Nov. 3, 1996
IN STEP WITH ERIKA SLEZAK
By: JAMES BRADY
LAST MARCH, ERIKA Slezak
--one of the most durable stars in daytime television and the winner of five
Emmy Awards---celebrated her 25th anniversary on ABC's One Life To Live. Does
she ever get tired of it? "I get to work 44 weeks a year at what I love to do,
which is to act," Erika told me. "And in this job, I get to go home at night."
Which she does, not chauffeured by a network limo but by driving herself into
Manhattan each morning from her home on Long Island, and then back. "I have a
Jeep, so I can even get in through the snow," she said. I was visiting Erika in
her dressing room one recent morning at the ABC studios on NewYork's West Side
and drinking a cup of coffee that she'd gone to fetch herself. She was wearing a
scarlet tennis shirt and neatly pressed denim jeans and a jacket, with brown
loafers. Her daughter, Amanda, was in the dressing room too. "Amanda is in tenth
grade, and she worked for me this summer," Erika said. And she's hoping to get
into Yale when the time comes. Erika's son, Michael, is an 11th-grader, who
plans to attend the Wharton School of Business at Penn. "He wants no part of
before-the-camera," said Erika. "He wants to run the business."
Erika's husband and the father of her children is the actor Brian Davies.
"He's still acting," she told me, "but not as busy as he once was. When the kids
came along, he essentially gave up a career in California to be with the
children. He's the parent at home, because I had this steady thing. It's a
partnership in every sense, and he's an at-home dad."
Erika herself is a child of showbiz. Her mother was an aspiring opera singer,
and her father was Walter Slezak, a Tony-winning stage actor and movie star. Did
Erika ever resent it that Daddy was cast so often as a heavy in his movies?
"No," she said. "I didn't know the difference. All I knew was that in New York
the cab drivers all waved to him, 'Hiya Waltuh!' I was so proud of him. The work
he did was wonderful--he played delightful villains."
When the family moved East, Erika attended Convent of the Sacred Heart--first
in Greenwich, Conn., and later in Philadelphia. ("We stay in touch," she said.
"They write asking for money.") At 17, wanting to act but convinced by her
father that she'd need professional training, Erika entered the Royal Academy of
Dramatic Art in London. After graduation, there was repertory stage work in
Milwaukee and the Alley Theater in Houston. Then the part as "Viki" on One Life
came along in 1971, and she has been there ever since. Any regrets that she's
not a Broadway or Hollywood star?
"I grew up thinking my career would be in theater," Erika said," and I worked
three or four years in rep, and then this fell into my lap. Daytime is the
closest thing we have to real theater. You don't do take after take-you try to
do it once and get it right." And is the term "soap opera" pejorative?" Yes, we
prefer to say 'daytime.' But even we say 'soaps' all the time."
I've always been curious as to how soap opera stars get any time off, since
the shows are on every day. "Normally, they'll pretape a few episodes,' said
Erika, "but the fans know and expect that occasionally I'll be off. In my
contract, I can take a month off. The writers send me to a sanitarium or a
conference, or there's an illness and I'll be gone to Switzerland for the air."
Year after year, Susan Lucci is nominated for daytime Emmy along with Erika,
and Lucci never win. Are they bitter enemies or close friends? "We're not close
friends, and we don't socialize much," she said. "But we get along very well,
and she's always so gracious when I win."
What about Candice Bergen's decision this year not to permit herself to be
nominated for Murphy Brown, so another actress could win the Emmy? 'I think
Candy was wrong,' Erika said. I got very annoyed with one writer who favors
Susan Lucci and wrote that I should pull out. That's not the way this country is
run. If you have one Pulitzer Prize, you deserve to try to achieve another. The
way we recognize good work is giving out awards."
Born August 5,
1946 in Hollywood California.
Married to Brian Davies, 1978-; two children: Michael 16 and Amanda, 15
Include OLTL, 1971-(Emmy Awards, 1984, 1986, 1992,
1995 and 1996).
Include Danielle Steele's Full Circle, 1996.
Includes Electra, 1966 (debut): member of Milwaukee
Repertory Company, 1966-69; member of Ally Theater in Houston, 1969-70; The