Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), better known by the stage name Slim Pickens, was an American rodeo performer and film and television actor who epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, but who is best remembered for his comic roles, notably in Dr. Strangelove, 1941 and Blazing Saddles.
Pickens was born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. in Kingsburg, California, the son of Sally Mosher (née Turk) and Louis Bert Lindley, Sr. He was an excellent rider from age 4 and quit school to join the rodeo at 12. He was told that working in the rodeo would be "slim pickings" (very little money), giving him his name, but he did well and eventually became a well-known rodeo clown — one of the most dangerous jobs in live entertainment.
After 20 years on the rodeo circuit, his distinctive Oklahoma-Texas drawl (even though he was a lifelong Californian), his wide eyes and moon face and strong physical presence gained him a role in the western Rocky Mountain (1950) starring Errol Flynn. He appeared in many more westerns, playing both villains and comic sidekicks to the likes of Rex Allen.
Pickens appeared in dozens of films, including Old Oklahoma Plains (1952), Down Laredo Way (1953), One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, Dr. Strangelove (1964), Major Dundee (1965) with Charlton Heston, the remake of Stagecoach (1966; Pickens played the driver, portrayed in the 1939 film by Andy Devine), Never a Dull Moment (1968), The Cowboys (1972) with John Wayne, Ginger in the Morning (1974) with Fred Ward, Blazing Saddles (1974), Poor Pretty Eddy (1975), Rancho Deluxe (1975), The Getaway with Steve McQueen, Tom Horn (1980), also with McQueen, An Eye for an Eye (1966) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) in a small but memorable role. He also had a small role in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) in scenes with Toshirō Mifune and Christopher Lee; during one scene, he names the objects that he has with himself, and sounds like he does in Dr. Strangelove when identifying his possessions. In 1978, Pickens lent his voice to theme park Silver Dollar City as a character named Rube Dugan, for a ride called "Rube Dugan's Diving Bell", The diving bell was a simulation ride that took passengers on a journey to the bottom of Lake Silver and back. The ride was in operation from 1978 to 1984. He also played werewolf sheriff Sam Newfield in The Howling (1981).
In 1960 he appeared in NBC's Overland Trail in the episode "Sour Annie" with fellow guest stars Mercedes McCambridge and Andrew Prine. Pickens appeared five times on NBC's Outlaws (1960-1962) western series as the character "Slim." The program, starring Barton MacLane, was the story of a U.S. marshal in Oklahoma Territory -- deputies played by Don Collier, Jock Gaynor and Bruce Yarnell -- and the outlaws that they pursued. In 1967 Pickens had a recurring role as the scout California Joe Milner on the ABC military western Custer, starring Wayne Maunder in the title role.
Pickens was offered the part of Dick Hallorann in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. He refused, saying that filming with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove was too strenuous. He later relented, saying that he would appear in the film as long as Kubrick was contractually required to shoot Pickens' scenes in fewer than 100 takes a shot. However, the role went to Scatman Crothers.
The next year Pickens was in another western, playing the evil, limping bank robber in Walt Disney's The Apple Dumpling Gang. He provided the voice of B.O.B. in the late '70's Disney Sci-Fi thriller The Black Hole.
Pickens' most famous role was as B-52 pilot Major T.J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove. Stanley Kubrick cast Pickens after his first choice for the role of Major Kong, Peter Sellers, sprained his ankle and was unable to perform. Pickens was chosen because his accent and comic sense were perfect for the role of Kong, a cartoonishly patriotic and gung-ho B-52 commander. Pickens was not told that the movie was a black comedy, but was instructed to play the role straight. He was also not given the script to the entire film, but only those portions in which he played a part. Pickens is best remembered for three scenes:
- A jingoistic monologue meant to steel the crew for their duty after he receives the definitive inflight order to bomb a strategic target in the USSR.
