Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), known by the stage name Slim Pickens, was an American rodeo performer and filmand television actor who epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, but who is best remembered for his comic roles, notably in Dr. Strangeloveand 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. He graduated from Hanford High school, Hanford Calif and was a member of the FFA. After graduating school he joined the rodeo. 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.
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 strong physical presence gained him a role in the western film, 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 Eddie (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 Toshiro Mifune andChristopher Lee; during one scene, he names the objects that he has with himself, and sounds like he does in Dr. Strangelove during the "Survival Kit Contents Check" scene. 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 the NBC western series, Overland Trail in the episode "Sour Annie" with fellow guest stars Mercedes McCambridge and Andrew Prine. Pickens appeared five times on NBC's Outlaws (1960–62) 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.
In 1968, Pickens was in another western, playing the evil, limping bank robber in Walt Disney's The Apple Dumpling Gang; that same year, the exploitation classic Poor Pretty Eddie was released, with Pickens portraying twisted Sheriff Orville. He provided the voice of B.O.B. in the 1979 Disney science fiction thriller The Black Hole. His last film was his least notable, Pink Motel(1982) with Phyllis Diller.
Pickens' role in Dr. Strangelove was B-52 pilot Major T.J. "King" Kong. Stanley Kubrick cast Pickens after Peter Sellers, who played three other roles in the film, sprained his ankle and was unable to perform in the role due to having to work in the cramped cockpit set. 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. He was not given the script to the entire film, but only those portions in which he played a part. Three memorable scenes featuring Pickens were:
Slim Pickens as Major "King" Kong riding a nuclear bomb to oblivion in Dr. Strangelove.
- A monologue meant to steel the crew for their duty after he receives the definitive inflight order to bomb a strategic target in theUSSR.
- 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 Big D [Dallas] with all this stuff." This line had to be looped (the reference to 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." Pickens once said, "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. However, working with Kubrick proved too difficult, especially the more than 100 takes of the H-bomb riding scene. In the late 1970s, Pickens was offered the part of Dick Hallorann in Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, but Pickens stipulated that he would appear in the film only if Kubrick was required to shoot Pickens' scenes in fewer than 100 takes. Instead, Pickens' agent showed the script to Don Schwartz, the agent of Scatman Crothers, and Crothers accepted the role.
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 four episodes of the syndicated western series Annie Oakley (1956), with Gail Davis and Brad Johnson, and three episodes ofNBC's The Wide Country (1962), a rodeo series starring Earl Holliman and Andrew Prine. In 1961, he had a recurring role as Johnson in the 17-episode NBC series, The Americans, the story of how the American Civil War divided families. He was a credited semi-regular in the role of "Slim" in the second season of the NBC western series, Outlaws. Thereafter, he was cast in a first-season episode of NBC's espionage series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
Pickens appeared in episodes of The Lone Ranger, Frontier Doctor, The Tall Man, Riverboat, The Fugitive, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Legend of Jesse James, Alias Smith and Jones, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, and Kung Fu.
Pickens was cast in recurring roles in The Legend of Custer, Bonanza, Hee Haw, B. J. and the Bear with Greg Evigan, and Filthy Rich. He played Wild Jack Monroe, the owner of station WJM, onCBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also guest starred as Zeke in the 1963 episode "Higgins and the Hillbilly" on the ABC sitcom, Our Man Higgins, starring Stanley Holloway as a Britishbutler for a suburban American family. He portrayed Grandpa Shoenfield in a two-part 1980 episode of ABC's The Love Boat.
One of Pickens' most memorable television roles was in an episode of CBS's Hawaii Five-O, in which he portrayed the patriarch of a family of serial killers.
In 1982, Pickens was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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, Margaret, in Columbia, California. He 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. Pickens' 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.