Monday, June 29, 2009

Noo-ku-lar Combat, Toe to Toe with the Rooskies

Today would have been the 90th birthday of Slim Pickens.

He was born Louis Burton Lindley Jr. He apparently took his stage name after being told, as a young adult working in the rodeo, that rodeo work would be "slim pickings" — which was probably applicable to quite a few occupations in the days of the Great Depression — but he became a fairly successful rodeo clown before he gravitated to movies.

On the big screen, he was primarily a supporting actor, appearing with the likes of John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston and Errol Flynn.

But I guess most movie viewers associate him with a couple of roles — the gung–ho Major Kong in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" and the thuggish Taggart in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."

Personally, I always think of "Dr. Strangelove" when I think of Pickens — but that shouldn't be too surprising, since I have long admired Kubrick's films. In fact, Pickens was offered a role in Kubrick's film version of "The Shining." He turned it down, though, because working with Kubrick on "Dr. Strangelove" had been too much of an ordeal for him, and the role went instead to Scatman Crothers.

Pickens' performance in "Dr. Strangelove" was memorable mainly for three parts — his speech to his crew after receiving the order to bomb a Russian target; his final scene, in which he rides an H–bomb like a bronco in a rodeo; and his recitation of the contents of the survival kits.

By the way, after reviewing the contents of the survival kits, Pickens originally said, "[S]hoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff," but the line had to be changed after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. When the film was shown in theaters, Pickens' character said "Vegas" instead of "Dallas," but watch his lips in the attached clip.

Pickens died in 1983 at the age of 64 following surgery for a brain tumor.