Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site  
Home Email  
More Articles
71 Spoiled with Love
72 DTV Cover
72 Memories Family
73 Lived like Gypsy
74 Not Ready
74 Miss SuperCool
75 Life Story
76 Five Years
76 Sensitive
77 SOD Cover
77 Surprised
77 ATVA Cover
77 RBD Cover
77 Lost her Touch
77 Daytime Stars
77 Like Yesterday
78 DTV Cover
78 Long Distance
78 My Rules
79 SOD Cover
79 Don't Step

70s Favorite Holiday
70s Loving Memories
70s Most Popular
70s Viki's Life Story
70s SOD Cover

80 On Her Own
81 So happy
81 More Children
81 2nd Pregnancy
81 Will she
83 ATV Cover
83 SOD Cover
83 Good Life
84 Bouncing Back
85 Niki Smith
86 Viva Miss Viki
88 Own Life
88 OLTL 20 years
89 Private Lives

90 Share Alike
90 American Dynasty
90 Day in Life
90 Shattering Myth
91 SOW Cover
91 Leading Lady
91 Two Emmys
91 DTV Cover
91 Lady of Manor
91 No Substitutes
91 20 Quotes
92 SOW Cover
92 Episodes Cover
92 Lunchtime Fav
92 SOM Cover
93 SOD Cover
93 OLTL 25 Yrs
94 New Age Innoc
95 SOM Cover
95 24 Years
95 SOW Cover M
95 SOW Cover A
95 With Reservations
95 SOW Cover O
96 Victorious
96 Thank the Lord
96 Her Life to Live
96 Multiplicity
96 In Step
97 Adores Her Job
97 One Life to Give
97 Who Says
98 30 Something
98 Life's Work
99 High Notes
99 SOD Cover
99 Changing Times
99 When Blondie
99 SID Cover
99 SOW Cover
99 TV Guide Online

00 Daytime Divas
00 SOW Cover
00 The Babe
00 Performer
00 Life Goes On
00 Tell All
00 Will Survive
00 Incomparable
00 SOD Cover
00 To the Mob
00 Promo
00 SID Cover
00 Last Chance
01 Thanks
01 Sentinel
01 Regis
01 Pictoral
01 Big 3 0
01 Click
01 Roundup
01 Good Show
01 Celebrates
01 Tribute
01 SID Cover A
01 Wedding
01 Soap Net 1
01 Soap Net 2
01 Soap Net 3
01 Time To
01 Secrets
01 Luncheon
01 OLTL Luncheon
01 Emmys
01 Perf of Week
01 SID Cover J
01 Fight
01 Wild Nightmare
01 Inmates
01 Real Life Love
01 Postcard
01 SOW Cover
01 Reveals
01 Changeling
02 Dear Niki
02 Promo
02 SOW Cover
02 Together
02 SOU Cover
Erika Slezak Library

Episodes, May/June 1990

An American Dynasty

By: Theresa Kump

Step into Erika Slezak's dressing room and you meet a woman who seems somehow younger and smaller than her commanding TV alter-ego, Victoria Lord Buchanan of One Life to Live. Without makeup, Erika looks more like a college student than a soap opera star. Her pale blonde hair is brushed back from her face, and her light blue eyes are intelligent and frank. Seated at the desk in her small, spare dressing room, Erika is surrounded by family photos. Her children 's crayon drawings are proudly tacked up alongside a photo of Erika accepting one of her two Daytime Emmy awards. This is clearly a woman who cherishes both family and career.

But then, for Erika Slezak, the two have always been intimately intertwined. Married to actor Brian Davies, she is also heiress to a rich family tradition in the performing arts as the daughter of stage and screen actor Walter Slezak and granddaughter of the renowned opera singer Leo Slezak.

“I feel very privileged to be a part of this family,” says Erika. "I kind of feel that I haven't lived up to my potential in it," she adds modestly. "I have had, my own success in a different field, and I think that what I do, I do very well. I would hope that they are proud of me."

The Slezak theatrical dynasty was founded by Erika's grandfather, whose beautiful tenor voice lifted him out of poverty and made him a star. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1873 and trained as a locksmith, Leo Slezak was discovered while working backstage in an opera house, and he made his singing debut at 23. He soon became known for his interpretations of Wagnerian roles, and by the time his son Walter was born in 1902, Leo Slezak's reputation rivaled that of Enrico Caruso. "He was a star in the fashion that people are rock stars today," explains Erika, and mobbed by fans wherever he went.

Walter Slezak was raised in luxury; his family lived in a 14-room apartment in the heart of Vienna, opposite the opera house, and he was educated in exclusive schools whose curricula included riding, fencing, and dancing. At the age of 19, Walter, with his movie-star good looks, began appearing in German films and enjoying the 1920s Berlin life style later depicted in Cabaret.

Walter's American career began in 1930, with his Broadway debut in Meet My Sister, and it spanned over 40 years. He played in nearly a dozen Broad-ay shows and won a Tony award for his performance in Fanny. He also appeared in 33 films, including Lifeboat with Tallulah Bankhead, The Pirate with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, and the now-classic Bedtime for Bonzo with Ronald Reagan. There were also countless performances on radio, as well as on a variety of TV shows, from Rawhide and Dr. Kildare to Batman and Love Boat .

"[My father] said that just because I was his daughter didn't mean I'd ever get a job. It didn't mean I was talented.”

Walter married Dutch opera singer Johanna Van Rijn in 1944, and their children-lngrid, Erika, and Leo-were born in Hollywood. But in the late 1950s, the Slezaks moved east, settling in exclusive Larchmont, New York, and it is here that Erika's fondest childhood memories begin.

