Eric Braeden is best known for his work on soap operas The young and the restless but his life is full of remarkable circumstances that predate his 40-year stint as Victor Newman. Long before he had any prospects in the entertainment industry, Braeden was born to German parents into the chaos of World War II before becoming one of the lucky survivors of the greatest shipwreck ever recorded.
Before Victor Newman, before Eric Braeden, there was Hans-Jörg Gudegast. That’s Braeden’s first name when he was born in 1941 in the northern German town of Bredenbek, where his father was once the mayor.
Gudegast and his family were on the run when he turned four when the advance of the Russian army into East Prussia forced them to flee. They managed to escape the shots from the war, but almost died trying to escape.
In his 2017 autobiography I’ll be damned Braeden announced that he was being evacuated from the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. The German ocean liner, which you can read more about in Britannica, was part of Operation Hannibal, a mass evacuation of German troops and civilians in the region.
The Gustloff was hit by three Soviet torpedoes and sank within an hour. An estimated 9,000 people died in the tragedy, the highest death toll from a single sunken ship in maritime history, Brittanica reports. Another 1,000 people, including Gudegast’s family, managed to escape before drowning.
Luckily, the rest of Gudegast’s childhood was less eventful and he moved to the United States at 18. After first settling in Missoula, Montana to study at the University of Montana, he moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s. After earning guest roles on shows like Battle! and uncle’s husband, Gudegast got his first major role The Rat Patrol as Captain Hans Dietrich.
He continued to find work throughout the 1970s, one of the highlights being the film Colossus: The Forbin Project, where he became the first German actor to play an American in a major Hollywood film. (It was at this point that studio execs were urging him to choose a more marketable stage name.) But Victor Newman is the character who will most define Braeden’s career.
Victor was supposed to guest star for a few weeks, but Braeden’s performance was so good that he was offered a contract, and The young and the restless began to reorient itself around him. By bringing a deeper layer of nuance to this villain, Braeden created a new soap opera archetype, and his popularity still hasn’t waned four decades after his debut on the series.
Given the time requirements of The young and the restless It’s understandable that Braeden’s film roles have taken a step back. But he found time to star in one of the greatest films of all time, one that also involved a historic shipwreck. Braeden played John Jacob Aster IV in it titanic According to Celebrity Extra, Braeden admitted filming his drowning scene was “one of the scariest moments in this business for me.”
Braeden has led a pretty interesting life. Not only was he a talented performer, but he was also a formidable athlete. According to Soap Hub, Braeden went to Montana on an athletics scholarship after winning the German national team championship in the same sport.
A lifelong soccer fan, he also won the 1973 National Challenge Cup, played for Jewish-American club Maccabi Los Angeles, scored the semifinal-winning goal, and took home a penalty in the league game.
Braden and his wife, Dale Russell Gudegast, married in 1966 and welcomed a son, Christian Gudegast, in 1970. His son has followed in his footsteps in Hollywood; Gudegast has been a screenwriter since the mid-1990s and directed his first film Den of Thieves in 2018.
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