the 21st Century
matter where she's found herself, Erin Gray has broken stereotypes.
the 1970s, she led the charge of newly empowered women as "Buck
Rogers'" Col. Wilma Deering, who handled a phaser gun and
sported enough cleavage to keep the masses tuned in week after
week. After five years of saving the Galaxy and the 25th
Century from the bad guys, she kicked through the glass ceiling as
the corporate-climbing step-mother to 80s poor-little-rich-boy Ricky
Schroeder on the top-rated television show "Silver Spoons."
world was in love with Erin all over again--but she had a bit more
difficulty loving herself. Behind the scenes, she was falling
apart. Her first marriage ended in disaster--and she found
herself amidst a full-blown emotional breakdown.
a great deal of introspection and self-evaluation, Erin managed to
exorcise the majority of her personal demons. She has come to
prove that, while a former supermodel, beauty is not mutually
exclusive to intelligence, self-awareness and spiritual awakening.
Erin is an outspoken advocate of domestic violence awareness.
On January 19, 2001, she saluted Congress for passing the Violence
Against Women Act and gave props to the National Domestic Violence
Hotline. While she is certainly a more balanced person, she
hasn't forgotten the people--the fans--that have made her 20-year
career what it is.
the midst of filming two movies and celebrating her birthday (we
spoke to her the day after hers), Erin took time out to discuss with YourMVP
her personal growth, her plans for the future, running down the beach
in slow motion, and that seductive--and oh-so-strategically unzipped--catsuit.
How is being a sexy 51-year-old different than being a sexy 25-year-old
sex symbol wearing silver catsuits and battling intergalactic villains?
The major difference in myself is feeling more centered, more
self-assured, more aware, more directed and focused in my choices in
life, clearer about what is important and brings happiness, at peace
with myself, more in harmony with all facets of myself--mind, body
reading your story, it seems that has been a long time coming with you.
a stint as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, Wilma turned her energies
it has. Because of my troubled childhood--and we all have many
things to overcome, dysfunction is quite common in family structure
these days. We've certainly become more aware of it in the last
50 years. That dysfunction, that disharmony, and the lack of
any spiritual and religious foundation in my life--which can be good
or bad--for me it was like being in a dry desert and being very
thirsty. Reading certain books was instrumental in my
pursuit. From there I started looking into all kinds of
philosophies and religions. It was very much of the time--the
60s and 70s. We were questioning a lot of things. More
than anything I was, and I think we all are, looking for that
happiness in our lives, that harmony. How do we find it?
Where do we look? Where is it? That growth is very much a part
of who I am. Not a day goes by where I don't try to broaden my
sense of awareness. Question myself. Question my choices.
Constantly work at bringing myself into alignment with what Deepak
Chopra calls a "field of potentiality."
odd that you're very spiritual now. For years you made your
living--and continue to do so--in an industry that is very looks- and physical-oriented.
is very interesting. I think a lot of that had to do with the
way I was, A) brought up. My mother was a photographer, so my
whole life was spent in front of the camera. That was the way
in which we communicated. We had our mother-daughter bonding
moments. B) I was given by God and my parents an attractive
body. I sort of fell into modeling. It was not something
I chose or went after. I fell into the stream and liked the
easy money. I also liked the freedom and the ability to
travel. Freedom, because you must understand, 50 years ago,
women didn't have the freedom they do now. My mother never
bought a house because she never thought she could. She didn't
think the bank would ever let a single woman buy a house. I
think she put her own limitations on herself, but she was a product
of her own upbringing. My mother's mantra had always been
"Make money! Make money!", and as a child, I absorbed
some of that. Suddenly, here I am making $100, $150 an
hour. How do you say no to that? At the same time,
though, here is this spiritual quest. And I'm living in a very
glossy environment that puts the focus of worth on your physical
being. It was an interesting conflict to be in. It was
that constant irritation that forced me to wake up. Also, part
of being an actress was being aware of my body, myself, my
emotions. What better way to wake me up?
unusual is it that you're very spiritually aware, and extremely
outspoken about it, yet so many people still think of you for your
role in "Buck Rogers"?
charmed by it. Many years ago--two years before I got into
acting--Richard Avedon, one of the top fashion photographers in the
world, came into a commercial I was shooting. He had come from
seeing a psychic. I thought, "Oooh! A psychic?
