Soap Opera Digest, January 1977, Vol. 2 No. 2
Erika Slezak - Surprised by Love!
By Francine L Trevens
Some people "fall" in love others sort of slide into it. Erika Slezak is among the latter: For years she was good friends with a guy—then one fine day she realized she was in love. Nicest of all,
she knew he was in love with her, too. It's been a beautiful romance ever since, with the two of them growing younger every day!! Their relationship is loving and effortless-with none of the
tensions and doubts so often depicted in love stories on TV.
But then, there's an effortless grace to almost everything Erika does.
Watching her as Lee Patterson's wife on ONE LIFE TO LIVE it's hard to believe this fine actress could have had the same job hunting uncertainties with which we have been faced; especially someone with the vast stage experience Erika has. Not to mention the advantage of growing up in the theater worlds of New York and Hollywood, as the daughter of film star Walter Slezak.
...Growing Up In The Theatre World As
The Daughter of Film Star Walter Slezak
Yet, when Erika told about auditioning for the role of Victoria on OLTL, she said she was sure she had NOT gotten the part.
"I felt like a kid on her first day in kindergarten when I went to the studio. I knew nothing about daily serials. I NEVER got sick, so I never stayed home to watch them like other people had done in the profession. When I was younger, my mother didn't let us watch TV in the afternoons, so I didn't know much about TV. I'd never been on TV before.
"At first. I was supposed to read for a nurse on AMC. I came in, and 'Doris Quinlan, the producer, saw the audition and said she was interested in me for something else. 'Go on and meet with the
director of OLTL.' " Erika did, and was given an appointment for an audition.
When she got the appointment, her agent was on vacation, so she had no idea how important the part of Victoria Lord was. She admits that's just as well, she was nervous enough anyway.
"How important it was I didn't realize, all I knew, it was for a character named Victoria. I called my agent on the way to the studio to leave word what I was auditioning for."
..Auditioning for One Life To Live, was my first experience with daily serials...
Her agent, due back that day, still was not in when she went to the studio an hour early for her rehearsal.
When the time for her audition arrived there was a phalanx of people sitting behind a long table, observing her. One was Agnes Nixon, creator of the show, another was Doris Quinlan, a third was
the show's director, and there were others she did not then know. "They gave me enough plot in succinct terms so I could know what the lady was. I was to do a scene that was coming up in the
It was a very emotional scene, taking place soon after Victoria came out of her schizo plot. She was to become furious and storm out. Erika did the scene, and looked over at the table.
"All their arms were folded. Their faces were blank. My heart was in China."
She had done the scene with Bernie Grant. who kindly came over to her afterwards to say he was "so sorry" and to ask if she wanted to go for coffee. She muttered "no, thank you," and escaped, heading straight for her agent's office.
He, of course, knew the importance of the Victoria Lord part. and was curious about her audition. She told him all about it. She was interrupted several times by phone calls, which he made brief.
At the end of her tale, he said, "Incidentally, they called a little while ago. They want you to start tomorrow."
Erika shook her head recalling the event. "I could hardly believe it! My first day I was in a fog, I was so panicked. It was the worst and best day of my life. I kept thinking, 'I gotta do good or they'll fire me.' I hadn't even signed a contract yet!"
She was captivating in that moment cocking her head and grinning as she remembered her start on the show. There is a sweet vulnerability about Erika which in part explains her moments of
doubt and disillusion.
Though she was always determined to be an actress, and could not conceive of being anything else, she was not always successful at it, At least, not in her father's eyes.
Erika's parents' were tougher critics than parents who were not in the entertainment fields.
Being the daughter of a famous opera and movie star didn't make things easier for her, as one might have expected. If anything, her parents tended to be tougher critics than parents who were not in the entertainment fields. Her dad often expressed doubts of her talent, but eventually, when she performed the role of a young man (in an all female school play), he admitted she managed to bring tears to his eyes, and that, indeed, she would become an actress.
Being raised by European parents also gave her a strong work ethic. Erika did not expect anything to come easily. To this day, she has a great dedication to work, and does not believe in "goofing off' on the job.
Sitting with her in her blue-green dressing room, it would have been impossible not to notice the colorful plastic trophy on her dressing table. It looked like a whacky duck; she said it was a silly goose.
Erika won a "Silly Goose" prize.
"I won that because,I made a goof on camera," she said with unexpected pride.
Doesn't everybody, I wondered. Sure, but not Erika, usually. "I'm Miss Goody Two Shoes. I never make mistakes on camera. I always know my lines and my business," she said, all as a statement of fact.