When they first moved to this wealthy community outside New York City, the Slezaks rented a large, rambling house across the street from the Kerr family. Playwright Jean Kerr was the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, a book later developed into a popular TV series. She and her husband, theater critic Walter Kerr, and their six children were special friends to the Slezaks. "The Kerrs were my parents' very closest friends, says Erika, who laughingly confirms that the boisterous family was every bit as much fun as they were portrayed to be in their TV incarnation. "It was a wonderfully crazy household," she says.

Eventually, the Slezaks bought a home of their own, a gorgeous 18th century colonial on five acres of land with a breathtaking view of the Long Island Sound. “We loved that house” recalls Erika, who remembers it filled with lots of animals and children. “We always had friends over, and in the winter everybody would come to our house to ice-skate on the little river that ran on our property.

"I grew up in an extraordinarily happy house," says Erika. "I had a wonderful childhood. It is something that I am hoping very much to duplicate for my children, The kind of atmosphere at home, the love, the sharing, the discipline, the humor. It was a very European household, but a relaxed European household."

Her father had been raised in a more traditional way, she explains, "He spent his days with his governess and nurses, He never had dinner with his parents, He was paraded in front of them at bedtime just to give them a kiss." Not so with his own children. We had a housekeeper to help out, but my mother was always there," remembers Erika. "My father was very much the head of the family, but he was incredibly loving and very warm and very generous with us. I adored him.”

Although the Slezak children ,were aware of their family's performing tradition-"The sense of my grandfather was ever-present in our house," confides Erika, and we grew up hearing what a magnificent, fantastic, god-like creature he was!" Walter kept his family life separate from his professional life.

Yet, her father's delight in his acting career made an indelible impression. "What translated itself very much to me was the way my father felt about his work," says Erika. "And that's what I wanted, that kind of happiness and freedom. That sense of really loving what you do and being able to create wonderful characters and make people laugh and cry. As a result," she says, “it never occurred to me that I would be anything but an actress."

Walter's response to his daughter's acting ambitions was to sit her down at the age of 13 and tell her "everything bad that he could think of about the business,” chuckles Erika. And it went on for quite awhile, because there is a lot of bad in this business if you think about it. He said that just because I was his daughter didn't mean I'd ever get a job. It didn't mean I was talented, he said, and if I wasn't talented, I could be wasting my life. But I was completely unaltered.”

Since Erika was determined to act, Walter decided she must have proper training at the best drama school, and after much research, they selected the prestigious Royal Academy in London. "I was very young," says Erika, noting that she'd skipped the eighth grade. At 17, she was one of the youngest students ever accepted to the academy.

“I grew up in an extraordinarily happy home and had a wonderful childhood. I am hoping very much to duplicate that for my children.”

“'When I look back on it now, I should have gone to college first. I think that I missed out, not so much on the education, but on the social aspect, which is a major part of growing up," she muses.

Erika says that she also found that her parents' blissfully happy marriage had left her with unrealistic expectations. "I grew up thinking that's how married life is....and boy, was I in for a surprise!" she says, ruefully. She married her first husband, also an actor, at 21. "He was a perfectly charming, nice fellow, but he just wasn't my father, and he certainly never treated me the way my father treated my mother," she remembers. “I grew up very quickly.”

She met her present husband, Brian Davies, when they appeared together off-Broadway. "I thought long and hard," she says, before getting married again. “But I had grown up and learned a lot. Brian is not at all like my father, but he's just as wonderful in other ways.”

Indeed, Erika says Brian is a marvelous father, content to let his own career take a back seat to his wife's while their children are young so that he can provide them with a secure, happy home: A Broadway star- he originated the roles of Rolf in The Sound of Music and Hero in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum- Brian was busy doing movies and television in Los Angeles when the couple first married. The arrival of son Michael in 1980 complicated their bi-coastal arrangement. "Michael stayed with me in New York, and we would fly to California on weekends," Erika explains.

Brian finally tired of being an absentee father and, after the birth of Amanda in 1981, he settled in New York for good. Today, Brian shares child-care duties with Erika and the family's housekeeper, accepting only local or short-term acting jobs. "He's the lucky one," says Erika. "He spends time with the children. And they don't know how lucky they are!"

With successful actors' for parents and the Slezak genes in their blood, it wouldn't be surprising if Michael and Amanda gravitated toward the stage. "Michael is the unfortunate thing known as the class clown, because he's funny,” admits Erika, a note of motherly pride creeping into her voice. "He's a very bright kid-both of them are-and very vocal about it. And in the school productions he's been in so far, he sticks out like a sore thumb because he is so naturally at home on the stage. And they both want very much to be on One Life to Live,” she laughs. “They come in and visit me once in awhile, and they think it's fun.”

But Erika resists the idea of show-biz careers for her children. "I don't want them anywhere near this business" she says emphatically. "I think it's a very difficult profession, fraught with too much anxiety. I've been very lucky."

However, she admits that "there is, unfortunately, no way of stopping them if that's what they want to do. So my husband and I have made a pact with each other to see that they both have the best education we can possibly give them. They have to go to college and have a profession, something they can fall back on, and after that, if they want to be actors, fine. But there are only so many Al Pacinos and Dustin Hoffmans, stars who can pick and choose their material, be wonderful, and make enough money to keep themselves and their families happy."

And she recalls fondly what her father once said to her. After a lifetime of being recognized by strangers on the street, first as the son of Leo Slezak, then as a movie star in his own right, Walter's proudest moment came when he was strolling with Erika in New York one day and a fan stopped to ask, “Are you Erika Slezak's father?" Walter turned to his daughter and said, "I've been waiting all my life for that.” Perhaps one day it will be Erika's turn to feel the same way.

Theresa Kump is a free-lance writer and frequent contributor to Parents and New Choices Magazines.

Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site
Copyright 2002 ESFC    Home    -   Email