The Boston Phoenix
March 2 - 9, 2000

[Out There]

Now that's rich

Who wants to marry a famillionaire?

by Kris Frieswick

When I was just out of college, my girlfriends and I used shorthand code to describe the various men we dated. There were the usual suspects: the head, the jock, the frat boy. There were the less obvious suspects: sophisticato, slickster, wolf, leech. Then there was the most hated, most despised of them all: the famillionaire.

The famillionaire (a mix of "familiar" and "millionaire") is a particularly odious form of carbon matter who thinks that the only way to bed a woman is to pretend to be really, really rich -- or at least to hang around with really, really rich people and adopt their affectations. Famillionaires' success rates can be pretty staggering until word gets around as to their true identity, at which point they couldn't get laid in a whorehouse with a fistful of $100 bills.

Imagine my surprise to find out that my girlfriends and I weren't the only ones to be duped by one of these noxious creatures. Indeed, it appears an entire television network has fallen prey to the sweet song stylings of one Rick Rockwell (formerly Richard Balkey of Pittsburgh), the alleged multimillionaire who was married off on Fox's Who Wants To Marry a Multimillionaire? show. I was one of the 22.8 million people who tuned in to see how things turned out for our intrepid multimillionaire and his insta-bride. I was riveted to the television set, witnessing a spectacle the likes of which we will, apparently, never see again. I'm glad I was there. I experienced the same feeling I got watching the Challenger explosion over and over and over again for two straight days. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Our famillionaire has since been exposed as a possible girlfriend-stomper who, unless you think of two as "multi," is just a plain old garden-variety millionaire, a title to which most of California's middle class could lay claim. He was less than honest on the affidavit he signed attesting to his purity of thought, moral righteousness, lack of venereal disease, and soundness of P&L.

But famillionaires always have their own versions of the truth, as my girlfriends and I could tell you. They kinda sorta tell the truth, right up to the point when it is no longer advantageous to do so, and then they tell you a truth that has been carefully pre-screened to create their desired persona. It's quite a skill, and one that Mr. Rockwell has perfected.

If I learned (eventually) to screen out famillionaires, why couldn't this vast network empire figure it out? Surely some woman on the Fox team would have said to herself, "Hmmm, this guy reminds me a lot of that Roger creep I dated when I was 25. Maybe we should call a few of his ex-girlfriends and make sure he's not a famillionaire." You can be sure that a man conducted the background check.

And, alas, Fox and poor Ms. Darva Conger fell victim to the same sort of games men have been playing with women for centuries. One need look no further than Shakespeare to find examples of men pretending to be something they're not in order to get laid. It's nothing new; what's amazing is that, although the names and clothing have changed, human motivation hasn't evolved one iota since the days of the Black Plague.

Consider this: "Who wants to marry a multimillionaire?" is the dumbest question ever asked. Everyone wants to marry a multimillionaire. Oh, sure, there are other desirable traits one can look for in a mate, such as kindness, intelligence, humor, similar taste in toilet paper, and so forth. But all other things being equal, I daresay that most of us would rather marry rich. And since intelligence, humor, respect, and toilet-paper similarities are as hard to find as a diamond at the bottom of a swimming pool, there's only one thing left that you can really aim your sights at, and that's wealth. It's big, it's green, and if it's real, it's a damn fine place to start a relationship.

Unlike the flocks of seething feminists, indignant media critics, and pissed-off-but-nice poor guys nationwide, I don't think that Who Wants To Marry a Multimillionaire? was shameful at all, nor do I wish to indict the women who took part. Come on! The show was brilliant in its portrayal of the human condition. Women want to marry rich, and men want to marry young and beautiful. It doesn't mean we will (only a lucky few ever get the option), but that doesn't make the desire to do so any less real.

Once we understand this collective longing for money/babes, we can see why the famillionaire shtick has been such a phenomenal success through the decades. It works, plain and simple. Chicks, present company included, are wildly attracted to men with gobs of money. We like it when men pay for large, expensive gifts. We like being whisked off on fabulous vacations. Money is power, and power means security, and security means you don't have to worry about how to pay for groceries, or the rent, or gas, which costs double what it did last winter. Who doesn't want that? Is this a horrible, materialistic side of our nature? Yup. But from a purely evolutionary standpoint -- at our most basic, prehistoric level -- it is what it's supposed to be. It's about survival of the species, and he with the most toys almost always wins the girl of his choice. Which should have been the first gigantic clue that Rick Rockwell was not what he appeared to be: there is no way a real, nonviolent multimillionaire would have had to go on national TV to find a wife. All he'd have had to do is go outside.

In this way, Who Wants To Marry a Multimillionaire? was, unintentionally, a perfect representation of what it's like to be out there dating, mating, and attempting to find the perfect spouse. Along with a bunch of other highly qualified people, you throw your hat into the ring for the attentions of some person whom you have deemed highly worthy, according to some set of personal criteria. You answer a bunch of dumb questions about your dreams and goals, what you wanted to be when you were a kid, your favorite color; you prance around in scanty clothes; and maybe, just maybe, you embellish your own story a teensy bit.

Then he or she picks you out of the crowd. You hook up. One day, you find out that your beloved is a lying sack of shit, or has a nasty temper, or is absolutely unbearable regardless of [fill in previously important personal criterion here]. You dump your beloved's ass and go back home to your mother. The sack of shit hooks up with someone else a week later. Repeat. Sound at all familiar?

Welcome to real life. And Fox figured out a way to condense it into two hours and a cruise. They should get an Emmy.

Kris Frieswick can be reached at