tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 21, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PST
good evening, from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley, a conversation with actor eric braiden, for decades, fans have welcomed the "young & the restless star" into their homes as the self-made billionaire victor newman. he's out now with his first book entitled "i'll be damned." we're glad you joined us, eric operaten in just a moment.
some years now, i consider you a friend, there are things i learned about you in this book i had no idea about. like the river rafting and how that got you to l.a. >> that's how i came to l.a. i was at the university of montana, on a track scholarship. to make money i worked in the lumber mill at night, from 6:00 to 2:00 in the morning. and slept an average of about 4 to 5 hours a night. the first lecture 8:00 in the morning, track and field practice at 1:00, back to work. a fellow student came up and said, do you want to do a river trip on the river of no return in idaho. i said what is that? he said, well it's the river of no return. it's the salmon river and we may not return. i said, what's the upshot. we'll do a documentary and then go to california. i said i'm in. anything to get out of the cold of montana, i escaped it from germany.
in montana it was bloody cold in the winter. when we embarked upon that trip, the first ones to go up and down, and made a documentary. and that was shown in l.a., in 1960. that was a long time ago, when i was really young and restless. >> that's how you got to l.a.? >> yes. >> you had some advice from a brilliant actor, and i'm glad that you didn't take his advice. when marlon brando tells you maybe acting isn't what you want to do. >> it's not because of that. we had a lot of discussions about german history. about the racial situation in america. about the treatment of native americans. and he said, you know, you're too interested in other things, why don't you -- acting is too
boring. i said how wrong you are. i said, if you were german, french or english, you wouldn't do macbeth or richard the third on broadway. what happens is they get stuck in this movie star syndrome. and that makes you cynical. it just is too limiting. and you need to be out in touch with the audience, with people who watch your films. you're the most influential actor of any generation, you're a leading example for all of us. and you should be a broadway right now doing hamlet or macbeth or whatever. instead of sitting here and contemplating your neighbor. >> for all these years, all these decades now, how have you fought the cynicism? >> good question. because of what i do on the young & the restless, we have
public appearances everywhere in north america and canada. i've learned that the essence of what we do is to entertain. in the '60s while guest starring on more shows than probably any other actor, i became cynical myself. and devoid of a meaning, of a feeling of contributing to something. when i did my first public appearances, i realized, what i do makes a difference in people's lives. and that's gratifying, that's really what it's about. actors who do nighttime television or film don't go out often enough, they don't realize they influence so many lives, fundamentally influence them. >> you do draw a distinction between what you do and who you are?
>> completely. >> what's that distinction? >> i've always had a cynical attitude toward what we do, i love it, i do it as best i can, but there's always a kind of cynicism. and a kind of intellectual distance from it. so when they say cut, it's the end of the day, i forget about it completely. unless i did the scene somewhat badly, then i think about it, wish i could do it again. and beyond that, i have a very private life, read a great deal, interested in a lot of things other than the business. mostly politics and history. and sports. that saves me, sports is what has saved me always in my life. >> i saw you with our friend steven a. smith on espn the other day. that was a great conversation. >> thank you. >> why is victor neumann -- why
is eric braden on espn. >> i love sports. >> love american football, love basketball, love track and field and boxing. enormous respect. i used to box at 78th and hoover and 108th and broadway. 78th and hoover doesn't exist any more. 108th and broadway still does. some of the most fundamental lessons i've learned in those two gyms. and the warmth of old fighters is enormous. >> you can't set me up like this and think i'm not going to follow you in. some of the lessons learned include -- >> let me put it this way. let me juxta pose it with those people who have not been in the ring, who have not been in sports, never got their butt kicked and we have someone like that right now in the white house. born with a silver spoon in his
mouth and mouthing off, because he was never checked. >> never chin checked. >> when you get in the ring, you're checked, your heart goes like this, as henry davis my old coach used to say, it's like walking through fire. and it is. i think men need to be checks. look at hitler, he wasn't checked. some political leaders were never checked. mitch mcconnell pronouncing to the world that he would not give an inch to obama. when you do sports, you learn respect for other human beings of all races, of all ethnic backgrounds and all religions, they can all check you. i don't care who they are. so the notion -- the notion of germany, for example, of hitler germany, of an ariane race of such unmitigated [ bleep ] excuse me.
