James Best discusses The Saturday morning cartoon based on The Dukes of Hazzard
In the fondly remembered animated series The Dukes, produced by Hanna-Barbera Studios, Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke take their high-wheelin' country cruisin' around the world in a race against Boss Hogg for the family farm. In this spin-off of the classic live-action television series The Dukes of Hazzard, The Dukes speed through France, Italy, Austria, Greece, England - you name it, the General Lee made tracks there! En route, Boss Hogg pulls the nastiest tricks ever, like blinding the boys with a fog machine, having them kidnapped and tricking them into a jewel heist. Why, that Hogg's as crooked as a dog's hind leg! But that won't stop The Dukes from fighting a fair fight and teaching that chubby cheat a few tricks along the way.
Y'all need to catch this 4-Disc, 20-Episode Complete Animated Series Collection from the time the pedal hits the metal all the way to the finish line! It is available only through The Warner Archives. To order, CLICK HERE
The first 400 copies of this exciting set come autographed by James Best himself, who is best known for playing Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on both this Saturday morning cartoon from the early 80s as well as the live action series from which it is based. We recently caught up James to chat with him about this exciting new release.
Here is our conversation:
How is Flash doing?
James Best: I got Flash out of a dog pound when she was seven years old, and I put her on the show. She lived to be fourteen years old. She lived with her trainer. But I saw her everyday on the set. I had a little dressing room made up for her. Which was better than the one I had (laughs).
Did Flash ever go with you when you were making your personal appearances?
James Best: I'd make twenty to thirty personal appearances every year, and I still do that even today. I never took the dog out of Hollywood.
Did you hear about the flood here in Nashville? The Dukes of Hazzard museum was right on the edge of the water as it was rising. They had to evacuate the General Lee and Roscoe's squad car...
James Best: Cooter's? Yeah. I talked to Ben Jones about that. (Laughs) He was very lucky. He could have lost a lot of merchandise.
The Country Western Wax Museum didn't fare so well. It is just a few doors down, and it was completely underwater.
James Best: And it hit the Grand Ole Opry. They just re-opened that, didn't they?
Yeah. Its back up and running but I think the Opry Mills Mall complex surrounding it is still out of commission. I want to know, is it exciting for you to have The Dukes on DVD? It's been a while since fans have had a chance to see all of these animated episodes...
James Best: It's really exciting to me. I have a Facebook, and a twitter, and my own website, Jamesbest.com. I am in contact with my fans all of the time. I have my own film company that I formed here in North Carolina. I try to keep my hand on the pulse of what is wanted or needed by the fans. I am very fortunate, because I have thousands of fans on my webpage. With this cartoon coming out, which will be available on my web page, we will be hitting a third generation of people. What's wonderful about it? Its training the children so that when they get a little older they can appreciate the live action The Dukes of Hazzard that we did for Warner Bros.
What sort of recollection do you have from the time period this cartoon was in production? Even though I used to watch it every Saturday morning when it first aired, my recollection of it is a bit foggy...
James Best: The cartoon? To be honest with you, it was new for most of us. We weren't really used to doing voice-over stuff. It was an interesting experience. It was very comfortable in a sound stage as opposed to being out in the desert, doing the chases with the General Lee. The voice-over stuff was so much fun. They let me improvise, which was nice. They had the whole cast there, which was really special. When we were working at Warner Bros., most of the time, we would work in pairs, or threes, or fours. It depended on the script. But here, we had a chance to all work together as a unit. I only ever saw three or four of the cartoons, because we were busy making a movie. I didn't watch TV, to be honest with you. I was too busy making TV.
At that time, when it came to spinning off a franchise into a Saturday morning cartoon, they didn't often use the original voice actors. That makes this series a little more special...
James Best: They were hearing a real thing, rather than people trying to imitate us. They fans are very particular, I have noticed over the years. I have talked to thousands of different people over the years, and they are very particular about different aspects of The Dukes of Hazzard. Especially the car. They did so many replicas of the car. Every bolt and screw in that car has to be analyzed by the fans. So were our performances, and what we did on the show. When they did the cartoon series, I think it was very smart of the producers to actually have the cast talking. Because it would not have been nearly as successful. The fans would have said, "Well, that is not the Duke family." We were a family to the twenty five thousand people who watched The Dukes of Hazzard every Friday night. That is what they estimated. And you can't fool these people, when you are in their living rooms every week. You actually become family. And they don't want any changes.
It seems like, going through the museum in Nashville, and seeing something like the recent Dukes festival in Oak Ridge, that the cast really is close. Do you guys consider yourselves a real family?
