James Best

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James Best
James Best Frontier Return of Jubal Dolan.JPG
Best on NBC's Western
series Frontier , c. 1956
Jewel Franklin Guy

(1926-07-26)July 26, 1926
Powderly, Kentucky, United States
DiedApril 6, 2015(2015-04-06) (aged 88)
Hickory, North Carolina, United States
Occupation Film, television, voice actor, artist, acting coach, college professor, singer-songwriter
Years active1950–2013
Television The Dukes of Hazzard
Spouse(s)Not named (m. 19??; div. 19??)
Jobee Ayers
(m. 1959;div. 1977)

Dorothy Collier(m. 1986)
Relatives Don and Phil Everly (cousins)
Michael Damian (son-in-law)

Jewel Franklin Guy (July 26, 1926 – April 6, 2015), known professionally as James Best, was an American television, film, stage, and voice actor, as well as a writer, director, acting coach, artist, college professor, and musician. During a career that spanned more than 60 years, he performed not only in feature films but also in scores of television series, as well as appearing on various country music programs and talk shows. Television audiences, however, perhaps most closely associate Best with his role as the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the action-comedy series The Dukes of Hazzard , which originally aired on CBS between 1979 and 1985. He reprised the role in 1997 and 2000 for the made-for-television movies The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! and The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood (2000).

Rosco Purvis Coltrane is a fictional bumbling and corrupt sheriff character in the American TV series The Dukes of Hazzard along with the movie Moonrunners and the movies that followed. He is the right-hand man of Hazzard County's corrupt county commissioner, Jefferson Davis "J.D." Hogg.

<i>The Dukes of Hazzard</i> American television series

The Dukes of Hazzard was an American action-comedy television series that aired on CBS from January 26, 1979, to February 8, 1985. The show aired for a total of 147 episodes spanning seven seasons. The series was inspired by the 1975 film Moonrunners, which was also created by Gy Waldron and had many identical or similar character names and concepts.

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.


Early years

Best was born on July 26, 1926, in Powderly, Kentucky, to Lark and Lena Guy. [1] His mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of the pop duo The Everly Brothers. [2] After his mother died of tuberculosis in 1929, then three-year-old James was sent to live in an orphanage. He was later adopted by Armen Best (18971984) and his wife, Essa Myrtle (née Knowland; 18961988) and went to live with them in Corydon, Indiana.

Powderly, Kentucky City in Kentucky, United States

Powderly is a home rule-class city in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, in the United States. The population was 846 during the year 2000 U.S. Census.

The Everly Brothers American rock and roll band

The Everly Brothers were an American country-influenced rock and roll duo, known for steel-string acoustic guitar playing and close harmony singing. Consisting of Isaac Donald "Don" Everly and Phillip Jason "Phil" Everly, the duo were raised in a musical family, first appearing on radio singing along with their father Ike Everly and mother Margaret Everly as "The Everly Family" in the 1940s. When the brothers were still in high school, they gained the attention of prominent Nashville musicians like Chet Atkins, who began to groom them for national attention.

Corydon, Indiana Town in Indiana, United States

Corydon is a town in Harrison Township, Harrison County, Indiana. Located north of the Ohio River in the extreme southern part of the U.S. state of Indiana, it is the seat of government for Harrison County. Corydon was founded in 1808 and served as the capital of the Indiana Territory from 1813 to 1816. It was the site of Indiana's first constitutional convention, which was held June 10–29, 1816. Forty-three convened to consider statehood for Indiana and drafted its first state constitution. Under Article XI, Section 11, of the Indiana 1816 constitution, Corydon was designated as the capital of the state until 1825, when the seat of state government was moved to Indianapolis. During the American Civil War, Corydon was the site of the Battle of Corydon, the only official pitched battle waged in Indiana during the war. More recently, the town's numerous historic sites have helped it become a tourist destination. A portion of its downtown area is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Corydon Historic District. As of the 2010 census, Corydon had a population of 3,122.

He served honorably in the United States Army in World War II, training in 1944 in Biloxi, Mississippi, as a gunner on a B-17 bomber; but by the time he completed his training the war had almost ended, so he was assigned to the army's law-enforcement section. In the military police, as an "MP", Best served in war-torn Germany immediately after the Nazi government's surrender in May 1945. While stationed in Germany, Best soon transferred from the military police to an army unit of actors, who traveled around Europe performing plays for troops. Those experiences formed the beginning of his acting career. [3]

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Military police Police organization part of the military of a state

Military police (MP) are law enforcement agencies connected with, or part of, the military of a state.