>> let me ask, since you went there. it's impossible to know anything about your story, much less to read this wonderful text and not come to terms with what it has meant for you even all these years later. we have been born when and where you were tell me about the role that that particular factor has played in your journey. >> i was born in 1941 in the midst of the bombs they began to throw in germany. and my town in the baltic sea was 96% destroyed, and they flew approximately 500,000 bombs over that town. and -- but after the war, you grew up with simply the task of rebuilding a country that you were born in. and you didn't deal with the horrors of the nazi regime until much later. in my case, until 1961 i saw a documentary in an old movie
theater on beverly drive and will shire boulevard. the movie was called mein kampf. i said, let me see what that is all about. in germany in the '50s, i left in '59, we had not heard anything really in detail about hitler or its horrors, and that film was a documentary film. a swedish documentary, and i must say, arguably the most e f epifanous moment in my life. and i subsequently in a vane attempt to i guess make up for the sins committed by the fathers, paid for a jewish teen. just to show that i was not part of that. i was not synonymous with that time. and i will say that most members
of my generation are angered by the fact that when they come to america, there's a constant immediate blith identification german nazi, i resent that enormously. germans are the largest ethnic group in america. the largest. did you know that? >> i did not. >> the largest ethnic group in america, that have contributed enormously and fundamentally and substantially to what is america, and yet we are measured by that 12-year period run by that nut case from austria. >> i hear you. >> what's fascinating about that is i've been to -- if i may -- i've been to a few places in my life where i could feel that burden, it was almost palpable when you walked through the streets. and my very first strip to germany, i've felt less and less of that over the years, i can almost feel the burden of the
people still bore, the same was true for years when i went to memphis, that city where king was assassinated. again, it was palpable, you could feel the burden that the people felt, that this is the city in which dr. king was assassinated. i heard people say the same thing about dallas for years after the assassination of jfk. what do you say of those persons who still for whatever reason feel that sort of burden, that sort of weight. >> go to germany. talk to germans, there's a modern country, it has -- it's the only country in the world that has really dealt with its past since. no country has done that more than germany. and they must get credit for that, and they have. by the way, memphis,py remember meeting b.b. king on beihl street, is that what it's called. >> beihl street. >> i'll never forget it. >> it's hard to forget.
>> exactly. >> if you remember, you can take my point, though. >> that's right. modern germany is an intricate part in modern europe. out of that war came something with a silver lining, the our apea an union, although it is being stressed enormously at the moment. by the influx of refugees from the middle east, who as far as i'm concerned came in as a result of the bush invasion in iraq. the consequences of that have not been fully understood by most people. most people have no understanding of history. you need to understand history fully. you need to go back to 1915 in the saxby deal that divvied up europe. in 1953, we had a democratically
elected president of iran. democratically elected, he was sum air illy dismissed by the cia and british intelligence. asked to allow us to have unimpeded access to oil. we installed the shah who brought about khomeini, so the west has an enormous amount to do with the mess in the middle east, and that was exacerbated by the invasion of iraq where we fundamentally disturbed the geo political balance that had been created, iraq had been a natural enemy of iran. by removing saddam hussein, we allowed the shy eat's to become the majority, now we have iran and iraq as allies and we created 300,000 sunni terrorists overnight by dismember iing sadm hussein's sunni army.
they joined al qaeda, they joined isis. so we need to remember who is involved in the mess that right now europe is suffering from, with the influx of refugees. >> i'm glad you brought that full circle. and it raises this issue for me in part, because some viewers already know this of course. i got embroiled in this when i appeared on "meet the press" a couple weeks ago, our friend chuck todd, it was the weekend where president trump had made this statement in an interview with bill o'reilly about russia and the u.s., and he says, what do you think, we're so innocent? the u.s., what do you think, we're so innocent? they jumped all over him for making this ugly comparison between russia and the u.s. my point on that was basically the point you're making about a different set of fact the here. my point was, on that one issue, donald trump is right. a broken clock is right twice a day.
