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Slim Pickens

Slim Pickens
Slim Pickens in 1972
Born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr.
(1919-06-29)June 29, 1919
Kingsburg, California, U.S.
Died December 8, 1983(1983-12-08) (aged 64)
Modesto, California, U.S.
Resting place Cremated
Years active 1946–83
Spouse(s) Margaret (née Harmon) Lindley

Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), better known by his stage name Slim Pickens, was an American rodeo performer and film and television actor. During most of his career, he epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, but is perhaps best remembered today for his comic roles in Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles.


  • Early life 1
  • Film career 2
    • Dr. Strangelove 2.1
  • Voice work 3
  • Television 4
  • Awards 5
  • Personal life 6
  • Partial filmography 7
  • Television 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Pickens was born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr., in Kingsburg, California, the son of Sally Mosher (née Turk) and Louis Bert Lindley, Sr., a Texas-born dairy farmer. Young Lindley was an excellent horse rider from an early age. Known as "Bert" to his family and friends, he grew bored with dairy farming and began to make a few dollars by riding broncs and roping steers in his early teens. His father found out and forbade this activity. Nevertheless, young Lindley went to compete in a rodeo and was told by the doubtful rodeo manager that there would be "slim pickin's" for him. To prevent his father from discovering that he had competed, he entered his name as Slim Pickens and won $400 that afternoon.

Lindley graduated from Hanford High School, Hanford, California, and was a member of the Future Farmers of America. He joined the rodeo, billed as Slim Pickens, and eventually became a well-known rodeo clown.

Film career

After nearly 20 years of rodeo work, his distinctive OklahomaTexas drawl (even though he was a lifelong Californian), his wide eyes, 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.

Hollywood made good use of Pickens' rodeo background. He did not need a stand-in for horseback scenes, and he was able to gallop his own Appaloosa horses across the desert, or drive a stagecoach pulled by a six-horse team. In a large number of films and TV shows, he wore his own hats and boots, and rode his own horses and mules.

Pickens appeared in dozens of films, including Old Oklahoma Plains (1952), Down Laredo Way (1953), Tonka (1959), 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 and Christopher 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 1975, 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.

Dr. Strangelove

Pickens played B-52 pilot Major T.J. "King" Kong.[1] in Dr. Strangelove. 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.
  1. A monologue meant to steel the crew for their duty after he receives the definitive inflight order to bomb a strategic target in the USSR.
  2. 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.), as well as a .45 automatic pistol 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.[1]
  3. 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.[2] However, Pickens also said that working with Stanley Kubrick proved too difficult due to Kubrick's perfectionist style of directing with multiple takes for nearly every shot, especially with the climatic H-bomb riding scene which was done in just over 100 takes. 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.[3] Instead, Pickens' agent showed the script to Don Schwartz, the agent of Scatman Crothers, and Crothers accepted the role.[4]

Voice work

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.


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 of NBC'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 Cheyenne, The Lone Ranger, Frontier Doctor, Route 66, The Tall Man, Maverick, Riverboat, The Fugitive, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Legend of Jesse James, Alias Smith and Jones, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, That Girl,[5] Baretta, Vega$ 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, on CBS'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 British butler for a suburban American family. He portrayed Grandpa Shoenfield in a two-part 1980 episode of ABC's The Love Boat.

In an episode of CBS's Hawaii Five-O, he portrayed the patriarch of a family of serial killers.

Pickens also emceed NBC's short-lived country music variety series The Nashville Palace in 1981.


In 1982, Pickens was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In 1986, Pickens was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the Rodeo Historical Society.

In 2005, Pickens was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs for his work as a rodeo clown.

