"Target in sight! Where in Hell is Major Kong?" ...
Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964) is loaded with first-rate performances, from Peter Sellers (in three roles), Sterling Hayden, and George C. Scott.
But, the most iconic moment in the movie is owned by Slim Pickens riding that H-bomb to the target and into eternity.
How on earth did he even get there? By a combination of serendipity and pure accident.
Rodeo Days ...
Once upon a time, 12-year old Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. wanted to become a rodeo performer.
As he was born June 29, 1919, in Kingsburg, California (a bit south of Fresno), that time was probably 1931. Child Protective Services didn't even exist, child labor laws were different then and many children of that age worked for wages on farms and ranches so this was not at all unusual.
He told a manager of a rodeo that he had his father's permission as long as he didn't use his real name.
Supposedly, the manager told him that he might as well call himself "Slim Pickins" as that was all he could look forward to in wages on the rodeo circuit. Louis said that was just fine with him. The manager wrote down the name, spelling the last name with an "e" near the end instead of the "i", and thus came Slim Pickens into our world.
He did pretty well on the rodeo circuit, and became a rodeo clown; perhaps the most dangerous job in the profession. When a bull rider gets thrown, that bull may decide to wheel around and finish the job. If you are the clown, your duty is to get that bull's attention, draw him away from the thrown rider (to you instead), and Oh, by the way, because of that word "clown", try to entertain the crowd while running for your life.
He did that for almost twenty years, when his distinctive Oklahoma-Texas drawl (although he was pure Californian), his height (6'-3") and general appearance got him in a role in Rocky Mountain (1950) starring Errol Flynn.
The Days of the "Singing Cowboy" ...
Nope, I'm not aware of Slim ever singing, but that might have been interesting. In the '50's we had the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, (even John Wayne went through this with other people dubbing in the singing (as he couldn't sing) and the guitar (as he couldn't play one either).
In those times, the hero usually had a comic sidekick; often a bit murderous - The Cisco Kid (not even remotely like the cold eyed killer that O. Henry wrote of in "The Caballero's Way", from which the TV show claimed origin) had Pancho, whom the Kid had to keep from shooting anyone with whom they came in conflict, and Roy Rogers had George "Gabby" Hayes, who was equally ready to commit murder on occasion.
Among the ranks of the Singing Cowboys was Rex Allen, ...
Slim Pickens and Rex Allen - from bobnolan-sop.net
... and Slim became his sidekick. While not so ready to ventilate people as the other sidekicks, if you wanted to make a new window in a saloon wall by putting someone through that wall, Slim (kinda slim in those days, with shoulders like a bull) was always willing to oblige. He did dozens of these and other comic roles until ...
"Calm down, Slim. There's someone I want you to meet" ...
As Deputy Lon Dedrick - enlarged from thelin.net
Marlon Brando got involved with a western, One-Eyed Jacks (1961), he eventually went on to direct. I'm not going to spend much of this post on that movie, except for the essential parts that led to Strangelove.
There's a story, I've had no luck at all in confirming, that when Slim was called in to read for the part of Deputy Lon Dedrick, while waiting for the interview a cowboy type next to him began ragging him in various and insulting ways until Slim finally stood up and invited him outside to settle things; at which point Brando walked up, laughing, and told him, "Calm down, Slim. There's someone I want you to meet". That cowboy was one of the stuntmen and Brando was trying to see if Slim could be convincing as Dedrick (a cowardly bully and one mean son-of-a-bitch; quite a departure from his earlier roles). As Slim got the role, apparently he passed.
Part of the serendipity mentioned above was that Stanley Kubrick was originally set to direct, before he decided that he simply couldn't work with Brando and his (costly and time-consuming) quirks, and left the production. Kubrick had met Slim, seen him at work and would later remember him.
"Stay on the bomb run, boys. I'm gonna get those bomb-bay doors open if it hare-lips everybody in Bear Creek!" ...
I mentioned above that among the performances in Dr. Strangelove were three by Peter Sellers: RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (who's trying to deal with Sterling Hayden's General Jack D. Ripper), President of the United States Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove himself.
Sellers was also meant to play the B-52 pilot USAF Major T. J. "King" Kong. During the shoot, Sellers fell and badly sprained his ankle, making it very difficult (almost impossible) to work within the confined sets of various parts of the B-52.
Remembering Slim from his aborted One-Eyed Jacks experience, Kubrick thought he would be perfect and gave him a call. Slim responded by flying to London, only to discover that, OOPS!, he didn't even have a passport. Slight delay while the U.S. Embassy sorted that out. A lot of the Brits weren't quite sure what to make of him, thinking that his habit of going around in jeans and a cowboy hat was "method". Nope, that was just "Slim". :-) ...
After the experience with Strangelove, Slim noted that "the parts, the dressing rooms, and the paychecks all started getting bigger. It's amazing what a difference a single movie can sometimes make."
"What did you do before becoming a stock detective, Mr. Beige?"
"I was a horse thief"
"Why'd you quit?"
"I got caught." ...
As Henry Beige - screencap from DVD
That's from a very laid-back modern day western set in Montana, Rancho Deluxe (1975) in which Jack McKee (Jeff Bridges) and Cecil Colson (Sam Waterston, who much later played District Attorney Jack McCoy on "Law and Order") are low-grade cattle rustlers, poaching an occasional steer from a wealthy rancher and selling the meat.
When that rancher has had more than enough, he hires legendary former-rustler-turned-stock-detective Henry Beige (Slim) to deal with it. This is Slim's best role since Strangelove and is the main reason to give this one a look.
Slim left us on Dec 8, 1983, in Modesto, California. He was 64.
"When that man died, they broke the God-Damned mold."
That's from the movie "Lone Star", about someone else, but it sure applies here. As does this from the same movie ...
"Never be another like him!"