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Slim Pickens

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Slim Pickens
Pickens in a publicity photo for Custer (1967)
Louis Burton Lindley Jr.

(1919-06-29)June 29, 1919
DiedDecember 8, 1983(1983-12-08) (aged 64)
Occupation(s)Actor, rodeo performer
Years active1946–1983
SpouseMargaret (née Harmon) Lindley (m. 1950)

Louis Burton Lindley Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), better known by his stage name Slim Pickens, was an American actor and rodeo performer.[1] Starting off in the rodeo, Pickens took up acting, and appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. For much of his career, Pickens played cowboy roles.[1] He is perhaps best remembered today for his comic roles in Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, 1941, and his villainous turn in One-Eyed Jacks with Marlon Brando.

Early life and rodeo work[edit]

Louis Burton Lindley Jr., was born in Kingsburg, California,[2] 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 "Burt" to his family and friends, he grew bored with dairy farming and began to make a few dollars by riding broncos and roping steers in his early teens. His father found out and forbade this activity, but Lindley took no notice, went to compete in a rodeo, and was told by the doubtful rodeo manager that there would be "slim pickin's" (i.e. little chance of any prize money) 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. During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. Reportedly when the recruiter asked him his profession, he responded "rodeo". This was misread on a form as "radio", and he spent his entire enlistment at a radio station in the Midwestern United States.[3]

Film career[edit]

After nearly 20 years' rodeo work, Pickens's wide eyes, moon face, strong physical presence, and distinctive country drawl gained him a role in the Western Rocky Mountain (1950), which starred Errol Flynn. He appeared in many more Westerns, playing both villains and comic sidekicks to actors such as 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.[citation needed]

Pickens appeared in dozens more 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), An Eye for an Eye (1966), Never a Dull Moment (1968), The Cowboys (1972, with John Wayne), The Getaway (1972, with Steve McQueen), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Ginger in the Morning (1974, with Fred Ward), Blazing Saddles (1974), Poor Pretty Eddie, Rancho Deluxe (both 1975), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979, with Michael Caine and Karl Malden), and Tom Horn (1980, also with McQueen). He had a small but memorable role in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) in scenes with Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee; during one scene, he enumerates the objects on his person, similarly to the way he does in the "Survival Kit Contents Check" scene in Dr. Strangelove. 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 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 cult 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[edit]

Pickens played B-52 pilot Major T. J. "King" Kong in 1964's Dr. Strangelove.[4] 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 for 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 order to bomb a strategic target in the USSR
  • 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 M1911 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 dubbed over, with the reference to Dallas changed to "weekend in Vegas", after the scheduled November 22, 1963, screening for critics was cancelled due to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.[4]
  • Best known of all, and an enduring historical film image of the American-Soviet Cold War era, 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 Soviet doomsday device

Pickens credited Dr. Strangelove as a turning point in his career. Previously, he had been "Hey you" on sets, and afterwards he was addressed as "Mr. Pickens". He 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 one movie could make.[citation needed] He also said, though, 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 climactic 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.[5] Instead, Pickens' agent showed the script to Don Schwartz, the agent of Scatman Crothers, and Crothers accepted the role.[6]

Voice work and recordings[edit]

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. In 1977, he released the self-titled country album, Slim Pickens, on Blue Canyon Records. The LP contained 12 selections (including Kinky Friedman's "Carryin' the Torch", which was issued as a single) and two songs written by Pickens. The record jacket featured a photograph of the actor in his signature role in Dr. Strangelove, sitting in the cockpit.[7] Pickens also recorded a one-off single, "Christmas in November" (a rather depressing number about a child who would not live to celebrate Christmas on time), on the Midsong label in 1980.


Pickens appeared in numerous television guest shots, including a 1954 Stories of the Century episode in which he played the Sundance Kid to Joe Sawyer's Butch Cassidy, as well as four episodes of the syndicated Western series Annie Oakley (1956, with Gail Davis and Brad Johnson), a 1956 episode of The Lone Ranger, and three episodes of NBC's Wide Country (1962), a rodeo series starring Earl Holliman and Andrew Prine. He appeared in the 1959-1960 Walt Disney Studios miniseries The Swamp Fox 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. Thereafter, he was cast in a first-season episode of NBC's espionage series The Man from U.N.C.L.E..