Film career

Destined to become one of the busiest performers in Hollywood, Best began his contract career in 1949 at Universal Studios, where he met fellow actors Julie Adams, Piper Laurie, Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson. Initially, he performed in several uncredited roles for Universal, such as in the 1950 film One Way Street ; but credited performances soon followed that same year in the Westerns Comanche Territory , Winchester '73 , and Kansas Raiders . Work in that genre continued to be an important part of his ongoing film career, including roles in The Cimarron Kid (1952), Seven Angry Men (1955) in which he portrays one of the sons of abolitionist John Brown, Last of the Badmen (1957), Cole Younger Gunfighter (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), The Quick Gun (1964), and Firecreek (1968). Yet, Best's film roles are not limited to Westerns. He, for example, also stars in the 1959 science fiction cult movie The Killer Shrews and in its 2012 sequel Return of the Killer Shrews . In the 1958 film adaptation of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead , he plays Private Ridges, as well as the characters Dr. Ben Mizer in the 1966 comedy Three on a Couch and the cross-dressing Dewey Barksdale in the 1976 drama Ode to Billy Joe .

Hollywood Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Hollywood is a neighborhood in the central region of Los Angeles, California, notable as the home of the U.S. film industry, including several of its historic studios. Its name has come to be a shorthand reference for the industry and the people associated with it.

Julie Adams American actress

Julie Adams was an American actress, primarily known for her numerous television guest roles. She starred in a number of films in the 1950s, including Bend of the River (1952) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). She was also known for her small screen role as Paula Denning on the 1980s soap opera Capitol and recurring role of Eve Simpson on Murder, She Wrote.

Piper Laurie American actress

Piper Laurie is an American stage and screen actress known for her roles in the films The Hustler (1961), Carrie (1976), and Children of a Lesser God (1986), all of which brought her Academy Award nominations. She is also known for her performances as Kirsten Arnesen in the original TV production of Days of Wine and Roses and as Catherine Martell in the cult television series Twin Peaks, for which she won a Golden Globe Award in 1991. In 2018, she appeared in the film White Boy Rick. In addition, she appeared with Dana Andrews, Rex Reason, William Talman, Milburn Stone, Douglas Spenser, and others in the 1956 Western "Smoke Signal".


Best with Andy Griffith on CBS's The Andy Griffith Show (1961) James Best Andy Griffith Andy Griffith Show 1961.JPG
Best with Andy Griffith on CBS's The Andy Griffith Show (1961)

Best guest-starred more than 280 times in various television series. In 1954, he played the outlaw Dave Ridley, opposite Gloria Winters as the female bandit "Little Britches" in an episode of Stories of the Century . [4] In 1954, Best appeared twice on the syndicated Annie Oakley series, starring Gail Davis and Brad Johnson. He was cast in the religion anthology series Crossroads , in its 1956 episode "The White Carnation." He was also cast on an episode of Jackie Cooper's early NBC sitcom The People's Choice and in the David Janssen crime drama Richard Diamond, Private Detective . [5]

Gloria Winters American actress

Gloria Winters was an actress most remembered for having portrayed the well-mannered niece, Penny King, in the 1950s – 1960s American television series Sky King.

Little Britches was an outlaw in the American Old West associated with Cattle Annie. Their exploits are fictionalized in the 1981 film Cattle Annie and Little Britches, directed by Lamont Johnson and starring Diane Lane as Little Britches.

Stories of the Century is a 39-episode Western television series starring Jim Davis that ran in syndication through Republic Pictures between 1954 and 1955.