Personal life

In his last years Pickens lived with his wife in Columbia, California. He died on December 8, 1983, after surgery for a brain tumor. He was survived by his wife and children Thomas Michael Lindley, Margaret Louise Wittman, as well as daughter, Daryle Ann Giardino. His wife died in 2011 at the age of 89–90.[6]

Partial filmography


  • The Lone Ranger – episode – The Letter Bride – Ed Jones (1956)
  • The Lone Ranger – episode – The Sheriff of Smoke Tree – Joe Boley (1956)
  • Cheyenne – episode – Big Ghost Basin – Gary Owen (1957)
  • Lassie – episode – The Chimp – Eddie (1957)
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color – 19 episodes – Various (1957–74)
  • Wagon Train – episode – The Tent City Story – Rafe Jeffers (1958)
  • Maverick – episode – The Spanish Dancer – Jed (1958)
  • Frontier Doctor – episode – Bittercreek Gang – Slim (1959)
  • Bronco – episode – One Came Back – 1st Stage Driver (uncredited) (1961)
  • The Americans – episodes – The Escape, and The War Between the States – Johnson (1961)
  • Maverick – episode – A State of Siege – Stage Coach Driver (1961)
  • Wagon Train – episode – The Eve Newhope Story – Grubstake Malloy (1962)
  • Route 66 – episode – A long Piece of Mischief – Jud (1962)
  • Bonanza – episodes – Half a Rogue, and King of the Mountain – Big Jim Leyton (1963–64)
  • Rawhide – episode – The Backshooter – Sheriff McKay (1964)
  • The Fugitive – episode – Nemesis – Corbin (1964)
  • Gunsmoke – episode – Once a Haggen – Bucker Taos (1964)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – episode – The Iowa-Scuba Affair – Clint Spinner (1964)
  • Daniel Boone – episode – Dan'l Boone Shot a B'ar – Cletus Mott (1966)
  • Daniel Boone – episode – The Deserter – Simon Harman (1966)
  • Gunsmoke – episode – Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs – Pony Beal (1966)
  • The Legend of Jesse James – episode – Wanted: Dead and Only – Sheriff Homer Brinks (1966)
  • Cimarron Strip – episode – Fool's Gold – Malachi Grimes (1968)
  • Gentle Ben – episode – Ol' Joe's Gotta Go – Lloyd Larkin (1968)
  • Bonanza – episode – Catch as Catch Can – Sheriff Gant (1968)
  • Mannix – episode – Only Giants Can Play – Mike Ray (1969)
  • Ironside – episode – Goodbye to Yesterday – Sheriff Metcalf (1969)
  • Bonanza – episode – What Are Pardners For? – Sheriff (1970)
  • Gunsmoke – episode – The Scavengers – Colley (1970)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – Exit from Wickenburg – Mike (1971)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – The Man Who Murdered Himself – Sheriff Benton (1971)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – The Day They Hanged Kid Curry – Sheriff Whittaker (1971)
  • The Partridge Family – episode – Nag, Nag, Nag – Will Fowler (1972)
  • Gunsmoke – episodes – The River: Parts 1 & 2 – Charlie Utter (1972)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick – Sheriff Sam (1972)
  • Hawaii Five-O – episode – One Big Happy Family – Sam (1973)
  • Night Gallery – episode – Die Now, Pay Later – Sheriff Ned Harlow (1973)
  • Kung Fu – episode – Empty Pages of a Dead Book – Bart Fisher (1974)
  • McMillan & Wife – episode – Greed – William Halstead (1976)
  • How the West Was Won – Episodes: #1.9, #1.10, and #1.11 – Tap Henry (1978)
  • Vega$ – episode – Yes, My Darling Daughter – Ben Handler (1978)
  • B.J. and the Bear – episodes – Snow White and the Seven Lady Truckers: Part 2, Mary Ellen, and B.J. and the Seven Lady Truckers – Sgt. Beauregard Wiley (1979–81)
  • The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo – Run for the Money: Parts 2 & 3 – Sgt. Wiley (1979)

See also


  1. ^ a b Inside: 'Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb' at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ Biography for Slim Pickens at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Haskins, James; Crothers, Helen (1991). Scatman: An Authorized Biography of Scatman Crothers. W. Morrow. p. 178.  
  4. ^ Baxter, John (1997). Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. Basic Books. p. 315.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Margaret Elizabeth Lindley". GENI. Retrieved June 20, 2015. 

External links

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