"One day, the camera was on me, and Tony (George Reinholt) was supposed to ring this bell. There'd been something wrong with the bell-it wasn't always working right-but this time there
was a terrible clatter and clanging!"
Erika showed us her reaction, eyes opening wide, gaping, doing a "take," Naturally, that didn't go down to well; so Erika was given the award which is passed on from one recipient to the next. She was too polite to tell us the gaffs of other people which had earned them the silly goose prize!
Sitting in her dressing room, sipping coffee and chatting, Erika looked more like a teenager than the tormented woman of TV who had just had a baby and worried about the child's condition.
It's a tribute to the make-up man's skill and Erika's talent as an actress that she comes off so much older in the show than she is off camera.
Not that Erika hasn't put her imprint on Victoria Lord, she's the third person to portray the character, and she certainly feels Victoria has changed.
"She's become less stuffy," Erika noted. "She's now, married to Joe. She's not the same Victoria who lived at Llanfair. She's more vulnerable."
When I commented that she seemed younger now than years ago when we first met. she "blamed" it all on her new-found love, Brian Davies. "He's making me regress. I used to be an adult; mature, responsible. I'm going into senility or adolescence with him!" she laughed.
Silly Goose award or no, obviously ABC's not sorry they selected Miss Slezak for this role. She's certainly pleased by it. "I've had five super years. If it goes on, God Bless It"' she said in a tone of almost awe.
We discussed the uncertainty of the TV world, and how sometimes a person leaves very abruptly. "It's really the only way to do it." Erika said.
Comings and goings on TV can be big surprises, just as Erika was surprised when she received the role and then, years later, her Silly Goose award.
Falling in love with Brian Davies was a wonderful surprise for Erika.
But she loves surprises. Her two favorite Christmases were occasions where her father surprised her mother with fur coats.
Falling in love with Brian was another wonderful surprise for this charming actress.
They met about four years ago while both were in "The Circle" at Roundabout Theatre.
"I thought he was funny and charming. We had a lot in common and got along very well. We were instant friends and remained friends for a long time. Real good buddies." Often they visited each other when one or the other was in a show.
I first met Erika when she was in Connecticut for a weekend seeing Brian perform with Leland Palmer in Coachlight Dinner Theatre's production of "Irma La Douce." It was a weekend when
Brian was sick with a bad flu, but he insisted on going on stage anyway. Erika, who never misses a show due to illness, felt her friend should stay home and recuperate, but she could not convince him. They compromised. He did the first act and then rushed back to his hotel.
As a result. "He was sick for two months. He had never been so sick in his life. But he never complained," Erika reported proudly. This was quite different from the way her dad would have carried on. When he was ill, he wanted all the attention of a dying sultan, and carried on like a bull moose.
It surprised Erika when, years later, she discovered she and Brian had gone from good friends to being in love. But it ought not to have surprised her. For, although he is different when he is ill,
Brian has many of the qua1ities she admires most in her dad, "his sense of humor, his intelligence and charm-they're basic good qualities," Erika remarked.
While she doesn't believe we actively seek men like our fathers, Erika does feel we subconsciously do, especially if we're as fond of our fathers as she is.
"I love my father very much, but I'm glad to be his daughter, not his wife!" she declared, adding her parents have an "ideal" marriage, because, though they naturally have arguments, they are
never wicked or cruel to each other and thus have set a good example for her.
For Erika, loving is sharing…even diets.
For Erika, loving is sharing. She and Brian try to share holidays, share good times and bad, share luncheons and secrets and recently they shared a diet.
They called each other each morning to compare notes on how much they had lost-even when Brian was filming some TV out in California!
They share a love of animals-Brian often "sits" for Erika's cat, Crazy Kate or her dog, Ludwig. It's beautiful seeing her with Brian, because theirs is such an open, happy relationship. They sit and chat like life-long friends. It certainly looks like it's going to last, and for Erika, who was a flighty teenager loving a different boy every week, that's a wonderful feeling indeed.
She still remembers when she thought Stewart Granger, whom she never met was her dream man.
She doesn't need that sort of dream man anymore. She has the real-life model, who understands her and accepts her as she is.
"If I get depressed I get quiet. Brian knows and doesn't say anything," is one sign of that acceptance, according to Erika.
He also doesn't mind when people make a big fuss over her because of her role as Victoria Lord. In fact he kind of enjoys that even when it happened in Connecticut when he was on the stage and she was in the audience.
They are secure within themselves and with each other. No wonder Erika is so happy these days--and no wonder she likes surprises, especially the surprise of loving and being loved!!