Part of the glamour of big-time athletics is the glittering
lifestyle that we imagine the athlete leads. Fancy cars.
Mansions with endless corridors. All the champagne and caviar
one can gulp down. The idea that a top athlete might run down to
the 7-Eleven to pick up a can of tuna or recline on a
Barcalounger to watch a soap opera doesn't quite fit our image.
And yet ... around lunchtime you would be surprised how many
athletes munch tuna sandwiches and watch soaps. Though the
brands of tuna vary, many jocks watch one particular soap. And
many watch one particular character, the same character who
enthralls homebodies, students, the terminally unemployed and
those who keep up with their favorite soap via VCR. His name is
Victor Newman, and he is a mainstay on The Young and the
Restless. This spectacularly affluent tycoon runs his business
with the ruthlessness of a Chinese warlord and sheds his
redundant wives as easily as he does his tuxedo.
Newman's boardroom power plays and bedroom reconciliations are
followed slavishly by boxers and ballplayers, golfers and
gymnasts. "Jocks relate to Victor," says former Philadelphia
Phillie pitcher Larry Andersen. "He relies on intimidation,
manipulation.... He's got most of the '-ations' down pat."
Jocks relate as much to Newman's Machiavellian intelligence as
to his swaggering reserve--a sense of throttled rage that gives
him an almost sinister allure. "Victor never lets his emotions
show through," marvels former NBA star Mychal Thompson. "He can
explode, but it takes a lot for him to lose it." The unflappable
Newman hangs tough no matter how many barbarians try to crash
his gates. "Victor's a guy's guy," says New York Yankee slugger
Danny Tartabull. "Always poised, always in control. And he
always gets his revenge. We all strive to be that way."
Professional athletes have so much time and so little to do with
it that many get swept off in the sudsy flood of soaps.
"Teammates used to tease me about watching them," says Thompson,
who in his days with the Portland Trail Blazers taped as many as
five a day on road trips. "But they all knew the characters'
names--even the exotic ones like Cord and Blade and Suede.
Obviously, the players were secretly kicking back on their beds,
In these more tolerant times, few soap-struck athletes feel
compelled to hide their habits behind chained hotel doors. "I
don't watch sports," says Chicago Bull guard Ron Harper. "I do
sports for a living. Soaps relax my mind and keep me out of
No soap has athletes in more of a lather than Y&R, a sprawling
epic that is as hard to summarize briefly as Finnegans Wake. The
show is set in real-life Genoa City, Wis., where, at least on
Y&R, marriages fail with depressing regularity and everyone is
desperately involved with everyone else. The crises faced by
these New World Genovese run from straying affections and
frayed reputations to comas and bouts of amnesia.
In the middle of this melodramatic maelstrom is Victor Newman, a
Fortune 500 buccaneer whose very name couples winning and
rebirth. As played by Eric Braeden, Newman is among the most
mercurial of TV characters. One minute he'll warble some
soap-opera aria such as, "Defer to your elders, or I'll crush
you." The next, he'll peer soulfully through candlelight and
whisper, "I love you with every fiber of my being." Newman is
higher in fiber than oat bran.
Newman was soap scum when he surfaced in Genoa City in 1980. He
sealed his first wife's lover in a basement dungeon and fed him
baked rats. He met his second wife at a strip joint, where she
performed erotic aerobics. After a failed third marriage he got
hitched to the glamorous chemist who had been his lover during
his second marriage. Newman stumbled onto his fifth wife--a blind
farmer named Hope--after his Rolls-Royce was car-jacked at a
diner. For months he was presumed dead because he never bothered
to phone home.
Immediately after meeting Braeden on an L.A. street a few years
ago, Harper called his mother. "Mom flipped out," he recalls.
"She said, 'You didn't really meet Victor Newman!' I said,
'Yeah!' It was hard to tell who was more excited."
Newmaniacs often talk of their hero as if he were about to step
through the front door. "As cool as Victor is, he's not my role
model," Thompson insists. "I'm not going to jump into different
beds or pull off some dirty business deal. But if I had to, he'd
be the one to show me how."
"Victor Newman can make your life so miserable, you're going to
sit on your grave and wish you were buried," says Houston Oiler
wide receiver Haywood Jeffires. "He has power, and with power
you can be as ugly as you want because you know you'll look
beautiful in the end."
The three-time Pro Bowler has followed Victor since his freshman
year at North Carolina State. "Victor's got all the money," he
explains. "He'll say, 'It costs $10 million? Call my
accountant.' He'll say, 'Let's go to Europe for dinner.' The jet
will be waiting and the Dom Parignon will be on ice. Is that
power or what?" Jeffires doesn't call his favorite soap The
Young and the Restless anymore. "To me," he says, "it's just
Jeffires is such an avid Victorite that he rushes home from
practice to catch the last 45 minutes during lunch break.
