Thursday, August 20, 2015

See the Greatest Dramatic Performance in TV History: Edward Asner as Axel Jordache in Parts I & II of the 1976 Miniseries that Made Nick Nolte a Star, from Irwin Shaw’s Epic Novel, Rich Man, Poor Man!



Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

Rich Man, Poor Man was a sensation. I saw an episode with working-class, mostly Catholic neighbors of mine in a bungalow colony in Loch Sheldrake, NY, when the miniseries was re-run in 1977. It was like a religious ritual for them.

I dunno why, but I’d missed the whole series in 1976.

Miniseries were a new thing then, starting with a four hour version, spread over four nights of Joseph Wambaugh’s The Blue Knight in 1973, starring William Holden.

The Blue Knight was sensational and acclaimed. I saw it with my Nana, around the time she turned 80, in one of my last memories of her. We both loved it. I was a huge Bill Holden fan in those days, and she liked him, too, though not as much as I did. (For her, no leading man could compare with Jimmy Stewart.) Two years later, I read the Joe Wambaugh novel, and saw that the TV version had done it justice. Thereafter, unfortunately, NBC butchered the TV version, cutting it by half. I watched it once on a Sunday—it was an incoherent soap opera of highlights. The full-length had a deliberate pace, with sudden bursts of action. Wambaugh was trying to give the audience a feeling for the uneven pace of real policing.


On the afternoon of February 1, 1976, Nick Nolte was a nobody. By the end of the miniseries’ 12-hour run on March 15, he was a household name. His turn in Rich Man, Poor Man was one of those “a star is born” moments. And yet, as much as I like Nolte in this miniseries, and in general, I’ve yet to watch beyond episode four. Watch these two episodes, and see if you don’t understand.

Edward Asner has a tremendously written role by Irwin Shaw and Dean Riesner as Axel Jordache, embittered baker and patriarch of the Jordaches, but the role didn’t play itself. No one else could have done what he did with this role. Some may find him hammy. In some scenes, he plays it over the top, but that’s the role calls for. In other scenes, he is restrained and poignant. In one scene, he’s hilarious.

Asner won his fourth of seven primetime Emmys (out of 17 nominations, plus three Daytime Emmy nominations), and third out of five Golden Globes (out of 11 nominations) for his performance here. On November 29, he will celebrate his 86th birthday, still a working actor. He’s slowed down, but never retired.

RMPM was nominated for 23 Emmys, winning four, including Asner for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series.

It was nominated for only six Golden Globes, but won four, including Best Television Supporting Actor—Drama for Asner; Best Television Supporting Actress—Drama for Josette Banzet; Best TV Actress—Drama for Susan Blakely, a model making her acting debut; and for Best TV Series—Drama.

One year later, in what turned out to be something of a passing of the torch, the miniseries Roots, based on the greatest literary hoax of the 20th century, Alex Haley’s eponymous “family history,” shattered ratings records, and won bushels of awards. Suddenly, as far as the bosses of the cultural machine were concerned, Rich Man, Poor Man was ancient history.

Rich Man, Poor Man, Episode 1
Originally aired on February 1, 1976.


Both episodes published on Jul 12, 2015 by Andrian Morgan, to whom I extend my heartfelt thanks.

Rich Man, Poor Man, Episode 2
Originally aired on February 1, 1976.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So there was a time when Nick Nolte was a serious actor, instead of a mildly-psychopathic imminent train wreck. Live and learn.

I can never see Ed Asner as anybody but Lou Grant. Doesn't matter who he plays, I immediately experience a flashback of him standing in front of a terrified Mary Tyler Moore and saying "You've got a lot of spunk, kid. I HATE SPUNK!"

The Blue Knight was a great book. Never did see the movie.