Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Slim Story from Joseph Walsh

Yesterday I brought up California Split again as well as screenwriter Joseph Walsh’s 2008 book Gambler on the Loose. Not long after that book appeared and I wrote a review of it (for PokerNews), I got in contact with Walsh. We’ve been in touch ever since, and usually it’s around the time I teach the film in my class I find myself sending him another note to see how he’s doing and to share something with him about the discussion of Split.

The two of us had our exchange of messages again this week. I told him I hoped the replacement refs didn’t screw him over too much earlier this NFL season (and that the regular ones weren’t doing so, either). He replied by referring to that fourth-and-29 play in the Baltimore-San Diego game -- the one I was crying about on Monday -- and how it had him “reaching for the phone to call the paramedics.” But otherwise he’s doing great. Still “in action,” as they say.

I was reminded this time how back in the spring when we’d exchanged messages it wasn’t that long after the passing of “Amarillo” Slim Preston. It occurred to me then to ask Walsh if he had any Slim stories from the making of California Split. Preston has a cameo near the end of the film, and so I guessed Walsh probably had met and interacted with him at some point.

When the movie premiered in the summer of 1974, Preston was probably at the height of his popularity and renown as a poker player. He’d won the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event, then had embarked on a kind of publicity tour afterwards to promote himself, his book (Play Poker to Win), as well as poker and the WSOP. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson multiple times during that period. Then in 1973 CBS filmed a documentary at the WSOP Main Event to show as part of its CBS Sports Spectacular, a kind of anthology show that often featured off-the-beaten-path sports programming.

That entire 47-minute show dealing with the 1973 WSOP is available on YouTube, if you’re curious to see it. As you might imagine, Preston is featured heavily as both the defending champ and, really, as the country’s most famous poker player at the time.

So, did Walsh have a Slim story? Yes, he did. I asked him this week if he’d mind if I shared it here, and he said it would be fine.

“Slim Story:

Since I barely knew Slim, I made an arrangement to have breakfast with him the day before we were going to start filming on ‘Split’. Soon as he sits down I say to him, ‘Slim, I’m going to offer you a bet you can’t refuse. In the next Keno game I’m going to pick one number and take 2 to 1 I hit it! Well, Slim, knowing he’s beating the price, says to me ‘you're on, son, and for how much.’ I reach into my pocket and put up two hundred bucks. Slim reaches into his pocket and takes out a roll of hundreds that must have been 6 inches thick.

I say to him, ‘You really come prepared.’ He says, ‘always’ and flicks off 4 hundred to cover the bet. One minute later the Keno game begins and the first number that lights up on the board is 9, the number I picked. If Slim had false teeth they would have fallen out of his mouth. It takes him about 4 seconds to recover and then he says to me ‘My god, son, you are spooky.’ Later in the next game, he tried to engage me in the same bet. I just smiled warmly and said ‘Sorry, Slim, you had your shot.’ We became instant friends.”

Thanks, Joey, for sharing that one -- a “Slim story” that rivals some of Preston’s own.

By the way, for fans of California Split here is an excellent compilation of reviews and interviews regarding the film on a cool website called Shooting Down Pictures. Lots of goodies there, including the whole background regarding the struggles to get the film made (and the alternate-universe-possibility that Steven Spielberg might’ve directed it), tons about the production, and an excerpt from an interview with Walsh in which he talks about what it was like working with Robert Altman.

(That picture of Walsh above is from another, more recent interview he did for Stop Smiling which focuses on the ending of the movie and how it diverged from what had been scripted.)

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Blogger Rakewell said...

I think that's the only Slim story I've ever heard where he LOST.

11/29/2012 3:47 PM  

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