Question: I hope you can answer this: Who played Nick on The Big Valley? It is killing me and my coworkers! We know that Barbara Stanwyck was the mother and Linda Evans was Audra. Lee Majors was Heath and Richard Long was Jarrod. I can picture the Nick character — always in black, wearing two guns, with wavy hair and striking good looks. But who is he? Thanks. — Judy

Televisionary: Now just you and your coworkers hang on a minute there, Judy. If everyone who wrote in were as well-informed as you, ticking off names of cast members and all, I'd be out of a job. But praise be to whoever kept the name of Nick Barkley out of your noggin, since you still need the ol' Televisionary to ease your troubled mind.

The man's name is Peter Breck and he is, to my mind, one of the more interesting fellas to sit down with a TV Guide reporter since, to hear his tales, there's not a whole lot of difference between him and his two-fisted, in-your-face character. The actor, who worked on the series alongside the talent you mentioned during its entire 1965-69 run on ABC, started his career in early '50s New York. Or rather, he tried to start it, but ended up scraping by and surviving on such hobolike delicacies as ketchup soup — the recipe for which he described to TV Guide in 1966.

"You buy a pot of hot water and a tea bag for a nickel at Horn &#038 Hardart's Automat," Breck explained. "You set the tea bag aside and pour the hot water into a cereal bowl. Add ketchup, those free packages of soda crackers, salt and pepper, and you've got ketchup soup. With the water left over, you've still got a cup of tea." His palate weary of such fare, Breck hit the road and racked up a whole lot of theater work and a movie role alongside Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road before his 1958 arrival in Hollywood, where he further displayed his genius for getting by. Hitting town with $85 to his name, he bought a puppy for $75 and spent his first night sleeping in the back of a truck behind the famous Schwab's drug store. He picked up a contract the next day for a role on Have Gun, Will Travel, borrowed $300 against that contract, used the money to buy a used Caddy and then borrowed another $300 to pay two months' rent on an apartment. When he invited everyone he knew to a BYOB party at his new pad, the real ingenuity came into play.

"I bought two jugs of vodka, grape juice and lemonade and mixed a Purple Jenny," the actor said. "I took the 50 or 60 bottles my friends brought and stowed them in the bedroom. Everybody drank the punch. The next day I took the booze back to a liquor store and got $300 for it." Pretty slick, no? And lest you wonder about the man's integrity, he noted that he'd paid back every bottle he took within a month.

That kind of pragmatism and no-frills thinking stuck with the man even when he was getting steady work on The Big Valley, since he hadn't forgotten landing a lead on the short-lived Black Saddle, watching it get canceled out from under him, then grabbing another role on a show that never made it to the airwaves. "When your series dies, you have to start over," Breck said. "You can't be proud. You take unemployment checks; you take what work you can get.... You can't carry that star on your sleeve. It'll replace your heart.... If I'm not a star, I won't let it bug me. I got a word for people who want to be a star. Change your name to EXIT. You'll see your name all over."

Now, you and your colleagues get back to work before your boss kills you.