‘Dr. Strangelove’s’ connections to the JFK assassination
On Nov. 21, 1963, film critics were planning to catch a special preview of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” the next day. But when the news came from Dallas on Nov. 22, those plans changed.
“NEVER HELD ... THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SHOT,” one guest scribbled on an invitation that resurfaced Friday on Reddit and other social media (see below), with many identifying the handwriting as Kubrick’s own. Though it’s difficult to confirm the source of the writing, city guide TimeOut London reported on a Kubrick exhibition that included an invitation card with the same text written on it in the director’s handwriting.
In more ways than one, the film’s history is tied to the assassination. According to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography,” the film’s release date was changed out of respect for the president and a grieving nation.
“‘Dr. Strangelove’ was originally scheduled to open in London on December 12, 1963,” Vincent LoBrutto wrote in his biography. “On November 28, 1963, after a period of mourning for the fallen president, Reuters reported that Columbia Pictures would cancel the London world premiere of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ out of respect for President Kennedy. ... The London premiere was rescheduled for 1964.”
In addition to the release date, several other changes were made to the film that might have resulted from the assassination.
According to LoBrutto’s biography, Kubrick changed one line in the film that originally had a character saying: “A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas.” It later became “A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas.”
A pie-throwing scene was also cut because Kubrick said he found it too light; it would have included the line: “Our beloved President has been struck down in his prime,” according to Time.
There is a measure of controversy surrounding why this particular scene was cut, the details of which are chronicled in a piece for Film.com:
Kubrick said in a 1969 interview that he cut the scene because “I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film.” His co-screenwriter, Terry Southern, said the pie fight, shot in one take, had turned out far merrier than Kubrick wanted it to be -- he’d wanted these generals and leaders to be angry with each other, but had neglected to convey that to the actors, who behaved like a bunch of boys having a food fight. Alexander Walker, a film critic and biographer of Kubrick, says in the 40th anniversary DVD edition, “The cream pies were flying around so thickly that people lost definition, and you couldn’t really say whom you were looking at.”
Any of those would be good reasons to cut the scene, and Walker says Kubrick had decided to eliminate it before Kennedy was assassinated anyway. But in another documentary on the 40th anniversary DVD, the film’s editor, Anthony Harvey, says otherwise: “It would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend the president’s family.”
LoBrutto writes in his biography that Kubrick ultimately did not think the assassination would affect the film, as many Columbia executives believed. Kubrick expressed this sentiment as the film was set to open in New York.
“There is absolutely no relationship between our President, the one played by Peter Sellers, and any real person,” Kubrick told New York Times reporter Eugene Archer on Jan. 26, 1964.
Archer wrote that Kubrick noted “it is clear that no one can see ‘Strangelove’ and take it just as a joke.”
Fifty years ago today a DR. STRANGLOVE preview was to take place but as written in red ink by KUBRICK it did not. pic.twitter.com/P2vmxA4rq0 — will mccrabb (@mccrabb_will) November 22, 2013
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.