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Erika Slezak Library


“Daytime Divas”, The Dish On Dozens of Daytime TV's Great Ladies

Author: Kathleen Tracy
Publisher: Renaissance Books, Los Angeles, 2000
Distributor: St. Martin's Press


Is this Viki Lord or one of her alternate personalities?

Crowning Role: Victoria Lord on One Life to Live

Reign: March 17, 1971-present

What Erika Says About Viki: "She's never been an uninteresting character."

Character's Most Notable Pursuit: Psychological stability and a consistent personality, as it were.

Character's Full Name: Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter

Husbands: Roger Gordon (marriage not legal), Joe Riley, Steve Burke, Clint Buchanan, and Sloan Carpenter

Character's Diva-lution: Victoria Lord was born into a powerful, wealthy, and prestigious family in the city of Llanview. Her widowed father, Victor Lord, owned the newspaper, the Banner. Viki adored her father and seemingly had the world at her feet, except for one problem-Niki Smith, her split personality alter ego. This put a strain on her relationship with Joe Riley, a reporter with whom Viki had fallen in love. After she and Joe married in 1970 against her father's wishes, Viki underwent treatment for her disorder and believed she was cured. But tragedy struck when Joe's car went over a cliff and she believed him to be dead.

Viki's life seemed to be turning around when she fell in love with Steve Burke, an executive at the Banner, and they were married. But their happiness was abbreviated by the shocking return of Joe, who hadn't died in the car accident after all. They were remarried and in 1976, had a son, Kevin, who was kidnapped from his crib but was eventually rescued.

Just when her life seemed to be settling into some kind of normalcy, a new threat presented itself in the guise of Dorian Cramer, whom Viki viewed as nothing more than a shameless opportunist. Victor Lord thought otherwise and married Dorian, who was indeed only after his money. When Victor died, Dorian became rich. Viki was so resentful and bitter that she suspected Dorian of killing her father. Dorian later was tried and convicted, although it wasn't the last Viki or Llanview would see of her.

In 1979,Viki met Joe's friend Clint Buchanan and it was dislike at first sight. What Viki didn't know was that Joe was dying and he hoped that Clint would be there for Viki. After Joe succumbed to a brain tumor-leaving Viki the single mother of Kevin and baby Joey-Clint went to work at the Banner, where he found himself falling in love with Viki. But it was a one-sided affair-Viki had no interest at all in Clint. That is, until he rescued her from kidnappers.

Once the ice was broken, Viki let down her guard and fell in love with Clint. They were married, with Clint happily stepping in as Kevin and Joey's father.

When Viki discovered that she had a half -sister, Tina, from an affair her father had had with her close friend Irene Manning, the shock resulted in another personality split and the return of the slutty Niki Smith. Viki's psychological backslide caused her marriage to end. For a long period, Niki completely took over Viki's personality, pretending to be Viki so that she could stay the dominant personality. Clint, however, eventually forced Niki into the background by pretending to be romantically involved with Tina-the shock over which brought Viki back. She and Clint remarried and Viki gave birth to Jessica.

As if Viki didn't have enough to deal with, in 1987 she had a near death experience, during which she was reunited with Joe in heaven. He told her it wasn't her time to die, and she returned to earth. Then Clint was blinded by a gunshot and disappeared back in time to 1888. Viki traveled through time to find Clint, who was about to marry Viki's ancestor Ginny-who looked suspiciously just like Viki.

In 1989,Viki discovered that she had been hypnotized into forgetting that she'd given birth as a teen. Her search for her daughter, Megan Gordon, led her to Eterna, an underground city created by her father. Only a few years after they were reunited, Viki endured the loss of her child as Megan died of lupus.

In 1994, Viki met Sloan Carpenter, a writer interested in Victor Lord. Viki fell in love with Sloan and left Clint, unaware that Sloan was dying. When she found out, she married Sloan, only to be left a widow, yet again, a few months later. The trauma of losing Sloan, coupled with the discovery of yet another illegitimate half sibling, triggered Viki's most severe psychological fissure yet, resulting in the appearance of not only Niki, but five additional alternate personalities: Tommy, Jean, Princess, Tori, and Victor.

This time, the underlying cause of Viki's lifelong condition was finally revealed: As a child, she had been sexually abused by her beloved father, Victor.

"It's good to have the character back," Erika said at the time. "And I'm glad they finally addressed the reason for Victoria's multiple personalities, a story the writers built up to beautifully."

"Before, Viki 's split personality was done well dramatically but not with psychological accuracy," explained writer Malone, who thoroughly researched what is properly called dissociative identity disorder. What he discovered was that the phenomenon is usually caused by childhood sexual abuse.

Slezak also carefully researched her role. A therapist dealing with the disorder allowed her to study therapy tapes of a patient. "It was extraordinary because the patient was a lovely, quiet, very sweet person," Erika noted. "But in the middle of the session, all these alters come out, which is stunning to see. I said it almost looks like bad acting because it is so broad. Actually, it's quite painful.

"In multiples, they create all different sides of personalities to cope with their unbearable feelings. It's a very logical disorder."

