By Jae-Ha Kim
August 24, 1989
When actor Eric Braeden came to Hollywood after leaving his native West Germany 30 years ago, he made a living playing Nazis on television. Today's TV viewers are more familiar with him as dashing Victor Newman on the CBS daytime drama THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
"My family and I like the way I'm identified now much more than in my early acting career," Braeden said, laughing. "Playing a Nazi once is fine. Playing one every single time gets a bit much." Part of the problem back then was Braeden's real name, Hans Gudegast. Casting agents would read the name and hire him to play villains, he said.
When Braeden joined THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS nine years ago, his character originally was on the shady side. Through Braeden's urging, Victor Newman has become the heroic chairman of Newman Enterprises. (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS airs here from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on WBBM-Channel 2.)
Braeden, who was born in Kiel, exhibited athletic skills as a child. "I still love sports, but I'm glad at this point in my life that I didn't pursue it professionally," he said. "Athletes have a much shorter career than actors. Besides, I don't get hurt as much doing what I do now."
Now in his late 40s, Braeden still sticks to an athlete's workout schedule. When he's not required to be on the soap opera set at 6 a.m., he will exercise at 7 a.m. before doing anything else.
When he graduated from high school in 1959, Braeden said, he knew he wanted to move to the United States. He wasn't sure at that point what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to do it in America.
Braeden got jobs working as a translator and a cowboy before attending Montana State University on a partial track scholarship.
While studying at Montana State, he got his first taste of filmmaking. With a school friend, Braeden filmed the boat trip they took up Idaho's Salmon River. The result was a scenic documentary called The Riverbusters. He thought it was good enough for Hollywood.
"Well, let's say that George Lucas didn't have to worry about competition from us," Braeden said with a chuckle. "But the film got me to Los Angeles, and a lot of good things happened to me here. I changed schools (to Santa Monica College) and met my future wife, Dale, there."
Although he was concentrating on political science and economics classes, Braeden decided to audition for acting roles when he learned that German actors were in demand for special projects.
"I guess, like a lot of children, I had toyed with the idea of acting when I was a teenager," he said. "It wasn't something I thought was feasible when I was living in Germany. But in Hollywood, it seemed like everyone was doing it. So I thought, `Why not me, too?' "
His first film role was in Operation Eichmann. In 1965, he appeared on Broadway with Geraldine Page in The Great Indoors. But he became best known for his role as Capt. Hauptmann Hans Dietrich on THE RAT PATROL, a World War II action series on ABC in 1966.
When he was cast in the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project for Universal, the film company encouraged him to change his name to something that sounded more American.
"I wasn't really sure at that point that changing my name was something I wanted to do," he said. "How could I tell my parents I was going to do something like this?
"But I realized that if acting was something I seriously wanted to pursue, it probably would be better to fit in. So, I decided on using Eric Braeden, because Eric is a family name. And Braedenback was the name of a village back home."
Braeden, his wife and 19-year-old son, Christian, are spending the rest of August visiting relatives in West Germany. This is Braeden's first vacation in six years, and he said he would enjoy it to the fullest.
"Going back home is something that is very special to me," he said. "Even though I've lived in the United States for most of my life, sometimes I still feel like that young German boy who dreamed about coming to America. It's a nice feeling to be able to go home as somewhat of a success and have my friends and family there proud of me."
Eric Braeden stars in THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, a CBS soap airing at 11:30 a.m. weekdays on Channel 2.