Daytime TV-February 1986
Viva Miss Viki!
Erika Slezak's chums tell us the backstage
scuttlebutt (and nothing but!) about
the First Lady of Llanview
Flash those fangs! Sharpen those claws! Spew that venom!
Everyone knows that soap opera queens are more like piranhas than pussycats - but One Life's Erika Slezak just happens to be an angelic exception to that rule. Sure, she's been playing Victoria Lord Buchanan (and her sleazy-going alter-ego Niki Smith) for 15 years now, but this Queen Bee somehow manages to stay as sweet as honey without ever giving anyone the sting.
Longtime co-star Michael Storm (Dr. Larry Wolek) confides, "Erika's a dream to work with, and she has a great sense of the absurd which people don't get to see on-screen. In real life, there's a bawdy side to her. She tells great x-rated jokes!"
Michael was already a One Life vet when Erika joined the cast in 1971. "She was very nervous when she started," he remembers. "But who wouldn't have been? She was taking over a role that Gillian Spencer and umpteen other actresses had already played. In those days, we called Viki our 'revolving door' character. You never knew who'd be playing her tomorrow. So Erika felt very much on trial during those first few months. It's a real tribute to her talent that she made the role so completely hers."
In 1984 the soap world honored that talent by giving Erika a long-overdue Emmy award. Even All My Children's Susan Lucci, a fellow nominee that year, had to admit, "If I had to lose to anyone, I'm glad it was Erika Slezak - her performances are incomparable."
Erika's backstage fan club doesn't end there. "I watched this show since the day it started in 1968," says Barbara Treutelaar (Didi), "and even if I weren't working on it, One Life would still be my favorite soap. My first day on the show I grabbed Erika backstage and told her what a big fan I was. She had cream all over her face - she was rushing into the make-up room - and she must have thought I was crazy when I said, "I just have to tell you I think your absolutely incredible."
Over the years, Erika has become a kind of mother confessor in residence, helping her fellow actresses through their broken love affairs and divorces. Castmates like to stop by her dressing room to chat. "Of everybody on the show, she's the one person I can go to for advice when I'm having personal problems," says Michael Storm.
Andrea Evans (Tina) thinks of Erika as her backstage godmother. "When I first came on the show I was just a kid, right out of college," Andrea remembers. "Erika and Lee Patterson, who was playing her husband Joe Reilly then, practically adopted me."
"One day I came to work wearing very short shorts. Well, Erika took me aside and scolded me very gently. She said, 'Listen this is New York, not Illinois. If you wear those shorts outside the studio, you're going to attract a lot of weirdos.' Of course, back in my hometown, Downers Grove, I never had to worry about that kind of thing."
When it's not clothes counseling, it's something else. New stars like Ava Haddad (Cassie) and Kristin Vigard (Joy) need help choosing the right mascara and making the right career decisions, and Erika obliges. "I'd really love to work with her," says Ava. "I think she's just a wonderful actress. Off-screen, she's such a nice woman, too. I really respect and admire her."
Erika enjoys watching this new generation of actors spread their wings, but she misses some of her former cstmates like Lee Patterson and Doria Belack (Anna). Jacquie Courtney (Pat Ashley) and Linda Dano (Gretel Cummings) were good pals, too. When Erika's son, Michael, was born, Jacquie and Linda called Tiffany's and ordered a silver spoon as a baby gift. "We intended to make sure that kid was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," joked Jacquie.
One of the funniest things that ever happened backstage involved Erika's pregnancy. One day early on, she suddenly stopped rehearsal, clutched at her stomach and ran off off the set. The show's producer, frantic that something might be terrible wrong, immediately phoned for an ambulance. But just as the paramedics arrived, Erika emerged from her dressing room, still a little green around the gills, but smiling bravely. What was the problem? "Morning sickness," she replied sheepishly. "Blame it on breakfast."
Michael's birth (and later her daughter Amanda's) were the only reason Erika ever needed a leave of absence from the show. In fact, if ABC had their way, Erika would probably never take a vacation because she's too valuble to lose, even for a short time. As proof, producer Paul Rauch recently sent three dozen red roses when Erika and her family escaped to the Virgin Islands for a few days. "We just wanted her to know how much she's loved," said Rauch. And she sure is.