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Erika Slezak Library

TV Guide, 1979

Don't step on Erika Slezak, Whether it's a flaw in the script or a losing game of Ping-Pong, the soap actress always fights back

Erika Slezak and husband Brian Davies

By Don Kowet

It's early morning on a Wednesday in August. Erika Slezak (Victoria Lord Riley} and Lee Patterson (Joe Riley) are rehearsing a solemn scene in ABC's cavernous One Life to Live studio. Victoria Lord Riley: cool, collected, the storyline's peacemaker.

"Gotten?" Erika suddenly howls from the Riley living room, tossing aside both her scripts and Victoria Lord Riley. "The writers think 'gotten,' in this slang usage, is English grammar!" She grabs a pen, angrily scratching out the polluted past participle.

"That's Erika," says actor Brian Davies (Erika's fiancé then and husband now), enjoying the outburst and citing further indication of her perfectionist spirit "One night," he recalls, "at a weekend resort, Erika wanted to play me in table tennis. I said, 'Hey, you're not good enough.' That drove her crazy. We played. I beat her. I am absolutely certain that she'll now take lessons. The next time we play, she'll wipe the floor with me." (Brian is in NBC's projected TV-movie "The Deerslayer.")

"She can be difficult and snappy," says one source close to the show, "especially if she thinks you haven't done your homework."

"Erika's gentle and as feminine as you could possibly want a woman to be," says Lee Patterson, "yet there's nobody ever going to step on her."

"Slang"' the 33-year-old Erika says later. In blue jeans, blouse and no makeup, she is sitting on a sofa in her apartment off New York's Fifth Avenue -- a pet cat on her lap. Her pet dog Ludwig is white fluff at her feet.

"Slang," she repeats contemptuously. "It makes me furious when they write the wrong word for my character."

Behind her, propped against a new video-cassette recorder, is a composite photo Erika has put together: a snapshot of Brian in his Deerslayer suit spliced to a photo of a large brown bear. Both stand with limbs outstretched, seeming to yearn for one another. In Brian's mouth, Erika has penned: "When I'm 'Calling yooo ..." In the bear's mouth: "Hoo-hoo-hoo. .."

"You know," Erika continues, the scowl swallowed up by a self-mocking smile; her blue eyes hinting mischief, "the last time my father came to visit, he turned to me one evening and said: 'Ricci, my dear -- how does it feel to be perfect?' "

It was from her famous father, Walter Slezak-star of dozens of Hollywood films and Broadway hit shows such as "My Three Angels" and "Fanny"-that Erika learned to take her acting seriously, but not herself.

"When I was about 14," she recalls, "I told my father I wanted to be an actress, He said to me: 'It's all very well to have a famous last name, but between 8 P.M. and 11, you're on your own.' " Erika saw conclusive proof years later, the first time she did summer stock-"The Philadelphia Story," in Chicago. "Lee Bouvier, Jackie Kennedy's sister, was the star, simply because she wanted to be," Erika says. "Supposedly, she'd studied with somebody. I think she studied in a chair-- she couldn't even walk."

Growing up in Hollywood and New York, the Slezaks' middle child {there's an older sister Ingrid and a younger brother Leo) studied how to walk across a stage from behind the curtains at Broadway theaters and behind the cameras on movie sets. After Erika's senior year of high school, she was one of only two Americans {out of 500 applicants) selected for admission into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Two and a half years later, at 19, she got her first professional acting job, with the Milwaukee Repertory Company, and played "some of the best roles ever written for women-Electra, Hedda Gabler, plus new plays, crazy plays, where I played drunks, hookers. .."

She played wife for a while, too. In 1967, at 22, she was married to a local actor. "We were very happy," she says, "but we simply had different goals in life. He was perfectly content in Milwaukee. My ambition was to get into the theater in New York."

After a little more than two years of marriage, Erika says, she got a divorce. She worked in theaters in Buffalo, then Houston. Her apprenticeship over, she arrived in New York in March 1971. On March 17, at the age of 25, Erika became the third actress to play Victoria Lord. "It's been a very happy association," says Erika, who earns "over $150,000 a year."

So far, the moments Erika cherishes most occurred during the four shows in 1974 in which her father was the guest star-playing Victoria's godfather, an eccentric European painter. "I was petrified most of the time," she says. "My father, it turned out, was much more petrified."

"I had never done a show like that," Walter Slezak says, "and I never wanted to do one again. Every time I looked into her eyes, all I could think of was how she looked when she was six months old."

Soon, if Erika has her way, Walter may get a more vivid reminder of how his daughter looked at six months. "Brian can't wait to have kids," Erika says. "He's vain enough to think they're going to look like him, with sort of reddish hair. I have blond hair and I'm determined to have blond children. They'd better be," she adds, "or else I'll send them back."

“She's kidding," says Brian. Pause. "I think."

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