Though he spoke most of his movie dialogue in a slow Western drawl, actor Slim Pickens was a pure-bred California boy. An expert rider from the age of four, Pickens was performing in rodeos at 12. Three years later, he quit school to become a full-time equestrian and bull wrangler, eventually becoming the highest-paid rodeo clown in show business. In films since 1950's Rocky Mountain, Pickens specialized in Westerns (what a surprise), appearing as the comic sidekick of Republic cowboy star Rex Allen. By the end of the 1950s, Pickens had gained so much extra poundage that he practically grew out of his nickname. Generally cast in boisterous comedy roles, Pickens was also an effectively odious villain in 1966's An Eye for an Eye, starting the film off with a jolt by shooting a baby in its crib. In 1963, director Stanley Kubrick handed Pickens his greatest role: honcho bomber pilot "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove. One of the most unforgettable of all cinematic images is the sight of Pickens straddling a nuclear bomb and "riding" it to its target, whooping and hollering all the way down. Almost as good was Pickens' performance as Harvey Korman's henchman in Mel Brooks' bawdy Western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974). Slim Pickens was also kept busy on television, with numerous guest shots and regular roles in the TV series The Legend of Custer, B.J. and the Bear, and Filthy Rich.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Quit school and joined the rodeo at age 12; received his stage name after he was told his career choices would be "slim pickings."
- Worked as a rodeo clown for nearly 20 years before breaking into the film industry; made his film debut in Rocky Mountain (1950).
- Offered the role of Dick Hallorann in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of The Shining; refused the role after enduring Kubrick's directing style of multiple retakes in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
- In 2005, inducted into the ProRodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, CO.