Clutching three remote controls, a glass of milk and a stack of
Oreos, he'll move from room to room, TV to TV. Jeffires gets so
lost in Victor that his wife, Robin, makes him wear a receiver
in his ear. "Haywood!" she'll shout into a mike. "Didn't you
come home to be with me and the kids?"
"No, honey," he'll shout back. "I came home to look at Victor! I
want to see who he's messing up today."
If Newman goes a few days without messing somebody up, Haywood
goes haywire. "I've thrown my glass at the screen 15 times," he
says. "Repairs have run me $6,000." Robin jokes that she used to
worry that he would hurl his infant son, Haywood III, at the
screen. "I need Victor to be controversial," Jeffires says. "The
Lone Ranger and Tonto ain't no more. It's the '90s. Time for the
They don't come much badder than Victor. "When he loses, he just
finds another way to win," Jeffires says. "In my next life, I
want to be Victor Newman."
"Victor Newman has all that knowledge and yet he doesn't know
---- about women," 59-year-old Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob
Gibson says. "He loves everybody and divorces everybody. But he
never gets rid of his ex-wives. He still wants to control them."
It's 11 a.m. and a telephone rings in Bellevue, Neb. And rings
and rings.... "Call me at 11, chances are I'm not pickin' it
up," says Gibson, now a St. Louis Cardinal coach. "That's my
time for The Young and the Restless."
The man with the glare, the man with one of the meanest
dispositions in baseball history, spends the off-season watching
soaps. "The only way to get me mad now is to interrupt my
watching," Gibson says.
His memory of his first soap opera is as indelible as soap-opera
lipstick: "One day when I was about 30, my first wife told me,
'Tom died.' I said, 'Who?' She said, 'Tom.' I said, 'How long
have you known him?' She said, 'He's on my soap.' I said, 'Oh'
and pulled up a chair. The next day I was back in front of the
set. I wanted to know what happened next."
Gibson tries to keep up with Y&R when the Cards are out of town,
but when that's not possible he enlists his second wife, Wendy,
to watch for him. "I call home to ask if Victor has left Hope
yet," Gibson reports. "I couldn't see him staying with her to
begin with. With Hope being blind, Victor thought he could
control her. He's finding out it's not that way and starting to
reach back to his ex-wife Nikki. As self-assured as Victor is,
he's insecure about Hope." Last Christmas, Wendy bought her
husband a portable television for his car. "Reception's a
problem," he says. "Makes me nuts."
That and Victor's teenage son, Nicholas. "How could Nick send
his girlfriend a $500 coat and not tell her it was from him?"
Gibson sputters. "If Victor cares about you, you'll hear about
it and very soon! What the hell could Nick have been thinking?
Teenagers! Puppy love! Drives me up a ---- wall."
Gibson shakes his head like a pitcher who's just walked the
bases loaded. "I don't know," he says. "Some of that stuff just
"Victor Newman is the height of swa-vay!" says cruiserweight
boxer Thomas Hearns. "He got it going, and what's going he gets
done. I like how smoothly he talks, and how he squashes people
in a sneaky way. I once saw him driving around Los Angeles. I
was in a Rolls with darkened windows, and I had the driver pull
my car over next to his. Pulled up besides Victor Newman! Rolled
down the window and said, 'Victor! My man! Anytime you have
trouble with those beautiful women, you give me a call.'
"I only get to see him on TV. I watch him two, three times a
week, except when I'm in training. Can't watch him then. He's
got way too much going on. I can't concentrate on what's going
on with me. Victor won't let me concentrate. Women can rob you
of your concentration too. They can make you do things you had
no intention of doing. Victor's the same kind of treacherous.
Which is why, when it comes to training, I don't have no Victor.
"Tommy Hearns has got it goin' on in boxing. But in soaps,
Victor's got it goin' on. Get in his way and it's all over. We
approach women, business, life the same sort of way--like cobras.
Before I became the Hit Man, I was the Cobra. I pass that torch
on to Victor. I just wish he could pass the smooth and the
swa-vay on to me."
"Victor Newman," says Sam Cassell. "Vic-tor Newman. Vic-tor
Newman. Victor New-man."
On the final day of the Houston Rockets' regular season, the
point guard repeats this pregame mantra to his locker room
cubby. "Sam!" says teammate Vernon Maxwell. "You know about
"Who don't know about Victor?" says Cassell. "He's the man. The
Victor New-man. Victor is cold."
