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Erika Slezak Library

Soaps In Depth
July 21, 1998

Her Life's Work

By: unknown

As Llanview turns 30, its First Lady, Erika Slezak, hits her stride

When Erika Slezak joined the cast of ONE LIFE TO LIVE on March 17, 1971, the California native had no idea what she was getting herself into. "I had come to conquer New York and hopefully get a job on Broadway," she explains. "Then, when I signed a two-year contract, I thought, Two years to have one job is unheard of.' Never in a million years could you have convinced me that I'd be here this much later."

In the 27 years that have followed, Slezak has played one of television's most complex, dynamic and durable characters. Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter has traveled to heaven and through time, suffered from multiple-personality disorder and survived a stroke, buried a husband and child, and resurrected both a lost city and the demons of her past. And through it all, her portrayer has maintained an unwavering loyalty to the soap that has endeared her to co-stars, critics and fans alike. "Erika Slezak is the heart and soul of the a show," says Gary Warner, OLTL aficionado and author of ONE LIFE TO LIVE: Thirty Years Of Memories. 'Through every writer and outlandish situation that Viki has been in, Erika has remained true to her character. I really don't think there would be a show without her:"

Slezak insists that the investment that she's made go in the show has been a two-way street. "It's an actor's dream to be able to come to work each day and do wonderful material," she says. "OLTL has been very good to me, and I've enjoyed myself every day. That's why I'm till here."

More Life To Live

With five Best Actress Daytime Emmy Awards in her living room, and more than a quarter century of history under her belt, what could possibly be left for Slezak to achieve as Llanview's leading lady? Plenty, she says. "Every day is left. I want to do a good job with the material that they give me. I want to continue enjoying it and continue living every day as I have for the past 27 years.

"I have a huge, vested interest in the show," she continues. "It's not just a place I work. I've spent more than half of my life here, and I care about OLTL a lot. I don't want to see it go down in flames, and I don't want it to go out with a whimper, either."

Slezak's longevity on OLTL also is proof positive that women over 40 still are viable actresses, capable of playing compelling, sexual characters with lots of life left in them. "Hollywood kind of disposes of women once they hit 35," she observes. "There aren't a lot of parts because a [mature] woman isn't considered skinny and sexy. But with a lot of good actresses reaching middle age now, hopefully that will change.

'Television is a place where women of a certain age can work," she continues. "Daytime, in particular, reflects reality more than any other medium, and is a place where there is continuity. Just like in real life, a woman isn't put out to pasture once she reaches 45 or 50."

Although Slezak feels a personal responsibility to maintain the show's integrity and quality, she rarely has taken issue with OLTL's brass. "I've been across the street [to the ABC executive offices] exactly twice in 27 years, and that was only when I had questions," she says, adding that even if she did have a gripe, "I don't have that power [to do anything about it]. I'm basically still an actress on the show. And I must say, I've never had a quibble with any of our executive producers, although some of them have been better than others."

About the show's new regime, Slezak is upbeat. "I'm deliriously happy at the moment:' she says. "Jill Farren Phelps [executive producer], and Pam Long [headwriter ] are doing a wonderful job. There's a lot of good material for Viki coming up, and it will be about human problems and emotions, which are family-related. They will be very carefully explored." With many fans clamoring for a Viki/Clint reunion, Slezak is quick to that that's not where she sees her character's future. "I think it's a dead end for them to get married again and live happily ever after," she explains. "We were happy for a lot of years, and that was fine. But now we'll live with the memory. It's not like the characters are 100 years old, and there's nothing else you can do with them. I know what the show has planned and I think people are going to find it very interesting.”

In fact, Slezak continues, “Does any woman really need a man in order to exist? It would be fascinating to explore Viki by herself and getting along just fine. There are a number of very strong women out in the world who aren't married and don't need a man.”

Family Life

While Slezak wants to see Viki thrive as a single mother, the actress herself remains happily coupled. When asked how she's managed to maintain an illustrious career and a successful marriage to Brian Davies, and to raise two children, Michael, 18 and Amanda, 16, Slezak doesn't hesitate. “My husband has given up a great deal of his life and his career in order to be there for the children and me,” she explains. “It's a very rare and special relationship. When we got married, we made a decision. He told me, 'As long as you're happy and for as long as you want to keep doing this, I'm not going to stand in your way.' “

An actor in his own right, Davies (who recently completed work on two feature films) gave up opportunities in California so that he and Slezak could raise their family together in a suburb one hour from OLTL's Manhattan studio. “Although my husband has worked, he's been home primarily, and I've been at work primarily,” she continues. “He's secure in who he is, and maintains that he wouldn't have given up the pure pleasure of watching our children grow for anything in the world.”

Despite her steady workload over the years, Slezak has made it clear that her priority, first and foremost, is her family. “You can ask anybody in the studio: The first one out of the building at night is me,” she says. I get into my car and drive home, I make dinner, I look at homework, and we spend family evenings together always.”

Even private time comes in second to family. “Brian and I don't go anywhere as a couple,” she notes. “We don't go to Broadway shows, or stay in town to have dinner. People ask us to have drinks, and we say 'No, thank you.' It's not a sacrifice for us; we love just being home with the children.”

Slezak's personal policy has been supported wholeheartedly by her bosses at ABC. “They gave me off the days I needed so I never missed a play or a field day,” she says. “My husband and I always attended the kids' games together.”

Her commitment, she feels, has paid tremendous dividends. “We love our children very much, and thank God that they've turned out to be wonderful, delightful people. It's having priorities that make a marriage and family work.”

Life Lessons

This summer, Slezak finds herself at a crossroads, not only professional but personally. As OLTL celebrates it's milestone, she will be living one of her own as her firstborn leaves for college in the fall. “Michael will be studying business at Georgetown,” says Slezak, who admits that she's thrilled by his choice, but at the same time “hysterically upset” about her oldest child leaving home. “I tend to get very emotional over things like that, and I can only project how sad I will be when my daughter, Amanda, who will be a senior next year, leaves for college as well. I know every parent goes through this, but no one will be as unhappy as I will be, and I know my husband will be miserable, too.”

As Slezak's children prepare to leave the nest, will she want to take flight herself, especially where her career is concerned? “The thought admits the actress, who most recently spread her wings back in 1996 in the TV-movie adaptation of Danielle Steel's Full Circle. “I can't say that I've made any decisions, but as long as this job remains as interesting and as fun as it has been there will always be a temptation for me to stay here.”


Erika Slezak has won more Daytime Emmy Awards than any other woman. In fact, by now, her trophy case is almost as jam-packed with statuettes as some children's toy chests are with Beanie Babies. "I walk into my living room and curtsy to my ladies on the shelf," admits the repeat contender, who has been bestowed five -count 'em, five! -Emmys for her OLTL work in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress (in 1984, 1986, 1992, 1995 and 1996). "I'm very proud of them, and I don't say that patting myself on the back; it's an extraordinary honor."

Fellow serial veteran Justin Deas comes closest to matching Slezak's feat, but his five awards were given in different categories and for different roles (for the record: Tom Hughes on AS THE WORLD TURNS, Keith Timmons on SANTA BARBARA and Buzz Cooper on GUIDING LIGHT). Even as Slezak's wins have racked up, her gratitude for her good fortune hasn't died down. I'm just flabbergasted when I look at my Emmys,” marvels the victor. “In fact, I think they probably belong to someone else.”

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