That's something I haven't tried! If Richard Avedon can go to a
psychic, so can I. Why not? Open my mind to the
possibilities." So I went to this psychic he recommended,
and I asked him if I would be an actress--and if I would
succeed. And he said, "Yes. You will star in
something of a different time period. Maybe of the future,
maybe the past, I don't know. You will sign a contract with the
letter 'M.' And you will argue with the producers over the
color of your hair. But it will be the one role that you do
that you will be remembered for more than anything you ever do in
your life." So, a couple years later I'm arguing with the
producers over the color of my hair in the second season of 'Buck
Rogers,' I'd signed a contract with MCA Universal--I'd always thought
Universal Studios--and, sure enough, 20 years later this is the thing
people remember me for. How do I feel about that?
Great! I thought, if this psychic stuff is true--and it's
certainly quite a story, and I lived through it--and it happened just
as he said it would, then I'm just a tool. The thing I've
discovered is that men and women were very attracted to me.
Why? It was an interesting time in our society. A lot of
women were attracted to me. I hear from these women who come up
to me and say, "You're the reason I became a cop. You're
the reason I joined the Air Force. Or the Army" or
whatever. "You gave me the belief that I could be strong
and live in a man's world and fly jets." I think,
"Cool! This is great that I was used as an instrument to awaken
this in women's minds." For men, yes, I was a sex
object. But what the men loved about me was my
strength. They loved the "Hey! Kick ass, girl!
Shoot 'em down!" It was a part of that awakening in men's
consciousness. I love it. I think it's great.
they would like to find out about that they hadn't seen or heard
from in a long time. You were an overwhelming response.
there ever any thought at the time that "Buck Rogers"
would become such a cult classic?
I know? No, I didn't have any idea when I shot it. Not
even shortly thereafter. It wasn't until a few years ago when I
started doing what I call my "Galaxy Quest Weekends" that I
really got the full impact of how it stayed with people for so many years.
we started our site, we polled readers about
that nice?! In my heart, I hope it's more than just the way
that I look. I hope it's that people are connecting to maybe my
spirit as well.
think it was a number of things that you've mentioned already--that
she was beautiful and strong as a character.
and VULNERABLE. She had both.
she also had one thing that people mentioned often: She had
that catsuit that was always unzipped JUST ENOUGH.
predetermined was that?
Oh, very. You can't be a model and not predetermine everything
you wear. You can't have modeled as long as I have and
not. I was laughing with a girlfriend of mine who is also a
model, and to this day whenever someone aims a camera at her--she can
be at a party and putting food in her mouth--she is aware of every
part of her body and what it's doing at that time. Whether her
hand is crunched up and looking all like knuckles, she'll elongate
her hand so it photographs well. It's ingrained. We walk
into a room, we know where the lighting is. You know what chair
you want to sit in to take advantage of the lighting. It's
something you don't even think about any more. It's just
ingrained. Did I know exactly where my zipper was? You
bet I did!!
you a fan of science-fiction?
became a fan of science-fiction. I'm not an overwhelming fan
of science-fiction. I like it because of the combination of
science and philosophies combined with the imagination and
suspense. I happen love mystery novels, but I've gotten to the
point where I now think they're a waste of brain power. I more
enjoy books like "October Sky." I like reading books
about people and adversity in their lives--and how they overcame
it. Things that are uplifting, where I can view people's
internal lives. I'm more interested in people and what makes
an actress. "Buck Rogers" took quite a toll on my
personal life. It's a classic case of "Be careful what you
wish for, you just might get it." I had wished to be the
star in a television series, then found myself feeling terribly
guilty. I had a baby at home and wasn't spending enough time
with my child. That was a conflict I had to deal with.
Consequently, there was a lot of soul-searching. What is
important in life? Where am I putting my energies? I'm
starring in a series. This is what I thought I wanted, and I'm
not happy. Why? Because I also made the choice to be a
mother, and I'm not there for my son. I had to find that
balance of being a wife, mother and career-person. I felt for
me I couldn't be happy with only one of those; I had to have all
that. A good relationship, children, and a way to express
myself creatively in an empowering work environment.
