Slim Pickens, rodeo performer and actor who was the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, was born 104 years ago today
Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, 1974
Slim Pickens, the rodeo performer and film and television actor who epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, was born 104 years ago today.
Pickens is remembered for his comic roles, notably in Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles.
Born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. in Kingsburg, California, he was an excellent rider from age four. After graduating from school, he joined the rodeo. He was told that working in the rodeo would be "slim pickings" (very little money), giving him his name. Yet, he did well and eventually became a well-known rodeo clown.
After twenty years on the rodeo circuit, his distinctive Oklahoma-Texas drawl (even though he was a lifelong Californian), his wide eyes, moon face and strong physical presence gained him a role in the western film, Rocky Mountain (1950) starring Errol Flynn. He appeared in many more westerns, playing both villains and comic sidekicks to the likes of Rex Allen.
Pickens appeared in dozens of films, including Old Oklahoma Plains (1952), Down Laredo Way (1953), One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Major Dundee (1965) with Charlton Heston.
He performed in the the remake of Stagecoach (1966), playing a part made famous in the 1939 film by Andy Devine. He was also in Never a Dull Moment (1968) and The Cowboys (1972) with John Wayne.
He also performed in Ginger in the Morning (1974) with Fred Ward, Blazing Saddles (1974), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975), Rancho Deluxe (1975), The Getaway with Steve McQueen, Tom Horn (1980), also with McQueen, An Eye for an Eye (1966) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) in a small but memorable role.
Pickens played B-52 pilot Major T. J. "King" Kong in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick cast Pickens after Peter Sellers, who played three other roles in the film, sprained his ankle and was unable to perform in the role due to having to work in the cramped cockpit set.
Pickens was chosen because his accent and comic sense were perfect for the role of Kong, a cartoonishly patriotic and gung-ho B-52 commander. He was not given the script to the entire film, but only those portions in which he played a part.
His best known scene is riding a dropped H-bomb to a certain death, whooping and waving his cowboy hat (in the manner of a rodeo performer bronc riding or bull riding), not knowing its detonation will trigger a Russian doomsday device.
Pickens credited Dr. Strangelove as a turning point in his career. Previously, he said he was "Hey you" on sets. Afterward, he was addressed as Mr. Pickens. "After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms and the checks all started gettin' bigger."
Pickens said he was amazed at the difference a single movie could make. However, working with Kubrick proved too difficult, especially the more than 100 takes of the H-bomb riding scene.
In the late 1970s, Pickens was offered the part of Dick Hallorann in Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. However, Pickens stipulated that he would appear in the film only if Kubrick was required to shoot Pickens' scenes in fewer than 100 takes. Instead, Pickens' agent showed the script to Don Schwartz, the agent of Scatman Crothers. Crothers accepted the role.
In his last years, Pickens lived with his wife, Margaret, in Columbia, California. He was a civilian pilot with a multi-engine rating and enjoyed flying in a green U.S. Air Force flight suit while wearing a cowboy hat, similar to the wardrobe worn in Dr. Strangelove.
He died on December 8, 1983 after surgery for a brain tumor. He was 64.
Here, Pickens rides the bomb in Dr. Strangelove, 1964
Bernard Herrmann with Orson Welles in radio studio
Bernard Herrmann, American film composer, was born 112 years ago today.
Winner of an Academy Award for The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1941, Herrmann is particularly known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo.
He also composed scores for many other movies, including Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Cape Fear and Taxi Driver.
He worked extensively in radio drama with Orson Welles, composed the scores for several fantasy films by Ray Harryhausen and worked on many TV programs, including Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone and Have Gun—Will Travel.
Born in New York City as Max Herman, Herrmann was the son of a Jewish middle-class family of Russian origin. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, at that time on 10th Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. His father encouraged music activity, taking him to the opera and encouraging him to learn the violin.
After winning a composition prize at the age of thirteen, he decided to concentrate on music. He went to New York University where he studied with Percy Grainger and Philip James. He also studied at the Juilliard School.
At the age of 20, Herrmann formed his own orchestra — the New Chamber Orchestra of New York. In 1934, he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a staff conductor. Within two years, he was appointed music director of the Columbia Workshop, an experimental radio drama series for which Herrmann composed or arranged music (one notable program was The Fall of the City).
