Q&A with James Best
1. The Dukes of Hazzard is one of the TV icons of the 1980s. Is it hard
to overcome its shadow?
Doing the Dukes series was a two-edged sword. Although I had acted in over 85 feature pictures and 600 television shows before we shot the show, it seems like all the young people who grew up watching the series identified me as Rosco. It was very hard to convince them that I was an actor doing one particular character. But for some reason these same young people who now run the motion picture industry want to carry on their childhood fantasy. I think they unknowingly think that I am limited to that character, and now they hesitate in casting me in harder characters, which I had done hundreds of times in my past career.
2. What's your single favorite memory of Dukes?
My favorite memory probably was the time I happened to pass Daisy Duke’s dressing room when she had inadvertently left the door open. I nearly had a cardiac arrest. LOL.
My favorite acting job for a TV episode was The Rebel in 1960. I played a Civil War soldier who had gotten hooked on pain medicine. I had to act like I was trying to kick the habit cold turkey. It was a difficult role, for I knew nothing about someone trying to recover from that sickness. The episode was called “Night on the Rainbow.”
4. Probably my favorite film of yours is Hooper. Was it really as fun as
Hooper was a film that I had mixed emotions about participating in. Burt Reynolds asked me to help the director Hal Needham with the rewrites. I was also asked to give some of my part to Brian Keith as Burt felt that he owed Brian a favor. I was not paid for the rewrites, and Brian ended up with most of my scenes. But other than that it was always fun and exciting working with my friends Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds.
5. What's the hardest part of keeping a 50-year career in acting?
Keeping a sense of humor with all the heartaches that come with trying to sustain a personal life and yet maintain a successful career—both creatively and financially. My life and my career have been like a long string with knots in it. The knots are the fun parts, but looking back on my life I find that there was a lot more string than knots.
But all and all, the Good Lord has worked overtime for this old country boy. And I thank him every day for letting me live a long life working at a profession that I was so fortunate to have participated in. And I'm very proud to say as the song goes...I did it my way.
Unedited excerpt Best in Hollywood
My favorite picture with Jimmy Stewart was Shenandoah. It was a very good Civil War picture that was released in 1965. I played a rebel soldier named Carter. As the star of the movie, Mr. Stewart naturally had a lot more work to do in the film than I did. I love to fish, and there happened to be a beautiful stream flowing under a bridge where Mr. Stewart was doing a very dramatic scene with a young man who had inadvertently shot his son. Mr. Stewart was acting his heart out up there in one of the most pivotal scenes of the entire picture. Nobody dares to make a stray sound on a set when anybody is doing a dramatic scene, much less if it’s Jimmy Stewart.
Well, there I am fishing under the bridge, when—Wham! —I hook a trout. The trout is doing what a hooked trout naturally does and is jumping and thrashing around and making all kinds of racket. I quickly stick the pole under the water and hope that the trout will stay under the water and not make any noise and interrupt Mr. Stewart’s scene. Fortunately for me, the trout stayed quiet until Mr. Stewart finished his scene. Mr. Stewart walked down the bank to where I was. He said, “Jim.”
I said, “Yes sir.”
He said, “Come over here.”
I walked over and said, “Yes sir?”
He said, “What the heck are you doing?”
I said, “I’m fishing.” I thought that was the appropriate thing to say since I had a trout still jumping on the end of my line.
He said, “Yeah, well, I can see that. Uh, tell me why it is that I’m up there working my tail off and, uh, you’re down here fishing?”
I said, “Well, Mr. Stewart, if I ever get as rich and famous as you are, I’ll go up there and act and you can come down here and fish.”
He said, “You know, you’ve got a point there.”
By the way, I don’t know what it says about my career, but I’ve gotten in a lot more fishing since that day almost forty-five years ago.
Jimmy Stewart was simply a lovely, lovely man. He was a very generous man. I asked him one time, “You know, you have an awful lot to say about who is in your movies, don’t you?”
He said, “Why do you ask that?”
I said, ‘Well, I’ve been in several of your movies and I’ve noticed other people that you regularly have in your films.”
He said, “Uh, uh, well, I do have a certain amount of influence.”
And so it is, too, that he will continue to have profound influence among generations of actors, moviegoers, and people everywhere who admire modesty, talent, and all-around exemplary behavior.