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USA TODAY


TV's 'RESTLESS' actor meets the president
Everything's coming up roses for Eric Braeden.

The dark-haired German actor has received such attention for his portrayal of dashing Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless, he's been invited by President Reagan to join him in the White House Rose Garden today to celebrate German-American Heritage Day. "For someone who came to this country with $50 in his pocket, I am deeply touched and very honored," Braeden says. "It is nice for once to be identified as a German in a positive light." Braeden, 44, who was born Hans Gudegast in Kiel, West Germany, and came alone to the United States at age 18, knows all too well the other side of the coin. For nearly two decades he was mired in roles that portrayed Germans in the most negative way. He turned to acting (after attending Montana State University on a partial track scholarship and working for a time as a cowboy) when he wound up in L.A. seeking a distributor for a documentary about the Salmon River in Idaho. He heard German actors were being sought and figured he'd give acting a shot.

"We read poems and excerpts from plays aloud in school and I was good at those," says Braeden, who learned British English in high school. His first role was in the feature Operation Eichmann. By 1966 he was cast as Capt. Hauptmann Hans Dietrich, commander of an armed unit and nemesis of the Rat Patrol in the series of the same name. Braeden was still going by Hans Gudegast. But when Colossus: The Forbin Project came along he was pressed to change his name. "Eric was a family name and Braedenback the name of my village in Germany." Eventually he tired of playing Germans all the time - especially Nazis who cracked their whips and snarled "Heil, Hitler." "I was determined to play other things after 16 or 17 years of playing the bad guy." Friend and tennis partner Dabney Coleman encouraged him to try the soaps route. "Dabney had done a soap and told me I'd love it." Although Victor premiered as a bit of a sleaze, he has mellowed and become a key character on the hit CBS soap. "I've been on the show for almost seven years and I love my work thoroughly." Braeden, his wife of 21 years, Dale, and their 17-year-old son Christian live in Pacific Palisades in a contemporary house overlooking the Malibu Canyon. On a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean. The 6-foot-1 actor, a German youth champion in discus, javelin and shot put, keeps fit by playing soccer and working out in his home gym, which he calls his "temple." "I sit and regather my thoughts and strengths," he says of the remodeled garage that houses barbells, boxing gloves, slant boards and exercise machines. "I workout usually in the evenings from 45 minutes to an hour and a half."

Lifting weights has a calming effect. "You actually feel the tension leave the body." He has adjusted comfortably to life in the USA. And one of the special pleasures, a recent boon, is that "they recognize me in Bergdorf-Goodman's in New York now, at airports and even on the park benches in Central Park."