Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eric Braeden: The man who portrays Victor Newman

Last Saturday afternoon, I spent some time at the National Women's Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  Eric Braeden , better known as Victor Newman, the ruthless business tycoon on The Young and the Restless, made an appearance before an enthusiastic crowd of females.  The actor has a great many fans in Toronto as his show is hugely popular here.

At the age of 70, Eric is an imposing figure who seems to have a preference for dressing in black T-shirts.  He answered questions amiably, but remained fairly tight-lipped and revealed very little information about what will happen on The Young and the Restless.  He praised Y&R castmates Doug Davidson (Paul Williams) and Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor) for their sense of humour.  He also discussed how demanding it is to be a regular on a daytime soap, including the hard work and long hours required.

Eric Braeden was born in Bredenbeck, Germany (near Kiel) on April 3, 1941.  His birth name was Hans Jorg Gudegast.  He grew up in poverty and his father died when he was 12 years old.  Sports were his saving grace and he excelled at athletics.   During the cold German winters, he played hockey on frozen ponds.  He also played soccer and handball during his early youth.

Due to the brain concussions he suffered as a child, Eric was forced to give up contact sports.  So he took up track and field instead and won the German Youth Championship in 1958.  Today he is an ardent tennis fan and a very good player.

In 1959, Eric immigrated to the United States in search of the American Dream.  His goals were to seek adventure and to study economics and politics.  After a brief stay in New York, he moved on to Galveston, Texas where his cousin helped him to find a job as a translator.  Then he travelled to Montana where he worked as a cowhand on a ranch.

Eric Braeden eventually won a partial track scholarship to Montana State University (now the University of Montana) in Missoula.  While a college student, he and a friend made a film called The Riverbusters about the first men to take a boat from the source of the Salmon River and back.  In an attempt to find a distributor for the film, Eric went to Los Angeles.  While in L.A., he discovered that his rugged looks and his accented English provided him with opportunities as an actor.

Eric began appearing on television in 1961.  Due to his German accent, he was typecast in Nazi roles.   In 1963 and 1964, he appeared as a German soldier in several episodes of the World War II drama, Combat!.  He also co-starred as Luftwaffe Major Bentz in yet another war drama, 12 O'Clock High. The episode, titled "Day of Reckoning," aired on March 28, 1966.  During this time, Eric was still credited as Hans Gudegast.

From 1966 until 1968, Eric Braeden played the role of the German captain, Hans Dietrich, on Rat Patrol Rat Patrol was set in North Africa during World War II and the series followed the exploits of a 4-man team of Allied commandos who were part of a long-range desert group.

During the 1970s, Braeden had guest roles in such television series as Gunsmoke (1971, 1974), McCloud (1973), Kojak (1977) , The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1977) and The Six Million Dollar Man (1978).  On The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode, titled "The Critic," Eric portrayed a pompous media critic named Karl Heller.  Heller was hired to provoke controversy on the 6 o'clock news and began lashing out at the people of Minneapolis.

In 1980, Eric was cast as the villainous Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless.  During his early days on the show, he had a dark handlebar moustache and dressed in Western attire with stetsons and cowboy boots.  Braeden was originally hired for a temporary run, but he became so popular that his contract was extended.  He was the villain the fans loved to hate. 

Yet Victor Newman is not a one-dimensional villain.  He has many sides to him.  Braeden likes that aspect of his character.  He told the crowd at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that one of his favourite storylines on the show was the appearance of Victor's mother, Cora Miller, 30 years after leaving her son at an orphanage. 

Unlike the much-married Victor Newman, Eric Braeden has been married to the same woman, Dale Russell Gudegast, since 1966.  Their son, Christian Gudegast, is a writer and director.  Of his time on The Young and the Restless, Eric told the Vancouver publication Good News Weekly earlier this year that he was "very grateful to be employed for the last 31 years on the show."  He said, "It has mostly been a very good experience and I've been surrounded by very good actors."

Here are some photos of Eric Braeden at the National Women's Show here in Toronto.

- Joanne

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