“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
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's Most Notable Pursuit: Psychological stability and a
consistent personality, as it were.
Character's Full Name: Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan
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
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,
"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.