As Kingsburg celebrates its 100th year, it seems only appropriate to remember a man who put our small community on the map for many. Louis Burton Lindely Jr., better known by his stage name Slim Pickens, the cowboy and actor left his mark on the rodeo circuit and on the silver screen.
Born in Kingsburg on June 29, 1919, Pickens spent much of his boyhood in nearby Hanford. An excellent rider from the age of four, he quit school to join the rodeo when he was only 12.
As legend has it, a big, lanky 14-year-old Central Valley ranch kid went into the rodeo manager's office and said, "Mister, I want to sign up for the calf-roping, but my pa says I ain't allowed to so I can't use my right name."
The manager said, "Son, no matter what name you use, it'll be slim pickins out there today."
So the boy said, "That's as good a name as any, I reckon put me down as Slim Pickins."
The manager spelled it "Pickens," and the boy won $400 that afternoon.
Pickens did well for himself on the rodeo circuit for two decades, eventually becoming a well known rodeo clown, one of the most dangerous jobs in show business.
In 1950, when he was 31, Pickens's distinctive voice and heavy Southern drawl, which mistakenly led many to believe he was from Texas or Oklahoma, gained him a role in the western Rocky Mountain, starring Errol Flynn. He subsequently appeared in many westerns, finding a niche in both comic and villainous roles and appearing as the sidekick of Republic cowboy star Rex Allen.
His most famous role was as B-52 pilot Major T.J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, released in 1964. The movie ends with Pickens riding an H-bomb down to global destruction while waving his cowboy hat.
Chosen because he naturally fit the role, Pickens was not even told that the movie was a comedy. He was instructed to play the role straight, and was given scripts only for scenes he was in, rather than for the whole film.
When he showed up on the set in England, fully dressed as a cowboy and speaking in his thick Southern accent, the British crew thought he was method acting, not realizing that Pickens always dressed and spoke that way.
The film was a turning point in his career, and led to dozens of film and television roles. One of his other most memorable roles was as Taggart, head of the gang of cowboy thugs in Mel Brooks's classic 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles. He appeared in Disney's The Apple Dumpling Gang the following year as an evil bank robber.
Pickens was offered the part of Dick Hallorann in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. He refused, saying that filming with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove was too strenuous. He later relented, agreeing to appear in the film only if Kubrick was contractually required to shoot Pickens's scenes in fewer than 100 takes a shot. Kubrick, notorious for shooting scenes hundreds of times, refused, and cast Scatman Crothers instead.
Pickens was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He died after a long battle against a brain tumor a year later at the age of 64. He was living in Modesto at the time of his death.
He was survived by his wife Margaret and three children, Daryle Ann, Thom, and Margaret Lou.
July 11, 2007