Wilma might not have been the first woman to wear spandex on TV, but she defined the look in her form-fitting outfit that accentuated her curvy figure. Casual viewers may or may not recall that "Buck Rogers" was a short-lived sci-fi series, but the image of Erin running around in her tight and shiny blue or purple jumpsuit certainly stirred their memories.
And Colonel Wilma Deering offered "Buck Rogers" fans more than a killer
body. A role model for young girls, Wilma was a strong assertive woman --
the first female colonel on TV -- who often came to the rescue of Captain
Rogers (Gil Gerard).
Erin, who was initially required to dye her dark hair to a strawberry-blonde
hue, was a former model with limited acting experience when she was hired for "Buck Rogers."
Erin's acting was adequate; she will most be remembered for her sexy outfits.
"Because I came from the world of modeling and fashion, I wasn’t really shocked or uncomfortable about wearing the costume,” she said in a 2008 interview with www.denofgeek.com. "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.”
Erin admitted Wilma's sexy outfit wasn't the most comfortable item of clothing in her wardrobe.
“It was like wearing a girdle from head to toe. It was very uncomfortable. After two years of wearing them, I remember at the end of the series, the costumer said ‘Would you like to keep these costumes?’ and I went ‘God, no! Burn them!’ Please, get rid of them.' Of course I found out that later on they brought in a lot of money at an auction. I could have paid for my daughter’s college education with what they sold for"
Wilma originally had a cold and distant attitude toward Captain Rogers, but eventually she warmed up to Buck and a romantic relationship was implied but not shown.
“Buck Rogers” had a short two-year run (1979-1981) with 37 episodes and just average ratings, but it has remained a cult favorite.
“It absolutely amazes that it has become such a cult classic. We certainly did not know at the time that it would resonate for so many more decades,” Erin told the website www.deskofbrian.com in 2010. “Obviously 'Buck Rogers' had a great history to begin with. A lot of fans were familiar with the comic books and the previous TV series. We brought a new look, feel and humor to 'Buck Rogers.' It still blows my mind that after 30 years it is still in the hearts of minds of so many fans."
Erin found success in modeling and became a spokeswoman for L'Oreal – she was the original “I'm Worth It” woman – and for Max Factor, and was one of the original “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue models. After conquering the modeling world, she developed an interest in acting and moved back to California and transitioned into become an actor.
"Being a model opens the door easier but then you really have to prove yourself a lot,” she told www.denofgeek.com “All the executives want to meet the girl from the Virginia Slims ad, or the Sports Illustrated model…
"They’re willing to take the meeting, but once you’re in the door, it’s harder to prove yourself because you have no credits or legitimate scenes behind you. I wasn’t trained at the Royal Academy and I didn’t go to Julliard and I didn’t get a degree from Yale in drama and I don’t have five years of Summer Stock experience."
After “Buck Rogers” was canceled Erin starred in “Silver Spoons,” a five-year NBC series about a rich family. She played Kate Summers, the grounded personal assistant of the wealthy Edward Stratton III, whom she married in the third season.
“I didn’t realize what a shift it was [from “Buck Rogers” to “Silver Spoons”] until I meet fans and they don’t put the two shows together,” Erin said in the interview with www.deskofbrian.com. “It is the same girl. [But] I guess it is a bit different.
“For me the idea of learning comedy was different. I am more of a method actor and more comfortable in the world of drama. Comedy has its own beat, rules and process. I really loved it. I loved the live performances. It was a really enjoyable five years of my life, a really enjoyable mix of work and family."
Born in Honolulu, Erin moved with her to family to Southern California when she was eight. At age 15 she met the president of a top modeling agency who convinced her to pursue a modeling career so she moved to New York.
Classic TV Beauties 1970s Countdown
ERIN GRAY as Colonel Wilma Deering in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"