At almost forty years old, Peter Sellers he was the king of movie humor in the mid-60s. His was Inspector Closeau from ‘The Pink Panther’, ‘The party’, ‘Royal Casino’ and of course, ‘Red phone? We fly to Moscow’, the somewhat incomprehensible title that in Spain we dedicate to ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’, the film of Stanley Kubrick where he played three characters… But he was about to play four.
Kubrick’s Cold War
Originally Stanley Kubrick I didn’t want to make you laugh, but to create a thriller about a nuclear accident that occurred in the middle of the Cold War. In fact he was inspired by the novel ‘Red alert’ and wrote the script with the author himself, Peter George, but Little by little, the film took on its humor and became what we know today: a black comedy. In fact, the original title was even darker, ‘Dr. Doomsday or: How to start World War III by mistake’.
Columbia Pictures agreed to finance the film only if one requirement was met: Peter Sellers, the fashionable actor, had to play at least four roles. His reasoning was based on the fact that much of the success of ‘Lolita’ it was due to their appearance and they wanted to try and double the experience (and tickets). Kubrick accepted, but Sellers was not very happy: I felt that I was not going to have enough time to prepare well for the aforementioned fourth role.
In addition to Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffey, and of course Doctor Strangelove, it was planned that the actor will play TJ King Kong, who would end up riding the nuclear bomb in the most famous scene in the film. However, she was having a hard time getting the Texas accent necessary for her character, and she kept getting frustrated. Kubrick, perfectionist as always, even got one of the writers, Terry Southern, I’ll record the lines in the southern way for him to rehearse them. It was of little use.
Little by little the film was moving forward: Peter Sellers was improving his dialogue lines and accent so much so that his improvisations began to form part of the script, but misfortune struck just after shooting began. And it is that Peter Sellers he sprained his ankle and was unable to continue with work, so Stanley Kubrick made a difficult decision: no matter what Columbia said, he had to be replaced. But he was so fond of him that he considered that no professional could be as good as him.
“We can’t replace him with another actor, we have to get an authentic real life charactersomeone whose acting career is secondary, a cowboy.” And so began a long and laborious casting process in which they couldn’t find anyone perfect for the role… Until they met Slim Pickens.
“Slim Pickens” was the stage name of Louis Burton Lindley Jr, and his name came from the expression “Slim pickins”, or, put another way, a very low chance of winning in a rodeo. Pickens, as a child, had learned to ride horses and lasso cows, to the point where it was his greatest virtue. When she enlisted in World War II and was asked what he did for a living, Said “rodeo” but the bosses understood “radio” and he spent the entire war in a radio station in the United States. Wonderful.
The success of Slim Pickens
Pickens, at the age of 31, began to look for new professional horizons: in the 50s, with the western fever (laugh at today’s superheroes), they began to sign him as a secondary or specialist in many low and medium budget films. He was quite a match: he didn’t need an extra to do the stunts for himHe wore his own clothes… He wasn’t the best actor in the world, but he had a certain charisma.
did scenes with charlton heston, John Wayne, steve mcqueen, Michael Cain, Toshiro Mifune… Though he would always be remembered for his role as Kong in Stanley Kubrick’s film, where he left everyone stunned. His accent was perfect, his comic timing was unique, and he didn’t need to know the entire script: learning its parts was more than enough.
They say that when Kubrick went to check if he had arrived safely at the hotel, Pickens answered him in the most authentic way possible: “It’s like what an old friend of mine from Oklahoma says: just give me a pair of loose shoes, a tight pussy and a hot place to shit, and everything will be fine”. Not everything went well, of course: he had to do more than a hundred takes of the famous atomic bomb scene and, although the film gave him international fame and he got bigger roles, it ended with a certain resentment towards the director. So much so that he allowed himself the luxury of turning him down when he offered to work on ‘The Shining’. He would only accept the role if the director signed on to take less than a hundred takes to shoot his character. Kubrick could not accept.
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That time Peter Sellers fell on the set of ‘Red Telephone? We flew to Moscow ‘and Kubrick gave his fourth role to a real cowboy