Since 1980, actor Eric Braeden has played Victor Newman – one half of CBS daytime’s resident reigning super couple with on again/off again screen wife Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki) – on what remains TV’s highest-rated soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.”
But Braeden’s long career isn’t just as one of television’s most recognizable soap stars. Before that, he was a go-to TV villain.
And in 1997, he went down with James Cameron’s “Titanic,” playing the richest man in America, John Jacob Astor, who met his end on the ship’s flooding grand staircase as water burst through the glass dome ceiling. It was a particularly harrowing scene to film, which he shares, along with his reluctance to take the role in the first place, in his recent autobiography “I’ll Be Damned.”
Braeden will sign copies of the book at Park Road Books from 2-4 p.m. Saturday.
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The book isn’t a typical celebrity biography, although it does follow his career. Born Hans-Jorg Gudegast in a hospital that was bombed a few days after his birth, Braeden was only 4 when World War II ended. Yet his life was altered by it, from the year-long post-war imprisonment of his father (who was mayor of Bredenbek, Germany, a member of the Nazi party, and died when Braeden was 12) to his passion to change public perception of Germany and its people following the war.
“The largest ethnic group in America is German. This business with being identified with this 12-year period has gotten on my nerves over the years. It’s overshadowed the cultural influence Germans have had in America. That’s never talked about,” says Braeden, who is 76. “The image is beginning to change – or has changed –because of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.”
Despite current racial and political tension in the U.S., Braeden says the environment has improved greatly since he arrived here in 1959.
“It’s still a beacon to the world,” he says of the States. “The more we withdraw, we take away the light most other countries can look to. There’s no other country in the world that has as solid of a democratic foundation as this country.”
He credits the U.S. for leading Western and Eastern Europe toward independence.
“Without the influence of America after World War II, most of Europe and Germany would be a part of the Soviet Union,” he says, referencing the U.S.’s role in establishing the World Trade Center, the UN, NATO and the IMF.
“The whole influence has been a very good one. America started all these institutions. Are we not great?” he adds.
When he isn’t stumping for German-American recognition, he remains a fixture on daytime TV.
“I love working with her,” he says of his decades-long on-screen romance with Scott. “They find something in each other’s relationship that makes it good when it goes well, and obviously it can turn sour – as we are witness very often, primarily lately. ”
“I love working with her, and the feeling is mutual. They are both damaged goods.”
Book signing with Eric Braeden
When: 2 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Details: 704-525-9239; www.parkroadbooks.com