Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site  
Home Email  
More Articles
71 Spoiled with Love
72 DTV Cover
72 Memories Family
73 Lived like Gypsy
74 Not Ready
74 Miss SuperCool
75 Life Story
76 Five Years
76 Sensitive
77 SOD Cover
77 Surprised
77 ATVA Cover
77 RBD Cover
77 Lost her Touch
77 Daytime Stars
77 Like Yesterday
78 DTV Cover
78 Long Distance
78 My Rules
79 SOD Cover
79 Don't Step

70s Favorite Holiday
70s Loving Memories
70s Most Popular
70s Viki's Life Story
70s SOD Cover

80 On Her Own
81 So happy
81 More Children
81 2nd Pregnancy
81 Will she
83 ATV Cover
83 SOD Cover
83 Good Life
84 Bouncing Back
85 Niki Smith
86 Viva Miss Viki
88 Own Life
88 OLTL 20 years
89 Private Lives

90 Share Alike
90 American Dynasty
90 Day in Life
90 Shattering Myth
91 SOW Cover
91 Leading Lady
91 Two Emmys
91 DTV Cover
91 Lady of Manor
91 No Substitutes
91 20 Quotes
92 SOW Cover
92 Episodes Cover
92 Lunchtime Fav
92 SOM Cover
93 SOD Cover
93 OLTL 25 Yrs
94 New Age Innoc
95 SOM Cover
95 24 Years
95 SOW Cover M
95 SOW Cover A
95 With Reservations
95 SOW Cover O
96 Victorious
96 Thank the Lord
96 Her Life to Live
96 Multiplicity
96 In Step
97 Adores Her Job
97 One Life to Give
97 Who Says
98 30 Something
98 Life's Work
99 High Notes
99 SOD Cover
99 Changing Times
99 When Blondie
99 SID Cover
99 SOW Cover
99 TV Guide Online

00 Daytime Divas
00 SOW Cover
00 The Babe
00 Performer
00 Life Goes On
00 Tell All
00 Will Survive
00 Incomparable
00 SOD Cover
00 To the Mob
00 Promo
00 SID Cover
00 Last Chance
01 Thanks
01 Sentinel
01 Regis
01 Pictoral
01 Big 3 0
01 Click
01 Roundup
01 Good Show
01 Celebrates
01 Tribute
01 SID Cover A
01 Wedding
01 Soap Net 1
01 Soap Net 2
01 Soap Net 3
01 Time To
01 Secrets
01 Luncheon
01 OLTL Luncheon
01 Emmys
01 Perf of Week
01 SID Cover J
01 Fight
01 Wild Nightmare
01 Inmates
01 Real Life Love
01 Postcard
01 SOW Cover
01 Reveals
01 Changeling
02 Dear Niki
02 Promo
02 SOW Cover
02 Together
02 SOU Cover
Erika Slezak Library

ABC Soaps In Depth
April 20th, 1999 Vol. 3 Issue 16

Hitting the High Notes

By: Matt Webb Mitovich

At first she was afraid, she was petrified. Words along those lines mark the lead-in to the disco ditty "I Will Survive" as well as describe Erika Slezak's reaction to the news that her Llanview alter ego - proper society queen Victoria Lord Carpenter - would croon the tune in a rousing bar scene that aired in February.

So, who had the task of telling the daytime veteran, who has seen her character do everything from split into assorted personalities to burrow for bullion in the underground city of Eterna, that she was stepping up to the microphone? "Oh, it was Jill," she says with a roll of her smiling eyes, referring to executive producer Jill Farren Phelps.

"She came to me a few months ago and said, 'You sing, don't you?' I replied, 'No,' and Jill said, 'Oh, yes you do' and she started to walk away."

Despite her lineage - she's the granddaughter of world-famous operatic tenor Leo Slezak and daughter of actor and Metropolitan Opera singer Walter Slezak and opera singer Johann Van Rign - Slezak does not sing, so she persistently nipped at Phelps' heels as they continued down the hallway. "I went after her," she recalls, and said, 'Hello?! Do you know what 'No' means? 'No, N-0. I don't sing. I am not a singer.' " Jill said, 'Well, I bet you do,' and I said, 'No, I don't. What are you talking about any way?!' She said, 'I don't know; it's just an idea we had...' "

Once Slezak learned that her choral coming-out would take place in the context of a karaoke saloon sing-along, she gradually warmed up to the idea. "When I found out that it was karaoke, I felt, 'Well, I can fake that,"' the determined performer states, "as long as it's the right song."

