series. Originally, the project wasn't even supposed to be a film, but rather a 10-hour miniseries. She originally turned the role down, but the studio persisted. "I think I was meant to play the part."
Legend has it that Erin Gray had to be sewn into her tight uniforms, but she now claims that wasn't the case. Erin described her daily costume undergarment as a "full body girdle." Gil Gerard says they had to wear some kind of silk sheathe in order to slide the costumes over, because the slightest perspiration made them impossible to get on. Erin adds that she had no difficulty appearing in the tight outfits on camera, given her experience as a top model who had appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, but walking around the studio in them made her uncomfortable so she usually wore a robe over everything. The suits were a heavy grade of lycra and Spandex and very uncomfortable.
|Erin in the Buck Rogers "Space Vampires" episode.|
Erin, still new to the acting business, had top female billing in "Buck Rogers" that was only second to lead Gil Gerard. Her favorite episode was the "Space Vampires" episode in the first season because the storyline went through her character.
Erin liked that her character was a strong female in a position of authority, which she says was "a new idea then."
There was no secret that much of the show's appeal lay in Erin's flagrantly good looks and romantic sparring with Gil Gerard. The script writers and directors wisely focused on scenes where Erin strode purposefully in her spandex outfit, quickly twirled in her chair so that her hair whipped about like in a television hair products commercial, and occasionally appeared in formal evening wear and the like. There was nothing subtle about any of this - who needs subtle, anyway, when what you are doing works?
"Buck Rogers" lasted for two seasons, but lost its creative focus in its second season. This had nothing to do with Erin's steady performance, but instead on some misguided attempts to change the setting of the series (from earth to a spaceship) and eliminate the reliance on Erin's beauty. Erin's character changed due to a new producer who wanted to revamp things to no purpose except to suit his own ego. As Yogi Berra said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but some folks don't understand the wisdom in that statement.
So, the new administration tinkered with the formula that had earned the show a second season. The show's new producer didn't even want to bring Erin back at all, a phenomenal miscalculation about the show's audience and the sources of its appeal. When he finally relented and found a spot for Erin, the show changed Erin's uniform to make it look like a white "Dairy Queen" outfit.
|Gil Gerard was a big golfer, so this got worked into "Buck Rogers."|
Erin's new white uniform was modest, professional - and boring. It also shifted the perspective from Erin's toned and slender build - one of her great strengths as a model - to other things that were not her strengths. The blindingly white uniform also did not jibe well with Erin's natural skin tones. Erin says it was all "very disappointing," because, being a supermodel, she was quite happy showing off her charms in the best light possible - and the new uniform did not do that as well as the previous, darker uniform.
|"May I have your order? Today's special is the walnut topping."|
Other science fiction series before and since have used the allure of an attractive woman to draw in viewers to see the story - a notorious case being the addition of Jeri Ryan to the cast of "Star Trek: Voyager" in 1997. Another instance was the addition of moonbase maidens in classic British series "U.F.O." - all many people remember of that series is Gabrielle Drake, her metallic uniform and her purple wig. With Erin's appeal drastically toned down, the cast soon realized that "Buck Rogers" wasn't going to last much longer.
|Erin Gray as J. 'Digger' Doyle on "Magnum P.I."|
Despite her phenomenal success in "Buck Rogers," Erin was still early in her career. Some guest-starring roles on other successful series soon followed, such as ""Magnum P.I." and "Murder, She Wrote." These helped Erin build her acting resume.
Some film work followed for Erin as well, including "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" (1993) and "Siren" (2006).
Erin remained a hot property, and soon she was cast in another successful series for five years in a lead role, "Silver Spoons" (1982 - 1987). "Silver Spoons" was a very easy shoot for Erin, relying on live performances. Erin didn't have to arrive on set until noon, and she had time to take care of her son, taking him to little league games and so forth. Reminiscing, Erin finds that to have been the happiest time in her acting career.
Eventually, Erin decided that she was happiest behind the camera. She became a casting agent with her own agency, Heroes for Hire. She says this new role came about after she casually mentioned to Buck Rogers friend Gil Gerard that she was making an appearance, and Gil said he would pay her 10% if she got him a spot at the event, too. It expanded from there. Her sites are Heroesforhire.info and Eringray.com.
