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From Postwar Germany To Hollywood, A Soap Star Dishes On His Journey

Eric Braeden plays business magnate Victor Newman on CBS' <em>The Young and the Restless</em>.
Cliff Lipson
Eric Braeden plays business magnate Victor Newman on CBS' The Young and the Restless.

The dynamic, sometimes evil and always enthralling Victor Newman has been a mainstay of CBS' daytime soap The Young and the Restless. The character is played by actor Eric Braeden, who is marking his 37th year on the show. Braeden also has a new memoir out called I'll Be Damned. In it, he shares stories from his career and his childhood in post-World War II Germany.

He tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, "I was born in 1941 in a town called Kiel on the Baltic Sea. And that was a center for [the] building of warships and submarines, and hence it was obviously a target of Allied bombers."

Interview Highlights

On his father, who died when Braeden was 12

He belonged to the [Nazi] Party and he was mayor of the town that I grew up in, which was outside of Kiel. And as far as I knew, [he was] a very loving figure. Never saw him in uniform. I just was devastated when he died.

On how he learned about the Nazi era and the Holocaust

I found out in 1961/62 here in Los Angeles. ... [There] was a movie theater and they played a documentary called Mein Kampf, a Swedish documentary. And I went because I was kind of homesick; I said, "Oh, that's a German title." I honestly had not grown up knowing anything about Mein Kampf or really the Nazi era, except that Germany had lost the war. My early impressions were of English tanks coming through the village and arresting my father. So that was arguably the most shocking and, I would say, epiphanous moment in my young life, and awakened an enormous interest in history and politics.

On why he hadn't learned about the Holocaust sooner

The second world war was not discussed in German history classes until the '60s, and I left in '59. And in the middle '60s they began to really become aware, in Germany, of the dreadful stuff that happened in concentration camps. Before then, it was not discussed.

I don't remember discussing it, except once when I was a teenager. I walked home from school with a schoolmate and he said — I was about 14, I think, 15 — and he said, "I gotta tell you a secret." I said, "Oh? What is it?" He says, "I'm Jewish." And I didn't quite know what to do with that. So I went home to my mother — my father had been dead by then about two or three years. I said, "So and so ... said that he was Jewish. What does that mean?" And she just made a big sigh, and she says, "Oh, what one did to the white Jews is unforgiveable." By that I assume she meant the German Jews. That is the extant of my conversation about that subject matter until much later.

Braeden (center) pictured with his father and mother in Bredenbek, Germany.
From the author's collection / Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
Braeden (center) pictured with his father and mother in Bredenbek, Germany.

On moving to the U.S. in 1959 and how he ended up in Los Angeles

First, I dissected cadavers at the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas, where a cousin of mine, a German cousin of mine, was a doctor. Then I ventured from that to Montana. I was a cowboy on a ranch outside of Missoula. Then I took that river trip [down the Salmon River] in Idaho with a promise that we would make a documentary film and with that film we would come to California. And I said, "I'm in," nevermind it was called "The River of No Return" for a reason. So that's how, by Greyhound bus, I then ... came to Los Angeles I think in the fall of '60.

On why he's stayed with The Young and the Restless for so long

The reason I stayed was after about five years, I think, four years, I became increasingly disgruntled with playing this rather one-sided character. And then Bill Bell, the head writer, came up with a storyline for me that I played on a Christmas Eve show with my then-early wife, Nikki, played beautifully by Melody Thomas Scott still. And she sort of asks this mystery character, Victor Newman, about his childhood and about Christmas. And he has reluctant feelings about Christmas and then finally kind of breaks down and tells her that he grew up in an orphanage where he was left at the age of 7 by a destitute mother who had been left by a drunken father. And once I played that scene, I walked into my dressing room and I said, "Now I'm staying," because it opened up a huge world of possibilities.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff