Soap Opera Digest, 1983
Erika Slezak enjoys the Good Life!
By: Marianne Goldstein
Here's a toughie: Close your eyes and try as hard as you can to - imagine Victoria Lord Riley
Buchanan, that elegant, prim and oh-so-proper newspaper heiress on ABCs "One Life to Live," wearing a pair of blue jeans. Can't see it, eh? All right, try this one: picture the ever-dignified Victoria Lord Riley Buchanan, everyone's friend and mother figure - the person all of Llanview turns to in times of crisis - referring to someone as "a pain in the neck." You're right, Viki probably wouldn't say that - but Erika Slezak, who has portrayed her for the last dozen years, says that - about Viki.
"We're not at all alike: Erika admitted recently one morning. Clad in a cranberry pullover, comfortable leather boots - and -yes - faded blue jeans, Erika speaks while curled up on the bright
yellow couch in her Manhattan dressing room. "I mean, we have the same color hair - but that's where the similarity begins and ends. There are some basic things in her character which I really
hope aren't in mine.
"She's a pain in the neck. Everyone must do things right. She's so stubborn about certain things. She may be older and wiser now, but she still lives by that strict moral code she was raised with, adds Erika.
Over the past 12 years, viewers have seen Viki move from schizophrenia to motherhood, through two husbands and a crooked fiance. They have watched her ascension to the publishing throne left to her by her late father, Victor Lord, the man who owned Llanview long before Asa Buchanan came on the scene. Save for the mental illness, the crooked fiance, one husband and the publishing job, that's pretty much the course Erika Slezak has taken. She is most happily married to actor Brian Davies and is most delightedly mothering her two babies, Michael, three, and Amanda, 20 months.
I don't get enough time with my family. I hate to say it because it almost sounds ungrateful, but people who stay at home don't know how lucky they are to have that time
"I will say this about Viki - she has had a better sense of humor these days ...but then, having kids would change anyone," Slezak says with a knowing laugh.
A contented home life, then, is all that Viki and Erika seem to have in common. Erika, in person, exhibits all of Viki's cool classiness but she's also animated, bright, funny and thoroughly charming. Though her bearing is as regal as Viki's, the voice is less restrained. An articulate woman, Erika's voice rises and falls and chuckles. Slezak is clearly respected around the set of OLTL: she takes no more than two steps into the makeup room to fetch a cup of tea before she's consulted by two castmates on how to smuggle in a birthday cake for Steve Fletcher [Brad] later in the day. "I think a lot of the younger actors look up to Erika, not only because she is so professional in doing her job, but also because she seems to be so stable," says on-screen husband. Clint Ritchie [Clint Buchanan].
While Viki's problems on the show of late have focused on ethical and professional arguments with Clint, Erika's biggest problem right now is much easier to relate to. Like many women, she's trying to find the time to juggle a successful career and a harmonious home life. Time, and her lack thereof, is a running theme throughout the conversation. The exhausting dawn-to-dusk hours required of soap stars, combined with the almost daily trek from her suburban Long Island, N. Y. home, leaves Slezak with precious few hours to spend with Brian and the kids. And while she's still committed to her role on OLTL, Erika has had some problems with the challenge of coordinating the two very busy Parts of her life.
"I don't get enough time with my family," she notes sadly. "I hate to say it because it almost sounds ungrateful, but people who stay at home don't know how lucky they are to have that time .. and they're probably sitting at home saying, 'She doesn't know how lucky she is to get out' ...It's true; the grass is always greener on the other side. We always want something we don't have.
"There are a lot of times when I think to myself, 'God, would I like to just stay home. I want to be with my babies.' Sometimes I don't think my babies know who I am. I don't want to give this up: Slezak admits, waving an unmanicured hand around the small, windowless dressing room. "I want everything. I want them to pay me for not coming to work. I want to stay home and wake up when I want to and play with the kids. I want everything on my terms - but then, who doesn't? What would be perfect: she continues, her light blue eyes crinkling when she smiles, "would be if I could limit this show to three episodes a week then I would be in heaven."
If all indicators are correct, these days heaven isn't too far removed from the Tudor- style home her family including Maltese Ludwig and Kate the Cat (aka Katherine of Arrogant) - has inhabited for the past year and a half. In addition to doing commercials, Brian is currently working on setting up several film projects. This work allows him to stay close to home and close to the children, who are tended by a nanny. When freed from the studio, Erika knows there's no place like home. "I can't wait to get out! You should see the mad dash when I'm finished here. They say, 'Tape is cleared' and I'm out the door - literally out the door.
'Brian and I are calm, peaceful people -- real homebodies. There's always a fire in the fireplace. We're kind of an old, boring married couple," she jokes. But there's no embarrassment in the statement: Erika Slezak is clearly a woman who is very happy to be at the station in life she's reached.