James Best: Most people don't spent seven years with their relatives for six or seven hours every day. That is what we did. If you were not family, you'd be in a fistfight. I never heard an argument on that set. Never. We were all family. Even today, we see each other, and we hug, and we continue a conversation that we might have had two years before. I remember going down to Florida to do a Miracle Network thing to raise money for the children with John Schneider. It was a blessing. I would do some personal appearances, and Ben Jones was with me. At other times, I am with Catherine Bach. The Dukes festival that we had quite a while ago in Nashville, we had Tom Wopat. We drew fifty to sixty thousand people. It was all family again. We see each other quite often. It's mostly at personal appearances. I don't fly into Los Angeles to see John or Catherine. But I do make it a point to see them. I do make a point to go to Broadway to see Tom.
What can you say about the fans? I wouldn't call them any more peculiar than any other group of fans, but they truly are devoted to the Dukes lifestyle...
James Best: Yeah! (Laughs) They can sense that we are having fun doing this. And they know we had fun doing the show. Some of it is difficult. Some of it is tiring. Some of it is very hot. A lot of it was very dangerous. But all and all, it was a lot of fun. It was a family type show. We are all very proud to be a part of something that was seen in forty different countries. We are grateful that the whole cast got along. It was nice. Its nice to go to Paris, and Rome, and Ireland, and be mobbed by people who love The Dukes of Hazzard. They say, "We grew up with your show!" That is a real blessing. I did a lot of movies and television before I did The Dukes of Hazzard. But that's what's funny about television. I worked on over six hundred television shows. And 83 features before I did The Dukes of Hazzard. I did seven seasons of The Dukes of Hazzard and I became a household name. None of those other shows...Sometimes, a fan will say, "I remember you in that other show." But they never remember the name. It's been a blessing for me, and I hope this continues. I am 84, and I still enjoy going out on personal appearances. Making movies here with my own movie company. And relating to fans here on my own website. They can go there and see my paintings. They can go there and get this cartoon.
With your paintings, are those available for people to buy?
James Best: Go to Jamesbest.com. They can see my paintings. They can see our movie company. They can see where they can get all kinds of different stuff from the archives over at Warner Bros. There are different movies and stuff that I am in. I am very excited, because I am on Facebook. I have maxed out, so I have started the James Best fan club on there. It's doing very well. If you go to Jamesbest.com, you'll see that I have my paintings for sale. I have been very lucky, selling a lot of paintings. People like to give them to their loved ones. I have some prints made up that are indicative of my better paintings. I am pretty fortunate, because I am selling paintings all over the world. I love to paint. I would love to sell one painting than sell a thousand autographs.
I need to go on there and see if I can afford to buy a painting...
James Best: To be very honest with you, I price my paintings in such a way that the average person can afford them. I was talking to Mel Tillis, and Mel paints too...He said, "You're paintings are so fantastic!" He went on my webpage, and he said, "I can't understand how you can charge so little for your paintings." I said, "Because I paint for love. I'd love for people to have something of mine that they can own and hang on their wall." I am very proud of that. So now I am getting commissioned paintings from people all over the world. I am very happy about that. He charges ten times what I charge for one of my paintings, and he gets it. But, as I say, I am not painting for the money. Not really. I mean, I have to get something because I frame them and ship them and so forth. But I am always pleased if they like my art. The people can let me know, one way or the other.
What kind of movies are you currently making through your production company?
James Best: What we did? We got those RED cameras. Those digital cameras. They are gorgeous. They are top of the line. That is what Hollywood is now shooting on. f course, I bought them about three or four years ago. When they first came out. I knew they were going to take over Hollywood. Film is on its way out, totally. Because film cost fifteen hundred dollars a minute. We can shoot a half hour with our cameras for twenty-seven dollars. That is what's going to be happening. If you want, you can go to my webpage and look up my cameras. We rent them out. We have been in business now for five or six years. If you have seen the movies Fireproof or Facing the Giants, we shot both of those with our cameras. We shot stuff in Russia, we shot stuff in Ireland...We shot stuff of Jeff Gordon, the racecar driver. He shoots things with our company. And we are getting ready to shoot some films in the spring. I also want to shot some of my original material. That's why I started the company. We got so busy shooting movies for other people, we haven't gotten around to it. I am really going to get into it at the first of the year.
I didn't know you were involved with Fireproof or Facing the Giants. Those films have been so successful on their own. What does that mean for you to be a part of that?
James Best: We did not produce those pictures. They rented our equipment. Which was tickling us to death. Because they were shooting family films. That is what we want to do with our company; shoot family films. Because, I will be honest with you, I am a little tired of what is coming out of Hollywood, with the four letter words. The body parts. I am not a prude. Some of the movies I love. I love Clint Eastwood's movies, and Ron Howard. But some of the trash coming out of Hollywood in the guise of entertainment, with those prices? Its ridiculous. But we're going to shoot films that people are not embarrassed to take their families to. Either at the theater or to buy the DVDs.