"My son called me as soon as the song was over," says Slezak.
"He was laughing hysterically."

Name That Tune

With the star's hesitation now abated, there was just the matter of choosing that perfect song, a step which Slezak tackled personally. 'Initially, they wanted me to sing some Billie Holiday blues song," she reports, diving back into her modest mantra. "I said, 'I'm sure it would be great, but I don't sing. I can carry a tune, and I can read music, but I am not a singer, and you cannot sing a Billie Holiday torch song if you can't sing. That's painful.'"

Instead, Slezak opted for something, as she puts it, "light and loud" - "I Will Survive." "Jill was at first a little nervous," the actress reveals, "because she thought that it might read as Viki saying 'Clint is out of the way, and I will survive.'"

Rather, the reasons behind Slezak's selection are less cerebral. "I happened to love Priscilla, Queen Of Thee Desert," she explains, referencing the 1994 movie about cross-dressing cross-country travelers that used the Gloria Gaynor track as an anthem of sorts. "Also, it's a karaoke song, and it is a song you don't have to be a singer to sing. Because it's loud, you can act it more, and you can speak a lot of it."

With the song in place, and the anxious actress ready for her close-up, Slezak unabashedly unleashed her rowdy rendition and got by just fine... with a little help from her friends. "Thank God, the people who were extras on the set that day were so fabulous," she effuses. 'I was trying to sneak around to them, going, 'I don't care what the director says, you've really got to help me - make a lot of noise, scream and holler, stomp and cheer."'

It also helped that the crowd was warmed up by the burly entertainer who preceded Viki. "The big guy who sang the song before mine," she reveals, "was Jamie Howarth, our music director."

When all was said and done, the end result of the actress' efforts suited her just fine. "It was fun,' she says, adding one tiny caveat as she cups her cheeks in mock horror: "But oh my God, the last note was so flat!"

Humming A Few Bars

That one errant note is perhaps the only place you'll find discord in Slezak's world these days, for this soap icon is thoroughly happy with the state of affairs in Llanview. In fact, Viki has an affair of her own warming up right now, as she gets closer to Ben, the doctor-turned-barkeep who has been delighting "Blondie" as well as the show's fans. "People like it!"

Viki's portrayer proudly reports. 'The letters have been very positive. People are saying, 'Ifs so nice to see Viki happy and smiling!' Even my husband [actor Brian Davies], who never watches the show, said, 'I love seeing you so adorable and flirtatious!'"

While thrilled with the feedback, Slezak is not entirely surprised, because no one is closer to Viki and her wants than the woman who has been playing her since 1971, netting five Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress along the way. "What people forget is that Viki is a very bright woman who needs to be intellectually challenged," she declares. "In fact one letter received said, 'I hope Viki finds another educated man, like Sloan.' As it happens, we have now found out that Ben is educated and an intellectual equal and God knows what else!"

And just as Viki is thrilled to have a new man in her life, Slezak, in turn, is quite pleased with Mark Derwin, who plays the enigmatic Ben. 'He is a doll," she raves. "The best part about it is be shows up in the morning and is so happy. It's very nice to work with someone who really wants to be here, wants to rehearse, and likes what he's doing."

After all, says Slezak, maintaining that positive posturing is no easy feat amidst the grueling daytime workload. "This is very hard to do under any circumstances," she attests. "It's even harder when you're dealing with misery all daylong. You don't need it"

Slezak and Amanda

Sweet 17

Erika Slezak talks about her early start in acting and its effect on her as a parent.

The advisory is printed simply in the entry requirements for London's prestigious Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art: "Entry is by audition and interview. It is unusual for candidates to be offered a place under the age of 18." Those stern words, in and of themselves, speak volumes about the innate ability of Erika Slezak, who was admitted to the 95-year-old institution at the age of 17.

The actress—whose daughter, Amanda, is now that same age – looks back upon her brave journey to Europe thusly: "I thought my parents didn't love me at all, which I know is not true." She starts, "or they must have trusted me enormously to let me go off to England by myself."

It also helped the precocious coed's cause that it was a simpler time then, and her destination was a civilized place. "I didn't go off to Casablanca," she laughs. "I went to London, and in the 60s, it was going through a wonderful revolution. You had the mod clothes, and it was just a fabulous place for somebody very young to be. You could still take a taxi home in the middle of the night – you can't do that anymore."

