George Segal as Bill Denny, magazine writer and casual gambler
Los Angeles, Winter 1973
Film: California Split
Release Date: August 7, 1974
Director: Robert Altman
Costumer: Hugh McFarland
In honor of George Segal, who died a year ago today, today’s post introduces us to his character in California Split, directed by Robert Altman and described by Tim Grierson and Will Leitch for Vulture as the greatest movie about gambling ever made, “one of the high watermarks of ’70s hangout cinema.”
The film begins by following Segal’s Bill Denny between poker games at an L.A. gambling den, where he makes the acquaintance of fellow player Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould). After a few shared drinks and a mugging that leaves both men united by their lack of funds, Charlie brings Bill back to the pad he shares with filles de joie Barbara (Ann Prentiss) and Susan (Gwen Elles), kicking off a chaotic friendship between the laconic Bill and live-wire Charlie that eventually takes them to Reno in search of the ultimate high-stakes game. Will Bill be able to resist the gambling addiction that has enveloped his garrulous new pal?
Segal was cast early in the production, grounding the movie with a reserve that appropriately balanced Gould’s rambunctious energy that screenwriter Joseph Walsh recalled was a byproduct of the fact that “Elliott lived his gambling, he came out of the box just like in a horse race when a great horse comes out of the box.”
Though Segal initially felt stifled by Gould’s liveliness and—like his character—was ultimately uninterested in gambling, the actor later recalled how much fun he had during the production:
It was like a party. It was so civilized back then. There were no long hours. It was relaxed. That’s why those movies from the ’70s were so good. We were all relaxed and enjoying what we were doing.
What’d He Wear?
As opposed to Charlie’s frenetic sense of dress, cycling various boldly printed shirts under his tattered tan sports coat, Bill generally follows a more timeless and tasteful sense of style that layers his subdued lightweight jackets over knitwear. Through the first act of California Split, Bill wears a dark navy cotton jacket that stylistically resembles a cross between a contemporary leisure suit jacket and an oversized Navy surplus “CPO shirt”, not unlike the shirt-jackets—or “shackets”—popular today.
Bill’s dark navy cotton side-vented shirt-jacket has a long pointed collar that sits flat on his chest, five dark blue plastic buttons that he keeps open, single-button cuffs with short pointed tabs, and twin chest pockets that close with dual-pointed “sawtooth”-style flaps.
Bill looks comfortable at the tables in his ivory turtleneck, knitted in a variety of classic Aran stitchwork: cable-knit through the body with long diamond stitches down each side of the chest and set-in sleeves. The rolled neck (also known as a “polo neck”) is widely ribbed like the cuffs and hem.
Irish fishing folklore dictates that every stitch on an Aran-knit jumper carries deeper meaning. Diamond-shaped stitching, said to resemble fishing mesh or the small fields on the Aran islands, symbolize wealth, luck, and success… all elements that would benefit Bill during long nights at the poker tables. Arguably the most frequently encountered stitch, the cable represents fisherman’s ropes to symbolize their safety while out to sea. (Read more from Knit Picks and Shamrock Craic.)
Though Bill’s sweater appears to be in generally good shape, it shows some signs of age via the hungry moths that have gotten to the right side, particularly under the armpit. Bill wears it against his bare torso, as we see when Charlie pulls it up to apply the shaving cream they use to self-medicate after getting beaten up by Lew’s pals.
Bill’s flat front trousers are a tobacco brown corduroy with a narrow wale known as “needlecord” or “pinwale”. These trousers have a fitted waistband, with no belt loops or side adjusters. The front pockets are the full-top “frogmouth”-style with a single jetted back right pocket. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Bill wears walnut brown leather plain-toe monk shoes with a single strap across the instep that closes through a gold-toned buckle. (I own and can endorse the budget-friendly Florsheim Sorrento single-strap monks.) The tan ribbed socks are thematically coordinated to the warmer tones of his sweater, trousers, and shoes.
The following morning, having grabbed a few winks while crashing on Charlie’s sofa, Bill shows up to work in a pair of tortoise-framed aviator-style sunglasses he’s reluctant to take off.
How to Get the Look
Especially when contrasted against his new pal, Bill Denny’s simple outfit of an Aran jumper and corduroys when introduced to us in California Split establishes his more practical nature, albeit with interesting touches like the trousers’ beltless waisband and his monk-strap shoes. I can certainly recommend this smart casual look for early spring, though I can’t quite endorse the casino-to-conference room spirit in which Bill wears it.
- Dark navy cotton 5-button shirt-jacket with long pointed collar, two “sawtooth”-flapped chest pockets, pointed single-button cuffs, and side vents
- Ivory unbleached wool Aran-knit turtleneck sweater
- Tobacco brown “pinwale” corduroy cotton flat front trousers with fitted waistband, full-top “frogmouth”-style front pockets, jetted back-right pocket, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Walnut brown leather plain-toe single-strap monk shoes
- Tan ribbed socks
- Tortoise-framed aviator-style sunglasses
Build the outfit:
- Patagonia Better Sweater Shirt-Jacket in “new navy” (Backcountry)
- Alex Mill Fisherman Cable Turtleneck Sweater in ivory (Stag Provisions)
- And Now This corduroy trousers in dark brown (Macy’s)
- Florsheim Sorrento monk-strap slip-ons in cognac (DSW)
- Express ribbed sweater socks in camel (Express)
- Ray-Ban RB2198 “Bill” sunglasses in Havana tortoise (Ray-Ban)
Availability as of March 2022.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Twenty dollars says you can’t name the seven dwarves.