"It's my fault," said Towne the next day. "You would never behave the way Denny was written there." So he rewrote the scene, allowing Denny, far from being cold, to half-carry Chris back to her house. His departure into the night would be caused by his not knowing how to deal with her sudden devotion to him.
I worried about it for a month, taking 25- and 30-mile runs through the area's vineyards and coastal roads. Then we went back and tried it again and it worked. The main difference, to me, was that this time I skipped the method-actor's despond and started from neutral. The difference, to Towne, was the rewrite. He insisted we both were correct. "Whatever gets in the way, writing or preformed emotions, it's a violation of the actor's character," he said.
In mid-December, Geffen ordered Personal Best stopped. On Dec. 23, Towne closed it down, with three weeks of work to do. Without those weeks the film would be gibberish. "This movie will never survive now," Warren Beatty told Towne. "They'll write it off." To that point, it had cost $11 million. For six months, though interest charges were mounting at a rate of $60,000 a week, the film clung to life. This seemed to be solely because of Towne's machinations, marshaling friends, calling in favors and exploiting a strong legal position.
"You don't expect to die, exactly," he said. "But you don't expect to live, either. They'll have to kill me. If they do that, they'll stop me. If they don't, they won't."
By then I knew that whatever his eccentricity, it wasn't due to any derangement, but was a function of stability. The rock of his character was wanting his work to be good. Towne was suffering not for being nuts but for being a sane human being in a pursuit shot through with madness.
And he was suffering. He told of the film editor who had a heart attack while at a screening with Jack Warner. "He didn't want to annoy Warner, so he silently died. In war it's heroism. In movies it's a bad joke. It's hilarious."
Finally, through Elaine May and Allen Klein, who had managed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, negotiations succeeded in bringing the film back to Warner Bros. for release. Towne gave up all he had left to give. For a million dollars in credit, he surrendered the right to do his beloved Greystoke. The studio would give it to another director.
"Loss of Greystoke is heartbreaking," he said. "But if I had not lost it that way I'd have lost it because of all the things that were said about me. If I was ever to be considered sane again, I had to finish, and let the film be my answer."
So we wrapped it up in July, a full year after we had begun at the Trials. Mariel and I were in the fog-covered pool for the last take.
"That's over," she said.