He appeared in episodes of Mannix, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Lone Ranger, Frontier Doctor, Gunsmoke, Route 66, The Tall Man, Maverick (in several episodes playing different characters), The Westerner, Riverboat, The Fugitive, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Legend of Jesse James, Alias Smith and Jones, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, Night Gallery, That Girl, Baretta, Vega$, How the West Was Won, Cimarron Strip, and Kung Fu.

Pickens was cast in recurring roles in Custer, Bonanza, Hee Haw (where he was a semiregular from 1981 until his death), B. J. and the Bear with Greg Evigan, and Filthy Rich. He played Wild Jack Monroe, the owner of station WJM, in CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and also guest-starred as Zeke in the 1963 episode "Higgins and the Hillbilly" of the ABC sitcom Our Man Higgins, which starred Stanley Holloway as a British butler for a suburban American family. Pickens 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 emceed NBC's short-lived country music variety series The Nashville Palace in 1981.


In 1982, Pickens was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[8] In 1986, Pickens was honored by the Rodeo Historical Society during his posthumous induction into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[9]

In 2005, Pickens was posthumously inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs for his work as a rodeo clown.[10] In 2006, Pickens was inducted into the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Hall of Fame.[11] In 2020, Pickens was inducted into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame in Washington.[12]

Final years and death[edit]

In his last years, Pickens lived with his wife in Columbia, California. He died in a hospital in Modesto on December 8, 1983, after surgery for a brain tumor. He was survived by his wife and children, Thomas Michael Lindley and Margaret Louise Wittman (née Lindley), as well as his stepdaughter he chose to raise as his own, Daryle Ann Giardino (née Lindley). His funeral was held at Presbyterian Church of the Forty Niners in Columbia, California, where he was a member.[2] His ashes were scattered over his favorite trail areas.[2] His wife died in 2011.

Personal life[edit]

His brother Samuel (1921–2001) was also an actor with the stage name Easy Pickens. Slim was a longtime supporter of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), appearing in promotional shots.[citation needed] He was an avid outdoorsman, appearing in several episodes of The American Sportsman.[citation needed]

Cultural references[edit]

The album Days Go By (2012) by The Offspring features the song "Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell" (Track 12, 2:36) which harkens back to his final scene from Dr. Strangelove.



