Slim Pickens Meets Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern


There are two versions of this story, both told by Terry Southern, screenwriter for Dr. Strangelove.

In the first version, Peter Sellers is hired to play four (4) roles, including “Major King Kong,” the Texan bomber pilot. Giving it due consideration, Peter refuses because he can’t do a Texas accent. So Terry Southern records some lines in his Texas accent, and Peter practices and finally relents…ostensibly.

Later Sellers claims to have suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle while stepping out of a taxi in the King’s Road. Then he seriously messes up his leg further when he falls while negotiating the 8-foot ladders he’s supposed to climb in the B-52. Was this all faked/intentional? Yeah, probably. Regardless, the insurance company won’t post the completion bond unless Peter Sellers is pulled out of the Maj. King Kong role.

Terry Southern suggests getting a real cowboy-type, say, Dan Blocker (of Bonanza!) instead. Dan Blocker’s agent declines, saying Dan finds the role too pinko. Now Terry remembers Slim Pickens, a sometime rodeo clown whom Marlon (“Bud”) Brando discovered while making One-Eyed Jacks.

Slim arrives at Shepperton Studios, west London, “in costume”—that is, his usual Justin boots and Stetson. Terry Southern and Slim Pickens are formally introduced. Southern relates:

I went straight to our little makeshift bar, where I had stashed a quart of Wild Turkey specifically for the occasion, which I was ballpark certain would meet his requirements.

“Do you reckon it’s too early for a drink, Slim?” I asked. He guffawed, then shook his head and crinkled his nose, as he always did when about to put someone on. “Wal, you know ah think it was just this mornin’ that I was tryin’ to figure out if and when ah ever think it was too early fer a drink, an’ damned if ah didn’t come up bone dry! Hee-hee-hee!”

In the second version, Kubrick calls in Southern to break the ice and serve as interpreter.

When [Slim] got to the studio, Stanley, who was in the middle of directing a scene, broke off, and called me over. “Listen,” he said, “Slim Pickens is here, and nobody can understand him. You’re from Texas, you go and talk to him. Ask him if his hotel room is okay, and all that.”

….Slim was wearing his boots and his Stetson hat. He grinned and lumbered towards me. “Mighty glad to know ya!” We shook hands and I fished out a bottle of Wild Turkey I had stashed for the occasion. “Wal, Slim,” I said, reverting to the drawl of my youth, “you don’t reckon it’s too early for a drink, do you?” It was about ten A.M. “Well, hell no,” he said with conviction, “ah can’t recall it ever being too early for a drink of Turkey!” So I poured us out a few fingers each in two water glasses, and then I asked him about his room. He had a big swig of Turkey, swishing it around like mouthwash. “Ah, hell yeah,” he said, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, “it’s like this Okie friend of mine says, ‘Ah don’t need much,—jest a pair of loose-fittin’ shoes, some tight pussy, an’ a warm place to shit, an’ ah’ll be all right!’ Hee-hee-hee!”


(Both versions recounted in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995. ©2001, Grove Press.)

Author: Legs Goldman

… “Legs” has something the others don’t.