© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

A Good-Old-Boy Thing: Remembering Actor James Best


The actor James Best is perhaps best remembered for playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in "The Dukes Of Hazzard."


JAMES BEST: (As Sheriff P. Coltrane) Cletus, I'll tell you what to look hard for. Look hard in your pay envelope next week because stupidity is subject to withhold in tax. You dipstick.

MARTIN: James Best died this past week at the age of 88. Best enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and ended up serving with the military police in Germany during World War II. During that time, he joined a military theater group, and he was pretty good at acting. In the 1950s, Best acted in all kinds of western movies and made appearances on TV shows like "The Twilight Zone" and "The Andy Griffith Show." But it's his role as the inept but endearing sheriff on "The Dukes Of Hazzard" that stands out. I spoke with Best just ahead of a "Dukes Of Hazzard" reunion in 2013, and he told me that one of the reasons he signed onto the show was because he was told it would be shot in Georgia and that he wouldn't have to move to Los Angeles. But plans changed and so did the show's location.


BEST: Anyway, we spent the next 6 1/2 years in LA, and I thank God every day for having been a small part of a series that's known all over the world now. And after 30 years, we still draw thousands and thousands of fans at DukesFest.

MARTIN: Do you have a favored episode yourself, personally?

BEST: Well, it would sound conceded if I said so, but I had more fun playing the million dollar sheriff, which there was a two-parter where I inherit supposedly a million dollars.


JOHN SCHNEIDER: (As Bo Duke) What's it feel like being the richest man in Hazzard County?

BEST: (As Sheriff Rosco Coltrane) Oh, it's good news.

SORRELL BOOKE: (As Boss Hogg) Yeah, well, he ain't. I'm the richest man in Hazzard County. I always have been, and I always will be.

TOM WOPAT: (As Luke Duke) From the sound of things, Boss, Rosco could buy you out quicker than a stuck pig squeals.

BEST: I think there was so many of the shows that I really, really had a pleasure working, especially with Boss Hogg, Sorrell Booke, who was a fantastic actor. And he went along with everything I would say. You know (giggles) and I would do all that stuff.

MARTIN: You know, Rosco always had a hard time getting his words out.

BEST: Yeah. Well, you know, originally they wanted me to play Rosco as a straight sheriff. And I didn't want to do that. I said I'm going to play Rosco like a 12-year-old who likes hot pursuit.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BEST: And when I got the giggle and the whole thing, I ad-libbed that. That's what I used to do with my daughters when they were little. I would go (giggles) I'll get ya you little rascal. And when I met with the producers and directors, that's what I did. And they fell off their chairs laughing So that's what I incorporated in the television series.

MARTIN: You know, Bo and Luke were famous for sliding into their car, the General Lee, in kind of an unusual way, going in through the window. Were you good at that? Did you ever try that?

BEST: No, I never tried to slide through the windows because I was 50 years old at that point. I had a hard enough time falling off curbs and crashing cars and all that crazy stuff, you know.


WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) That's just a little bit more than the law will allow.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, can you give us a Rosco P. Coltrane for the road?

BEST: OK, this is the way it goes - (as Rosco P. Coltrane) This here is Rosco P. Coltrane calling in his little fat buddy. You got your ears on? (Makes sounds). I love a hot pursuit. Come here, Flash (makes sounds). Get him, get him, I'm gone.


JENNINGS: (Singing) I'm a good ol' boy.

MARTIN: Actor James Best died this past week in Hickory, N.C. He was 88 years old.


JENNINGS: (Singing) But she don't understand. They keep showing my hands and not my face on TV. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.