It's a smart thing. Those two films didn't have a lot of promotion, or support. And they made a lot of money at the box office.
James Best: You know, Fireproof made over twenty million and counting. So did Facing the Giants. Obviously there is a tremendous hunger from people out there that want to see good family type films. Even though they were shot by some religious organizations, they were not down your throat, teaching or preaching religion to anybody. They were just making good, honest films with a good message. An upbeat message. God knows we need that in this word today.
Going back to The Dukes cartoon, you can explore some things in animation that you obviously can't do on a weekly live action television series. As you are sitting their voicing your character, and you are doing some improves, were you able to discover anything new about this character that you were able to take back to the live version of the show?
James Best: That technique was strange to me, because we were not looking at anything that had been produced. We had scripts, but we didn't have any idea what they were going to do with it. Other than that we would be jumping trees with the cars. We didn't know when we had the script if it would be one show, or two shows. Or three. They paid us for a session, and then we went on our way. We weren't too familiar with the process at the time. It'll be interesting to go back, because I only ever saw three of those shows. I am waiting to get some copies for our home page, so that I can see some of the later episodes.
Before I go, I have to ask you about one episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, which they were actually showing on a loop at the Dukes museum. At one point, Roscoe had a run in with a real live alien being from outer space. What was the vibe like on set when you guys saw this storyline, which certainly deviates from what the show was really about?
James Best: I'll tell you. The writers were very tight on who wrote scripts. I went in with an idea where Boss Hogg got a little person and dressed him up as an alien as a dupe for the people in Hazzard, so they would go to the Boar's Nest. They said, "Oh, no! That is too far fetched. We can't do that." Two months later, they wrote about this real alien that comes to Hazzard, which was absolutely ridiculous as far as I was concern. All they did was steal my idea, and then extend it to such a degree that they didn't have to pay me. Same thing with the robot. And the Bigfoot. I said they ought to do that.
There is an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard with Bigfoot? These must be some of the last episodes, because I never saw that.
James Best: I did not see about eighty percent of the episodes after they came out. Because when I was at the studio, I would read my part. I knew what I was going to do. And I didn't have the time or energy to sit down and read the entire script. I was too busy memorizing my part. A lot of the stuff that is coming out now, I am seeing it for the first time. I am not sure. We did seven years, and we did one hundred and fifty-three episodes. It's all-new to me. It's a blur. I don't remember any particular episode, what season it is from, or what it is, really.
But if I go through the archives, I'll find one with a robot, and one with Bigfoot? Those episodes are fascinating too me, because they are so far removed from what the show is supposed to be about...
James Best: That was the excuse they gave me for not using my idea. Though, it was a good enough idea that they changed it enough that I couldn't sue them for plagiarism.
What makes that even more strange is that your idea actually fits in with the theme of the show, and it stays true to the characters of Roscoe and Boss Hogg.
James Best: They told me, "No, no...You don't know the format!" I said, "My lands, I work everyday on it. I would think that I know the format." They changed it enough. I have had quite a few problems with the powers that be at Warner Bros. I was the rebel in those days. I always wanted better script. I wanted them to incorporate other writers from The Andy Griffith Show and The Real McCoys, just t broaden out the scope on our series. But they had their own thing going, and they didn't want to share it. So, that's how it went. (Laughs) The whole cast wanted variation. We got tired of doing the same thing over and over again. All they did was add an extra car jump. And the editors would cut out a very funny sequence just to get another commercial in. But that is show business. We went along with it. Thank goodness, we had a successful run. We could have probably done another two years. We were in the top ten when we went off the air. What is amazing is that these country types of series have all been successful. Hollywood just didn't like them. Hee Haw and The Andy Griffith Show, The Real McCoys...All of them had this wonderful rural feel. And they were special. Now, all they do are these doctor shows and these detective shows. I don't know when they are going to learn that people want to get back to the basics, when America was very fun to be a part of. Back when you didn't have to lock you doors. You could go fishing with your kid. Unfortunatly, time moves on.
There is a resurgence for everything. Maybe it will come back...
James Best: I hope that Westerns come back.
There's True Grit. I hear that is pretty good...
James Best: Again! That is a remake of a remake, of a remake. Why don't they just make something original, for God's sake. It seems to me that you can't get much better than John Wayne. Why do that? Just write a different type of Western. What do I know? That is just my opinion. I am just a grouchy old man.
What is your take on The Dukes of Hazzard franchise now, with the big screen movie that came out, and all of these direct-to-DVD movies?
James Best: I only go to the classic movies. I watch the History Channel, you know? I do like Betty White on her new series. There are a few series that I really enjoy. Most of them are off now. I don't watch much television. Its mostly garbage. You have one hundred stations, and ninety-nine of them are just garbage. I don't watch too much television.