Particularly to younger viewers of One Life to Live, the name David Pressman might not be as familiar as the names Erika Slezak, Robin Strasser, or Robert S. Woods. However, without the contributions of director David Pressman, a vastly different One Life to Live than the show we have come to know and love today would not be a stretch of the imagination.
“David Pressman directed my audition,” Erika Slezak (Viki) said in an article by Merrill Cherlin (found on her fan club website). “He had to fill me in on the storyline. You should have heard him trying to explain Niki/Viki to me!”
In a 1996 Soap Opera Digest article, “Victoria Victorious,” by Jason Bonderoff, she detailed her first day on One Life to Live.
“…David Pressman [the director] introduced me. It seems I was the fourth Viki! Nobody knew Victoria had been recast again, because the girl who had been playing her was fired on Tuesday afternoon after they hired me. They called her in at the end of the day and said, ‘Thank you very much, but good-bye.’ I don’t know why. I never asked, but as I understand it, they were beginning a new story, the romance with Steve, and they were not terribly happy with her….
“…People walked in and went, ‘Oh, hello. Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m playing Victoria.’ They said, ‘You are? What happened to so-and-so?'”
In that same article, Robert S. Woods (Bo) gave Erika Slezak credit for his being cast on the show.
“I screen-tested with her, and she went to bat for me with the producers. She told then, ‘He’s the one I like!'”
Robin Strasser (Dorian), however, knew David Pressman from another soap before she joined the cast of One Life to Live. She once said, of her time playing Rachel on Another World:
“The demographics were incredible on that show. I think there were nine young leading women under the age of 25. I sometimes think that is what made our director David Pressman lose his hair — trying to wrangle all those baby ‘divas.'”
As her director on One Life to Live, David Pressman garnered her credit for Dorian’s knack — or lack thereof — for the Spanish language. In an interview with Mari Lyn Henry of Soap Opera Digest, “One Life to Live’s Robin Strasser: The Ultimate Interview,” Strasser reveals,
“A favorite story of mine involves Mr. David Pressman once again. Early on in the first six months, Dorian decides to go to a South American country to try and liberate an ex-lover who is being kept prisoner. She in turn is captured by the rebels and guarded over by a Jimmy Smits look-a-like. I am railing and railing at him. So I asked David if I could do part of the dialogue in Spanish. I speak terrible Spanish, but I thought it would be funny to hear Dorian trying to speak fractured Spanish. Dorian wants to think she is good at everything and can surmount anything and she tries to converse in her awful Spanish. The handsome guard had no lines but he looked at me like I was crazy. And so the next day I was telling the story as Dorian and there was a line ‘that is all water under the bridge.’ I had Dorian say, ‘Oh, well that’s all agua under the bridge.’ And David Pressman said, ‘That’s it! I love that. That is the key. Do this a lot.’ I got a little gold star from him that day.”
David Pressman was an actor from childhood and later a director and teacher who influenced the lives and careers of many of today’s household names, among them Gregory Peck, Olympia Dukakis, Al Pacino and Jessica Tandy. Pressman was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of his interest in the Communist Party (which had “radical ideas … integration, civil rights and socialized medicine”) and banned from working in television. Despite this setback, he continued to teach and work in theatre and was later invited back to television.
He also served in the U.S. Army on the front lines during WWII and earned two Purple Hearts.
David Pressman passed away on August 29, 2011, but the impact of his career reverberates through the theatre, television and movie professionals who remember him with gratitude.
“Director David Pressman dies,” August 30, 2011, Variety.com
“David Pressman, Director, Dies at 97,” August 30, 2011, BroadwayWorld.com
“Ex-One Life To Live Director David Pressman Dead At 97,” August 31 2011, Soaps.SheKnows.com
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One Life to Live airs on weekdays at 2et/1pt/c on ABC and weeknights at 9pm on SOAPnet.