In nine years, he had become chief conductor to the CBS Symphony Orchestra. He was responsible for introducing more new works to U.S. audiences than any other conductor.
Herrmann's radio programs of concert music, which were broadcast under such titles as Invitation to Music and Exploring Music, were planned in an unconventional way and featured rarely-heard music — old and new — which was not heard in public concert halls.
Between two movies made by Orson Welles, he wrote the score for William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), for which he won his only Oscar. In 1947, Herrmann scored the atmospheric music for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
In 1934, Herrmann met a young CBS secretary and aspiring writer, Lucille Fletcher. Fletcher was impressed with Herrmann's work, and the two began a five-year courtship. Marriage was delayed by the objections of Fletcher's parents, who disliked the fact that Herrmann was a Jew and were put off by what they viewed as his abrasive personality.
The couple finally married on October 2, 1939. Fletcher was to become a noted radio screenwriter, and she and Herrmann collaborated on several projects throughout their career.
Herrmann contributed the score to the notable 1941 radio presentation of Fletcher's original story, The Hitch-Hiker, on the Orson Welles radio show. Fletcher also helped to write the libretto for Herrmann’s operatic adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
The couple divorced in 1948. The next year he married Lucille's cousin, Lucy (Kathy Lucille) Anderson. That marriage lasted 16 years — until 1964.
While at CBS, Herrmann met Orson Welles. He wrote or arranged scores for Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse series (1938–1940), which were radio adaptations of literature and film. He conducted the live performances, including Welles's famous adaptation of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938, which consisted entirely of pre-existing music.
Herrmann used large sections of his score for the inaugural broadcast of The Campbell Playhouse, an adaptation of Rebecca. He also did the music for the feature film, Jane Eyre (1943), the third film in which Welles starred.
Herrmann did music for Ceiling Unlimited (1942) — a program conceived to glorify the aviation industry and dramatize its role in World War II — and The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air (1946). "Benny Herrmann was an intimate member of the family," Welles said in an interview.
When Welles moved to movies, Herrmann went with him. He wrote his first film score for Citizen Kane (1941) and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score of a Dramatic Picture. He composed the score for Welles's second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Like the film itself, Herrmann’s music was heavily edited by the studio, RKO Pictures.
When more than half of his score was removed from the soundtrack, Herrmann bitterly severed his ties with the film and promised legal action if his name were not removed from the credits.
Herrmann is most closely associated with the director, Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote the scores for almost every Hitchcock film from The Trouble with Harry (1955) to Marnie (1964), a period which included Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest. He oversaw the sound design in The Birds (1963), although there was no actual music in the film as such — only electronically generated bird sounds.
Herrmann's most recognizable music is from another Hitchcock film, Psycho. Unusual for a thriller at the time, the score uses only the string section of the orchestra. The screeching violin music heard during the famous shower scene (which Hitchcock originally suggested have no music at all) is one of the most famous moments in film score history.
His score for Vertigo (1958) is seen as just as masterful. In many of the key scenes, Hitchcock let Herrmann's score take center stage, a score whose melodies, echoing the "Liebestod" from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, dramatically convey the main character's obsessive love for the woman he tries to shape into a long-dead, past love.
A notable feature of the Vertigo score is the ominous two-note falling motif that opens the suite — it is a direct musical imitation of the two notes sounded by the fog horns located at either side of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (as heard from the San Francisco side of the bridge).
This motif has direct relevance to the film, since the horns can be clearly heard sounding in just this manner at Fort Point, the spot where the character played by Kim Novak jumps into the bay.
In a question-and-answer session at the George Eastman Museum in October, 1973, Herrmann stated that, unlike most film composers who did not have any creative input into the style and tone of the score, he insisted on creative control as a condition of accepting a scoring assignment:
“I have the final say, or I don’t do the music. The reason for insisting on this is simply, compared to Orson Welles, a man of great musical culture, most other directors are just babes in the woods. If you were to follow their taste, the music would be awful. There are exceptions.
