Steady now, ladies. Eric Braeden, the suavely vulnerable star of the hottest daytime soap opera on television, CBS's "The Young and the Restless," says he likes to meet his fans, answer their questions and sign autographs.
But he cannot say why he has become one of TV's most popular leading men. Earlier this month, he won the first People's Choice Award given in the category of favorite male performer in a daytime show.
"I don't know. I truly don't know," Mr. Braeden said this week over the telephone from his dressing room at the show's production studios in Los Angeles.
Yet 10 to 15 times a year, he finds fans just keep coming to public appearances such as tomorrow's visit to the "Good Housekeeping Great Living Festival" at the Convention Center.
The variety of questions asked during those appearances is usually divided between what happens or will happen on the show and inquiries about himself as a performer or his personal ** life.
For the record, he has been married for 27 years to the same woman, Dale, and they live with their son Christian, who is in his 20s, in Los Angeles. The actor plays amateur soccer, skis, runs and plays tennis.
A couple years ago, Mr. Braeden acknowledged, a two-day appearance at a shopping mall in Toronto drew an estimated 30,000 people.
Quite a success story for the German-born actor who was once a cowboy in Montana and made his debut on American TV in the 1960s series "The Rat Patrol," as German tank commander Capt. Dietrich(billed under his real name, Hans Gudegast).
"It's hard to know what makes a character popular," said Mr. Braeden, referring to his role as self-made millionaire Victor Newman on the soap opera. The program is marking its 20th anniversary on the air today, and Mr. Braeden is in his 13th year with the show.
Good writing with believable stories comes first, he said, followed by "whatever indecipherable, indefinable quality you bring to it as a performer."
In the case of Victor, he believes the character alone strikes chords.
"He comes from a poor background, but is very rich, a self-made success, yet he is extremely vulnerable emotionally to women," he said. "He's also powerful, and Henry Kissinger said power is an aphrodisiac."
Do fans come to see Eric Braeden or Victor Newman?
The actor objects to the suggestion that soap opera fans become smitten by on-screen people who seem genuinely alive to them.
"Yes, it happens to a certain degree, but I think there is a tendency by the people who write about television to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. They are very capable of seeing the difference between the two, the character and the performer," he said.
TV does not help, however. He sharply criticized the speed at which actors' credits run at the close of each show, noting the networks clearly seek to de-emphasize the actors behind their roles.
When: From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The WBAL-TV booth at this weekend's "Good Housekeeping Great Living Festival" at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Admission: Tickets available for $3.50 at Giant Food stores, $5.50 at the door. Children under 8 admitted free.