Talk about a love fest! March 16 was a very special day on the set of ONE LIFE TO LIVE. The much-beloved Erika Slezak (Viki) was celebrating her 35th year on the job, so executive producer Frank Valentini threw a catered buffet lunch for cast, crew and invited guests.
It had been a busy morning of shooting. Viki’s daughter Jessica (actually Tess) was giving birth, so Bree Williamson (Jessica/Tess), Slezak and Forbes March (Nash) were all involved in taping double scenes because OLTL needed a split-screen, necessary when one actor plays two characters. (Some scenes had Tess in the bed, others had Jessica.) These episodes will air the week of April 24.
But eventually it was lunch time and every headed up to the soundstage. The fun part (well, actually there are lots of fun parts) was seeing the cast in various stages of hair and make-up and wardrobe. (More amusing for the press, however, I’m sure.) Most notably, everyone wears slippers. A soap opera really is like one big family, corny as that sounds.
Frank told me privately: “It is important to take time to stop and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing some good work and we’re having some fun here.’ We have this person who works incredibly hard, who we truly admire. She sets the bar for everybody else on this show.
“She’s not a diva at all,” Frank continued to rave. “She works hard, she never shows up to the set late, she always knows her lines. She’s the easiest person to work with, she’s just so professional. She comes from theater and she has great training and great background. She’s just fantastic. She’s funny and has a great sense of humor. She’s so much fun on the set. That’s why she always makes it into the Christmas reel.”
Kinder words were probably never spoken by a boss about an employee.
Of course there was a lot of hugging and kissing and squealing when Erika saw people she had not seen in a long time. Former co-star Roy Thinnes (ex-Sloane) elicited a major scream, as did Erika’s longtime former director David Pressman. The show’s creator, Agnes Nixon, was there, and current head writer Dena Higley flew in from California.
Frank gave a charming speech that was followed by a video tribute that combined warm wishes from many of her longtime co-stars, notably Robert S. Woods (Bo) and Robin Strasser (Dorian). There were also raves from Williamson, Dan Gauthier (Kevin) and Melissa Archer (Natalie). Even her new co-star, Jerry verDorn (Clint), got into the act. Next came a clip reel that included scenes from some of Erika’s most wonderful moments — happy, sad and out-of-this-world. (Think Megan, weddings and Eterna.)
A clearly moved (yet always classy) Erika thanked everyone for coming and stated the obvious: OLTL is her second family. (Which is why none of Erika’s biological family attended.)
Before I left, Frank, who has known Erika for about 21 years, told me about the first time he met her. “I was an assistant to the executive producer (Paul Rauch) on-set. I said ‘Hi’ to her, and she was so nice and great and treated me the same way back then as she does now: always professional, with a lot of respect. She’s the type of person we would do something like this for.”
Here’s to the next 35, Erika!