Erin Gray of Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons returns to Dragon Con
From modeling to iconic television commercials to being one of last true contract players for Universal Studios to her role as Colonel Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, actress Erin Gray has mastered the fine arts.
A role model for young women in Buck Rogers in the late '70s and to the early '80s ensemble comedy of Silver Spoons, her enduring resume is harmoniously balanced. She teaches Tai Chi at UCLA and serves as CEO of Heroes For Hire, a unique talent agency that specializes in booking conventions, public appearances and speaking engagements. Some of her stable of superheroes will be joining her at this year's Dragon Con.
INsite caught up with Gray as she sorted the logistics for clients headed to conventions across the country.
Are you excited to return to DragonCon?
Absolutely. It's always my favorite event of the year and I love that they let me teach my Tai Chi classes there. I've made a lot of friends over the years there and I love to see them back in my class.
I suppose the first time you were in Georgia was for [the 1982 film] "Six Pack" with Kenny Rogers.
That's right, Marietta, Georgia. I was there for an entire month. It was a fascinating time for me and fun to work with Kenny who was huge at the time. I remember he had to have helicopters fly him in and out because he couldn't even go pick up a pizza without getting mobbed by fans.
Let's talk about the Dragon Con experience. What is it like to sit at a table facing a line of people, mostly in costume, who want a minute of your time? Is that a surreal experience?
It's interesting because you get to hear so many great stories like, 'We got married as Buck and Wilma' But my favorites are more along the lines of, 'My mom and dad would let me stay up late to watch you and it was nice to share some family time together.' I think we've lost that in our society with everybody off in their own world with an iPad or phone. And it's nice to sit there and see all the costumes. It's like no other show that I know of in the world, just in terms of how many costumes you see. There's an entire parade of the people in costumes and the fans line up and down the main street to watch it. It's really the ultimate fan-based event. It's like a sci-fi/fantasy Mardi Gras. I like the fact that a lot of the programming is run, not by corporate decision, but just by a fan getting excited about an idea and creating a panel and really making it happen.
The fans know your work - and every episode detail - inside and out.
Exactly. I think they know our work better than we do sometimes.
Well you were in production mode. I'm sure there wasn't too much time to step back to commit little moments to memory - just in case you're asked about it several decades later.
Who knew it would last this long? I actually just did an episode of a new original sci-fi series called Pandora [for The CW Network]. We just got back from shooting an episode of it in Bulgaria. It was really kind of fun to do because the guys in charge were all such - and I say this lovingly - '80s sci-fi geeks. I mean, everything in the script is a reference to some cult film that they grew up loving. I mean everything. So I think it's going to be the ultimate geek exploration. It just debuted last week. I'm in the ninth episode and I finally get to be a Captain.
It's about time! From Colonel to Captain. Can you tell us tell us a little bit about the Heroes For Hire agency?
I guess the turning point in my life was when I went through a divorce and suddenly realized I couldn't necessarily rely on acting to pay the bills. Being the mother of a child, I was like, 'Ok, I need to know I can do this and keep my son in private school or whatever.' I'd gone to Chicago for a television and radio seminar around 1990. There were several ladies on the panel and one of them was Barbara Luna. They were all huddled in the corner talking about the conventions they went to. I was intrigued. But I was like, 'Oh no one cares about Buck Rogers, it's been what, ten years ago?' Then I got a call from Barbara and she said, 'You're going to be at such and such a place and bring 600 photos. You'll thank me later.'
Totally out of the blue?
Yes and I really had no idea what to expect. But I went and there was a line of people outside the building. I went in to introduce myself. I said, 'I'm here - and by the way, what are those people out there waiting for?' They said, 'That's for you!' I had no idea of the popularity of Buck Rogers.
That's an incredible wake-up call.
Yes! I was like, 'Oh, we did good? You became a fighter pilot, or a Colonel or a whatever because of our show?' That was the biggest gift anyone could've ever given me.
That's the power of TV.
Sure is. And with sci-fi you're giving them ideas that become part of their current reality. Girls saw Wilma and said, 'You mean I can be a Captain, too?' Well yes, you sure can.
So how did the Heroes For Hire expand? Your roster is impressive.
One day [Buck Rogers co-star] Gil [Gerard] called me and asked what I was up to. I told him I was going to Ohio. He asked why and I said I was going there for a convention. 'Great, what's a convention - and can I go, too?' So it kind of grew from there. I just started going for it, reaching out to conventions. Then I started booking Gil into shows. Then I booked my friend Marc Singer and it all just continued to grow. Now the logistics are crazy. We have people going everywhere - from across the country to London.
That's quite a learning process.
It was but I knew I could do it. A few years before I started booking Gil and Marc, I'd gone to an employment agency. They didn't know what to do with me, so in the end I just decided to do it myself and Heroes For Hire was born. It grew along with me as I figured out my way through it all. I had to learn how to write contracts, create spreadsheets and solve any number of logistical problems. Now I have a staff and it's a full-time job.
You've had a varied career of television, films, a book and now the Heroes business. What's next for you?
The number one project that I've been trying to do and haven't succeed in doing yet is to write my memoirs or an autobiography. It's something that stays with me all the time. I've been writing it in my brain. Now I just have to sit down and find the time to do it.
You're also a student of the ancient arts. That's where the Tai Chi comes into play.
Right and besides the autobiography, more than anything I want to get the word out to more people about Tai Chi. I teach it a couple times a week at UCLA and it's my passion. I think more people should investigate the healing aspects of it.
It's on a whole different plane than yoga.
It's similar to it but it's also very different from yoga. It's as powerful - but in a different way. It's an art form. A moving meditation and you're combining that with martial arts. It's a healing artform. It's all about learning to quiet the mind, relax and de-stress. You have to find the flow and be in that space, which becomes a meditative place. So you're not only working out the body and quieting the mind at the same time.
How do you get into that mindset at Dragon Con in the middle of the sensory-overload circus of people, costumes, sweaty fans and everything else going on all around you?
The number one lesson to just breathe into the belly of presence. We start with that. I'll be teaching four classes while I'm there, one a day. They actually have a special room for us, where we can shut the door, close out all the noise of Dragon Con and just do Tai Chi.
Erin Gray appears daily at the 2019 edition of DragonCon, August 29 through September 2. Check website for scheduled events. Visit the Heroes at heroesforhire.us for more information.