Eric Braeden is a German actor in America who began his career playing Nazis and eventually became a star of daytime soap operas. Born Hans Gudegast in Kiel, Germany, during the Second World War, he was a superb athlete who excelled in track-and-field events. As a teenager, he immigrated to the United States and worked in Texas and Montana as a translator, a cowhand, and a lumber millhand. His athleticism won him a scholarship to Montana State University. While attending college, he and friend Bob McKinnon made a film, The Riverbusters, about their successful attempt to be the first men to take a boat from the source to the mouth of the Salmon river and back again. He traveled to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a distributor for the documentary, but instead found that his handsome visage and accented English made him a valuable commodity as an actor. He appeared in small parts under his real name before landing the leading role of the antagonist, Captain Hans Dietrich, on the World War II television series The Rat Patrol (1966).
The series was a hit, and Gudegast’s sympathetic German officer was very popular. He appeared in a few movies and television films thereafter in supporting roles, then was given the lead in Universal’s science-fiction computer thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). His delight at this huge career boost was muted by the studio’s insistence that he change his name. With extreme reluctance, he agreed and became known subsequently as Eric Braeden. Braeden worked continuously in television movies for the next decade. He also worked on Broadway and in Los Angeles area theatre. In 1980, he reluctantly accepted a role in a daytime drama, The Young and the Restless (1973), and gained a stardom in this medium that had just eluded him in film and prime time television. As lead Victor Newman, Braeden brought a gravity and a strong center to the program. Amazingly handsome and athletic into his sixties, Braeden maintained the charisma that first brought him notice in “The Rat Patrol”.
His infrequent film work during his nearly quarter century on “The Young and the Restless” included a prominent role as John Jacob Astor in Titanic (1997). A five-time Emmy nominee for his “The Young and the Restless” role (he won in 1998), he was also nominated eleven times for the Soap Opera Digest Outstanding Leading Actor Award, winning three times. In 1987, he was appointed, along with Henry Kissinger, Paul Volker, Steffi Graf, Alexander Haig, and Katherine Graham, to the German-American Advisory Board, and in 1991 received the Federal Medal of Honor from the president of his native land, Germany. He married his college sweetheart Dale Russell in 1966. Their son, Christian Gudegast is a screenwriter.
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