And more from our Liz: Britney shops … Chivalry is sexist? … and who’s that girl with the Bette Davis eyes?
“ERIKA, this is a terrible business. Unstable, full of rejection, over and over — you are too tall, too short, not pretty enough, too pretty. Too old, too young. I’m warning you.”
That’s what Erika Slezak’s father, the esteemed character actor Walter Slezak, told her when she announced she wanted to be an actress. Miss Slezak began in rep, but in 1968 took a role on a new TV soap opera, titled “One Life to Live.” (The show would break ground by its subject matter. It launched careers such as those of Tommy Lee Jones and Judith Light.)
Erika says today, “Well, I appreciated my father’s warning, but look how it ended up for me. In my entire life I’ve been unemployed six weeks. And for the last 40something years I’ve had one job, made a nice bundle of money. It’s over now, but I’d be a fool to complain.”
Miss Slezak’s show will come to an end soon, along with another classic soap, “All My Children.” Erika has played the role of Victoria Lord, the upper class matriarch of the Lord family of Lanville. She has been through a lot! Multiple marriages, multiple personalities, problem kids and the constant battle with her nemesis on “OLTL” Dorian Cramer, played by Robin Strasser. The Lord/Kramer chemistry has always been volatile. (Oy, the history between the characters!) But personally they adore each other. “We just did our goodbye scenes and I sobbed like a baby. I can’t believe I won’t have the joy of that magnificent talent to play against every day,” Erika told me.
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I ASKED Erika what it is like to invest almost her entire professional life in playing one character. She said, “You know, nobody has ever asked me that before!” The actress says: “I know Viki very well. She is so familiar to me. The minute I get to the soundstage, I go into Viki mode. She’s not like me at all, but I love her. She’s a wonderful, flawed woman, who always makes a huge effort to do and be better, sometimes to the pain of friends and family. To do this sort of work — soap work — requires extreme focus and concentration.
“My father played a role on the show for three days. After the first day was over he said, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life!’ I said ‘Really? Why?’ He said ‘There are no rehearsals! They just throw you out there!’”
Erika says she doesn’t yet know how all the storylines will be wrapped up. “I hope it ends cleanly, I hope it’s all neatly wrapped.”
Will she continue acting? The very lively Erika laughed and said, “The first thing I did when I knew the show was ending was call my agent. I said, ‘Okay, get going!’ I’d love to go back to the theater. TV movies. Feature films. My kids are grown, and my husband is very supportive. He said, ‘We can go to Hollywood for a while if you think you need that.’ Anyway, I’d go mad staying home.”
Is she taking any souvenirs? Erika let out a big laugh. “Actually, when I walked into the Lord library set the other day, I thought ‘Oh, this is where I did my very first scene. And I saw the big overstuffed chairs and thought, ‘I like those!’
“But I don’t know if ABC would let me have them. Of course, I could go into my alter personality, Niki Smith, and just take what I want, as she would!”
Erika Slezak. She ain’t Victoria Lord anymore. But she’s not giving up the biz. Far from it. After all, she only has one life to live.
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SPOTTED at the Tommy Hilfiger store in West Hollywood, the other day. A radiant Britney Spears, shopping with her two little boys. Britney, accompanied by her father, Jamie, bought a lot for herself. Well, with her “Femme Fatale” tour upcoming, she needs a going-out wardrobe, as opposed to the three-beads-and-a-prayer get-ups she wears onstage. Among other goodies, she picked up several smart blazers. Her boys sat, very well-behaved, happily laughing and playing games.
Several years ago, I thought I might never write such a positive, prosaic item about Britney. I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity. Recoveries are possible and so are second acts. When one is in the midst of scandal and the press feeding frenzy, it doesn’t seem possible. But it happens, time and again.
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WHEN Sir Walter Raleigh supposedly doffed his cloak and placed it over a puddle of mud, to protect the silk-clad toosties of his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I, he (and she) thought he was being chivalrous — not to mention toadying. But some feminists today claim that such acts of chivalry are just “benevolent sexism.” They say “helping” a woman merely reinforces the idea that women cannot cope without a man’s assistance. So, don’t open doors, give up your seat on the bus or subway. Don’t offer to help a woman choose a computer or drive her on an especially long, grueling journey.
Also, showing too much affection, or saying you can’t live without a woman, might also be “sexist.” (The latter, depending on the intensity might be more stalkerish than sexist.) Oh, and don’t offer to carry heavy bags, either, you little sexist pig. Actually, I call all of this “manners.” And I am all for manners.
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ENDTHOUGHT: I opened up the Thursday Arts section of the New York Times and was enchanted by a color portrait by Rubens (the accompanying story was about new art being displayed at London’s National Gallery.) What struck me about the painting of one Susanna Lunden, was that she is a dead ringer for the young Bette Davis — the mouth, the shape of the face, and most strikingly, huge “Bette Davis” eyes. (Although Susanna’s orbs appear to be brown, rather than Bette’s vivid blue.) The picture stopped me in my tracks.
I’d venture if Miss Davis had ever seen the portrait she would have somehow invented a linkage, history and eventually made a movie, starring herself as Miss Susanna Lunden. The girl in the painting looks so innocent Bette probably would have insisted she be a killer in the movie.