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Online Exclusive: JOSEPH WALSH,
Screenwriter of California Split

Highlights from Issue 35: Gambling

Joseph Walsh at his home in Northridge, CA / April 2008 / Photograph by ZEN SEKIZAWA

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Sunday, June 15, 2008


An interview with Joseph Walsh, the screenwriter and producer of California Split, appears in full in the Gambling Issue, along with excerpts from his book Gambler on the Loose (visit his site for more details). Considered by many to be the definitive gambling movie, California Split, directed by Robert Altman (click here to read Altman’s 2004 interview with Stop Smiling) has its roots in the lifelong friendship between Walsh and Elliott Gould, who also appears in the Gambling Issue.

Here Walsh discusses Robert Altman’s ambiguous ending of California Split, and offers a recitation of the final few pages of the script, which were never filmed by Altman.


JOSEPH WALSH, February 2008:

I never wrote that exact ending of California Split. That ending happened by accident. In the final moments [after a winning streak in a Reno casino], Bill (George Segal) says to Charlie (Gould), “I gotta go home.” Charlie replies, “Yeah, where do you leave?” Bill stares at him, then says, “I gotta go home, Charlie.” He walks out and Charlie spins the wheel of fortune. Credits roll.

Now, that was not the original ending. When that happened, Elliott wasn’t supposed to say that line “Where do you live?” This is what played out: I was on the set during shooting. After that take, Elliott runs over to me, his friend for life and who wrote the script, and says, “Joey, I’m sorry. I don’t know where that line came from.” I said, “It’s okay, it was interesting.” Then here come George Segal running over saying, “That’s it. That’s how the movie should end. I never really understood this picture until then.” Robert Altman walks over at that point. George turns to him and says, “Bob, why should we go any further about this? Can’t you feel this movie ending right here?” Bob agreed and said it was a wrap.

I thought, “My God. This is interesting what Elliott said, but let’s film our ending now, and we’ll have both.” George was adamant. Altman agreed it was done. Now, I understand — it might have been that rush, that feeling of wanting to get something over with. But here’s how it ended in the script: I wrote a whole ramble for Charlie [after Bill throws his last roll and retreats to a private room to take inventory on his chips]. Charlie says, “Bill, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll go to Mustang Ranch, we’ll get a few girls. I’m gonna go to the tables and get a little spot. I’ve been hurting here, I haven’t had a taste. You’ve had it all. You’ve done great, you’re my hero, but I got to get a taste. My blood pressure’s been up, it’ been down, but it’s my turn at the table.”

Cut to the table. Charlie’s ready to roll. There’s Bill next to him, saying, “Look, we gotta get outta here.” Charlie says, “No, let me just shoot, I’ll shoot. I’ll just throw these old cubes. This is it, it’s you and me.” He’s carrying on. Then you see a shot of Bill’s face, and he’s thinking, “He’s gone. My friend’s gone. This is not who I am. I gotta go, I gotta leave.”

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