In the Buck Rogers comic series and TV show, Colonel Wilma Deering has been Buck’s constant companion, sometime nemesis and part time love interest. She is always portrayed as dominant, assertive and a patriot to her home world of Earth with an explosive temper.
The characters origins date way back to the very first Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419 A.D. where Wilma is introduced as the strong, adventurous, heroic and beautiful paramour to Buck Rogers after he finds himself trapped in the future with no way home.A standard scene that is portrayed through all incarnations of the comic and TV shows is where Wilma is one of the first, if not the first person to meet Captain Buck Rogers after he awakens in the future.
Way back in 1928, Phillip Nowlan’s cult pulp comic, Armageddon 2419 A.D. was picked up in the weekly comic Amazing Stories, and Buck Rogers was chosen to be their lead story. The series was set to be illustrated by Frank R Paul.
In this incarnation, Wilma Deering finds Anthony “Buck” Rogers climbing out of a frozen cavern after he had been trapped inside, frozen in time for the past five hundred years. Rescuing Buck from the frozen cave she then rescues him again from a group of bandits while they make their way back to civilization, this was a quite daring move for the writers as they quickly established Wilma as the dominant character in the series while Buck seemed to be more of her sidekick in the larger picture.The comic series of Buck Rogers proved so successful with readers that it was brought back the next year where the story continued in The Airlords of Han.
John Flint Dille hired Nowlan to create a comic strip for his National Newspaper Service syndicate. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, drawn by Dick Calkins, first appeared in the comic pages on January 7, 1929, and Buck and Wilma fought off the "Mongol" invaders continuously until 1967.Shortly after the ‘sequal’ was published, the strip was found to be so popular that Buck Rogers branched out into other media; Adele Ronson was found as the voice of Wilma Deering throughout the 1932-1939 Buck Rogers radio serial on CBS.
The ‘Original’ Series
Way back in 1939 when Buck Rogers first blasted onto the screens, Wilma was played by Constance Moore. This series drifted from the comics somewhat and introduced Wilma as a Lieutenant in the ‘people’s liberation army’ fighting against the evil Killer Kane and his outlaw army.
Wilma in this incarnation is often shown as Buck’s sidekick and often is paramount in rescuing him from his own impulsive nature when it comes against the modern day sensibilities or technology of the 25 century.
Buck Rogers in The 25 Century
In 1979 the powers that be had decided that Buck and Wilma had wasted enough time lost in obscurity so they planned to revive the cult comic and TV show with a movie which could be used as a backdoor into a full TV series.
This time, Wilma, now Colonel Wilma Deering of the United Planets Space Force, was to be played by Erin Grey. Struggling to survive in a planet racked by a nuclear war, the setting of the new series was quite dark in contrast to the earlier more hopeful comics and shows.
When Wilma is first introduced she comes across as a rather cold character this time round, still keeping her dominant personality and fearless nature she finds Buck to be more of an annoyance and distrusts his story about being ‘frozen in time’ immediately. Later on in the series Wilma became a more warm character and often became a love intrest of Buck’s, though sometimes unwittingly or in a more tongue in cheek storyline.
Wilma's no-nonsense tough character actually gave many girls the inspiration to become pilots themselves, as well as providing sex appeal for the boys. In the first series Gray a natural brunette had to dye her hair blonde to fit the roll, something that gave her some distress, as she worried about the long term damage it might do her hair. At this time she was still working as a model, and so as a compromise the studio came up with a hair style of blonde at the front and brown at the back. Also she thought the character to impersonal and cold, and the scenes that showed a softer side to Wilma were always edited out. During the second series, on board the space ship Searcher this character bias flipped the other way, seeing Wilma become much more superficial, and has been described as being little more than a stewardess who smiled and delivered her lines.
Erin herself said :-
"She’s got a short skirt and lost all her power and strength."
This whole attitude is displayed in the 8th episode of the second series 'Shgoratchx!' The Searcher finds a derelict space ship with a crew of seven dwarfs, who have never seen a women before... They are put under the custody of Colonel Deering, but rapidly set about using their telekinetic powers to slowly pop all the fastenings on her uniform. As their cries of 'Off think! Off think' build to a crescendo, and Wilma gets all hot and flustered, Buck bursts just too soon and stops the seven dwarfs getting a glimpse of the 'bumps' they were so keen on...
Buck Rogers: A life in the Future
Another incarnation of Colonel Deering appears in the 1995 novel Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future, Wilma Deering this time is a pilot in the Space Corps and has a more romantic relationship with Buck Rogers before planning their marriage at the end of the novel.