Starving immigrant artist Tateh (Mandy Patinkin) will eventually set off to make his ortune in Hollywood, but not without a chance encounter with Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern). Nesbit was the center of the infamous (and, in the film, the very compelling) Thaw-White murder case, in which her mentally unstable millionare husband Harry K. Thaw (Robert Joy) murdered her lover, the famed architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer). Another storyline follows the disintegration of an upper-class American family headed by Mary Steenburgen and James Olson. Their seemingly perfect existence is shattered when black ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker (Howard E. Rollins), loosely modelled on Scott Joplin, begins to romance a pregnant young woman living in their home (Debbie Allen). Walker, a dignified man, turns to rage when he is tormented by local racists.
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