Pop Culture
11:03 pm
Sat March 9, 2013

Thirty Years Later, Still 'A Good-Old-Boy Thing'

Originally published on Sun March 10, 2013 10:43 am

They were good old boys, never meaning no harm, making their way the only way they knew how — Bo and Luke Duke, the central characters on The Dukes of Hazzard, one of the biggest TV hits of the 1980s.

The show aired from 1979 to 1985, but it has lived on in syndication and become something of a cult phenomenon. And this weekend in central Georgia, thousands of fans are expected to turn out for a reunion with the show's surviving stars — and of course the General Lee, that iconic rebel-flagged Dodge Charger.

Actor James Best played the endearingly daft, irresistibly tongue-tied Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, who was always busy trying to catch the Duke boys in the act of making trouble. Best joined NPR's Rachel Martin to talk about what makes the show a lasting pleasure.


Interview Highlights

On the genesis of the show

"When they called me and they said, 'You wanna come over and see about a series called Dukes of Hazzard, I said, 'Well, I don't wanna do a gang thing.' And they said, 'Oh, no, this is a good-old-boy thing, and we're gonna shoot the whole series in Georgia.' Well, we shot five [episodes] down in Georgia, then they moved it back to L.A. ... We spent the next six-and-a-half years in L.A., and I thank God every day for having been a small part in a series that's known all over the world. After 30 years now, we still draw thousands and thousands of fans at Dukefest."

On whether he has a favorite episode

"It would sound conceited if I said so, but I had more fun playing 'The [Ten] Million-Dollar Sheriff,' which was a two-parter where I inherit (supposedly) [10] million dollars. [But] there were so many of the shows that I really had a pleasure working on. Especially with Boss Hogg — Sorrell Booke — who was a fantastic actor. He went along with everything I'd say."

On developing the character

"Originally they wanted me to play Rosco [straight]. I didn't wanna do that; I said, 'I'm gonna play Rosco like a 12-year-old who likes hot pursuit."

On Rosco's distinctively constipated, squeaky speech pattern

"I ad-libbed that. That's what I used to do with my daughters when they were little-little. I'd go 'Igg-ggigg-ggigg-goo-getchoo, 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."

On whether Rosco ever won the chase

"Actually, a lot of times when I caught the Duke boys, I'd let 'em go — because who else was I going to chase? I didn't have too much of a choice! If I wanted to chase somebody, yeah, I'd pick on the Dukes. But you could see underneath that Rosco and the boys really didn't hate each other at all. It was a love show!"

On whether he ever tried the Dukes' signature move

"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?"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you were a kid in the 1980s, you probably turned on a television at one point and heard this theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUKES OF HAZZARD" THEME SONG)

WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) Just the good ole boys, never meaning no harm...

MARTIN: The good ole boys were, of course, Bo and Luke Duke. Young girls swooned and fell into camps according to which Duke cousin they preferred. The "Dukes of Hazzard" was on the air for about six years but it's lived on in re-runs and has become a kind of a cult classic. This weekend in central Georgia, thousands of people are expected to turn out for a "Dukes of Hazzard" reunion. The stars of the show will be on hand to sign autographs and maybe slide through a car door window or two. James Best will also be at the reunion. Who's James Best, you ask?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DUKES OF HAZZARD")

JAMES BEST: (as Roscoe P. Coltrane) Who? Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, that's who.

MARTIN: James Best played Roscoe P. Coltrane, the endearingly daft sheriff who was always trying to catch the Duke boys in the act of making trouble. James Best joins us on the line from Lake City, Florida. Mr. Best, thanks so much for talking with us.

BEST: I appreciate talking to you.

MARTIN: I think I had a "Dukes of Hazzard" lunch box at one point. I mean, there were action figures. Your face was everywhere. Did you have any idea when you started out that the show was going to be such a big hit?

BEST: Well, you know, Rachel, I really didn't have any idea. When they called me, they said you want to come over and see about a series called "Dukes of Hazzard?" And I said, well, I don't want to do a game thing. And they said, oh no, this is a good ole boy thing and we're going to shoot the whole series in Georgia. Well, we shot five down in Georgia then they moved it back to L.A. And anyway, we spent seven years - the next six and a half years in L.A. - 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 Dukefest.

MARTIN: Do you have a favorite episode yourself personally?

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

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DUKES OF HAZZARD")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) What's it feel like being the richest man in Hazzard County?

BEST: (as Roscoe P. Coltrane) Oh, it's good news...

SORRELL BOOKE, ACTOR: (as Boss Hogg) Hell, he ain't, he ain't...I'm the richest man in Hazzard County. I (unintelligible) and I always will be.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From the sound of things, boss, Roscoe could buy you out quicker than a stud pig squeals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUEALING)

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

MARTIN: Yeah, Roscoe always had a hard time getting his words out.

BEST: Yeah. Well, you know, originally they wanted me to play Roscoe as a straight sheriff. I didn't want to do that. I said I'm going to play Roscoe like a 12-year-old who likes hot pursuit. And when I got the giggling and the whole thing, I ad-libbed that. That's what I used to do with my daughters when they were really little. I'd go (makes sounds), get you, 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 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 of curbs and crashing the car and all that (unintelligible) stuff, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUKES OF HAZZARD" THEME SONG)

JENNINGS: (Singing) That's just a little bit more than the northern line...

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

BEST: OK. This is the way it goes: this here is Roscoe P. Coltrane going against little fat buddy. Got your ears on? (makes sounds) a little hot pursuit. Woof. Come here, Flashy (makes sounds). Get him. Get him. I'm gone.

MARTIN: James Best, one of the co-stars of the 1980's hit TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard" being remembered this weekend in the great state of Georgia where the show was set. Mr. Best, thanks so much for talking with us.

BEST: Thank you, Rachel. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUKES OF HAZZARD" THEME SONG)

MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.