The following excerpted article appeared in the August 1971 issue of
After Noon TV. Accompanying the article are pictures of Erika Slezak
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Three Wishes for Erika
August is birthday month for Erika Slezak and all she wants is a new apartment, a bag of clay, and someone to share her goulash!
When we were first told that an actress named Erika Slezak had joined “One Life to Live” as Victoria Lord Riley our immediate response was to ask “Is she -?,” and the immediate answer was “Yes – she’s his daughter.”
Aha. So Walter Slazek’s daughter is an actress beginning her career in television (with five years in the theatre already behind her.) Walter is probably best remembered for his portrayal of the villain in that old movie, “Life-Boat” and on Broadway for his performance in the musical “Fanny.” Having dealt with just enough offspring of stars to know that most of them deeply resent being identified with their parents, we were determined during our interview with Erika to avoid that subject as much as possible.
Forget it. Erika’s parents have been, and are, so much a part of her life that she mentions them constantly.
“I’ll tell you one thing very simply,” she said. “I adore my parents and I adore my father. He was never a movie star at home; he was just my father, like any other father. The fact that I’m an actor’s daughter only occurred to me seven or eight years ago; the kids I went to school with didn’t know who he was anyway.”
That, folks, is more special than you may realize, and not only because it’s the child of a star talking. Nowadays the children of bank clerks and insurance salesmen seem to blame all the miseries of the world on Mama and Papa. Hearing open love and parental respect from young adults is becoming increasingly rare, but during our interview with Erika it continued throughout the evening. She was, in fact, very disappointed the night we met because she had expected her parents to fly in from their home in Switzerland to visit; they had to postpone for a week when her mother came down with the flu. “Now I’ll have to freeze all the goulash I made,” she said.
Erika – called “Ricci” by those close to her – in real life is astonishingly different than she is on screen. Victoria Riley comes across as the perfect picture of cool, sophisticated High Society, hair drawn tightly back, skirt a proper middle-of-the-knee length. Erika – as - Viki also seems much older than Erika –as – Erika (she has not yet reached her mid-20’s.) Erika Slezak is a joyful, open, hair drown and happy young actress with a thorough training in her art, a zest for life and a great capacity for becoming excited, and - apparently – an almost total disinterest in the kind of reversed dignity that she plays so superbly as Victoria.
All of which means simply is that Erika Slezak is an actress, and a bloody good one.
She started acting at the age of 16, when she graduated high school and was accepted by the Royal Academy in London, after which she joined the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. (“They gave me parts I’ll probably never play again – just one lead after another – and that, for me, is the way to learn”). From there she was off to the Alley Theatre in Houston for a year, but at the end of that year she decided “Enogh!”
“I hadn’t had a vacation in four years and I knew I needed one, so I went to Switzerland to see my parents.” (It seems only natural that her parents should wind up living in Europe; her father is Viennese, her mother Dutch.)
“When I got there my mother said ‘You look old and tired!’ and I did. It’s bad when that happens because then you don’t want to work at all; you just want to get home and sleep for a year.”
It wasn’t exactly a year, but Erika’s planned three-week vacation stretched out to seven months. “I went to a doctor for a checkup – I’m the opposite of a hypochondriac; I could be dying and I’d say ‘Oh, no, I’m fine!’ – and he told me I had terrible blood pressure; then I was told that if I did a musical I wanted to do for five weeks I wouldn’t have any voice left at all. So I desperately wanted to be talked into that vacation.”
Then, enters Erika’s father! “He’s a very persuasive man, and he said ‘stay another month’… and he kept saying that and I wound up staying there for seven.”
At the end of that at-home break Erika came back to New York last January and “I’ve had luck dropping from the skies ever since.” (This statement from a girl who once thought, “Nobody’s ever going to hire me; I’m too large and I can’t do anything!” But it’s also from a girl who admits, “At the same time I also thought I could do everything.”)
In New York Erika moved in with a former high school roommate (by her own estimation she attended about 14 different schools after being born – August 5th – in Hollywood) then left almost immediately to play Desdemona in Othello in Buffalo, N.Y. (“The whether there isn’t exactly ideal, but it was awfully nice to come back to Shakespeare.”)
After Erika had two week in New York seeing friends she hadn’t seen for years before the call came to audition for “One Life to Live”; “They had me read a love scene with Bernie Grant [Steve Burke] and I was absolutely panicked – I’d never had made it without Bernie; he was a brick!”
Producer Doris Quinlan and creator Agnes Nixon were there to watch that scene (“It seemed to me like millions of people were coming in,” Erika remembers) and they obviously thought Erika was a little bit of all right herself. (It was, in fact, Doris Quinlan who called AFTER NOON TV to say “You’ve got to meet this girl – she’s going to be a star.”)
“I’m in seventh heaven now,” she said. “David Pressman, who is one of the directors, was the first person I met, and he’s just remarkable; he’s better than any theatre director I’ve ever worked with. And Doris Belack [Anna Craig] is such a warm, open woman, and Nat Polen [Jim Craig] is so responsible I know I can depend on him for anything… if I got into trouble in a scene with him I wouldn’t worry – he’d take care of it.”
The openness and exuberance of Erika Slezak has made her equally popular with the rest of her colleagues, and her first experience of being recognized by fans occurred when kids recognized Tony first, and then they realized I was Victoria, and their first question was, ‘what are you two doing together?’”
Counter-balancing the excitement of her first television role, Erika is living with the most basic of all annoyances for any New York dweller – the search for an apartment.
“I moved out of my friend’s place because I really made it too crowded, and I sublet the apartment I’m living in now because it was convenient, but it’s really not my style – I’ve got everything I own stored in a warehouse. I really want to find an empty apartment that I can decorate myself, and set up special areas for the things that are important to me. For instance, my primary hobby is cooking; my mother is a terrific cook and I rather eat at her table than in any restaurant – my father does not like to eat badly – and I guess I inherited that, so I want to set up my own kitchen.
“I’d also like to have a work-table where I could use messy clay to make things… after using my brain all day I want to use my hands at night. Maybe that’s why I love cooking.”
The subject of cooking naturally brings up the subject of that goulash-to-be-frozen, which again brings up the question of the senior Slezak (Erika is one of three in the new generation; her sister Ingrid is married to a doctor and lives in Canada – “They have two gorgeous boys” – and brother Leo is in his last year of college, after which he will become a director – “I think he’ll be very good.”)
Let’s close with one final, simple statement from Erika Slezak, the star’s daughter who didn’t know daddy was a star: “I believe he’s a good actor,” she said. “I really do.”
We also believe he’s a pretty good father, because I’ve seen Erika Slezak.