Eric Braeden/Coming of Age/Fall 2011/by Kelly Oden

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COMING of AGE

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P r e s e n t e d b y C o u n c i l o n A g i n g o f We s t F l o r i d a

L I F E S T Y L E

M A G A Z I N E

F O R

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FALL 2011

Rat Pack Reunion

An Exclusive Interview with

Pneumonia, Shingles & Flu

Eric Braeden

You And Your Home

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An Exclusive Interview with

Eric Braeden By Kelly Oden

Emmy Award winning and internationally acclaimed film and television icon Eric Braeden has starred as Victor Newman on the number one rated daytime drama series The Young and the Restless since 1980 and has over 120 million daily viewers around the world. According to A.C. Nielsen, Braeden is one the most recognized actors in the world. Braeden was born as Hans Gudegast in Kiel, Germany, a port city near the Baltic Sea. In 1958, he won the German Youth Team Championship in discus, javelin and shot put. In 1959, Braeden immigrated to the United States. Braeden worked in the University of Texas medical school lab before moving to Los Angeles, where he attended Santa Monica College. In 1972-73 he won the US National Soccer Championship for the Los Angeles Maccabees and in 1989, Braeden was chosen as the only actor on the newly formed German American Advisory Board. The illustrious group has included Dr. Henry Kissinger, Katherine Graham, Alexander Haig, Steffi Graff and Paul Volcher. On July 20, 2007, Braeden was the recipient of a Star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame and become the first German born actor since Marlene Dietrich in 1960 to receive a Hollywood Star on The Walk Of Fame. Braeden has appeared in over 120 television series and feature films including starring as Captain Hans Dietrich in the 1960 classic television series The Rat Patrol. During Braeden’s free time, he is an avid sportsman and plays in celebrity tennis tournaments around the world. He also continues to play soccer and does Olympic weight lifting as well. He resides in Los Angeles, and has been married for over 40 years to Dale Gudegast. They have one son, Christian Gudegast, who is a screenwriter and director. COA recently had the pleasure of speaking with smooth voiced Eric Braeden about his exceptional life and career. We hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as we did. Photo by Lesley Bohm Photography - Soaps In Depth Magazine

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COA: What prompted you to come to America after finishing school in Germany? Adventure, you know, just a lust for adventure. I’d seen movies about the American west and cowboys and Indians and big cars. America sort of was exciting. After the war, we listened to Elvis Presley and all of American rock and roll and watched Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in movies. America always conjured up visions of excitement, as it were, really. COA: When you got here, did you find it lived up to that adventure you were hoping for? What were your first impressions of America? America was strange for the few first few years and very tough and not quite what I had expected. It wasn’t quite the democracy that I expected. Because driving through the south by Greyhound from New York to Galveston, Texas, you drive through all of the poor sections of major towns, that’s usually the Greyhound route, and you saw signs for whites only and coloreds only, so that was kind of a shock to me, frankly. COA: You came here as an athlete and you had some athletic scholarships, but did you have an interest in acting from a young age? Not really. Except for what every boy and girl goes through when they see their first movies, you know. You kind of envision playing this part or that part and beyond that, no. COA: As a young athlete born in Kiel, Germany during the World War II, did you ever think you would have your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? How would you describe that journey? A long journey. COA: The studio made you change your name in 1970, and you reluctantly did. Why was this? In 1969, I was in a film for Universal Studios and 34 COMING

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Universal was presided over by Lou Wasserman who didn’t think that anyone with a German name should star in an American picture. COA: There has a been a lot of talk and speculation about the future of daytime drama after ABC’s recent cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. What do foresee for this genre of television? Well, I think that television in general, some of it is very interesting and some of it doesn’t portend well. These so called reality shows are killing our industry, to be frank with you. They are not good for our industry. They aren’t real and those aren’t actors who have paid their dues, so I don’t think much of it. And I think eventually there will be a return to our format. We’ve certainly done well, so I think we have a few years to go. What daytime, I think, had to do and sometimes didn’t do, unlike Y&R, we deal with a lot of real issues. And I think a lot of the other soaps became a little too fantastic with the story lines. COA: You have received 17 award nominations and six wins, including Daytime Emmy, People’s Choice and Soap Opera Digest Awards, for your portrayal of Victor Newman. What do you think is responsible for Victor’s long-term popularity and your ability to keep it fresh for over 20 years? I don’t know that. In the end, one doesn’t know that. I would say that as a male character, he is one of the few characters left on television who fights back and doesn’t take any crap. I don’t know. I assume it has to do with the fact that he is very vulnerable—very tough on one hand and very vulnerable on the other. He is full of weaknesses as every human being is, yet he keeps on fighting them. He is very strong willed. I cannot tell you the reason for the success. What I think is happening on television is that you’ve seen the emasculation of men more and more. You see it in commercials, you see it in television shows, you see it almost everywhere, and I defy that. I go against that because I can’t stand it. I resent it. What it is about is a fair treatment. You need to listen. In other words, it’s neither that men or women are superior. You just need to listen to each other. When you look at commercials, the man is usually the schmuck, he’s the idiot. Look at most comedies—the men

