TV By Day, November 1971
"I was spoiled by Love" Erika Slezak Talks About Life As Walter Slezak's Daughter
By J.J. Swiss
Some interviews proceed slowly, with cautious words. Erika Slezak makes them breezy. She sits you down on the couch, serves excellent tea and biscuits. She smiles and smiles and talks and talks. Her life has been eventful. Her stories are always colorful. Definitely the positive type.
Erika's greatest strength is surely her happy past. “There was a great deal of love in our family,” she remembers. “I was spoiled with love! We were all spoiled. My father could never refuse us.”
“I had one of the luckiest, happiest childhoods. I don't remember anything unhappy happening in my family. If it happened, I don't know about it.”
“I go to church and think – how have I been so lucky? During puberty, I remember thinking I had the most miserable life in the world. But in the back of my mind, I knew, even then, that I was being self indulgent. I knew, “You don't have a miserable life.”
“Right now, everything's going along like it dropped from heaven. I just got back from Europe in January and got this part on One Life To Live”. I have security for two years. I'm going to get my own New York apartment.” (We were talking in her sublet.) “I was born in Hollywood, but I've always thought of myself as belonging in New York.”
The way Erika danced around Central Park with the TV BY DAY photographer some time after this conversation, you could tell she had quickly made herself at home in the city. “Ah, I used to go skating here when I was a kid. And I wrote my name somewhere in that tunnel. We lived on Central Park West – right over there.”
Erika's parents now live in Lugano, Switzerland, and the whole family does a lot of commuting in order to see each other. Erika's folks came to New York for two weeks recently. “Quite frankly, as much as I love them, it was a strain in a one-bedroom apartment! Daddy's a slob and mother's a neatnick!”
Erika has a twenty-two year old brother named Leo. “He will make it no matter what he decides to do,” she says with all the confidence of an older sister. Leo's an extremely resourceful soul. Once, he wanted to go to London, but could only get a charter flight to Shannon, Ireland. The plane stopped, coincidentally enough, in London, because of bad weather. Leo was dying to get off the plane but the airline wouldn't permit it. Leo thought to himself, “What would my father do in this situation?” He came up with an outrageous idea. He went over to the stewardess and said, “I am a diabetic and I have insulin in my suitcase and I need it immediately!” Needless to say, they hustled up his suitcase in a hurry. He went running off to the men's room to “take his medication.” And he didn't emerge until the plane was safely off the ground, bound for Ireland!”
Erika's older sister, Ingrid, lives in Canada with her husband, a kidney specialist associated with Ottawa General Hospital and their two boys (one just a few months old). Ingrid's interested in ceramics, not show business, as is Mrs. Slezak, who has her own pottery wheel at home in Switzerland. Mother and daughter exchange samples of their craft through the mails. “How silly to send a fellow potter more pots!” thinks Erika.
Erika's mother spent “twenty-eight years following my father, until he retired. She was always ready to pack the bags and go on to the next place.” It was only recently that Erika learned that her mother had given a career as an opera singer to be her father's supporter.
Erika's grateful it happened that way. “That's probably one of the best things about my growing up – that we were a loving, happy family. My father got married at forty-two. He waited until he found the right person before he married. He knew then that what he really wanted was a family. So he had a very close family. And they meant the world to him.”
Erika herself feels that she married too young. She was twenty-one at the time. She's now twenty-four and just recently divorced. She still believes strongly in the institution of marriage, however, “Marriage is definitely for me. I'm a homebody.”
“I suppose I married because I was lonely. But I married an actor and he couldn't support me. It was a mistake because our careers were going in two different directions. He decided to be an actor at twenty-four. I decided to be an actress when I was a little girl; I did something about it at seventeen; and I had leads at twenty. I was dragging him along and my career was suffering. My career has always been important to me. There was always jealousy between us.”
“I've finally come to see what my father told me all my life – it is very hard to marry an actor. I have nothing to say against him. Maybe it would have worked with another man.”
“It's a destroying thing in a marriage when a wife is more successful. Earning more money is bad, I think. When they start saying, 'Erika Slezak's husband, what was his name again?' – then you know it's bad. A woman doesn't have the false pride, the ego of a man.
“Although I am a strong woman, to be sure. Sometimes I come on like a gang buster. I don't think my husband always liked that. But I think a woman should be strong if that's what she thinks she really is. It's harder for a strong woman to find the right man. But it's easier for her to work it out because she'll bypass the weaklings.”
“I'm not a woman's liberation advocate. I like when a man lights my cigarette, helps me with my coat, stand up when I enter a room. I was brought up that way, and I like it. I'm glad there are still men who are polite and that they also turn around and talk to you because they realize the intellectual level is there too.”
“I like to be picked up on a date. It's a courtesy. In turn, women extend courtesies. I'm not sure what!” Erika laughed. “Well I cook for them. I love to cook for men because they appreciate it so. My husband gained twenty pounds when we were married.”
Erika's probably a great cook because “mother was a spectacular cook. I'd much rather eat at home than go out.”
“I love to cook for my father. Once, I made a fabulous meal and put it down in front of him, a bit afraid of his reaction. He tasted it, looked pleased, called to the next room, 'Mommy, this is very good!' “
When Mr. Slezak realized that it was his little “Ricci” who had prepared the goodies, he went ahead and treated her to a two-year subscription to Gourmet Magazine.
Erika's used to such niceties from her dad. “When I was little, he always got me sick presents – every time I had to stay home. He bought me anything I wanted. My parents tried to teach me moderation but I never lacked for anything. Like dresses – I had millions of dresses.”
“And I remember when we lived in Larchmont. We had a twenty-two room house, with two servants, five acres of land, and a menagerie of pets. We only sold the house when we went to Europe and my father thought, 'Why should I support a maid and a gardener?”
“I went to public school in Larchmont. One day, I was given fifteen cents to buy an ice cream from the Good Humor man during lunch. A friend of mine looked enviously at my pop and I suggested she buy one herself. She said she couldn't. I asked why. She explained, 'We don't have money for things like that.' I felt like such a rat. I felt sorry for them. I gave her the ice cream. I didn't know then that people were starving. How grateful I am for my good fortune.”
“My father did try to teach me the value of money. He gave me fifty cents allowance every Friday, but he taught me that earning your own money is important. He taught me to write down everything I spend.”
“I remember one summer being extravagant with money. To this day, I cannot remember what I did with that money. You see, upon graduation from school my father gave me a sum of money. He had given the same to my sister when she had graduated. I think it was $1000. I went away, I worked in a shop and lived with friends. At the end of the summer, I looked at my bankbook and it was gone—it was all gone! What did I do with it? It really frightened me!”
Erika's since learned to be more careful with her dollars. She knows what she values, and what she doesn't. Like psychoanalysis, for instance. Erika was rather skeptical about that. “I think there's a great overdose going on. I think it's important for those who need it. But people don't want to face their problems so a lot of untrue things come out of it, a lot of untrue neuroses are built up to complicate lives. But for many people it's a blessing, and for that, God bless Sigmund Freud. Maybe someday I'll need it. I hope not. I wouldn't want to spend the money!”
If little “Ricci” was spoiled, big Erika is practical. In spite of it all, Daddy accomplished what he wanted.
See Erika daily on ABC-TV's One Life To Live.