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 Jewel Franklin Guy[1]
(1926-07-26)July 26, 1926
Powderly, Kentucky, U.S.
Died April 6, 2015(2015-04-06) (aged 88)
Hickory, North Carolina, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Occupation Film, television, voice actor, artist, acting coach, college professor, singer-songwriter
Years active 1950–2015
Spouse(s) (1) Not named
(2) Jobee Ayers (married, 1959-1977, divorced)
(3) Dorothy Collier (married, 1986–2015, his death)
Children Gary, Janeen, and Jojami Best

James Best (born Jewel Franklin Guy; July 26, 1926 – April 6, 2015) was an American actor, who in 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 also worked as an acting coach, artist, college professor, and musician.

Early years[edit]

Best was born as Jewel Franklin Guy[1] on July 26, 1926, in Powderly, Kentucky, to Lark and Lena Guy. 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 (1897-1984) and his wife Essa (1896-1988)[3] and went to live with them in Corydon, Indiana. 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 finished training the war was almost at an end and he joined the Military Police. As an MP, Best played a role in bringing stability to war-torn Germany immediately after their surrender. While stationed in Germany, Best transferred out of the MP and joined a special services unit of actors for the US Army that travelled around Europe performing plays for the troops. This was the true beginning of his acting career.[4]


Best began his screen acting career with an uncredited role in the 1950 film, One Way Street. Some of his more notable roles include Jason Brown in the 1955 historical drama about the abolitionist John Brown titled 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 guest-starred more than 280 times in numerous 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.[5] 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 the 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.[6]

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 7 of "The Twilight Zone" ("The Grave"). 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.[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 including Wagon Train (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, 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 Green Hornet ("Deadline For Death"), The Mod Squad, I Spy, The Fugitive and In the Heat of the Night.[6]

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.[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 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 officer Sweet's grandfather.[10]

He later moved to Florida and taught at the University of Central Florida (Orlando). After semi-retiring, Best ran a production company and took occasional acting roles. He 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. An acting coach, Best taught drama and acting techniques for more than a quarter century 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 Bear Manor 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 and death[edit]

In 1959, Best married his second wife, Jobee Ayers. The couple had two daughters, Janeen and Jojami. They divorced in 1977. Best also had a son, Gary, from a previous marriage. He married his third (and last) wife, Dorothy Collier, in 1986.[citation needed] His niece is actress Jennifer Lyons.[12]

Best died on April 6, 2015, in Hickory, North Carolina from complications of pneumonia. He was 88.[13]

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.


  1. ^ a b Official website with birth name given as Jewel Franklin Guy, jamesbest.com; accessed April 9, 2015.
  2. ^ Staff (April 7, 2015). "Dukes of Hazzard's James Best Dies at Age 88". CMT. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 
  3. ^ Profile, imdb.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  4. ^ 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. Chapter 3
  5. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Little Britches", June 17, 1954". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b James Best at the Internet Movie Database
  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. ^ a b Profile, filminflorida.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  11. ^ Best comments on Norman Lloyd, yesweekly.com; accessed April 7, 2015.
  12. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0529078/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
  13. ^ Washburn, Mark (April 7, 2015). "James Best, sheriff of 'Hazzard', dies in Hickory at 88". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 

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