"If I had children ten years ago, I might not have had the patience, and might have felt like I was missing something. I left home at 17 to go to acting school, and I've been on my own since then. I was 33 when Michael was born. It wasn't as if I was giving up something. I had had enough of being on my own: Erika says candidly. "How many discos can you go to? How many parties? How many different people do you want to go out with? It gets boring. It's nice to know one guy, to get used to his good habits and his bad habits, so there are no more surprises. "
Though things are this good in the Slezak-Davies union, it hasn't been an overnight development. Theirs is a loving friendship that has matured -- as they have grown and changed over the years to a point where love and mutual respect are intertwined.
Erika and Brian met ten years ago while appearing together in an off-Broadway production of Somerset Maugham's "The Circle." Love didn't take hold instantly - but like did. They became friends and managed to stay in touch, mostly via the phone, as their careers took them to different parts of the country. Both saw other people, but as those others passed through their lives, Brian and Erika remained a constant influence in each others'.
When Brian came back to New York after working in California, he and Erika began to "see" each other, as the quaint vernacular goes - though for them, the change didn't seem all that radical.
"I always liked him very much," Slezak confesses. "Some things just take time. (Love) was probably there all the time, but we never did anything about it in the beginning. I think we were both being a little careful."
As for marriage, "There was never any question about it. I don't think we ever made a conscious decision to get married. I remember that he asked me once, but it was long after we had decided to get married," Erika recalls with a giggle. "I think the only reason he asked me is because I kept nudging him." In a whining voice, Slezak imitates her straightforward approach to Mr. Davies: "You never asked me to marry you!"
The first two of their five years of marriage were spent apart, with Brian stationed in California, and Erika tied to New York because of OLTL. Though this is, perhaps, not the coziest way to be a newlywed, they made it through with frequent visits and phone bills that would subsidize the building of an MX-missile silo!
"That was a hard time: a more formally dress Erika says later in the day after a dress rehearsal. "You get so tired and you begin to say, 'It's not work it!' The only communication you have is by telephone (because no one writes letters anymore). It's not satisfactory: all you can do is hear the person's voice. You can't see their face. You take umbrage too quickly. Nothing is translated properly. It's a really impossible situation."
In her life, Erika has faced what could potentially have been another impossible situation. But, in Viki-style fashion, she overcame the situation by being the bright, classy woman that she is, halting any intimations that she's gotten where she has because she's famed movie actor Walter Slezak's daughter. "Of course, there'll always be people who'll say, 'Oh, aren't you Walter's daughter?', and that will keep happening, because he is very beloved by many people who really enjoyed his performances. I am always proud to be his daughter. But I think that most people have come to know me as me, and I don't think that most people think of me as his daughter. Perhaps if I had never worked, things might be different, but I've had a chance to prove myself."
Erika started proving herself when, after high school, she left her parents' Larchmont, New York, home to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. She was the youngest in her class. Compliments about her fine diction are not unfounded - Erika won the Royal Academy's award for speech and diction: not bad, considering she was the only American in an all-British class. From London, she went to the Milwaukee Repertory Company and the Alley Theater in Houston, where she played roles in everything from "Hedda Gabbler" to "Charlie's Aunt." Back in New York in 1972, Slezak auditioned for a part on "All My Children." Agnes Nixon, the show's creator, didn't think she was exactly right for that part - but she did think Erika would make a splendid Viki. And the rest is history, sort of.
One of the characteristics which Erika says has helped her is a hearty sense of humor. Indeed, in a business where egos usually run larger than the national debt, and self-importance sometimes seems to be of supreme importance, the ability to laugh at yourself or your situation is one
that is cherished.
Her longtime castmate Michael Storm, says that through the years he's worked with Erika, "She's managed to retain her sense of humor, her sense of silliness, her sense of the absurd -all the things you get to appreciate in this business." Adds Clint Ritchie: She is really a joy to work with...She has a great sense of humor and a marvelous naughty-girl giggle."
Slezak's lightheartedness extends far beyond the walls of the OLTL studio: Erika and Brian try to keep their marriage fresh by "laughing a lot. He's a very funny man and he makes me laugh - and I think that's a good part of how the friendship is kept blooming."
Which is not to say that their romance vanished when the diaper pail began to fill: on the same finger on which she wears her wedding band, Erika shows off a beautiful platinum ring made of pale green stones. And therein lies a tale:
It all started last November in London, where Brian and Erika went for their first solo vacation since becoming parents. "We hadn't been in London more than ten minutes before I called home: she recalls with a mock roll of her eyes. "We called home every single day. We called home twice in two days. The biggest expense on our trip to London was the phone bill!"