and when he says that we have not been so innocent, we've not been so perfect, he was right, specifically and singularly about that point. i'm not trying to make a comparison. he was right about that, that's the point you're making right now, that we've not always been perfect. >> i understand, and we have to, in our tendency to be righteous, that includes great britain and america, france. the allies in the second world war, there's a sense of righteousness that came about as a result of that war, rightfully so, but we have forgotten and committed our own sins, when you read the best and the brightest in regard to vietnam, huge mistake. perpetrated by the best and the brightest. george mcbundy's et cetera and mcnamaras. >> who later apologized. >> it's an extraordinary -- i
respect him greatly for that. it's based on the notion of the domino theory. one country falls all the others will fall. underestimating enormous drive in people to be nationalistic. nationalism in vietnam was far more important than being a communist ally of china. they hated the chinese. we don't understand enough about the history. i don't understand what happened to the think tanks that they don't research a little bit and realize that the notion of wanting your own nation, being proud of it is far stronger than an ism in this case, communism. but you know america is a country, we've done so much to this world, all the institutions, the united nations came out of the league of nations. all that was given an impetus by the united states of america,
let's not forget that. >> we're a great country, no doubt about it. i think a true patriot like you doesn't excuse the sins of its own country. by confronting the history in that reality makes you a stronger -- it leads me to ask, what you think the role of the artist ought to be in this critical moment. clearly people watching this program tonight see that you are much more than just victor newman on "y & r" opinion what is the role of the artist in this critical moment in our country. >> we need to speak from the heart. we need to not engage in a conversation in which we don't express what we really feel in the heart. in other words, we circ um scribe it and are careful, and we're doing an enormous disservice to the people that we
play to. i think we need to speak out against what we consider an obvious injustice or huge mistake. you know where i fault the democratic party is for not pointing out enough. the democrats were responsible for women's sufferage, for the civil rights act. for social security, for medicare, for all the social agendas that we all profit from now. i would like to ask many of the right wingers, how many of your parents are receiving social security? how many of you are receiving medicare? would you like that to go away? of course not. it's -- so the notion of doing away with government -- government needs to be
restrained and constrained, no question. it does a lot of good. >> there's a legitimate role for it to play. >> look at obama's bailing out of the auto industry. and that i must say i wish hillary clinton had done more of to remind people that obama bailed out a lot of workers in the midwest by bailing out the auto industry, we've been paid back my times, many fold. >> there are others in this town that come to mind who not only considered, but indeed ran for office, some successfully, ronald reagan comes to mind, arnold schwarzenegger comes to mind, there are others, have you ever considered giving up victor newman to run for office as you are so connected and passionate about these issues. >> i love california. i love america. no, not any more at this stage in my life. talking about ron ald reagan,
you would think that i would disagree with him as far as domestic policies were concerned. i did but he and gorbachev are the two most important people in the second half of the 20th century. and in this book i give a speech for gorbachev. they prevented an almost certain third world war. which would have been so cataclysmic you and i may not be talking right now. >> mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. >> they met in reykjavik, in iceland, they met in geneva, that was the side of ronald reagan that i appreciate enormously and deeply. and only he could have done that. only he as an arch capitalist could have done that and met with gorbachev. >> y & r i was surprised to learn started out as a three month stint for you.
how do you take three months and turn it into almost 40 years? >> most important thing is the change of story lines. and there was a moment when my wife nikki on the show, played beautifully by her all these years, asked me about my background. this mysterious character who's ruthless and a billionaire, and she didn't know anything about him. so bill bell came up with a story line that made me stay. he -- i then explained it to my wife, that i had been left on the doorsteps of an orphanage at the age of seven. once i played that scene, i said, i'm staying, it opened up -- i've been playing nothing but bad guys, bored to tears with it, russian bad guys, german bad guys, every bad guy imaginable. and this opened a whole array of
possibilities. and i've been there ever since. >> y & r has outlasted so many of the other daytimes. >> yes. >> what do you attribute that enduring legacy? >> if i knew that, tavis i would bottle it and create another one. >> i think victor newman has something to do with it. >> i don't know. i'm very skeptical about that always. once actors believe that without them something won't go on, you're in trouble. big trouble. >> what do you hope for fans, victor newman's enduring legacy is? >> i don't know that, i can only talk about a personal legacy. i hope to be in it for a longer. many more years, another 37 years. you and i will be on crutches it has given me an opportunity to
support my family, to give them a great life, to put my son christian through school. he's now directing a film that he wrote called den of thieves with 50 cent, and gerard butler. i'm so proud of him, you have no idea. >> i get the idea now. i didn't get it before, but i get it now. >> the book is called i'll be damned how my young and restless life led me to america's number one daytime drama. i told my staff that we'll get into some of the book stuff, but in the times that we live, i can assure you knowing him as long and as well as i do, there were so many other things that were going to come up in this conversation tonight that are timely, given the state of this country and the state of the world, he did not disappoint. i hope you'll get the book and read it for yourself. it's a good read and it's
climbing with a bullet as they say, p. always an honor to have you on, sir. >> thank you. thank you for the kind words. i blurred the back of the book. read my blush. >> always an important voice, especially now. >> that's our show, thank you for watching as always, keep the faith. for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. i'm tavis smiley, join me next time for a conversation about a new project, a united kingdom, we'll see you then.
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