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Erika Slezak Library

Daytime TV, August, 1976

I'm Sensitive But Nobody Sees That Side of Me

By Gloria Paternostro

She reminds you of a crystal clear mountain spring, crisply refreshing in the morning sunshine.

Her speech seems faintly brushed with British memories.

She has delicate features, flawless skin, cornflower eyes and silky, gold hair.

She is Erika Slezak, Victoria Riley on One Life to Live, and you probably have her pegged as cool and elegant, poised and self-confident.

On the surface, you're right.

But if you stop there, you're really going to miss out on one of the most enchanting actresses on daytime television. One she smiles, you feel comfortable with her, and when she laughs, letting out the pixie in her, you can only delight in her company.

"I've been told I overawe people. Now that's the last thing in the world I would consider myself to be, someone who would overawe someone else! You see, when I'm scared, my defense is to become very withdrawn and very strong and to pretend I know what I'm doing!"

She pulls herself up straight in her chair, puffing out her chest and putting on a brave expression, the blue eyes dancing at the pretense.

"Obviously, people believe me. But it's only a facade. In many ways I am a very strong person. But I'm not cold at all. I have no idea why people write about me that way. Maybe it's because I'm a little reserved. I don't believe in piling everything on somebody when I first meet them."

She puts her head on one side and says sweetly, almost apologetically, "When you first meet somebody, you are a little reticent.

"I don't take my problems to work. There are people who do that, I assure you, and I simply will not do it. I don't feel it's right to inflict that on other people.

"I'm overly sensitive, but nobody sees that side of me. I also fall to pieces at the stupidest things!"

A warm, outgoing person, Erika is comfortable with herself, and enjoys her single life. Occasionally, though, she wistfully thinks about finding a man to lean on a little.

When you tell her you can't imagine her falling to pieces, you are treated to another hilarious enactment as she weeps noisily over her chef's salad.

"But usually I just handle my problems by myself, which is not always easy. I have very few close friends. I don't have many acquaintances because I'm not a social person at all. I'm a very quiet, withdrawn, kind of lonely person."

"My parents live in Switzerland and they worry about me, so the last thing in the world I want is for them to worry more."

"I have a dog and he's wonderful because he can't talk back! And he listens and he sits and looks at me. And I go on and on and on! I talk to myself, too" she adds, laughing again.

"I have long running dialogues with myself. I talk to myself, then I answer and so on. Somehow, it all gets worked out that way."

Suddenly plaintive, she continues, "There are times when I would desperately like to talk to someone and say, 'What should I do?"

Now she doesn't look strong and invincible: now she looks vulnerable and very human and you wish those who thought her cold could share this moment.

"To say I'm a lonely person isn't completely true because it's by choice. I have a hundred friends if I want them that I could call, but I would prefer to be by myself. I'm not afraid to be alone. I'm very comfortable with myself.

"But I would be thrilled to find somebody who's going to make me happy beyond my wildest dreams."

The remark is serious, but she's not seeking sympathy, so she playfully adds, "Someone who will help me pay the bills! I'm pretty sick and tired of doing that all by myself, I can tell you! There are times when I think its' so unfair! I look around at all the married people and I think. 'Why can't I find someone to take care of me? Why do I have to take care of myself? I don't want to be all that liberated!"

The tone of her voice is light and the expression on her face is puckish. There is no self-pity. She isn't whining or complaining - she's simply stating facts with a remarkable honesty.

"Sometimes I look at my married sister and I get terribly envious. At the same time, I'm sure deep down inside her, she sometimes envies me my freedom."

Erika reads a great deal, loves the theater and often goes off to Vermont on weekends in search of antiques. Last year she bought a co-op apartments, so, much of her times has been devoted to getting settled there.

"I'm always busy. I absolutely don't have five minutes to myself. That makes me happy because I don't like wasting time. I see that time moves all too quickly anyway. March 17, 1976, is my fifth anniversary on this show, and I just cannot believe five years has gone by."

Someone else remembered. Later that day she would receive a congratulatory telegram from a devoted fan, a gesture she greatly appreciated.

For a moment you sit and watch her, marveling at her fresh, glowing complexion and wonder aloud how she feels when she sees herself on TV.

"Well, I look at every scene and say 'What did I make that weird face for?" I'm very critical of the way Iook..." She knows that sounds unbelievable. "I'm not giving you the bull now, really. I don't think I'm at all pretty, you see. I know other people do, but I don't. I wake up in the morning and look at myself and I don't know what anybody thinks is so pretty in my face!"

She then launches into a demonstration of herself watching herself on TV-another funny scene which leaves you wondering why you never heard about her sense of humor before.

"Yes, I do have a good sense humor," she agrees. "I can laugh at myself which is something a lot of people can't do. Its' very important. People who can't laugh at themselves are in trouble."

Erika's most constant date these days is actor Brian Davies, but, at this point, Erika has no plans to permanently settle down. Very critical of her own performances, she finds Brian is supportive of her work.

That seems to remind her of something and she chuckles to herself.

"You know, when I heard Lee Patterson was returning to the show, I was absolutely petrified! I had watched him on Surfside 6 and had an incredible crush on him!

"You know how kids imagine all sorts of fantasies like they're going to meet Rock Hudson and he's going to say, 'You're the girl of my dreams!' Well, I used to fantasize about all the three guys on that show - they were three terrific, good-looking young bachelors.

"So, when I heard Lee was coming back, I thought, 'Oh my God! I'm actually going to be working with him, talking to him, probably playing love scenes with him! I was SCARED! But I can't tell you how nice he's been since the very first day. We've never had a cross word."

But now, you know Erika is a warm and human underneath the cool exterior, but her image hasn't completely crumbled. You're still convinced that, in anger, she would be totally controlled and probably excel at sarcasm.

"But I'm not good at sarcasm!" she protests, obviously wishing she were. "There is a very unpleasant side to me. I have a terrible temper! But the reason I rarely lose my temper in public is because I make such an idiot of myself! I start to shake and say all the wrong things and blurt it out!"

She is talking very fast now, demonstrating, mock anger mixed with laughter and exaggerated gestures.

"I cannot be cool when I'm angry. I cannot argue with people. Right away, I lose my temper and start to get loud!"

She mentions an instance at the studio and you momentarily catch a glimpse of anger as she remembers an unjustice.

"I blew up! I went through the ceiling! I said, 'HOW DARE YOU?' and made quite a scene. Then I said, 'O.K., I've said what I wanted to say." The flash of anger is over and she is bouncing and laughing again-at herself.

"Normally, you see, I'll go on and on and compound the thing and I won't stop for three days! I go much too far. I never stick to the point. I encompass everything that ever happened to me, that ever made me angry...which is terrible!"

The whole scene is hysterical and terrible endearing. With an almost manic humor, Erika is gesticulating and laughing and talking and letting it all hang out.

"The thing is, I'm usually very happy and come in bubbling over with good cheer - which can be nauseating -but that's the way I am! I'm sure they all think I'm a bit strange because I'm always quite friendly and nice. So the few times I do lose my temper, people stand back and say, 'My God, she can get angry!"

But if she feels out of line, Erika apologizes - publicly - a much harder thing to do.

It's easier to identify with Erika Slezak once you've discovered she feels all the things you feel.

And remembering her desire to get married, you can't help wondering why all bachelorhood isn't standing in line.

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