Erin wasn't quite through with "Buck Rogers," though. She and Gil appeared in a web series in 2010 playing the parents of the next generation. Erin says that some folks want to remake the show itself, but there have been too many roadblocks. She still holds out hope, though, and would "love" to be part of it.
Gray has written a well-received book about acting for new television and movie actors, "Act Right." It was originally published in 1998 and a second edition came out in 2002.
Gray did a cross-over appearance on "Star Trek" when she appeared on the "Star Trek Continues" web series as Commodore Gray in 2014.
Erin has appeared on other web series as well, such as "The Guild."
Erin is married to Richard Hissong, and they have a daughter, Samantha.
Erin almost got into acting long before she actually did - she was offered the lead in cult classic "Goodbye Columbus" but turned it down out of respect to her husband, who was serving in Vietnam at the time. She felt the sex scenes were inappropriate.
|Erin and occasional costar Pamela Hensley in "Buck Rogers." Pamela went on to a starring role in "Matt Houston."|
Erin also has a son with former husband Ken Schwartz.
In the what-might-have-been department, Erin was considered for the role of Captain Janeway in "Star Trek: Voyager," but did not get the part.
Erin has been a Tai Chi instructor at UCLA and also is an expert at Qi Gong. She has been practicing it for 30 years. She first noticed it it during Richard Nixon's visit to China when she read a story about a journalist who was healed using it. She also found out while doing "The Rockford Files" that James Garner was a fan of accupuncture, which helped him to bear the pain of a bad knee. During Silver Spoons, she went to an accupuncturist when she needed to get well for a big episode and found that it really helped her. Ever since, she has been a fan, going by the theory that pretending to have emotions, or simulating them, as an actress affects her body in physical ways that need to be tended to. She feels this may be a reason why actors so often turn to drugs.
Erin won the Entertainer of the Year award at the 2002 San Diego Film Festival.
Erin is 5' 71/2". That actually is a bit short for a supermodel, but she was stick thin, which made her look taller.
Erin appeared in a Perry Mason movie, "Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace."
Erin was in "Battle of the Network Stars" in 1981. She also was in a very racy episode of "Dark Justice" in 1992 just two months after the birth of her daughter which is one of the more notorious acting jobs of her career - she does a striptease that barely got by the network censors.
Erin says about her Buck Rogers costume:
"They wanted it very form-fitting and tight. That's all I knew. I didn't know...it's interesting, because I came from the world of modeling and fashion, so I wasn't really shocked or uncomfortable about wearing the costume. I'd been one of the original Sports Illustrated models, so my sexuality, showing my body, I was comfortable with that. The thing was, I didn't mind being on-camera that way, but I couldn't walk around the studio with my spandex – I always had to wear a bathrobe over it [laughs]!"
Erin also says:
"When I first started acting, I had all these ideals about the kinds of roles I wanted to play, but the reality is that when you do television - and I do a lot of television - you get cast for qualities that you have as a person. So I look for qualities that I like to portray. Every once in awhile I like to play dark ladies, crazy ladies, but most often I look for characters that are strong, intelligent, caring - usually earth women, because that's basically how I see myself."
Erin was never a fan of Hollywood night life, and never made the tabloids for partying:
"I had a really negative look at the night-life side of Hollywood, which I really didn't like. I went to New York to focus on modeling, and then of course found that New York was not any different from Los Angeles."
Erin freely admits to having benefited at times from counselling:
I found the counselors to be fabulous and the work that they were doing to be invaluable - I couldn't understand how I, a strong, capable, intelligent person who was fairly successful, still had an inability to see certain things. I found that traditional psychologists were of no value - I was having a breakdown NOW, I needed help TODAY. My girlfriend literally put me in the car and took me to Haven House. Right away I got the knowledge and understanding to know why I could have let this happen, and stayed in this emotionally abusive relationship.
There are perks to starring in a cult sci-fi series: Erin was able kept the model of her starfighter from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. However, she kept it on a top shelf near a heating outlet and it melted - but it still looks kind of cool.
Erin remains active in the business, appearing in "Star Trek Continues" as Commodore Gray, an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return" (2017), and ""In-World War" (2017). We certainly can expect to see more of her in the future. Below is a great interview done in Perth, Australia for her fans.