Monday, July 23, 2012
YEAR 1979: WILMA AND ARDALA
To date the late 1970s incarnations of comics-originals Wilma Deering and Ardala Valmar are probably the best known today.
Both characters premiered in the 1979 telefilm pilot, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, which managed to secure theatrical release on the basis of the STAR WARS craze.
The lighthearted teleseries never attained any of the deeper resonance of the Lucas conception, but perhaps because Princess Leia was a strong female character, this version of Wilma (portrayed by Erin Gray) was substantially as formidable as the book and comic-strip version. (The Wilma who appeared in the 1939 serial was minimally used, and I haven't seen the one in the 1950 teleseries.) In the telefilm Wilma was first relatively humorless but loosened up in the series proper, to the extent of wearing tight jumpsuits more often than military garb. She didn't get into physical fights as often as the comic-strip version but was in every way treated as a combat-equal.
As noted here the original Ardala was more or less Killer Kane's futuristic gun-moll, though on occasion she attempted to be a world-beater on her own. The teleseries reverses the power between Ardala and Kane, with Ardala upgraded to the princess of a star-spanning conqueror-race-- one loosely based on Buck Rogers' first major foes in the comic strip, a "Yellow Peril"-ish invasion forces called the "Hans" (just a SF-version of "Huns," of course). Kane is merely Ardala's stooge in the teleseries and makes only minor contributions to the storyline. The emphasis is entirely upon Ardala as the would-be mastermind of various plots to both overcome Earth's forces and to seduce Buck Rogers, not necessarily in that order. Ardala commanded far more power than her comic-strip namesake, but in many scripts she loses what claim she has to formidability due to her pettiness and the ease with which Rogers can deceive her. In her last appearance she's pretty much reduced to a basket case by the withering condemnation of an older and more seasoned villainess named Zarina-- who just happened to be played by an older and more seasoned actress known for playing a certain Bat-villainess, Julie Newmar.