Best with Laura Devon (center) and Anne Francis in The Twilight Zone episode "Jess-Belle" (1963) James Best Laura Devon Anne Francis Twilight Zone Jess Belle.JPG
Best with Laura Devon (center) and Anne Francis in The Twilight Zone episode "Jess-Belle" (1963)

Best made four appearances on the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days . His first role was as miner "Tiny" Stoker in the 1955 episode, "Million Dollar Wedding". In the story line, Stoker, in a bet with two of his cohorts, proposes marriage to a presumably plain woman in their community, Aggie Filene (played by Virginia Lee, an actress who lived from 1924 to 2008). Soon, though, the couple falls madly in love with each other and go on a world-wide honeymoon tour with proceeds from a gold strike that they had nearly forfeited. And Aggie returns to the mining camp as a beautiful woman. [6]

Anthology series radio or television series that presents a different story and a different set of characters in each episode

An anthology series is a radio, television, film series that presents a different story and a different set of characters in each episode, season, segment or short. These usually have a different cast each episode, but several series in the past, such as Four Star Playhouse, employed a permanent troupe of character actors who would appear in a different drama each week. Some anthology series, such as Studio One, began on radio and then expanded to television.

<i>Death Valley Days</i> American television series

Death Valley Days is an American old-time radio and television anthology series featuring true accounts of the American Old West, particularly the Death Valley country of southeastern California. Created in 1930 by Ruth Woodman, the program was broadcast on radio until 1945 and became from 1952 to 1970 as a syndicated television series, with reruns continuing through August 1, 1975. The radio and television versions combined to make the show "one of the longest-running western programs in broadcast history."

A honeymoon is a holiday taken by newlyweds immediately after their wedding, to celebrate their marriage. Today, honeymoons are often celebrated in destinations considered exotic or romantic.

In 1960, Best appeared in the episode "Love on Credit" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson . The same year, he guest-starred on The Andy Griffith Show as "The Guitar Player" (Season 1, Episode 3 and 31). He starred in three episodes of The Twilight Zone including "The Grave" (Season 3, Episode 7), "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," (Season 3, Episode 23) and "Jess-Belle" (Season 4, Episode 7). In 1963, he was cast as the courageous Wisconsin game warden, Ernie Swift, in the episode "Open Season" of another CBS anthology series, GE True , hosted by Jack Webb. In the storyline, Swift faces the reprisal of organized crime after he tickets gangster Frank MacErlane (David McLean) for illegal fishing. [7]

In 1962, he played the part of Art Fuller in the episode "Incident of El Toro" on CBS's Rawhide ; and in 1963, he returned to play Willie Cain in the episode "Incident at Spider Rock." Best made two guest appearances on Perry Mason . In 1963 he played title character Martin Potter in "The Case of the Surplus Suitor," and in 1966 he played defendant and oilman Allan Winford in "The Case of the Unwelcome Well." He appeared on a long list of other television series in the 1950s and 1960s, including Wagon Train (three times), Laramie (three times), The Adventures of Kit Carson (twice as Henry Jordan), the western anthology series Frontier (twice), The Rebel , Bonanza , Sheriff of Cochise , Pony Express , Rescue 8 , Behind Closed Doors , The Texan , Gunsmoke , Have Gun – Will Travel , The Barbara Stanwyck Show , Tombstone Territory , Whispering Smith , Trackdown , The Rifleman , Cheyenne , Stagecoach West , Wanted: Dead or Alive , Overland Trail , Bat Masterson , Alfred Hitchcock Presents , The Man and the Challenge , Combat! , The Green Hornet ("Deadline For Death"), The Mod Squad , I Spy , and The Fugitive [5]

The Dukes of Hazzard

Best played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on CBS's The Dukes of Hazzard from the debut of the program in 1979 until the end of the series in 1985. That role was Best's most visible success. He later revealed that the caricature-like persona of Sheriff Coltrane was developed from a voice he used when playing with his young children. [8] On set, Best was particularly close to Sorrell Booke, who played the character of Boss Hogg, who was both the boss and the brother-in-law of Rosco. The two actors became close friends; and according to interviews by the series' creators, the two would often improvise their scenes together, making up their own dialogue as they went along. Until his death, he also remained close to Catherine Bach, who played the character of Daisy Duke; and long after the show's cancellation, she was a regular visitor to the website dedicated to Best's painting. [9]

Later television career

In 1991, in contrast to the comical Rosco Coltrane of The Dukes of Hazzard, Best appeared in an episode of the NBC crime drama In the Heat of the Night . He won the Crystal Reel Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Nathan Bedford in the episode "Sweet, Sweet Blues," directed by Vincent McEveety and written by William James Royce. Best plays a retired sheriff and repentant killer who has to come to terms with being involved in the death of now Sparta police officer Sweet's grandfather. [10]

Artist, teacher, writer, and other activities

Best later moved to Florida and taught at the University of Central Florida (Orlando). After semi-retiring, he administered a production company and accepted occasional acting roles. He also developed a reputation as an artist for his paintings of landscapes, scenes from The Dukes of Hazzards, and other subjects. Later, after residing for awhile in Lake Murray, South Carolina, he moved once again, this time to Hickory, North Carolina.

