Confession Stand with James Best
Although his Hollywood career now dates 60 years, James Best is best known for his role as Sheriff Rosco Coltrane on TV’s long-running The Dukes of Hazzard, a role he reprised for the animated spin-off, The Dukes, the complete collection of which is newly released as a made-on-demand DVD from Warner Archive.
FLICK ATTACK: Man, you’ve done a ton of stuff. Does it bother you that you’re primarily known for Dukes of Hazzard?
BEST: Actually, it’s a two-edged sword. Naturally, I spent a lot of time trying to prove to Hollywood and the world that I was a good actor. But I can go anywhere in the world and they all go, “KEW-KEW-KEW!” It’s good on one hand; on the other, Hollywood cannot see me or do not know that I did a lot of things before Rosco P. Coltrane.
FLICK ATTACK: In a way, though, you did Rosco so well that people couldn’t see past it. In other words, you’re that good of an actor.
BEST: It’s flattering on one hand, and on the other hand, I’m really disappointed that a lot of people didn’t know I had a career before that. That’s why I brought out my book, Best in Hollywood. I wrote my autobiography and you can buy it at my website, JamesBest.com. That book’s been selling very well.
FLICK ATTACK: Let me ask you about the new cartoon collection of The Dukes. Do you have memories of making this?
BEST: Yeah, of course we were shooting The Dukes of Hazzard at that time. They called up and said Hanna-Barbera — I love cartoons, and I had never done any work for cartoons. We went over to the animation studio — it was very comfortable — and they just gave us scripts and we went into the regular characters as we did on the regular show. I think the cartoons were on for two years, then they took them off for some reason, but now they’re bringing them back, so now there’s a new generation of young people who will be introduced to The Dukes of Hazzard.
FLICK ATTACK: Do you think the animators made you as handsome as you are in real life?
BEST: Ha-ha! Well, when you get old, you get ugly. So don’t get old.
FLICK ATTACK: At least they made you better-looking than the dog and the raccoon.
BEST: Well, cartoons are always less than flattering, perhaps, but they did a pretty good job. I have only seen a couple of them myself, but they’re entertaining, and I’m grateful to be part of something that will be introduced to the younger generation, and they can watch without embarrassment and perhaps be introduced to the live-action version.
FLICK ATTACK: You worked with Samuel Fuller in Shock Corridor. Was he insane?
BEST: Sammy was a genius. Hollywood didn’t really realize that, but his stuff was so strong and so vibrant and so colorful. It wasn’t all smoke and mirrors like it is today. He put in actual stories that he had lived through. I loved working with him.
FLICK ATTACK: What about Jerry Lewis? There’s gotta be a story there.
BEST: Jerry Lewis? That man is a genius. He can absolutely do it all, and has. I never had as much as fun in my life as doing Three on a Couch with him and Janet Leigh. It’s just a ball to work with Jerry Lewis. He’s a total professional. He has great respect for all actors, whether they’re just doing one line or the lead. A lot of people love him or hate him, but the man has raked in a billion dollars for children, so he can’t be all bad. On the other hand, he’s less than what you’d expect at times. I told him once, “Jerry, you’re five different people and I hate three of ‘em.” But I loved the other two.
FLICK ATTACK: Was it more fun working with Jimmy Stewart or Catherine Bach’s cutoff shorts?
BEST: Ha-ha! There was mixed emotion! Jimmy Stewart was my icon … and Cathy Bach was my desire. As was 25 million other people who watched the show. No, Cathy’s a sweetheart. We adore her. We were all family. She was more like a sister to all of us.
FLICK ATTACK: And you also worked with Peter Bogdanovich on Nickelodeon.
BEST: Yeah, I didn’t care for him too much, to be honest.
FLICK ATTACK: Was it because he wears ascots?
BEST: No, he ate before the cast did, on a silver tray, and rode up and down in front of everybody on his white horse. Napoleon, you know. As far as I’m concerned, he did one good movie. That Moon thing. Paper Moon. That was a brilliant piece of work.
FLICK ATTACK: And your paths have crossed before with Burt Reynolds.
BEST: Oh, yeah, I worked a lot with Burt.
FLICK ATTACK: Was it true you were an uncredited co-director on a couple of his films?
BEST: Yeah, what happened is I taught motion picture technique for 30 years. Burt sat in on my classes, so he knew I knew what to do with the cameras. I didn’t get credit for my part, but I also helped with rewrites on Gator and with Hooper. I should have gotten credit, I guess, but I was very grateful to work with Burt. I made a lot money with Burt.
BEST: Ha-ha! I never saw him do that. We’ve been friends for all these years. Hal was a wonderful stuntman. He jumped out of a Piper Cub without a parachute onto a guy on horseback. He said, “I gotta do it again. My mom wanted to see it and she wasn’t here.” His mama came to the set and he did it again!
FLICK ATTACK: That’s crazy.
BEST: He’s crazy!
FLICK ATTACK: Who was harder to work with: Flipper or Jan-Michael Vincent?
BEST: Jan-Michael Vincent. He ticked me off, to be honest with you.
FLICK ATTACK: Out of all you’ve done, what’s been your favorite project?
BEST: Well, working with Jimmy Stewart was a heavenly blessing. I’ve really enjoyed my career. The good Lord worked overtime for this ol’ country boy. I had so many wonderful times. You can read all about it my book, Best in Hollywood. You can get it at my website, JamesBest.com. And you can get that cartoon, too! I autographed the first 500 or something like that.
FLICK ATTACK: I’ll be sure to point that out.
BEST: That’d be great. —Rod Lott
Additional questions by Allan Mott.