- Reading aloud to his crew the contents of their survival kits (possibly the first mention of condoms in a Hollywood film). After listing the contents usable for barter with Russian women (prophylactics, nylons, lipstick, etc.), Major Kong said, "Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good time in Dallas with all this stuff." This line had to be looped ("time in Dallas" changed to "weekend in Vegas") after the November 22, 1963 screening for critics was canceled due to JFK's assassination.
- Best known of all, Pickens riding a dropped H-bomb to a certain death, whooping and waving his cowboy hat (in the manner of a rodeo performer bronc riding or bull riding), not knowing its detonation will trigger a Russian doomsday device.
Pickens credited Dr. Strangelove as a turning point in his career. Previously he was "Hey you" on sets and afterward he was addressed as "Mr. Pickens." He has been quoted as commenting, "After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms, and the checks all started gettin' bigger." Pickens said he was amazed at the difference a single movie could make.
Pickens lent his voice to the 1975 studio recording of Bobby Bridger's collection of Western ballads A Ballad of the West, in which he narrated part 1, "Seekers of the Fleece", the story of Jim Bridger and the mountain man fur trade era. Slim’s interest in this project blossomed in 1970 when his daughter, Daryle Ann, was cast in Max Evans' independent film The Wheel. Evans had also hired Jim Bridger’s great-grandnephew, Bobby Bridger, to sing the film's theme song. Aware of her father’s interest in mountain men, Daryle Ann set up a meeting for Evans and Pickens, and Pickens immediately volunteered to narrate the heroic couplets. In July, Bobby, Slim and the Lost Gonzo Band recorded Seekers of the Fleece outside Denver in a tipi studio, where Slim's old mountain-man pal Timberjack Joe had decorated with grizzly bear robes and beaver pelts to set the mood.
Pickens appeared in numerous television guest shots, including three episodes of NBC's The Wide Country (1962) with Earl Holliman and Andrew Prine and one appearance on ABC's The Legend of Jesse James, The Fugitive and a first-season episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. He appeared in a few episodes of Alias Smith and Jones, The Lone Ranger, The Virginian, and Kung Fu. He starred in regular roles in The Legend of Custer, Bonanza, Hee Haw, B. J. and the Bear with Greg Evigan, and Filthy Rich. He played the owner of station WJM, Wild Jack Monroe, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
One of Pickens' more memorable television roles was an episode of Hawaii Five-O where he played the patriarch of a family of serial killers.
Pickens was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, CO for his work as a Rodeo Clown.
In his last years Pickens lived with his wife in Columbia, Tuolumne County, California. Slim was a civilian pilot with a multi-engine rating and enjoyed flying in a green U.S. Air Force flight suit while wearing a cowboy hat, similar to the wardrobe worn in Dr. Strangelove. He died on December 8, 1983, after surgery for a brain tumor. Rex Allen attended his funeral.
- The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
- The Sun Shines Bright (1953)
- The Boy from Oklahoma (1954)
- The Last Command (1955)
- The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)
- The Sheepman (1958)
- One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
- A Thunder of Drums (1961)
- Savage Sam (1963)
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
- Major Dundee (1965)
- In Harm's Way (1965)
- Stagecoach (1966)
- An Eye for an Eye (1966)
- Rough Night in Jericho (1967)
- The Flim-Flam Man (1967)
- Will Penny (1968)
- Never a Dull Moment (1968)
- The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
- The Deserter (1971)
- The Cowboys (1972)
- The Getaway (1972)
- The Honkers (1972)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
- Blazing Saddles (1974)
- Rancho Deluxe (1975)
- The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)
- White Line Fever (1975)
- Hawmps! (1976)
- The Shadow of Chikara (1977)
- The White Buffalo (1977)
- The Swarm (1978)
- Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
- 1941 (1979)
- The Black Hole (1979) (voice)
- Tom Horn (1980)
- Honeysuckle Rose (1980)
- Christmas Mountain (1981)
- The Howling (1981)
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