“I once did a film, The Devil and Daniel Webster, with a wonderful director, William Dieterle. He was also a man of great musical culture. And Hitchcock, you know, is very sensitive; he leaves me alone. It depends on the person. But if I have to take what a director says, I’d rather not do the film. I find it’s impossible to work that way.”
Herrmann is still a prominent figure in the world of film music today, despite his death at age 64 in 1975. As such, his career has been studied extensively by biographers and documentarians. His string-only score for Psycho, for example, set the standard when it became a new way to write music for thrillers (rather than using big fully-orchestrated pieces).
In 1992 a documentary, Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann, was made about him. Also in 1992, a National Public Radio documentary was produced on his life — Bernard Herrmann: A Celebration of his Life and Music by Bruce A. Crawford.
In 1991, Steven C. Smith wrote a Herrmann biography titled A Heart at Fire's Center, a quotation from a favorite Stephen Spender poem of Herrmann's.
Here, Andre Previn conducts a suite from Psycho, with The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1979
Actress Jayne Mansfield was killed instantly on this day in 1967 — 56 years ago — when the car in which she was riding in struck the rear of a trailer truck on U.S. Highway 90 east of New Orleans.
Mansfield had been on her way to New Orleans from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she had been performing a standing engagement at a local nightclub. She had a television appearance scheduled the following day.
Ronald B. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Dinner Club, was driving Mansfield and her lawyer and companion, Samuel S. Brody, along with three of Mansfield's children with her ex-husband, Mickey Hargitay, in Stevens' 1966 Buick Electra.
On a dark stretch of road, just as the truck was approaching, a machine emitting a thick white fog used to spray mosquitoes (which may have obscured it from Harrison's view), the Electra hit the trailer-truck from behind. Mansfield, Harrison and Brody were all killed in the accident.
Eight-year-old Mickey, six-year-old Zoltan and three-year-old Marie, or Mariska, had apparently been sleeping on the rear seat. They were injured, but survived.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Mansfield arrived in Hollywood as a young wife and mother (to daughter Jayne Marie) in 1954, determined to become an actress. From the beginning, she wasn't afraid to make the most of her assets, particularly her curvaceous figure, flowing platinum blonde hair and dazzling smile.
Cast in the Broadway comedy "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?," she turned heads as a voluptuous, dumb blonde movie star. In one famous scene, she appeared in nothing but a white towel.
She famously appeared nude in the 1963 comedy, "Promises! Promises!," and stills from the set appeared in Playboy magazine.
But her best performance was generally believed to have been in 1957's "The Wayward Bus," based on the John Steinbeck novel and costarring Joan Collins.
While her screen career amounted to about a dozen less-than-memorable films, off screen she played the movie star role to perfection, and became one of the most visible glamour girls of the era. In 1958, after her first marriage ended in divorce, she married Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe. They divorced in 1963.
Mansfield was married once more to Matt Climber in 1964. That marriage also ended in divorce and she was awarded custody of their child, Octabiano.
Mariska Hargitay, injured in the accident that killed her mother, later launched her own acting career, most memorably starring in the long-running television drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
James Van Der Zee, 1980
Photo by A. Bambuzza
James Van Der Zee, African-American photographer of the Harlem renaissance who helped complete a picture of six decades of black life in America, was born on 137 years ago today.
At Guarantee Photo Studio, he took pictures of many of Harlem’s luminaries in the 1920s and ’30s. They included Countee Cullen, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., and his son, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Van Der Zee was also well known for his funeral portraits, some of which were gathered in a 1978 book, The Harlem Book of the Dead.
Despite Van Der Zee’s local acclaim, his work was not widely recognized until 1969, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed a retrospective of his work, “Harlem on My Mind.” Of his photographs, he once said, “I tried to pose each person in such a way as to tell a story.”
Van Der Zee died in 1983.
Dancing Girls, Harlem, 1928
Photo by James Van Der Zee
Little Eva (Eva Narcissus Boyd) poses for a portrait with (L-R) producer Al Nevins, songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin who wrote The Loco-Motion, and producer Don Kirshner on August 29, 1963 in New York City
Eva Narcissus Boyd, better known as Little Eva, was born 80 years ago today.
