Having filmed his Cold War satire, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” during the spring and summer of 1963, director Stanley Kubrick was finally ready to unveil his new film at an advance press screening. The date was set for late November — the 22nd to be exact.
But only hours before journalists were expected to arrive at the Loew’s Orpheum Theatre in Manhattan, news came from Dallas that President Kennedy had been shot. Obviously, the show couldn’t go on and a shocked Kubrick immediately canceled.
This invitation that recently surfaced on Reddit is a chilling reminder of that day. The writing scrawled across the ticket, "NEVER HELD...THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SHOT," is allegedly in Kubrick’s own hand.
With the whole world in mourning, the film’s premiere had to be pushed back as well, and several key changes made to the film. Here are just two examples:
In one deleted sequence, US President Muffley (Peter Sellers) takes a pie in the face and falls down, prompting General 'Buck' Turgidson (George C. Scott) to cry, "Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has just been struck down in his prime!" Obviously, that bit definitely had to go.
Also, the original “Strangelove” included a line from Major Kong (Slim Pickens), where he states that with the contents of their survival kit, "a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas." Kubrick had Pickens overdub the line to say "Vegas”, though if you’re a lip reader, you’ll note Pickens still mouths the word “Dallas.”
Another “blessing in disguise”: the character of President Muffley was modeled on two-time Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, not Jack Kennedy.
After an appropriate period, the film finally launched on January 29th, 1964. A revelation for audiences, its pitch-black satire homed in on a topic deeply embedded in the national consciousness since the Cuban Missile Crisis: the threat of nuclear annihilation. Profiling (literally) a “hot button” issue that felt terrifyingly real, “Strangelove” still managed to be unbearably funny. Nobody had seen anything like it.
It ranks as my favorite Kubrick feature, and this brilliant artist certainly made some great ones. In terms of Oscar recognition, Sellers was nominated for Best Actor (playing three parts!), and Kubrick got nods for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay (with partners Peter George and Terry Southern).
Yet this would be one of those years when the Academy and its voters let the public down. The film did not win a single Oscar, with most of the big prizes going to “My Fair Lady” and “Mary Poppins.” Perhaps these lighter diversions were favored due to the horrific collective trauma that caused “Dr. Strangelove” to make a late entrance in the first place.
Well...better late than never.