You never know where someone will go after graduating from high school. Some day, the smiling face next to you in the yearbook could be smiling at you through your TV.
Such is the case with former Huntsville Hornet Erin Cummings, who will be playing Marge Slayton in ABC’s new series, “The Astronauts Wives Club.”
A new television drama series based on the book by Lily Koppel, “The Astronaut Wives Club” focuses on seven women who were key players behind some of the biggest events in American history. As America’s astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, the lives of their young wives were transformed, seemingly overnight, from military spouses to American royalty.
As their celebrity rose, and tragedy began to touch their lives, they rallied together. “The Astronaut Wives Club” premieres Thursday, June 18, on the ABC Television Network.
The Astronaut Wives Club is a 10-episode series about the true story of the wives behind the seven astronauts of the Mercury mission. These women were transformed from military wives to international stars overnight as their lives were documented in the news and on the covers of Life Magazine. The series spans from 1958 to the moon landing in 1969.
Erin Cummings, 37, plays Marge Slayton, wife of astronaut Deke Slayton. Marge Slayton is credited with organizing the group of women and planning activities for their gatherings.
After earning a degree in journalism, Cummings began acting after being spotted by an acting scout in Dallas in 2003.
“I was majoring in journalism with a specialization in advertising at the University of North Texas. I was doing an internship with DDB in Dallas and just found that I wasn't as excited about the actual job as I wanted to be," Cummings admits. "While it was a 'real job' and something that could have provided a more stable lifestyle for me, I didn't want to spend my life waking up every day with regret and going to a job that didn't inspire me. I always loved doing plays for H.E.A.P. during the summers as I was growing up in Huntsville."
Cummings wanted that same kind of joy and inspiration in her career. So, she saved some money made while waiting tables and started working with an acting coach in Dallas, with no real idea of where it would go. Her acting coach encouraged Cummings to audition for a community theater production of "The Sisters Rosensweig" by Wendy Wasserstein at the Lewisville Community Theater.
“I was approached by a woman who worked for the son of a well-known actor. She said that she was recruiting people who had the 'right look' to become models and actors. From this encounter, I decided to go to Los Angeles for a few weeks to meet people and see what 'the industry' was all about,” Cummings said.
This woman and the man she worked for didn't really help Erin get started, but they served as an inspiration for her to set about on a new path in her life.
“I don't really remember being 'scouted' as people like to imagine it. It wasn't like someone saw me and took me to Hollywood and all of a sudden I was making movies. It doesn't work like that. Regardless of the stories you read, it doesn't work like that,” Cummings said.
Cummings recalls people advising her not to go to Los Angeles, that it would be a mistake and that she would be taken advantage of and put in compromising positions or that she would be rejected.
They asked how long I was going to give myself before I gave up. I said, 'I'm not going to give up. I'm moving to Los Angeles and I'm going to be an actor. Period.' And that's exactly what I did.”
Cummings has since appeared and been a guest star in TV shows and movies, such as Detroit 1-8-7, Made in Jersey, Mad Men, Pan Am and Late Phases. She became inspired to play Marge Slayton after reading "Astronaut Wives Club" this past January.
“Although I did not grow up in the same poverty as Marge, I knew what it felt like to be an outsider," Cummings said. "Growing up in Huntsville, the idea of becoming an actress on TV seemed impossible. When I first came to Hollywood, I felt like I was so different, not growing up in LA or in 'the business.' I finally realized that just because I came from a small town, that didn't mean I couldn't dream big. So I related to Marge on that level.”
Unfortunately, dreaming big seemed to come with a price tag.
“I faced challenges as an up-and-coming actor — no money, no job, in debt from paying for acting classes and headshots, not being taken seriously because I had nothing on my resume, working student films and plays for little to no money because I just needed to get something on my resume, etc. The list goes on and on," she said.
"However, I look back on my journey and I realize that those years when I didn't get what I wanted and I had to fight harder and work harder and keep picking myself up again and again and again taught me that perseverance will prevail.”
Cummings credits her motivation to continue onward in spite of the hard times to her parents
“My parents kept me motivated through most of my journey. I consider myself very fortunate to have them to be a sounding board. They were not actors themselves, so we were able to navigate the twists and turns of my career together, learning together every step of the way.
"I know that not everyone has such supportive parents, but it's integral that whatever one decides to do, you MUST surround yourself with people who want you to win. Even if it means letting go of unsupportive friends and family. Sometimes, people let their own fear control those around them. My parents were often afraid of the unknowns of this strange business, but we kept strong communication and they were by my side every step of the way.”
As well as being dedicated to her acting career, Cummings has poured herself into a cause, for which she has a lot of passion. In 2010, she founded Mittens For Detroit, an active nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to provide mittens and gloves to children and adults in Detroit.
“What inspired me to start Mittens For Detroit was when I was living in a Detroit suburb, filming the ABC TV series, "Detroit 187," when I joined a friend to hand out Halloween candy," Cummings recalls. "It was 34 degrees that night and two young girls came to the door. One of them was shivering and crying, clutching a bare hand with her single-mittened hand. My friend asked the girl if she was crying because she was cold. The girl, too upset to speak, simply nodded 'yes.'
"My friend invited the girl and their mother inside to get warm while she retrieved a pair of mittens from her closet. She put them on the girl's hand and gave her a hug and a piece of candy. I noticed the large impact such a small gesture made on this girl and her family and decided that day to collect gloves and give them to people who needed them,” Cummings added.
Last year alone, Mittens for Detroit raised 35,000 pairs of mittens for the “Motor City," and since being founded, the organization has raised approximately 85,000 mittens for Detroit since its start in November 2010.
Cummings also has her own jewelry collection, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Mittens For Detroit.
When asked if she would like to leave some words of wisdom to this year’s graduating class at Huntsville High, she said, “Look up the video for Baz Luhrmann's 'Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen' on YouTube. It pretty much will tell you everything you will ever need to know to prepare you for life. It played on the radio when I had just graduated from HHS and it's still relevant today.”
Catch Erin Cummings in the premiere of “The Astronauts Wives Club” on June 18 (7 p.m. Central time) on the ABC television network.