So, naturally, the mother of two – Amanda and Michael – hesitates when asked if she would allow her own daughter to make a similar journey. "I mentioned that to my husband once," she reveals. "I said, 'Do you think there is any way we would let Amanda go live in a foreign country by herself?' He said, 'I wouldn't,' and I thought, 'I wouldn't either.' The world is too different, and London is not at all an English city anymore. It's quite different now."

Even domestically, Slezak has her concerns. "Amanda has applied to New York University, and I'm worried because the streets of New York City are not safe."

Listening to the actress, it's touching to realize how the former 17-year-old acting prodigy has grown into a protective mother. "Wherever Amanda ends up, I'll still worry about her."

Slezak spends all of her free time with hubby Brian and kids Amanda and Michael

Whistle While You Work

Contented actors like Slezak and Derwin, mind you, are not the cause of the spirited atmosphere over at OLTL these days, rather, they are the effect. The champion of the cheerful vibe, maintains Slezak, is none other than boss Phelps, the same lady who was able to woo the actress into warbling.

"Jill has set a tone around here that is very positive, by saying, don't need negative; I need positive. I need people who want to be here.' She has resurrected the show and put people back into the right groups where they belong."

Slezak cites herself and Robert S. Woods (Bo) as just two Llanview mainstays who have benefited from Phelps' changes. "Bob is on Cloud Nine," she declares. After all, look at how wide suddenly Bo's whole life has become. It's not just tied in with one person. He's now talking to his father, and his nephews, and he's commissioner again, and he's got Lindsay. There is so much going on.

"And Viki, too. I've got The Banner, I've got my kids, I've got Jessica and the baby, I've got Ben, just so many things to OCCUPY Me. I'm very happy! And that is credited to Jill and our writers now. It's a pleasure to come to work, to pick up a new script and go, 'I wonder what's going to happen....'"

Will Ben tell Viki the truth?

Talk About An Evolution

To fill a daytime legend of Slezak's standing with wonder, following so much tremendous storyline, is no small feat. After all, she has been with OLTL practically since its inception - this is someone who has seen just about everything. Yet in the beginning, the actress reflects, storytelling was far more restrained than the unbridled scenarios unraveling on soaps today.' The biggest change I've seen in daytime," she opines, "is probably the freedom that they now have to deal with any story, and that's because the world has changed so. When I joined the show, you did not have mixed-race stories, you never had homosexual stories... You just couldn't do them. Even religion was touchy. You know, there was a time, in the1970s, when ALL MY CHILDREN did a mixed-race story, and stations all over the South canceled the show. We don't want to see that' they said. But nothing is taboo anymore.

"The other big change," she continues, "is the amount of money they spend on shows now as compared to then. In those days, we competed with the other two networks, and that was essentially it. Now, we're competing with movies, cable, talk shows... so we have to spend more."

In fact, it is that same level of increased competition, the actress says, which is playing havoc with the all-too-important ratings numbers that executives scrutinize day in and day out. "I'm always kind of surprised," she candidly reveals, "when I see these 'doom and gloom' reports from the networks saying, We've got to get these ratings back.' You know what? They'll never come back! This is already pretty good! We've got a huge share of an audience watching us, when you consider what they could be watching. All they have to do is be bored for five seconds and they click the remote. There are 500channels to watch now, so we'll never match the numbers we had 10 years ago."

The Song Remains The Same

Yet despite the changes in climate and cash flow, daytime, at its heart, is the same as it ever was, according to Slezak. "Basically, we still do the same thing. We do it on a larger scale, with bigger sets and better costumes, but we tell the same stories. That's what daytime is about--people and stories. If you have good stories and interesting characters, you have a successful show. You can even have very interesting characters and a less good story, and people will still put up with you. But they have to be invested in the characters."

One other constant to rely upon is Slezak's presence in daytime, a place she feels she belongs, even if she eventually is forced to break into show tunes in The Banner press room. "I don't know what I would be if I weren't an actress, because from the time I was probably 3years old, it never occurred to me that I would be anything but an actress. And it is to God's credit that he has allowed me to have a successful career, because if I didn't have one, I don't know what I would be. I really don't"

Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site
Copyright 2002 ESFC    Home    -   Email