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my strange love

May 9, 2012

I was explaining to my friend Charlotte recently that the odd topics I sometimes blog about

seem to seek me out.  The post about Luke Askew, for example, began because I caught a bit

of Easy Rider on the tube.  That took me to the fantastic website IMDb, a virtual universe of

info about film and TV productions.  That’s where I found out about Askew’s death in March.

I then felt honour bound to report that to you.


I can spend hours on IMDb., linking into deep cyberspace.   That particular visit connected

me to a documentary about Easy Rider, which brought up Terry Southern‘s involvement

with the script (and his clashes with Dennis Hopper).  That reminded me of Southern’s con-

tributions to Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.


I first saw Strangelove at the massive Strand Theater in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana.

It was in my senior year of high school.  I was getting inklings that there may be a larger

world beyond Caddo Parish, and that film was a major clue.  It was my first taste of really

biting satire.


Mad and Help! magazines had introduced me to the concept of satire, and  TV’s That Was The

Week That Was had just shown me the political possibilities.  But they were mere appetizers

compared to the banquet that was Strangelove, and I haven’t left the table since.


The idea that global nuclear annihilation could be hysterically funny simply blew me away.

In grade school, I had jumped under my desk in those absurd “duck and cover” drills.

I had watched an animated short on The Ed Sullivan Show that depicted people’s eyeballs

melting in an atomic bomb attack, even though Ed had suggested that parents make their

kids leave the room.  And I had held my breath all through the Cuban missile crisis.


Strangelove, however, knocked all that heels over head.  Yet it was more than just comic

relief for me. It remains as the cornerstone of an anomalous attitude that has gotten me

through a war, numerous natural and self-generated disasters, many ill-advised relation-

ships, and the W. Bush years.


The film revolved around Peter Sellers. Columbia Pictures wouldn’t finance it unless he played

at least four major roles.  His salary of $1,000,000 was 55% of the budget.  It had to be filmed

in England because Sellers couldn’t leave due to his impending divorce.


Sellers played the President of the U.S., the former Nazi scientist Strangelove, and the Royal

Air Force officer who has to contend with the fluoridation-crazed Air Force general.  He was

also supposed to portray the pilot who drops the bomb that’s the beginning of the end.  But

he broke his ankle and could not sit comfortably in the cockpit mock-up.


He was also having trouble mastering the Texas drawl of the character, so Kubrick brought in

a natural, the incomparable Slim Pickens.  Pickens had been a real cowboy who later played

cowboys in movies.  When he arrived on the set, he was in his usual garb of leather-fringed

jacket, cowboy boots and Stetson hat.


When he started talking in his thick-and-slow-as-molasses accent, the cast and crew thought

he was already in character.  It’s Pickens who gave us my favourite shot of  the film: him riding

the bomb down to its Russian target, straddling it like a bull and waving his hat as he whoops.

The scene is available on You Tube, but it refuses to share it with me.


Slim also gave us this scene.  Besides the drollness of his observation, it’s significant because

the original line was “Shoot.  A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that

stuff”.  The film had been scheduled for release in early December.  When President Kennedy

was shot there in November, Pickens did a voiceover to change “Dallas” to “Vegas”.


Kubrick shot an elaborate pie fight in the War Room for the final scene.  He didn’t use it,

though, because he thought it was too farcicial for the overall tone of the film.  Also, it had

a shot where George C. Scott’s character says “Gentlemen!  Our gallant young president has

been struck down in his prime!” after Sellers takes one in the face.


JFK’s assassination delayed the debut of Strangelove in the U.S. until January 29, 1964.

It is widely regarded as a classic, and is on all kinds of  “all-time best” lists.  Even though the

Air Force denied the plot of the film could actually happen, it made significant changes to

its fail-safe procedure after its release.


Kubrick was meeting with Arthur C. Clarke shortly after the premiere of the film.  They were

kicking around some concepts that would culminate in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  They paused

to watch what they thought was a satellite.  It suddenly reversed its trajectory.  Clarke asked

Kubrick if they should report it as a UFO.


He responded “after Doctor Strangelove, the Air Force doesn’t want to hear from me.”

  1. Gordon permalink
    May 9, 2012 9:10 am

    A larger world beyond Caddo Parish….???

  2. May 9, 2012 8:55 pm

    i never saw that movie.. i guess i’ll have to someday..

    kris (lower case)

    • May 10, 2012 2:49 pm

      Do please treat yourself, kris. And I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of it.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 10, 2012 9:32 am

    Have you seen ‘Avengers’ yet??
    A great scene, the Hulk drops to earth, destroys a building, but wakes up in the rubble as his normal self….a watchman comes up to him and asks if he is an alien…the watchman…………………………Harry Dean Stanton!!
    We saw ‘Avengers’ at the midnight show, large screen, completly packed theater…only a few of us cracked up at this line!
    Hope all is well.

    • May 10, 2012 2:57 pm

      Harry Dean . . . on screen since 1954. Talk about your character actors. Who can forget him singing “Just a Closer Walk to Thee” to support Cool Hand Luke? I am well and really looking forward to seeing you and the family. I haven’t caught “Avengers” yet. Might on the visit.

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