"Pickens and Johnson"? Sounds like a Law Firm or something. Well, Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson ARE indeed members of a unique and small fraternity: Real Cowboys who became Westerns Movie Stars. There would definitely be a small group around that campfire. And both of them had major parts in One-Eyed Jacks.
And they had yet another distinction: they've both been in so many Westerns that it would be pretty well impossible to list them all here.
Wikipedia: “Born, Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), known by the stage name Slim Pickens, was an American rodeo performer and film and television actor who epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, but who is (possibly) best remembered for his comic roles, notably in Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles.
Pickens was an excellent rider from age 4. After graduating from High School he joined the rodeo. He was told that working in the rodeo would be “slim pickings” (very little money), giving him his name, but 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 and 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, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, … many many other Stars.”
Slim and Trim
Men like Richard Farnsworth, Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson were all legitimate cowboys and horsemen who got lassoed into Stunt work. Then via fluke, luck or Gift of God - plus some undeniable Charisma - became well known Actors/Stars.
Surely none of 'em would have thought less of themselves - or their lives - if they had stayed in the esteemed profession of Cowboy/Horsemen/Stunt work.
This being said, the fraternity of Stunt Artists has always somewhat of a shadow industry/profession in film making. We know these Stunt guys (and gals) are there - (Stunt Artists work in nearly every film and and in many TV shows) - but Movie Makers shine as little light on these necessary Artists as possible. Why? Because they don't want to spoil the grand illusion that it really isn't Robert Redford and Paul Newman jumping off that cliff - or John Wayne smashing through that bar room window - not to mention the thousand of other perilous acrobatics we witness in nearly every movie - and have been for a long, long time.
Yet the respect accorded Stunt Artists is also evident - as when Stars perform their own stunts - it is always well publicized as a daring (if not foolhardy) feat - discouraged by those who fund the films.
Wikipedia: "Born, Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), known by the stage name Slim Pickens, was an American rodeo performer and film and television actor who epitomized the profane, tough, sardonic cowboy, but who is (possibly) best remembered for his comic roles, notably in Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles.
Pickens ... was an excellent rider from age 4. After graduating from High School he joined the rodeo. He was told that working in the rodeo would be "slim pickings" (very little money), giving him his name, but 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 and 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, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, ... many many other Stars."
The rest is history ... Hollywood style.
Tip 14: Never stand in front of the cannon
The made-for-television western The Sacketts combines the plotlines from two seperate Louis L'Amour novels, The Daybreakers and The Sacketts. In this film, the three Tennessee-raised Sackett brothers migrate to the West following the conclusion of the Civil War. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Movie Guide.
Made ten years before Lonesome Dove, The Sacketts (1979) may well have been the first great Western Mini Series - and in looking at the cast, it's easy to understand why some Western fans may hold it with similar esteem, with Western Greats like Glenn Ford, Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck, Slim Pickens, Jack Elam, Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones, and some notable support players including John Vernon, Gilbert Roland, Buck Taylor ... and on. Pretty impressive. So although The Sacketts does show itself to be a little shy in production values compared to modern fair, it still shines with notable Star Power.
Sacketts ... doing 'the walk'
Harry Dean Stanton didn't appear in a lot of Westerns - yet he did appear in at least two of note: Pekinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and John Ford's How the West was Won.
Harry Dean Stanton is among a large but distinguished fraternity of Actors / Actresses whom I affectionately - and respectfully - refer to as the Recycled Cowboys.
Other members of this fraternity include Slim Pickens, Matt Clark, Jack Elam, Katy Jurado, L.Q. Jones *... and on and on. As I say, a rather large fraternity, yet not diminished in it's worthiness as being a fraternity of notable support actors.
(*(MFW: Every one of the actors named above - including Stanton - plus others - appeared in Sam Pedinpah's great Western masterpiece Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - which should be cause to recognize two things: Pekinpah's great love for Western Film - and what a great and important Western Classic Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is.))
Most are recognized only by their frequent faces - but remain mainly anonymous in name. Others - like Pickins and Elam are well recognized. Stanton is surely among these - and may even be considered to have an almost cult-like following.
Sometimes Recycled Cowboys rise from the dust - the background - as movie Extras - to stardom. As did Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson - who laboured in the background for many movies before achieving outright Stardom. Others start out as Stars then fall back - but not out. Stranger still, many a Recycled Cowboy may enjoy more work than many Stars - appearing in dozens of films and TV shows. They may not get the same Billing or paycheque, but they probably aren't hurting much either.
I hope to pay homage to many of these important and popular actors in the future.
Angelo: "How come you get into the sheep business, boss?"
Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford) : "Well, I'll tell ya, Angelo. You see, it's this way. I just got tired of kicking cows around. You know how dumb they are."
Angelo: "And you think sheep are smarter?"
Jason Sweet: "Oh, no, no. They're dumber. Only their easier kicking...and woollier."
Now we come to another rather odd Glenn Ford film: The Sheepman - the last Western Glenn Ford made in the 50's.
Yes, there are indeed some odd things about this film ... but some wonderful things as well.
Let's have a look.
"What's in a name?" asked William Shakespeare.
Well ... a lot.
The first odd thing is that I found this film referred to on the Net under no less than seven different names !!
The Sheepman; Stranger with a Gun; Stranger In Town; Showdown In Powder Valley; and The Valley of the Powder, The Trail West, Too Big for Texas. ???
This adds a bit of a bizarre aura to the movie right off the top. And fact is, the film didn't do well upon initial release as The Sheepman and some/all/much (??) of this was blamed on it's name. I can understand that, and I also puzzled at the choice of such a title. Is that the kind of title that inspire you to go see a Western? Not me. Something like The Cattle Raiders from Death Valley or Showdown at Bushwacker Ridge ... would have been better (in my opinion.)
Glenn Ford was the Top box office draw in the movie business at the time, so maybe they just felt his Stardom - especially in a Western - would bring folks in. ?? But people just plain weren't drawn to it - for whatever reasons.
So they wisely re-issued the movie under the title Stranger with a Gun (and 14 other names) and it did better.
But I really can't figure why a film like this wouldn't do well. Hell, it has Glenn Ford (and Shirley McLaine !!!) And did Glenn ever make anything bad ? NO !!! He was great from the 'get go' - till the end. A great and charismatic actor.
Shirley McLaine? Like Lemmon in Ford's previous movie Cowboy, she was not greatly known yet. Shirley, however, was one of the last great actresses to come out of the old studio film system - which was fading fast from it's former glory. One of the fraternity of immensely talented song and dance gals who could act and do it all: comedy, stage, drama ... anything you want. And later Starred with Lemmon himself in Irma la Douce (1963).
Pickens was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, CO for his work as a Rodeo Clown.