Born in Belhaven, North Carolina, she moved to the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, at a young age. As a teenager, she worked as a maid and earned extra money as a babysitter for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
It is often claimed that Goffin and King were amused by Boyd's individual dancing style, so they wrote "The Loco-Motion" for her and had her record it as a demo. The song was actually intended for Dee Dee Sharp.
However, as King said in an interview with NPR and in her "One to One" concert video, they knew she could sing when they met her, and it would be just a matter of time before they would have her record songs they wrote — the most successful being "The Loco-Motion."
Music producer Don Kirshner of Dimension Records was impressed by the song and Boyd's voice and had it released. The song reached #1 in the United States in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
After the success of "The Loco-Motion," Boyd was stereotyped as a dance-craze singer and was given limited material. The same year, Goffin and King wrote "He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)," performed by The Crystals, after discovering that Boyd was being regularly beaten by her boyfriend.
When they inquired why she tolerated such treatment, Eva replied, with apparent sincerity, that her boyfriend's actions were motivated by his love for her.
Phil Spector's arrangement of the song was ominous and ambiguous. It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums.
“In more ironic hands (and a more understanding age), ‘He Hit Me’ might have passed at least as satire. But Spector showed no sign of appreciating that, nor did he feel any need to. No less than the song’s writers, he was not preaching, he was merely documenting,” wrote Dave Thompson.
Boyd's other single recordings were "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Let's Turkey Trot" and a remake of the Bing Crosby standard "Swinging on a Star," recorded with Big Dee Irwin (though Boyd was not credited on the label).
Boyd also recorded the song "Makin' With the Magilla" for an episode of the 1964 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, The Magilla Gorilla Show. She continued to tour and record throughout the sixties, but her commercial potential plummeted after 1964. She retired from the music industry in 1971.
She never owned the rights to her recordings. Penniless, she returned with her three young children to North Carolina, where they lived in obscurity.
Boyd was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October, 2001. She died 18 months later in Kinston, North Carolina at age 59.
Here, Little Eva performs “The Loco-Motion” on Shindig in the 1960s.
On June 29, 1967 — 56 years ago today — Keith Richards sat before magistrates in Chichester, West Sussex, England, facing charges that stemmed from the infamous raid of Richards' Redlands estate five months earlier.
Though the raid netted very little in the way of actual drugs, what it did net was a great deal of notoriety for the already notorious Rolling Stones. It was during this raid that the police famously encountered a young Marianne Faithfull clad only in a bearskin rug, a fact that the prosecutor in the case seemed to regard as highly relevant to the case at hand.
In questioning Richards, Queen's Counsel Malcolm Morris tried to imply that Faithfull's nudity was probably the result of a loss of inhibition due to cannabis use.
QC Morris: Would you agree in the ordinary course of events you would expect a young woman to be embarrassed if she had nothing on but a rug in the presence of eight men, two of whom were hangers-on and the third a Moroccan servant?
Richards: Not at all
Morris: You regard that, do you, as quite normal?
Richards: We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals.
With that one line, Richards emphatically established himself as the spokesman for a generation that did not share the values of the British establishment. The charges brought against him by that establishment, however, were quite serious.
While Mick Jagger stood charged with illegal possession of four amphetamine tablets he'd purchased in Italy, Richards faced the far more serious charge of allowing his house to be used for the purpose of smoking what the law at the time referred to as "Indian hemp."
Judging from his defiant attitude on the stand, Richards may not have taken the possibility of conviction very seriously. No marijuana had actually been found in Richards' possession, but on the evidence presented at trial of a "sweet incense smell" detected by police, Richards was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison.
Jagger was also convicted and sentenced to three months, but he was immediately released pending an appeal. Richards, on the other hand, was sent directly to Wormwood Scrubs prison on this day in 1969, where he was greeted like, well, a rock star by his fellow inmates.
Richards would spend only one night in prison. He was granted bail the following day, also pending appeal. His conviction would later be overturned based on the prejudicial nature of the evidence of the naked young woman in a bearskin rug.
For his part, Richards was definitively pleased: "I like a little more room, I like the john to be in a separate area," he later said, "and I hate to be woken up."
Brigitte Bardot visits Pablo Picasso at his studio near Cannes, 1956