An acting coach too, Best taught drama and acting techniques for more than 25 years in Los Angeles. He also served as artist-in-residence and taught drama at the University of Mississippi (Oxford) for two years prior to his stint on The Dukes of Hazzard.

In 2009, he completed his autobiography Best In Hollywood: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful. The book, published in 2009 through BearManor Media, premiered at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland.[ citation needed ]

On November 9, 2014, Best and fellow actor Robert Fuller (along with their wives) attended the 100th birthday celebration of lifelong friend and fellow actor Norman Lloyd. Best said, "I had the honor to have been directed by Norman in a Hitchcock episode called "The Jar." Having worked with hundreds of directors in my career, I found very few that had Norman's qualities. He was most kind, gracious and patient with his actors. He is in all respects a complete gentleman in his personal life and I found it a genuine pleasure just to be in the presence of such a talented man. I am also doubly honored to consider him my friend. We are so blessed to have such a man among us for so long." [11]

Personal life

Best had a son, Gary, with his first wife. In 1959, Best married his second wife, Jobee Ayers. The couple had two daughters, Janeen and Jojami, before divorcing in 1977. Janeen is an actress, screenwriter and producer, first as Janeen Best then as Janeen Damian, after her 1998 marriage to actor and producer Michael Damian. Best married his third wife, Dorothy Collier, in 1986.[ citation needed ]

He enjoyed a wide range of hobbies and interests. He was an accomplished painter, a guitarist, [1] a Black Belt in Karate, [1] enjoyed writing, [1] and ran his own acting school. His students included Lindsay Wagner, Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Quentin Tarantino, and Regis Philbin. [1] He was also an animal rights advocate. [1]


Best died on April 6, 2015, in Hickory, North Carolina, from complications of pneumonia at the age of 88. [12]

Prior to his death, Best's former Dukes of Hazzard co-star and long-time friend, John Schneider, said; "I laughed and learned more from Jimmie in one hour, than from anyone else in a whole year." He also added that, when asked to cry for the camera, "(Best) would say, 'sure thing, which eye?' I'm forever thankful to have cut my teeth in the company of such a fine man." [13] Nearly one year after Best's death, Schneider said about his working relationship with Best: "He was amazing in everything he did; he was not just a funny guy. In fact, I think the comedic timing came to him later on in life because before that he was a very serious actor. I was very fortunate to have grown up working with people like Jimmie Best and Denver Pyle and Sorrell Booke. Incredibly talented men, incredibly talented actors." [14]


Further reading

Best, James; Clark Jim (2009). Best in Hollywood: The Good, The Bad, And The Beautiful. Albany, New York: BearManor Media, 2009; ISBN   1-59393-460-2.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Obituary for James Best". jamesbest.com. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  2. Staff (April 7, 2015). "Dukes of Hazzard's James Best Dies at Age 88". CMT. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  3. Best, James and Jim Clark (2009). Best in Hollywood: The Good, The Bad, And The Beautiful, chapter three. Albany, New York: BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN   1-59393-460-2.
  4. "Stories of the Century: "Little Britches", June 17, 1954". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  5. 1 2 James Best on IMDb
  6. "Million Dollar Wedding on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  7. "GE True". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  8. James Best Interview | Part 7: How James Got Started on The Dukes of Hazzard, youtube.com; accessed September 2, 2015.
  9. Catherine Bach profile, mtv.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  10. 1 2 Profile Archived November 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine , filminflorida.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  11. Best comments on Norman Lloyd Archived July 31, 2016, at the Wayback Machine , yesweekly.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  12. Washburn, Mark (April 7, 2015). "James Best, sheriff of 'Hazzard', dies in Hickory at 88". The Charlotte Observer . Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  13. Gary Lane. "'Dukes' John Schneider Remembers the "Best" - The Hollywood Billboard". The Hollywood Billboard. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  14. "Actor John Schneider is Living The Dream". Digital Journal. January 7, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

HE played the Sheriff, in the Quick Gun 1964