2017 marks Braeden’s 57th year in film and television, where he has starred with such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Geraldine Page, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, James Earl Jones, Curt Jurgens, Raquel Welch, Tyne Daly, James Arness, Mary Tyler Moore, Dennis Weaver and Jack Lord, among others.
Braeden was born Hans-Jörg Gudegast in Kiel, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. The third of four sons, his childhood was at times grim. “There were good times, but mostly deprivation,” which may be why Braeden is “deeply appreciative of everything I have.” Salvation, however, came through athletics. In high school, he helped his team win the National German Youth Championship, with his own victories in the discus, javelin and shot-put.
Upon graduating high school, Braeden decided to leave his home for the potential he felt existed in America. “I saw America as a land of opportunity,” he recalls, “but also as the land of adventure, the land of cowboys and Indians.” Journeying by ocean liner, Braeden still vividly remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty on the horizon in the early morning light. He took his first American meal at the Empire State Building – and so taken with the fare, his diet remained hamburgers and chocolate milk shakes for months! Recalling that first journey, with only 50 dollars to his name, and nary a friend in sight, the actor admits that today, he is living the quintessential immigrant experience, and he couldn’t be more grateful. “This is a country of immigrants, and has always been hospitable and open to new citizens.” The United States, he believes, is always in the process of renewing itself.
After arriving in New York, Braeden traveled to Galveston, Texas where he worked for his cousin Dr. Maren Bakker at The University of Texas medical school lab before moving to Missoula, Montana, where he received a track and field scholarship at The University of Montana. He went on to conquer the River of No Return (aka The Salmon River) in Idaho and made a documentary of his journey, The Riverbusters, prior to moving to Los Angeles.
Braeden went to LA to find a distributor for his film, fell in love with the city and started his acting career, working first in television, the stage and movies. After finishing his work as Capt. Hans Dietrich on the World War II series The Rat Patrol from 1966-68 opposite Christopher George, where he added depth and dimension to a stereotypically-written German Afrika Korps officer, Braeden landed the starring role in Universal’s Colossus: The Forbin Project, with Susan Clark, making him the first German actor to play an American in a major Hollywood film. The studio, however pressed Braeden, then still using his given name (Hans Gudegast) to change it. “Eric is a family name,” he explains, “and Braeden is from the name of my village in Germany. Changing my name was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made, so I needed to choose a name that I could still identify with.”
In January 1980, Braeden made a decision that would forever impact his professional life. He took the role of Victor Newman on CBS’s The Young and the Restless. “Initially, I didn’t want to do this role,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do daytime.’ I thought it was too confining.” However, after celebrating his 37th year as the man America respects and admires – and wishes it knew personally! – Braeden himself has respect for the medium he works in each day. “Having done The Young and the Restless for so long, having traveled across the United States, Canada and overseas, I’m no longer arrogant about what people like. People want to be emotionally involved, have their hearts tugged as I knew they would when I read the Titanic script. That was the element that would capture an audience. After so many years of walking in Victor Newman’s shoes, Braeden admits that there is much of himself in his alter ego. “If you watch Victor closely,” he notes, “you see a lot of Eric.” They have much in common. Both are complex, intellectually curious, and if pushed too hard, come out fighting. “Victor is very charming until someone crosses him,” Braeden explains. “Then he turns nasty.” Braeden himself can only be pushed so far before his hackles rise. “I can’t stand it when someone uses his power to mistreat someone else. I would rather go against figures who have more power than I have, either physically or financially, for instance. Certainly, that comes from my early experience of struggling against something or someone more powerful than I was,” he says, referring to his childhood in World War II Germany and the loss of his father when he was only 12 years old. That early experience is indelibly stamped on Braeden. “Underlying it all is a deeply hurt and angry boy,” he offers. “Because of the pain of my early years, I think it’s fortunate that I’ve been blessed with a reflective and empathic nature. I’m basically a soft touch, but I come out fighting when pushed.”
Braeden has appeared in over 120 television series and feature films, including the role of John Jacob Astor in James Cameron’s epic Academy Award winner, Titanic.
Braeden’s other credits include starring in 100 Rifles, Morituri, Escape From the Planet Of The Apes, Operation Eichmann, The Ultimate Chase, The Ultimate Thrill, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, Meet The Deedles, Dayton’s Devils and many others.
In 2008, Braeden executive-produced and starred opposite Billy Zane, Armand Assante, George Kennedy, Sean Young and Carol Alt in the Lionsgate feature film The Man Who Came Back, a western set in the 1870’s during one of the worst labor strikes in American History.
Braeden’s numerous primetime series credits include guest-starring on the CBS series How I Met Your Mother as the father of actress Cobie Smulders, as well as the telefilms Jackie Collins’ Lucky Chances, The Judge And Jake Wyler starring Bette Davis, How The West Was Won starring James Arness, and Perry Mason: The Case Of The Wicked Wives.
In addition, he has guest-starred on such shows as Gunsmoke, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Combat!, Diagnosis Murder, The Nanny, Mission Impossible, McCloud, The Night Stalker, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vegas, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii 5-0, Perry Mason, Mannix, Murder She Wrote, Matt Helm, The Gallant Men and many others.
In 1972-73 he won the U.S. 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 and Paul Volcker.
In 1995, Braeden received the highest honor in Italian Television from Prime Minister Berlusconi and in 1998 was honored at the 38th Annual Monte Carlo TV Festival.
In 1998, he received The People’s Choice Award as Favorite Actor in a Daytime Drama Series and that same year was the recipient of The Emmy Award as Outstanding Actor In A Daytime Drama Series.
In 2004, Braeden joined Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Annual Tourism Conference in Israel and the following year he joined Ariel Sharon, Elie Wiesel and the Prime Ministers of Poland and Hungary at Auschwitz for “The March Of The Living” along with 20,000 Christian and Jew where the former director of The Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman asked Braeden to light a commemorative flame.
Braeden has twice received the Federal Medal Of Honor by the President of Germany for his contributions to German-American Relations.
In May 2007, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the nationally renowned organization The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Association in Los Angeles, and was also the recipient of The 2007 Ellis Island Federal Medal Of Honor.
In September 2008, Braeden was honored by the City Of Hamburg for his humanitarian contributions.
On June 2017, Braeden was inducted into The German American Hall Of Fame in NY. Previous inductees have included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, Levi Strauss, Albert Einstein, George Steinbrenner, Walter Cronkite among others.
During his free time, Braeden is an avid sportsman and plays in celebrity tennis tournaments around the world, while continuing to play soccer. He also does Olympic weight lifting and boxing to stay in shape.
Eric resides in Los Angeles. He and Dale Suzanne Gudegast have a son, Christian Gudegast, who is a screenwriter and director and just finished directing the STX feature Den Of Thieves starring Gerard Butler, 50 Cent and O’Shea Jackson.