Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) Chapter 6

The brothers stepped into manhood in Part 5 of “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Nick Nolte, now a boxer, has become a father and Peter Strauss, caring for his invalid mother, is rising up the ranks at a department store, having graduated college at last.  Not doing quite as well is Susan Blakely, married to drunken Bill Bixby, with a child, though even her future had a hint of brightness peeking through.

Time is moving fast, as Part 6 finds us in 1954.  It’s no wonder Peter Strauss is doing so well at the small-town department store.  When a shipment of “French scarves” does not arrive on time, he tells a panicked saleswoman, “I’ll tell you what you do, tell them we’re sold out and we’re already re-ordering.”  Wise, so wise.  Waiting for Peter in the TV section watching the news (voiced by George Gaynes, if anyone wants to know, though it’s uncredited) about the Rosenberg electrocution is his former economics professor and friend Lawrence Pressman.  Peter blows off his invitation to picket Sing Sing because of a proposal he’s turned into boss Ray Milland that he’s anxious to hear about.  One might wonder if this is the moment where Peter’s character finally tarnishes a bit, but let’s be fair, he’s never taken a stance on anything before because he’s never had to.  He let others make most of his decisions (even the ones he thought were his), so to castigate him suddenly as an arch-capitalist does him an injustice.  It’s simply the first time he’s made a decision and it just so happens that he picked his own fortune over his friend’s cause.

The proposal being discussed is for Ray Milland to build another store further in the suburbs, because Peter has amassed “demographic information” that says people will be moving out there.  Ray doesn’t want to lay out the capital, even though Peter reminds him of the 25 times he’s been right with an idea Ray didn’t like.  And what if Ray says no?  Peter threatens to take the idea to someone else.  That’s some of his father’s spine, I think!

Things are not going so well for Nick Nolte, unhappily married to Talia Shire.  He complains she’s “getting a big can…and I gotta look at it!”  Talia is particularly pissed when Nick gives their baby a snake for a present.

Doing very well is Susan Blakely, now a successful journalist.  Arriving home from Asia, she passes when her boss Craig Stevens asks her to cover the big new department store going up in her former hometown.  She wants something, “closer to home.  I’ve got to get reacquainted with my son, not to mention my husband.”  Susan’s welcome home present from hubby Bill Bixby is finding him with another woman (if not a young and uncredited Mary Crosby, then a lookalike).

So, Susan takes the job upstate to see Peter, who is being huffed at big time by Ray because of delays and zoning and whatnot, calling the whole thing “a $3 million mistake in judgment.”  He surprises her by showing her that the complex has a gigantic theater he’s obviously built with her old treading-the-board days, even if he doesn’t realize it.  After snapping his photo, she begs him for help.  With what?  Wait and see.

Peter decides to solve his political zoning problems through good old Robert Reed, wearing an outfit that even Alice wouldn’t bother to clean and iron: short-sleeve button-down shirt, shorts with a belt somewhere near his neck and high socks so large they have to be folder over to stay under his knees.  Fairy Godmother Robert agrees to help, informing Peter it will take $10K to bribe a state senator into approving the zoning.

Susan throws a very swanky party with all sorts of cliche New York types (not to mention her vamp friend from the previous episode) and Peter is invited because he happens to be in the city.  They pay a visit to her son’s room and then to her studio (this has to be the world’s largest small apartment, even though it’s in her bedroom) to show him the proofs from the photo shoot she did with him.  Peter is worried about Susan, and I think it’s because she uses way too many multi-syllabic words.  However, Susan says it’s her marriage to Bill Bixby that isn’t working.  “Are you talking about a divorce?” incredibly naive Peter asks her, as if he’s encountering a foreign concept.  Both Susan and Bill want the divorce, but both also want custody of their son.  Peter agrees to hire detectives to track Bill and make a suitable case against him…before taking her in his arms and kissing her with the intention to do just what Bill is doing to some other woman.  “Wait,” she says.  “Oh God, I’ve waited,” he replies and they go back to it until hearing that Nick will be in town for a fight!

When Susan and Peter arrive at the fight, Nick seems to be very much on the losing end, but he eventually prevails.  “You going backstage?” Susan asks, using an odd word that makes it sound like they are going to see the Lunts or something.  He’s going, she declines (remember, she has not seen him since the brief look they exchanged when he found her at Robert Reed’s house a loooooong time ago).  The brothers are reunited for the first time since Nick was chased out of town.

“Long time, no see,” Nick says boisterously when he sees Susan, which only they understand.  Later that evening, Susan tells Peter she will be at his hotel room the next afternoon, not bothering to check in at the desk!  Peter gives her the there’s-no-other-girl-for-me speech and they kiss.

Susan comes home to find her son being taken on a stretcher to the hospital.  That’s a miniseries special, heaven followed by hell, not that the miniseries invented soap opera twists, but they did take them to new heights.

Talia is FURIOUS that Nick plans to give Peter the $3K that was intended for his schooling back when Ed had to use it to bail him out of jail.  He had tried to return it in the last episode, but the family had moved and he didn’t try to track them.  Once again, Talia gives a performance so annoying you can’t wait for the moment Nick is somehow free of her.

Bill and Susan keep an all-night vigil at the hospital, waiting for news of their child.  When allowed into his room, it’s Bill he wants, not even noticing Susan.  Bill and Susan have plenty of time to be honest with each other, and it’s not discussion full of recrimination, interrupted only by the doctor telling them there’s “no change” (as Susan puffs on a cigarette in the waiting room).

Nervous Nick shows up at Peter’s hotel room to give him the money.  Peter had not actually heard the story of the $3K, so Nick fills him in (and any viewers late to the miniseries).  “I’ve had that thing on my back for six years and now I’m rid of it and rid of all you with it,” he says gleefully.  That has to sting!  “You know what I think?  It’s a stupid gesture,” Peter informs him, trying to play peacemaker, offering Nick a partnership in…well…he doesn’t quite say, but whatever comes their way.  “If you come in with me…there is nothing that can stop us,” Peter offers, but Nick is furious and the discussion ends in an argument fueled by pride.  “Say hello to the old lady for me, will ya?” Nick says as he bounces out of Peter’s life again.

When Nick returns home, with flowers no less, he finds Talia and the baby gone.  A note echoes what she said the night before, that “I cannot go on living with a crazy man who gives money to millionaires.”  He borrows $500 from Normal Fell to chase his son to Chicago.

Because their son has made it through the worst, Bill has asked Susan for another try at their marriage, disappointing to Peter, who will have to continue pining for Susan.  “You are asking me to roll over and play dead,” angry Peter says, trying to get her to see it his way.  As usual, the universe exists only in his worldview, which goes no further than two feet from his mind.

We’re just about halfway there now and still the miniseries is gripping.  Yes, it plays as corny after nearly 40 years, but only because it was so endlessly imitated and because Shaw’s plot twists are overly obvious.  But that’s only a problem when the writing sags, which it rarely does.  Now that the three main characters are adults, it’s engaging to see them with entire new sets of problems and choices.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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