  • The Lone Ranger (1956) — episode — The Letter Bride — Ed Jones
  • The Lone Ranger (1956) — episode — The Sheriff of Smoke Tree — Joe Boley
  • Sugarfoot (1957) — episode — Brannigan's Boots — Shorty
  • Sugarfoot (1958) — episode — Short Range — Harry
  • Cheyenne (1957) — episode — Big Ghost Basin — Gary Owen
  • Lassie (1957) — episode — The Chimp — Eddie
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1957–1974) — 19 episodes — various roles
  • Death Valley Days (1958) — episode — The Telescope Eye — Season 6 Episode 26
  • Wagon Train (1958) — episode — The Tent City Story — Rafe Jeffers
  • Maverick (1958) — episode — The Spanish Dancer — Jed
  • Frontier Doctor (1959) — episode — Bittercreek Gang — Slim
  • Bronco (1961)[4] — episode — One Came Back — 1st Stage Driver (uncredited)
  • The Americans (1961) — episodes — The Escape, and The War Between the States — Johnson
  • Maverick (1961) — episode — A State of Siege — Stage Coach Driver
  • Wagon Train (1962) — episode — The Eve Newhope Story — Grubstake Malloy
  • Route 66 (1962) — episode — A long Piece of Mischief — Jud
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961) (Season 6 Episode 36: "Final Arrangements") — Bradshaw
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964) (Season 2 Episode 17: "The Jar") — Clem Carter
  • Bonanza (1963–1964) — Episodes: "Half a Rogue" and "King of the Mountain" as Big Jim Leyton
  • Rawhide (1964) — episode — The Backshooter — Sheriff McKay
  • The Fugitive (1964) — episode — Nemesis — Corbin
  • Gunsmoke (1964) — episode — Once a Haggen — as Bucko Taos
  • The Virginian (1964) — episode — Big Image — Little Man — Hogy
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964) — episode — The Iowa-Scuba Affair — Clint Spinner
  • Daniel Boone (1964 TV series) — Simon Harman – S2/E18 "The Deserter" (1966)
  • Daniel Boone (1964 TV series) — Cletus Mott - S3/E1 "Dan'l Boone Shot a B'ar" (1966)
  • Gunsmoke (1966) — episode — Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs — Pony Beal
  • The Legend of Jesse James (1966) — episode — Wanted: Dead and Only — Sheriff Homer Brinks
  • Cimarron Strip (1968) — episode — Fool's Gold — Malachi Grimes
  • Gentle Ben (1968) — episode — Ol' Joe's Gotta Go — Lloyd Larkin
  • Bonanza (1968) — Episode: "Catch as Catch Can" as Sheriff Gant
  • That Girl (1969) — episode — Nobody Here But Us Chickens — Major Culpepper
  • Mannix (1969) — episode — Only Giants Can Play — Mike Ray
  • Ironside (1969) — episode — Goodbye to Yesterday — Sheriff Metcalf
  • Bonanza (1970) — episode "What Are Pardners For?" as Sheriff
  • Gunsmoke (1970) — episode — The Scavengers — Colley
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1971) — episode — The 45-Year-Old Man — Wild Jack Monroe
  • Alias Smith and Jones (1971) — episode — Exit from Wickenburg — Mike
  • Alias Smith and Jones (1971) — episode — The Man Who Murdered Himself — Sheriff Benton
  • Alias Smith and Jones (1971) — episode — The Day They Hanged Kid Curry — Sheriff Whittaker
  • The Partridge Family (1972) — episode — Nag, Nag, Nag — Will Fowler
  • Gunsmoke (1972) — episodes — The River: Parts 1 & 2 — Charlie Utter
  • Alias Smith and Jones (1972) — episode — The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick — Sheriff Sam
  • Hawaii Five-O (1973) — episode — One Big Happy Family — Sam
  • Night Gallery (1973) — episode — Die Now, Pay Later — Sheriff Ned Harlow
  • Kung Fu (1974) — episode — Empty Pages of a Dead Book — Bart Fisher
  • McMillan & Wife (1976) — episode — Greed — William Halstead
  • The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams — episode — The Unholy Beast — Fine Hope
  • How the West Was Won (1978) — Episodes: #1.9, #1.10, and #1.11 — Tap Henry
  • Vega$ (1978) — episode — Yes, My Darling Daughter — Ben Handler
  • B.J. and the Bear (1979–81) — episodes — Snow White and the Seven Lady Truckers: Part 2, Mary Ellen, and B.J. and the Seven Lady Truckers — Sergeant Beauregard Wiley
  • The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979) — Run for the Money: Parts 2 & 3 — Sergeant Wiley
  • Jake's Way'' (1980 unsold pilot) - Sam Hargis

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Krebs, Albin (December 10, 1983). "SLIM PICKENS, KNOWN FOR COWBOY ROLES, DIES". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c Wilson, Scott (August 17, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9780786479924 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Hayes, Richard (March 4, 2009). "Cowboys in Combat". True West Magazine. Archived from the original on May 28, 2022. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Inside: 'Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb' at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  5. ^ Haskins, James; Crothers, Helen (1991). Scatman: An Authorized Biography of Scatman Crothers. W. Morrow. p. 178. ISBN 0688085210.
  6. ^ Baxter, John (1997). Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. Basic Books. p. 315. ISBN 0786704853.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Slim-Pickens-Slim-Pickens/master/779993 Slim Pickens
  8. ^ "Slim Pickens". Great Western Performers. National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on August 13, 2023. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  9. ^ "Slim Pickens - National Rodeo Hall of Fame". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on July 26, 2021. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  10. ^ Vicroy, Kevin. "Slim Pickens". ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  11. ^ "Hall of Fame Inductees" (PDF). Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  12. ^ "Inductees". Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 21, 2021.

External links[edit]