Sunset High School grad Terry Southern penned some little movies that had no real cultural impact on America – films like Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Easy Rider, The Cincinnati Kid, and, let we forget, Barbarella.
On Sunday, Oak Cliff’s Texas Theatre will screen Dr. Stangelove as part of Terry Southern Day, the first in a series of programs being produced under the title “The Soul of Oak Cliff.”
“Oak Cliff has produced more creative and famous people than any other part of Dallas, and maybe all of Texas,” says Kirby Warnock, who heads up Slim Pickens Fan Club, which is behind “The Soul of Oak Cliff Series. “It’s time the rest of the world learned more about us.”
“We’re like Austin without the self righteousness,” Warnock continues. “I’m elated by all of the positive changes here, but I want to honor those folks who produced some incredible works back when this place wasn’t as trendy.”
The full release is below.
Dr. Strangelove: A decidedly Oak Cliff film
Terry Southern and the creation of “the professional Texan”
Film screens May 1 at The Texas Theatre as part of “Terry Southern Day”
When Terry Southern was growing up in Oak Cliff, no one at Sunset High had any inkling that this kid would meet the Beatles, write a screenplay for Stanley Kubrick, and create the movie character Dr. Don Graham dubs, “the professional Texan.” It was 1963 at the height of the Cold War, fresh on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. The entire country was on edge, believing that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was imminent. School children held “duck and cover” drills, with instructions provided in films distributed by the U.S. government. http://www.archive.org/details/DuckandC1951
Kubrick directed Dr. Strangelove as a black comedy to illustrate the absurdity of the nuclear policy of “mutually assured destruction,” Hiring Terry Southern as the screenwriter meant that Terry was able to incorporate his Texas, and particularly Oak Cliff, sensibilities into the film. Slim Pickens’ set the standards for what became the “professional Texan” in his portrayal of Major T.J. “King” Kong.
Major Kong was originally intended to be a pilot from Dothan, Alabama, who grew up in Cincinnati. Terry rewrote him as a Texan. Dr. Don Graham writes in his book, Cowboys and Cadillacs: How Hollywood Looks at Texas, “Pickens plays Major Kong, the ape-like good-old-boy who commands the attack B-52 and who relishes dropping the A-bomb on the Russkies with all the delight he might bring to Texas-OU weekend. Besides a cowboy hat and a perfect Texas drawl, Kong’s character reflects a Texas background in other ways, too. A specific reference to Dallas in the script was changed in the movie to avoid any identification with the assassination of President Kennedy.“
After inventorying the contents of their survival kits, which includes prophylactics, nylon stockings, lipstick, gold and chocolate, Pickens says, “Gee, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas (originally Dallas) with all that stuff.”
“The assassination of John Kennedy undoubtedly affected the representation of Texas in the movies more than any other single event,” writes Dr. Don Graham. Dr. Strangelove signaled this change, and it all circles back to Oak Cliff, Texas.
- An Oak Cliff resident, Terry Southern, wrote its dialogue
- A line in the film had to be changed after the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald, an Oak Cliff resident.
- Lee Harvey Oswald was captured in the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, where the film will be screened.
On May 1, Dr. Strangelove will screen at the historic Texas Theatre at 7:00 pm as a celebration of Terry Southern Day. Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso will present Terry’s son, Nile Southern, with a proclamation naming May 1, as “Terry Southern Day.” Nile will screen a clip from his upcoming documentary Dad Strangelove, a film about his famous father and take part in a Q&A with the audience. The Q&A session will be moderated by The Dallas Observer’s Robert Wilonsky, who penned a particularly moving article about Terry and Nile for The Observer. http://www.dallasobserver.com/1999-01-28/news/odd-man-out/
The film marks the first event in a series titled “The Soul of Oak Cliff.” It is hosted in partnership with Trans-Pecos Productions and the Fort Stockton Chapter of the Slim Pickens Fan Club, Kirby Warnock, president.
“Oak Cliff has produced more creative and famous people than any other part of Dallas, and maybe all of Texas,” Kirby says. “It’s time the rest of the world learned more about us.
“We’re like Austin without the self righteousness,” says Warnock. “I’m elated by all of the positive changes here, but I want to honor those folks who produced some incredible works back when this place wasn’t as trendy.”
For more information on the screening, visit www.thetexastheatre.com, or call (512) 936-4639. For information on “The Soul of Oak Cliff” contact Kirby Warnock at (214) 600-5861.