Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) Chapter 8

“Rich Man, Poor Man” is a whole lot more exciting for the poor man right now.  Attracting trouble like a magnet, Nick Nolte re-entered the boxing world, still intent on finding his wife and kid, only to come up against Mafia-backed boxing superstar George Maharis, not to mention George’s sexually voracious wife.  By the time Episode 7 ended, Nick needed to leave the country quickly.  As for Peter Strauss, he’s become a bland businessman, though a rich one, still wanting Susan, though he makes no effort to see her unless they happen to end up at the same party where he finds out she’s divorced.

Susan is dealing with a cantankerous son, who has a rather bad attitude and still doesn’t understand why his parents are divorced.  He’s supposed to go on a field trip, giving Susan an excuse to spend the day with Peter.  “You’re right on time,” Susan tells him when he arrives.  “Give or take 13 years,” Peter chirps, as in love with her as ever.  Their day consists of Charlie Chaplin movies and a goony Italian restaurant with checkered table cloths and a man with an accordion.  They argue at dinner for absolutely no reason, except to postpone yet again the two of them having more than two minutes of possible happiness.  But, a kiss softens the moment and leads to Peter and Susan FINALLY having sex for the first time…ever!

Peter proposes, but Susan prevaricates over and over, substituting witty remarks for real answers.  When Susan returns home, she finds Bill Bixby there, much to her son’s delight, but the dread of the set designer, because Bill loves nothing more than to chew the scenery.  He even turns on the waterworks in a grand piece of manipulation.  He livens up things, that’s for sure, but his style is on a different planet than rock-ribbed Susan and Peter.  “I want to come home,” Bill tells her, and if she agrees, there goes Peter’s latest attempt to be with Susan.  But, you knew that was coming, because “Rich Man, Poor Man” is nothing if not stalwart in its plotting: when people are happy, the universe steps in to botch it up.

Nick had been sent to NYC by his boxing manager Norman Fell to escape the mob and the police, and instead of going to Norman’s friend to get him immediately into the merchant marines, Nick pays a visit to the private investigator he’s been using to find his wife and son (not that the guy has done anything but soak Nick).  The PI tells him there are people looking for Nick and he wants nothing to do with him.  It will take $500 to get Nick into the merchant marines.

The only place he can go for that kind of cash is his brother.  Peter isn’t at home but Dorothy McGuire is.  Peter’s new found wealth has been a boon to her, as she now dresses like a fancy lady, wearing jewels and even plays cards with the maid.  When Nick arrives at the house, Dorothy is so shocked she faints.  There’s a lot of catch up to do, and Dorothy goes into her poor little old lady routine that she’s so honed on Peter, but Nick is tougher than his brother and hits her up for the money he needs.  She assures him Peter will not find out, “not the way he pinches pennies these days.”  Despite the problems Nick has caused over the years, Dorothy does tell him “I wish we had longer.”

Dorothy is not at all happy when Peter brings Susan Blakely.  The old lady finds Susan’s behavior, divorce, parenting skills and just about everything else shameful.  She thinks Susan is after Peter’s money.  “What’s she doing, looking over the place before she moves in?  And where do I go? Into the maid’s room…?” Dorothy wonders, the annoying personality of the character front and center, a long way from the loving and understanding mother who helped her horrible husband run a bakery while she proudly raised her sons.  “I will not have that slut in my house!” she demands.  “She is not a slut and this is not your house,” Peter replies angrily.  When Dorothy refuses to even speak to Susan, Peter threatens to cut her off financially, more proof that he’s become a scary self-focused businessman.

Also not happy with Peter is his boss, Ray Milland.  His scheming daughter, Kim Darby (the one who poisoned Dorothy against Susan), has convinced him that Peter has “seduced” her and Ray insists they get married, complete with full partnership and stock.  Peter develops a spine and tells Ray off with huge gumption.  “I’m sick and tired of dragging you into the 20th century with you fighting me every step of the way,” he begins, then tossing everything at Ray that’s been built up over the years, not to mention quitting.  Maybe there is a bit of an idealist left in this character after all.  Somehow, this tirade works and Ray way too suddenly realizes his daughter has been lying and gets over his anger.  It’s a very bizarre scene that spins way too fast.

Digging his new-found cojones, Peter offers to “take care” of Bill Bixby for Susan, so he summons Bill and offers him a job that will keep him from New York City.  The money he tosses at Bill is attractive, but Peter forbids him from even saying goodbye to his son.  “You can write him a nice letter,” Peter snarls before Bill asks for a car too.

Hours before he’s supposed to ship out, Nick is cornered by the mob (in a movie theater, no less).  However, he manages to evade all 428 goons and get to his ship.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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