are the idiots, very often. I assume that trend has to do with the fact that most advertisers know that women buy more, so perhaps that influenced that whole process. I don’t know. But I think where it used to be male dominated, it has certainly turned the other way and I think what we need to come back to is a sense of fairness, a sense of true equality. COA: I understand you were appointed to the GermanAmerican Advisory Board in 1987. You also received the Federal Medal of Honor from the president of your native country, Germany in 1991. How did that feel to have come from fairly humble beginnings to be not only successful in your craft, but also recognized by the governments of your native country and the country in which you chose to live and work? It feels very good, to be frank with you. A lot of work needs to be done. I have become president of German-American Cultural Society, which I started with the then German Ambassador Dr. Juerjin Ruhfus. After the German-American Advisory Board, I was determined to have German-Jewish dialogue between Germans and Jews. There were talks by some German academics that taught the history of Anti-Semitism at UCLA and USC, so we’ve had some very interesting programs. I always felt it was of enormous importance to discover what we have in common as human beings. I’ll refer to a German-Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, who talked about the I and Thou relationship. Meaning, you have you as a person and you as what you do or where you are from. I don’t address you as a doctor or lawyer or Russian or American. I address you as a human being. That’s the fundamental way I like to relate to people. I don’t like to dismiss people immediately as Arabs Photo courtesy of CBS Photo

COA: Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing in Germany during World War II? My first memories of life were bombs everywhere, every night. I remember being taken down to the basement and waiting for the bomb attacks to be over and not knowing whether you would survive it or not, just an overwhelming sense of doom.

or Jews or Germans or French or American. I want to see what you are made of as a human being. Then I will either accept you or not accept you. I think that is what we have to learn. There’s too much oversimplification going on when it comes to describing or accepting or rejecting members of other ethnic groups. COA: Tell me about 2008’s, The Man Who Came Back, which you executive produced and had the starring role. It was a revenge story that was brought to me. It occurred in the second half of the 19th century in America in the South. It was an ordinary revenge story and I said ‘I need an historic context’ because that was the time of FALL 2011

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Photo courtesy of CBS Photo

reconstruction, of blatant racism and then I got a hold of a book called Without Sanctuary that came out about ten years ago. It was a rather frightening documentary with photos about what happened in the latter part of the 19th century in various southern states. And then we also came upon and researched the second bloodiest labor strike in American labor history. It took place in Thibodaux in the 1870s and in one night they killed 300 strikers with Gatling machine guns. They were asking for a dollar a day rather than 75 cents a day and they were asking to get paid in real money, not in scrip. It’s an extraordinary history and I wanted that as the historic context of the story. COA: You had a highly publicized Twitter spat with Neil Patrick Harris recently. Tell me a little about that and your views on social media and the Internet in general. How much do you use 36 COMING