Viki's identities each represented a different side of Viki's personality. Fourteen-year-old Tommy was rage; Jean was a cool, collected woman who protected Viki from harm; Princess was a six year old who relived her father's abuse and represented the child Viki was when the abuse started; Niki, the original alter, was created to enjoy sex; Tori wanted to tell the secret; and Victor represented her father. And in a surprising turn of events, it was revealed that Tori killed Viki's father as payback for the abuse.

After intensive therapy-and two Emmys for Slezak-Viki is finally believed to be cured. But is she really? With the worst seemingly behind her, Viki is now the full-time publisher of the Banner and one of Llanview's grandest dames.

Real-Life Soap Opera: Acting is literally in Erika Slezak's blood. She is the second of three children born to actor Walter Slezak and his wife, Johanna. Erika's grandfather was an operatic tenor, Leo Slezak, who sang in Vienna and Berlin as well as at the New Metropolitan Opera. Erika grew up in Hollywood until the family moved to New York City in 1954 after Walter was cast in the Broadway musical Fanny, for which he won a Tony Award.

Young Erika was obsessed with acting. "Except for about twenty minutes when I wanted to be a nun, it never occurred to me to do anything else," she says. "I wanted to be a serious actress in the worst possible way. When I was a sophomore in high school, my father talked to me about training for a career in acting. One thing my father did for me was not discourage my ambitions. But he made sure I had no illusions about the acting profession, explaining that it was going to be harder for me because I had a famous father. I would have to prove myself more than others and, as usual, he was right."

After graduating from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in Greenwich, Connecticut, Erika was accepted at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. At seventeen, she was one of the youngest students ever granted admission. When she completed her studies, she returned to the United States and found work in regional theater, making $108 a week at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

In 1968, when she was only twenty-one, Slezak got married. It was a mistake. "He was a nice man," Erika says of her first husband. "But we had totally different ambitions." The married ended after three years.

She left Milwaukee in 1969 and continued working in theater, amassing credits including Sophocles' Electra, The Philadelphia Story, The Skin of Our Teeth, Design for Living, Hedda Gabler, The Big Night, Othello, Mary Stuart, The Importance of Being Earnest, A Streetcar Named Desire, Barefoot in the Park, Music Man, Mr. Roberts, Tartuffe, and Blithe Spirit.

Before leaving New York to play Dedemona in a Buffalo production of Othello, Slezak auditioned for One Life to Live. To her amazement, she got the job. "It happened so fast," Slezak recalls, noting that other than the character's name, she knew nothing about the part. " All I knew was that they were going to pay me for two years.

"God bless certain people who literally took me by the hand and led me through that first day because I had never done TV:"

When that contract was up, she signed up again. "The character was so fun I said, 'Yeah, I'll do another two years.' "

That was twenty-eight years ago, which Erika admits is "shockingly long. I've been there more than half my life."

Slezak's private life has been considerably less traumatic than Viki's. She met her husband, Brian Davies, when they worked together in The Circle at Manhattan's Roundabout Theatre. Erika and Brian have two children, Michael, born in 1980, and Amanda Elizabeth, born in 1981. The family lives in Long Island, but the bright lights of Broadway already beckon to Amanda, who yearns to be an actress just like her mother. Although Slezak's father encouraged her dreams, she has mixed feelings about her own daughter's career goals. She has told her, "Don't do it because you think you want to be famous. Just do it because you love to act. Then the fame doesn't matter."

Slezak follows her own advice. Unlike so many other daytime actors who feel stifled by being labeled "soap" stars, Erika never felt the need to try to conquer primetime or film.

"I'm an actress because I love to act. OK, I'm not up on the big silver screen," she acknowledges. "But I play this real interesting character on television. Daytime is not afraid to tackle any story. Why should I leave this show and go and do nothing? People are dying to get into daytime because it's steady work. And," she adds, "just because I'm a success in daytime doesn't mean I'd be a success in nighttime or film:"

That said, Slezak admits to having enjoyed filming a role in the primetime TV movie Danielle Steele's Full Circle. "It was terrific fun. And the kids thought it was cool because I had my own trailer."

More than anything, it seems that quality of life is what Slezak holds most dear, pointing out that being on daytime "enabled me to have a lifestyle I enjoy." A lifestyle that includes steady work and the freedom to be home in time to have dinner with her family.

Awards and Accolades: Erika Slezak has been honored with a record five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actress-1984-, 1986, 1992, 1995, and 1996.

Most Notable Real-Life Diva Moment: During an interview, Slezak showed the reporter one of her five Emmy Awards. "Look at this," the reporter described her as saying dismissively. "Detachable nameplates for the base. This one actually has doublestick tape on it."

Historical Footnote: Slezak might be best remembered as the woman who kept making Susan Lucci the perennial Emmy bridesmaid, besting her every year they went head to head. Because of all the hoopla surrounding Lucci's eighteen-year losing streak, One Life to Live producer Robyn Goodman felt Slezak's unprecedented fifth daytime Emmy was unfairly "obscured by everyone feeling badly for Susan. I understand that, but you don't want to neglect the person who was rewarded."

Trivia: In 1985, Donna Rice, the woman who torpedoed Gary Hart's presidential campaign, appeared as one of Niki Smith's friends, Jeannie.

Div-o-Meter: 6---Despite her longevity and the mantel full of Emmys, she's less a regal presence than a comforting earth mother.

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