"Cold and debonair," says forward Robert Horry. "Very sure of
"Man with that much power coulda married anyone," Cassell says.
"But he fell in love with a blind woman. Not for what she is,
but who she's about."
On the road Horry, Maxwell and Cassell watch Victor in the
privacy of their hotel rooms. "You need to be lying on your
bed," says Horry.
"Stretched out," interjects Maxwell.
"Buck naked," says Cassell.
The three were initiated into the Newman cult as teenagers.
Cassell would skip class at Florida State to watch the show.
Happily, his political science professor taught the same course
at night. "I didn't tell him why I needed to take a later
class," Cassell says. "I couldn't. What would I say? 'I got to
see my Victor?'"
Cassell claims to have sighted his hero a few years ago in the
Memphis airport. "He was talking on the phone," Cassell recalls.
"I screamed, 'That's my man right there! That is Victor!' He
didn't say anything. He didn't have to. He's Victor Newman."
"Victor Newman is the kind of guy I wouldn't put up with," says
31-year-old golfer Cathy Johnston-Forbes. "He's too controlling.
I'd tell him to go jump in a lake. It probably wouldn't come out
like that, though."
The 10-year LPGA veteran has been hooked on The Young and the
Restless since 1973. But Newman still perplexes her. "Sometimes
I like him," she says, "sometimes I hate him. He has everything
he ever wanted, except satisfaction."
She doesn't see why women find Victor so irresistible. "He's not
that handsome," she protests. "Maybe they like being treated
like queens. As domineering as Victor Newman is, he can be
sensitive, a gentleman. He treats women like a crystal--he never
wants to hurt them. But in the end, he hurts them anyway."
She likes Victor best in those heady months after one of his
innumerable marriages. "No other women are in the picture," she
says. "Everything's going good." Inevitably, other women enter
the picture and everything goes bad. "I thought Victor and his
fourth wife were perfect for each other," she exclaims. "And
then he falls back in love with wife number two. For the next
six months I hated him."
It didn't take long for number two to give way to number five
This left Johnston-Forbes puzzled. "It's not like I can't
understand men," she says. "I understand my husband, Foster.
He's nothing like Victor. The only similarity is that Foster is
real thoughtful to me."
Foster caddies for Cathy. At lunch they watch Y&R. During the
show Foster has been known to pick up an imaginary phone and
say, 'Hello, this is Victor Newman.' When Monday Night Football
is on, Foster sometimes says, "I'm going to have a Victor
drink." Then he'll straighten up, puff out his chest and pour
himself a Wild Turkey and water.
"Victor Newman reminds me of Tony La Russa, the Oakland A's
manager," says umpire Rocky Roe. "Tony's a good-looking,
swashbuckling kind of guy who's always in charge. Unless he's
arguing with me."
Ever wonder what umps talk about between innings? If you're Roe,
you're asking your crewmates: "Has Dimitri found out the truth
about Erica's daughter?" Roe is a dyed-in-the-gut All My
Children fan. "I like Erica," he says. "She still looks good
after 47 marriages."
On this dull spring day in Orlando, Roe is folded into his
family room La-Z-Boy, a pouch of chaw in one hand, an empty
Juicy Lucy's cup in the other. Until recently he didn't know
Victor Newman from Alfred E. Neuman. "I'll watch," he says,
"because I like the actor who plays him. If I'm not mistaken, he
was Captain Dietrich on The Rat Patrol." Roe is not mistaken.
At first Roe finds Restless as mysterious as Kabuki. But within
10 minutes he's tracking story lines as if they were forkballs
on the inside corner. "After 17 years of soap watching," he
explains, "I know the drill." Roe anticipates, if not relishes,
every telling pause, every heartfelt stammer, every Mysterious
The camera pans the cabin of a Learjet and settles on a man in
black whose face is bathed in white. "You know Victor's
wealthy," Roe says. "He's making phone calls from the air."
Newman speaks in a deep, rich German accent that hangs thickly
on his sentences, like wet snow. "Great resonance!" says Roe,
dribbling tobacco juice into his cup. "Extremely expressive
face. You can see he's anguished. He doesn't even have to say a
Newman has flown to Kansas to persuade his blind wife to return
with him to Genoa City (it would take too long to explain). "I
can see why Victor wants her back in Wisconsin," cracks Roe.
"The cheese is better, and the beer's colder." He reaches across
his ample belly to grab an iced tea.
As surely as the world turns, Roe says he can predict how the
episode will end: "Victor will be standing outside the door of a
hospital room, looking in anxiously at his bedridden wife and
her old boyfriend."
But it's still early, and Newman is leering in his Lear. His
nostrils twitch as if at an offensive smell.