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it and how much stock do you put in it? I don’t use it at all. I have not made use of the social media, but obviously it’s influenced a lot of processes. Among them is what’s happening in the Middle East, which is arguably one of the most important movements in decades. What’s happened in Tunisia and Libya and Egypt and now in Syria is largely due to social media. So, I think the world will perhaps become more transparent. Hopefully that will become the case. But then, the abuse of those tools is evident now with what is happening with Newscorp and Rupert Murdoch’s people. I think the influence of British journalism in America has been nothing but deleterious. All of the gossip rags were often run by crooks who came over here and that never was American because Americans have a greater sense of fairness and we don’t have that strictly defined social hierarchy that you have in Great Britain or Germany, for example. But they’re celebrating the notion of taking someone down. America was always much fairer until there was an influx of those elements coming over here and using these obnoxious headlines and all the gossip magazines and sensationalism. That was not America when I came here. COA: You have described yourself as an “activist for Israel.” Can you tell me about your involvement with Israel? Well, I played soccer for a Jewish team called the Maccabees. I am not Jewish, but I played soccer for them in the 60s. I wore the Star of David on my shirt and played Nazi characters during the week on television. So there was some confusion from people. But I refused to accept the notion that, as was suggested on American television, Germans were, by virtue of the fact that they were German, anti-Semitic, which is bull, not true. The Nazis were. The Jews were more successfully assimilated in German society than anywhere in the world prior to the advent of Hitler—more than America, more than England,

more than France. I became aware around the age of 19 of what actually happened during that war and it opened my eyes with horror. I would say one of the most duplicitous moments in my life was to go to a documentary film called Mein Kampf, a Swedish documentary and it showed all the horrors of that period. As a young German, that was fundamentally shocking. And I was determined to do everything in my power to show that my generation and many members of the older generation did not feel that way. What the Nazis did in the name of Germany is unforgivable and we will probably never fully live it down. But Germany has risen since that time as a very successful democracy. It has been enormously supportive of Israel, the German government has and even the German citizens have been. I have always been very aware of their country, very supportive of it and I will continue to be because directly or indirectly. What happened in Nazi Germany between 1943 and 1945 is partly responsible for the state of Israel. So it is obviously a desire of other Jews to have a country of their own after the bitter experiences of anti-Semitism in Europe and America and England. COA: I’ve read that you have been married to your college sweetheart Dale Russell since 1966. What do you feel is the secret to a long and happy marriage? I would say that the most important thing is that you not only love the person, but that you really like the person. That means that you like who they are, that you like being with them. You like having conversations with them. You obviously share the most extraordinary things in life with them. In other words, the in love process is initially crazy and euphoric, but when you sober up from that as inevitably people do, hopefully you like that person as well. So my wife has been supportive of me since we first knew each other, long before I became well known. I have an enormous sense of deep loyalty to her and we’ve been very supportive of each other, but she’s been especially supportive of me and given me a wonderful family. COA: I hear that you are a devoted grandfather. Can you talk to me a little about your experience being a grandfather?

I grew up in the world of sports, one of four brothers at home and I raised a son, so I was used to that sort of thing. Having a granddaughter is one of the most delightful things in my life. I adore her. It’s so different and I love it. I love the difference. She has my heart, as simple as it is. I assume one feels less of a responsibility as a grandparent (than a parent) to educate them. You just love them and it is the most wonderful feeling in the world. It really is. She’s been a blessing. COA: We are a magazine for mature adults and we always like to know, what are your views on aging? Any secrets to aging well? To put it succinctly, I have been involved in sports all my life. I have never lost the habit of working out at least once a day for 40-50 minutes, very often twice a day. So, sports have played an enormously important part in my life. I’ve always felt that when I was burdened with all kinds of emotional tugs and pulls, a good workout for about 45 minutes to an hour always helped me. It clears my mind and I feel much better. Everything after a workout is better— sleeping is better, sex is better, food is better, everything is better. It’s so simple, but it is so true. You need to move your body. When it comes to stiffening joints or what have you, I don’t feel any of that. I just keep on working out, and I do a variety of things. I lift a lot of weights, which I find important, as you get older primarily, because it strengthens is the muscles around the joints, and it relaxes you. When you lift weights properly, it sort of gets rid of all the nervous tension. The only other sport I feel very relaxed after is boxing because you get rid of it all. I don’t suggest boxing to everyone, but the workout of boxing is enough to make you feel very good. And dancing is a great thing and singing (which I don’t do well). Any kind of movement—yoga, pilates, whatever, but do it for an hour a day and you will feel better. Beyond that I take multiple vitamins. I take fish oil, and I now take a thing called alpha-lepoic acid. I eat lean protein, fruits and vegetables. I have a shot of tequila everyday and I love dark chocolate. I look forward to sharing meals with friends. I just don’t think about getting older. I defy it. Totally defy it. FALL 2011

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