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
and Blazing Saddles
Life and career
Pickens was born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr.
, the son of Sally Mosher (née
Turk) and Louis Bert Lindley, Sr. He was an excellent rider from age four and quit school to join the rodeo
at age twelve. He was told that working in the rodeo would be "slim pickings" (very little money), giving him his name, but he did very well, eventually rising to become a well known rodeo clown
— one of the most dangerous jobs in show business
After twenty years on the rodeo circuit, his distinctive Oklahoma-Texas drawl (even though he was a lifelong Californian), his wide eyes and moon face, and his strong physical presence and grace gained him a role in the western Rocky Mountain (1950), starring Errol Flynn. He subsequently appeared in many 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
, Major Dundee
(1965) with Charlton Heston
, the remake
(1966; Pickens played the driver, portrayed in the 1939 film
by Andy Devine
), 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 and moving role. He also had a small role in Steven Spielberg
(1979) in scenes with Toshiro 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
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 eventually went to Scatman Crothers.
Another memorable role was that of Taggart, head of the gang of cowboy thugs in Mel Brooks' classic 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles:
- "What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is a-goin' on here?! I hired you people to try to git a little track laid, not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots!"
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 movie thriller The Black Hole. Pickens also lent his voice to the 1938 children's radio show The Cinnamon bear, where he plays a singing cowboy.
Pickens' most noted 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 the role. Pickens was chosen because his accent and comic sense were perfect for the role of Kong, an absurdly 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:
- Reading aloud to his crew the contents of their survival kits (possibly the first mention of condoms in a Hollywood film);
- Pickens riding a dropped H-bomb to a certain death, as if the bomb were a rodeo bronco and waving his cowboy hat. Its detonation will trigger the end of the world;
- When he receives the definitive inflight order to bomb a strategic target within the USSR, he addresses his crew as follows:
"Well, boys, I reckon this is it — nuclear combat toe to toe with the Rooskies. Now look, boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin' on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin.' Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin' on you and by golly, we ain't about to let 'em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for ever' last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let's get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin' to do."
Pickens credited Dr. Strangelove as a turning point in his career. Before 'Dr. Strangelove' he was "HEY YOU" on sets, and after it, he was addressed as "Mr. Pickens." "After 'Dr. Strangelove,' the roles, the dressing rooms, and the checks all started gettin' bigger." He claimed to be 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, grand-nephew, Bobby Bridger, to sing the theme song of his film. Aware of her father’s interest in mountain men
, Daryle Ann set up a meeting for them, and Slim immediately volunteered to narrate the heroic couplets
. In July, Bobby, Slim, and the Lost Gonzo Band
recorded Seekers of the Fleece outside of 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. The pair kept the musicians entertained with yarns, and everyone was happy when Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
showed up and joined in to help with background vocals.
He also appeared many times on television, both in guest shots, and in regular roles in The Legend of Custer, Bonanza
, Hee Haw
, B.J. and the Bear
, and Filthy Rich (1982)
. He played the owner of station WJM, Wild Jack Monroe, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show
In 1982, Pickens was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame
at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
in Oklahoma City
In his last years, Pickens lived with his wife in Columbia, Tuolumne County in California
. Slim was an accomplished civilian pilot with a multi-engine rating. He 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 at the age of 64, after surgery for a brain tumor
. Rex Allen
attended his funeral.
Picken's brother, Samuel T. Lindley, acted under the name Easy Pickens. His most notable appearance was as "Easy" in Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970).