While there, the Davies' visited with family and friends and perused antique shops. In one of those stores, a ring caught Erika's eye. "It was really exquisite. I had never seen anything like it, and I asked the owner what it was made of. He told me it was composed of pale emeralds." Erika showed it to Brian, but he didn't seem too impressed. He said, "You don't need another ring. We'll come back and look at it another time!"
Unknown to Erika, a plot began to take shape. "I forgot all about the ring. Then, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Brian started acting strangely. He had been home all day, and every time I spoke to him on the phone from work, he seemed very crazy. In fact, he said to me, 'I'm going crazy, I'm waiting for something and it's not coming."' When quizzed further, Brian told Erika he was expecting some "neat" books he had- ordered for her Christmas present. "I said not to worry about it, but he said he felt badly, and was going to sit there and wait for them." Christmas came and went - and no "neat" books. Not that Erika minded; it had been such a "splendid" holiday she forgot all about the missing books. As a joke, she had given Brian a present of a ribbon-bedecked mug stuffed with 25 pens and 45 pencils - all to offset his complaints that their household was devoid of any writing tools. Two days after Christmas, a very tired Erika came home to find an extremely disgruntled Brian. "You know those pencils you gave me?" he queried. "Well, none of them are sharpened."
A usually calm woman, Erika didn't say what was on her mind: "You've got a pencil sharpener, you know." When she didn't jump to the sharpener, Brian added, "And, anyway, there's something funny about those pencils." This sparked her curiosity, and Erika went into the den to check them out. Hanging off one of them, was her beautiful pale emerald ring -- a few days late, but every bit as precious. It all became clear: the frenzy, the '.books." A friend of Brian's in London had bought the ring and sent it here via insured express mail. Too bad the customs officials in New York didn't realize its significance, they held it over the weekend. "It was a very, very sweet thing for him to do: says Erika with a fond smile. "But then, he's a very sweet, very considerate man'.
I want everything. I want them to pay me for not coming to work. I want to stay home and wake up when I want to and play with the kids. I want everything on my terms but then, who doesn't? Considerateness is a quality both Erika and Brian have worked hard to develop in their quest for a relatively normal homelife. Both eschew the glamorous show-biz lifestyle, preferring the kitchen floor to the dance floor. "We try very hard to be patient with one another. He knows how tired I can get, but for both us I have to make the effort to be just as perky and alive and awake at home as I am here. Sometimes you think, 'Oh, well, I'll just go home and collapse.' You can't. He deserves that much attention, too. Why should I give all my energy here. ..But you do, you know, because it's daytime and you're more awake during the day. But, it's not fair to him, and when he's working it's not fair to me. It's hard to combine two things.
Having kids is bound to change a marriage and the individual partners. Sometimes tots can drive a wedge in between mom and dad, sometimes a parent may begin to feel constrained by the new responsibilities. But in the case of the Davies, raising Michael and Amanda has been a truly cooperative venture. It seems to have brought them closer together, made them more of a team. Brian even sat in on the birth -- by Caesarian section -- of tiny golden-curled, blue-eyed Amanda. It was an act above and beyond the call of duty for any expectant father. "It didn't hurt, recalls Erika, smoothing out the pleats in her beautiful red silk dress. I had a Caesarian with Michael, so I knew pretty much what to expect. Brian wasn't sure at first about watching, but later he said it was a truly fabulous experience. They dressed him up in this sterile suit that had a little bonnet and booties, and he looked so funny just like the Easter Bunny. It was a fascinating experience for me -to know that someone's hands were poking around my insides. I wanted to sit up and watch!"
Slezak looks back fondly on the week she spent in the hospital after each birth because, it's the most time -uninterrupted time -you ever get to spend with the baby. When you're home, there are all sorts of distractions. At the hospital, you have hours to be with the baby."
Having children has given Erika more than a small scar on her stomach: its impressions have been far more profound, and will grow, not shrink with age. It's the most rewarding thing in the world.
You come to a realization: I know why I'm here on earth. I do a lot of other stuff, but this is the reason. There is no experience comparable. It's a feeling like no other. Children love so unquestionably -it's one hundred per cent pure, " Slezak firmly believes.
While the couple has more than enough money to live extravagantly, they are infinitely more attracted to the simple things in life. Though she dearly loves her pale emerald ring - and who wouldn't? - Erika's favorite gift is one that can't be bought. Situated next to her list of "very important numbers" (the butcher, the doctor, the restaurant that delivers), taped to her dressing room mirror is a scribbled piece of paper. "Oh, that," says Erika when asked about its significance, "That's a note that Michael wrote me. It says," Erika explains with a very proud mother's smile, "I love you, Mommy."