"Silver Spoons" allowed me to do that. My hours were much
shorter. I didn't have to come in a lot of times until
noon. I could leave after a couple hours, go pick my son up at
school. Make all the little league games. And I was
making a lot more money on "Silver Spoons." A lot of
people don't understand I was a contract player at Universal. I
was making a paltry couple hundred dollars a week compared to what
I'd made as a model. It was quite a step down for me
financially. It was ironic. The studios wanted me to go
to these black-tie events. I couldn't afford to pay for my
housekeeper. And forget evening gowns! It's something
people don't understand, but it happens. They think you're an
actor, you're starring in something, you're making a lot of
money. NOT TRUE!
moved from being a sexy space cadet to being a sexy step-mom on
"Silver Spoons." How did that transition feel?
Did it feel like it was mimicking real life?
was actually more comfortable. It was more who I was,
yes. I had a son a few years younger than Ricky.
"Silver Spoons" was a time where I was more in balance in
terms of being a mother, a wife,
you ever see any of the sex scenes on "NYPD Blue" and say,
"Oh, no! Not my Ricky!"?
be very honest, I go to bed with my daughter. She goes to bed
at 8:30, 9:00, and I'm lights-out at that time. I'm up at 5
a.m. meditating, so I really haven't caught the show. I hear
about it. From what I've seen of him--on MTV-type things where he's
hosting something--he's the Ricky I know. He's grown up.
He's become a man. But the Ricky I know--the essence of who he
is--is pretty much the same. A lot of people don't realize that
Ricky was very much a grown-up as a child and very fully formed in
many ways. There's a strong, good essence in him, a very open,
caring part of him. He was always very aware of anybody's shift
of temperament. If I looked like I was having a bad day in any
way, he was all, "What's wrong? Are you OK? Tell
me." And this was at 12 or 13, very unusual for a young
man. I'm not surprised he's doing what he's doing. I'm
really happy for him.
was it like being on "Baywatch"?
very fulfilling in that the role never went anywhere. What we
had talked about was never realized. For me the highlight was
spending the day with Parker Stevenson, who directed one of the
episodes. I really like him. We did a film together
called "Official Denial." I really came to appreciate
his integrity and what he's all about. Working with David . . .
is like working with a giant golden retriever. Always happy to
see you, always in a good mood, and always a delight to be around.
was after you'd gone through so much in your life. Any times
when you looked at the other beautiful young women and thought,
"Don't you see where you're going in life!"?
guess I have to be honest and say there was some of that.
There was a voice in me that would go, "Hey, girl! Wake
up!" But it was more me smiling at what they were going
through and knowing how unimportant physical beauty is. But I
wished them well! Hey, make what you can make! I hope
they're stashing it away and investing it. Use what you're
making on these shows at this time of your life to do something more
uplifting later on in life.
desire to throw on a red bathing suit and run down the beach in slow motion?
Uhh . . . No. Although they did give me the red bathing
suit, so I can wear it in my backyard.
stated that health and fitness helped you tremendously. How is
that incorporated in your life now?
want to clarify that I'm more into WELLNESS than I am
"fitness"--fitness being more focused on the physical.
I'm more into harmonizing the mind, body, and spirit.
Tai Chi is an ongoing art and way of life. I teach it at
UCLA and I have private classes. I teach because I'm a student,
and to be a better student one needs to teach what one knows. I
keep it alive that way. I try to meditate every day. I
haven't been as successful at doing it over the years. I'm
getting better at it. I started off the new year every morning
at five o'clock. I try to give everyday to my mind, part to the
spirit and part to the body. Whether it be learning something
new for my mind, reading some uplifting, inspiring work for my
spirit, spending time with my daughter, teaching her--that
embraces my spirit, and spending time with my body. I try
to balance my life every day.
denial that way? It took my girlfriend, who had witnessed it.
