“Smoking is the worst thing you can do to your body — seriously, it’s the worst.”
That’s how my interview started with actor Eric Braeden in the coffee shop in the lobby of the IP Casino Resort. And in full disclosure, no, I have not started smoking again. I haven’t smoked in more than 10 years. This was just Braeden’s thoughts on smoking in general.
“I started smoking when I was 18 on the boat from Germany to America,” the German immigrant said. “I saw some girls that were smoking and I wanted to impress them.”
That led me to share a similar story.
“One time when I was working for Lou Reed, I was flying to Hamburg and I saw a group of girls in the back of the plane that where smoking, so I went and joined them and smoked the whole way to Germany, because you could do so back in the ‘90s.”
And that’s when we put the guards down, relaxed and spent the next hour or so chatting about a variety of things.
Braeden is a very accomplished actor who starred in the ABC WWII series “The Rat Patrol.” He guest starred on just about every hot show of the 1970s including “Hawaii Five-O,” “Barnaby Jones,” Kojak” and “Cannon.”
He’s also made several appearances on the silver screen including a role in James Cameron’s epic “Titanic.”
Braeden, however, is best known as daytime television’s iconic Victor Newman on the uber popular CBS soap “The Young and The Restless.”
Before we end up in fictional Genoa City, the discussion goes back to Braeden’s origins in Kiel, Germany.
The sirens of war
Braeden was born in Kiel in 1941, during the height of WW II.
“I was very little, but I have memories of Germany in WW II,” he said in his quiet, but intense way of speaking. “I remember hearing sirens a lot, having to get in the basement a lot because the Brits would come and bomb the s--- out of us and I mean bomb the s--- out us — Kiel was 96 percent destroyed and they estimate something like 500,000 bombs were dropped on that town alone.”
Although living through a war would be difficult for anyone, Braeden said he harbors no hard feelings about the war.
“It was a necessary war and it was a good war because Germany had succumbed to the mutterings of an utterly insane person -- a German-first xenophobe that promised economic recovery and for the first five years he got,” he said. “It’s very comparable to what’s happening today in America because it’s a great country and it’s doing damn well — you know who were the first people he had put into camps? The journalists, so be aware of guys offering simple solutions to complex problems.”
And in case you can't read between the lines, Braeden clarified his thoughts.
“Yes, I’m talking about Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump,” he said. “So many people have escaped absolute desperation by coming to America —so, here we have the son of a rich man, a spoiled boy, and he finds the disenfranchised and panders to them, but people are starting to see through his bulls---. He’s going to make this country great again? This is the greatest (censored) country in the world.”
“But I’m certainly not saying I think Trump wants to commit genocide,” he added.
The soccer star
Braeden came to the U.S. at 18 with “$50 in his pockets.” He rode a bus from New York to Galveston to stay with friends. After roaming around Texas for a while, the soccer enthusiast and amateur athlete went to the University of Montana on a soccer scholarship. He was also on the team that won the 1972-73 U.S. Soccer Championship.
“Soccer has gotten much, much bigger in the U.S.,” Braeden said. “You have to remember that in the 60s and early 1970s, only immigrants were playing soccer.”
And, oh yeah, there’s Victor Newman
Braeden made his acting debut in the 1961 film “Operation Eichmann” and he has made numerous appearances in TV shows and films.
But nothing can compare to playing TV’s most popular villain for almost four decades.
“I planned to play Victor for three months because I hated doing daytime television at first and then I decided I would do it for a year,” he said.
36 years later, Braeden is still doing what he calls “the hardest job in Hollywood,” which is appearing five days a week — every week —on “Y&R.”
He said he attributes his longevity of the show to the shows creator William Bell.
“(Bell) was one of the greatest writers in the business,” Braeden said. “I went to him and told him I wanted to add some vulnerability to Victor and he created a back story that had at its essence an underlying sadness and that’s why I decided to keep doing it.”
Although there are always rumors that he’s going to walk away from Genoa City, Braeden says he has no plans to retire his character.
“I love what I do,” he said.