James Best

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For the Canadian diplomat, see James Calbert Best.
James Best
James Best Frontier Return of Jubal Dolan.JPG
Best appeared twice on NBC's western television series, Frontier.
Born Jules Guy
(1926-07-26) July 26, 1926 (age 88)
Powderly, Muhlenberg County
Kentucky, USA
Residence Hickory, North Carolina,
Occupation Film, television, voice actor, artist, acting coach, college professor, singer and songwriter, guitarist
Years active 1950 - present

(1) Not Named
(2) Jobee Ayers (married, 1959-1977, divorced)

(3) Dorothy Best (1986-present)
Children Gary, Janeen, and Jojami Best

James Best (born July 26, 1926) is an American actor, who in his six decades of television is best known for his starring role as bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the CBS television series The Dukes of Hazzard. He has also worked as an acting coach, artist, college professor, and musician.

Early years[edit]

Best was born as Jules Guy in Powderly in Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky, on July 26, 1926. His mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of the pop duo The Everly Brothers.

After his mother died in 1929, the three-year-old James was sent to live in an orphanage. He was later adopted by Armen Best (1897-1984) and his wife Essa (1896-1988)[1] and went to live with them in Corydon in Harrison County in southern Indiana.

He served honorably in the United States Army Air Force as a gunner on a B-17 bomber during World War II.


He began his acting career with an uncredited role in the 1950 film, One Way Street. Best portrayed a variety of characters in a wide spectrum of film genres. Some of his more notable roles include Jason Brown in the 1955 historical drama about the abolitionist John Brown entitled Seven Angry Men and as Kit Caswell in the 1958 western Cole Younger, Gunfighter, based on the infamous outlaw. He was further cast as Private Ridges in the 1958 film adaptation of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. He played the outlaw Billy John in Ride Lonesome (1959), Dr. Ben Mizer in the 1966 comedy Three on a Couch, the gunfighter Drew in Firecreek (1968), with James Stewart and Henry Fonda, and the cross-dressing Dewey Barksdale in the 1976 drama Ode to Billy Joe.

Best has guest starred more than 280 times on numerous television series. In 1954, he played the outlaw Dave Ridley, opposite Gloria Winters as the female bandit Little Britches in an episode of the syndicated Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis.[2] In 1954, Best appeared twice in on the syndicated Annie Oakley series, starring Gail Davis and Brad Johnson. He was cast in the religion anthology series, Crossroads, in the 1956 episode "The White Carnation", along with Elinor Donahue, Ann Doran, and J. Carrol Naish. 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.

In 1960, Best appeared in the episode "Love on Credit" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He starred in Season 3, episode 23 of "The Twilight Zone." 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 story line, Swift faces the reprisal of organized crime after he tickets gangster Frank MacErlane (David McLean) for illegal fishing.[3]

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 including Wagon Train (three times), The Adventures of Kit Carson (twice as Henry Jordan), the western anthology series Frontier (twice), Sheriff of Cochise, Pony Express, Rescue 8, Behind Closed Doors, The Texan, The Rebel, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel,Trackdown, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Tombstone Territory, Whispering Smith, The Rifleman, Stagecoach West, The Twilight Zone ("The Grave", "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," and "Jess-Belle"), Wanted: Dead or Alive, Overland Trail, Bat Masterson, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Man and the Challenge, Combat!, The Mod Squad, I Spy, The Fugitive ("Terror At High Point"), and In the Heat of the Night.

Fans of CBS's The Andy Griffith Show will remember Best for his portrayal of the young guitar player Jim Lindsey in two episodes.

The Dukes of Hazzard[edit]

Best played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on CBS's The Dukes of Hazzard from the debut of the program in 1979 until the series ended in 1985. This role was Best's most visible success. He later revealed that the caricature-like persona of Sheriff Coltrane was developed from a voice that he used when playing with his young children.

In the very early episodes, Sheriff Coltrane was a more serious, aggressive, and more competent police officer than he would be by the end of the first season, even shooting one crook on the toe in an early show. After the show became a hit among children and moved production from Georgia to California, the role of Sheriff Coltrane was toned down and made into the more familiar bumbling and comical character that is best remembered today. On the 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. He also remains close to Catherine Bach, who played the character of Daisy Duke, and long after the show's cancelation, she visits his website that's dedicated to Best's painting.[4]

The character of Rosco was best known for his love of "hot pursuit," chasing Bo and Luke Duke in car chases that usually ended badly, with Rosco losing them, a horrendous crash, or some other problem (such as "scuffing his vehicle" or ending up in Hazzard Pond or stuck in a tree). Rosco was a bachelor and childless, so he was also known for his love of his pet basset hound, Flash (introduced at the start of the third season, at the suggestion of Best), whom he loved and treated as if it was his child. Rosco was also known for insulting and yelling at his deputies, Enos Strate (played by Sonny Shroyer) and Cletus Hogg (played by Rick Hurst), most often calling them "dipstick" and he also often lied to them about the crooked plans that he and Boss Hogg were working on.

Later career[edit]

In 1991, in contrast to the comical Rosco Coltrane of 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 office Sweet's grandfather.[5]

He later moved to Florida and taught at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Now semi-retired, Best runs a production company and takes occasional acting roles. He has also earned a name for himself as an artist and painter. Best formerly resided in Lake Murray, South Carolina before moving once again, this time to Hickory, North Carolina. A highly respected acting coach, Best taught drama and acting techniques for more than twenty-five years in Los Angeles. His acting school listed some of the top names in Hollywood as pupils. He also served as artist-in-residence and taught drama at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, for two years prior to his stint on The Dukes of Hazzard.

In 2009, Best completed his autobiography, Best In Hollywood: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful. The book, published in 2009 through Bear Manor Media, premiered at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland.

On November 9, 2014, Best and his wife Dorothy (along with fellow actor Robert Fuller, who met Best on the set of Laramie, along with his wife, Jennifer Savidge, who co-starred opposite Lloyd on St. Elsewhere) attended his lifelong friends' Norman Lloyd's 100th Birthday. Prior to his lifelong friend's Centenarian birthday, 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."[6]

Personal life and family[edit]

In 1959, Best married the former Jobee Ayers, and the couple had two daughters, Janeen and Jojami. They divorced in 1977. Best also has a son, Gary, from a previous marriage.

He married his third (and current) wife, Dorothy Best, in 1986. Best is the uncle of actress and model Jennifer Lyons and the father-in-law of actor-singer Michael Damian.

Partial filmography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Best in Hollywood: The Good, The Bad, And The Beautiful, by James Best with Jim Clark. Albany, 2009. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-460-2.


External links[edit]