She came to me one day and said, "You're not going to say
anything, you're just going to come with me." She took me
to a battered women's shelter--Haven House--which has an outreach
program, counselors reaching out into the community. She said,
"I want you to meet with these women" and she came with
me. I'd been seeing a psychiatrist who wasn't able to help me,
and only angered me. Here I was spending money at a time I
couldn't afford it on a woman who just sat there and never said
anything. I was falling apart and I needed help, and I wasn't
getting that help. I went to the Haven House, and these women
just reached out to me and gave me the tools to put myself back
together again. That's what I needed.
now very active in campaigning against and educating about domestic
violence. Tell us about that.
I had my divorce from my first marriage, I had an emotional
breakdown. I found myself falling apart into 1,000
directions. I was wondering what I'd done wrong. How
could I stay in an emotionally dysfunctional relationship as long as
I did? How could I be
was it that they did to help you, specifically?
gave me the understanding of what had happened. They showed me
the pattern of my childhood. I'd been physically abused by my
father, sexually abused by my stepfather. This pattern, this
background in my life, had allowed me to not be fully developed
emotionally as an adult. I was still a child, dealing with
relationships as a child. All of the reading and studying
spiritually had not made me aware of that. That was the work I
had to do. I had to see the mechanisms in the relationships of
where I would shut down. One of the greatest things I learned
is that, as a child in an abusive relationship, you develop what is
called "muted senses." Any time someone is going to
abuse you, and you're in an abusive relationship, you shut down.
If you were going to feel, the intensity of the pain and anger would
be too much. What I kept seeing was that everytime anybody in
life--whether it was a casting person or someone at a grocery
store--if someone was rude to me or argumentative or bullish or
bullying to me, I could literally see myself start to shut down.
That was when I started to wake up to this situation and understand
how women could stay in physically and emotionally abusive
situations. The more I worked with these counselors, the more
reading I did in this area, the more I understood that, while my life
had not been as devastating as hundreds and thousands of women and
children have gone through in our society, I had witnessed enough of
it and knew enough of it in my own life, my own struggles to mend and
heal, I knew how to talk to these women. I could give back to
this shelter that had helped me by telling my story and what I'd
learned. This became my way of doing what I can to reach out in
my community and work in that way. My mother had been a victim
of domestic violence, and often I tell her story, which leads up to
telling my story.
addition to all of your cause-oriented work, you're still acting,
too. What are some upcoming projects fans should look for?
the last two years, I have done seven independent feature films as
well as a recurrent role on "Profiler" last year. I
really enjoyed that character, although I did not have a pleasant
time on that set. I still have trouble speaking out and not
shutting down, so I had a lesson to learn from that experience.
I would love to do more of that character, though. Two of those
feature films are still shooting. I leave for Lafayette, LA, to
finish "Delicate Instruments," where I play the wife of a
theatre professor played by Corbin Bernsen. The other is a
charming film called "Man Fast," where a group of women
pledge to have nothing to do with men for 100 days. I play a
news reporter who covers this on her talk show. All of these
films are low-budget. What's really fun in doing these films is
working with young, aspiring producers and directors fresh out of
film school making their dreams come true on a shoestring
budget. It's fun being around that kind of enthusiasm
again. Being in the business for so long, you can be around a
lot of jaded people. Another movie is called "Special
Weapons and Tactics." It's along the lines of a
"Police Academy." I play The Mayor. It's a
comedy-action-farce. It's very silly, lots of fun. If
they pull it off, it's going to be one of those cult films. At
the beginning of the year I did a film called "Touched By A
Killer" and it's going to be shown on Lifetime. I did
another called "Social Misfits," which had a limited
release in L.A. It was a very interesting film, lots of anger,
though. It deals with the anger and rage of a group of
teenagers, and it's very powerful. I'm also currently shooting a film
called "Clover Bend" playing opposite Robert Urich as his wife.
like a full schedule! If you were to leave your fans with a
message, what would it be?
all need to take time every day so we can tune in to connect
with--call it anything you want: God, the Void, the field of
potentiality, the quantum field--but everyone needs to take time
every day to tune in to that silence. I hope they will do
that. They will find many answers and be on the road to a more
fulfilling, harmonic life.
find out more information about
Erin Gray check out:
Gray - Official Web Site
to purchase videos featuring Erin Gray
several "Buck Rogers" episodes)