"Oh, my!" says Roe.
Newman curls his lower lip into the most malignant of sneers.
His face suggests a clenched fist.
"Jeez, Victor's foaming like a Maytag!"
Newman swells with righteous indignation and begins talking
LIKE THIS. Roe's lips tremble like strawberry Jell-O.
The episode ends with Newman standing outside the door of a
hospital room, looking in anxiously at his bedridden wife, who
has just given birth, and her ex-fiance. "I think I'll give
Victor another look tomorrow," Roe says. "If he doesn't grab me,
I'll put my finger on the remote and switch to another channel."
In other words, he'll give Victor the thumb.
"Victor Newman is not only omnipotent, but omniscient," says
Braeden. "He's forceful, yet reacts in an emotional way. That is
what athletes dream about."
The man who is Victor Newman is exercising his acting muscles on
an L.A. soundstage. He has just taped a wrenching scene with
Signy Coleman, who plays Hope. Coleman continues weeping.
Braeden has long since detached himself. He and the crew are
playing catch with a balled-up page from the script. "Sports
keep you honest," he says between tosses. "The joy is real, the
pain is real. Acting is innately fake. The challenge is to be
It is somewhat ludicrous, Braeden says, to be alive in the time
of your own legend. This was never more apparent to him than the
day he met George Foreman in a dressing room at CBS Television
City, where The Young and the Restless is taped. "Oh, man, I am
blessed," said the heavyweight champ. "Oh, man, I am blessed. I
met Victor Newman."
To keep himself Victorious, the 54-year-old Braeden spars and
pumps iron in the home gym he calls his "temple." He plays
tennis with Alex Olmedo, the 1959 Wimbledon champ. He coaches
the Los Angeles Soccer Club on which his 25-year-old son,
Christian, is a sweeper. The team successfully defended its
Golden West League title this year.
Soaps, Braeden doesn't watch. Even his own. "I watch sports," he
says. He sees in premier athletes an arrogance that borders on
the Newmanesque. "My admiration for Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray
Leonard is boundless," he says. "Joe Montana's self-possession
was almost unshakable."
Compromise has never come easy to Braeden. Born Hans Gudegast in
Kiel, Germany, he grew up under difficult circumstances. "My
father died when I was 12," he says, "and I saw a lot during
World War II. One assumes a kind of armor to cover the pain." At
18 he came alone to the United States, where he attended Montana
State on a partial track scholarship. He left Montana without
graduating and wound up in L.A. While taking some courses at
Santa Monica College he heard that Hollywood was looking for
Germans. He turned actor.
Braeden got typed as a Nazi. "The experience was dehumanizing,"
he says. "I wanted a chance to play a complex human being." That
chance arrived 15 years ago when he became Victor Newman. It is
now difficult to say where Eric Braeden ends and Victor Newman
begins. "We're both capable of enormous tenderness," says
Braeden. "And 'Don't screw with me' attitudes."
That attitude sometimes gets Braeden in jams that even Newman
couldn't bail him out of. In 1991 he got in a dressing-room
brawl with the actor who plays Victor's nemesis. Braeden and his
publicist refuse to comment on the incident. Braeden does say
that "I have a lot of anger, defiance, rage. You need not to
squelch that. Anger is the fuel that fires many people."
Sports, says Braeden, help channel his rage. "They're a way of
expressing deeply felt emotions," says Braeden, who has been
married to the same woman, Dale, for 29 years. "Isn't love just
a jockeying for position? You worship and are worshiped. You
leave her, she leaves you. Jealousy is a form of defeat. You
fear you've lost the struggle to be Number 1 on the playing
field of another's life."
For all Braeden's love of competition, last year's ice escapades
of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding left him cold. "I saw the
difficulty," he says, smoothing the corners of his mustache. "I
saw the artistry. I saw the athleticism. But ultimately, it
bored me. And you know why?
"It was soap opera."
COLOR PHOTO: JOE ANGELES Gibson says Victor and Hope (right) can't last. [Bob Gibson]
COLOR PHOTO: MARIO RUIZ (TV) MICHAEL YARISH/CBS [See caption above--Eric Braeden in TV show The Young and the Restless, framed in TV screen]
COLOR PHOTO: TARO YAMASAKI Hearns admires Victor's ability to squash people in a sneaky way. [Thomas Hearns watching TV from boxing ring]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL EPPRIDGE Johnston-Forbes says her caddie-husband Foster scarcely resembles Victor. [Cathy Johnston-Forbes and Foster Forbes]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH In Phoenix during the playoffs, Rockets Mario Elie (left), Cassell and Horry took in some Victor. [Mario Elie, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry watching TV]