MUHLENBERG COUNTY, Ky. (9/5/13) – Mention the name James Best, and the first Best character that comes to most people’s mind is Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the long-running hit TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard".
But there is much more to know about this still active 87-year-young actor, accomplished artist, author, college professor, and songwriting guitarist.
James Best was born in the Western Kentucky town of Powderly in Muhlenberg County, and now makes his home in the hills of North Carolina with his wife Dorothy.
Ironically, this Hollywood legend will return to within a mile or so of his birthplace on September 14th, for a one-man-show at the Merle Travis Music Center titled "Best of Hollywood-The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful".
In an exclusive interview with SurfKY News, Best told Reporters, "The night will include includes some clips from my more than 87 movies and over 600 TV appearances, a question and answer session with the audience, a chance to purchase some of my artwork, and an autograph session."
Best will look back at fond memories of acting in films and television series with everyone from Humphrey Bogart, Gene Autry and Henry Fonda to Rock Hudson and Jimmy Stewart. Best starred in five films with Stewart.
"Jimmy Stewart was a true icon. He really was a gentleman. He flew over twenty combat missions in World War II, and then came back and raised millions of dollars in war bonds. He was one of the finest men I've ever known, and probably the finest actor I ever worked with,” said Best
Many recall with fondness Best's famous role as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard" He notes that his appearances on "The Andy Griffith Show" seem to be a close second for many, although he actually only starred in two episodes of the classic series that still has a huge following today.
"I had worked with Andy in two movies before his TV show started. As a matter of fact, I was in the show's fourth episode, so the series really hadn't taken off yet. Later on they brought me back. Andy and I both loved to play guitar. We'd get backstage, and he'd sing some spirituals. He had a great voice. His makeup man played the banjo, so we'd get going and the show's director couldn't get us to stop long enough to work. But we had a good old time."
Any fan of Western TV shows from the 1950s and 60s is bound to have seen James Best in episodes of "The Gene Autry Show," "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke", to name just a few.
"When I was putting the "Best of Hollywood" book together, I sat down and added up just the list of Westerns I've done, and it came to well over 200," Best marveled.
Oddly enough, even after spending a lifetime in the entertainment business, he rarely crossed paths with fellow Muhlenberg County natives, Merle Travis, or The Everly Brothers.
Chuckling his familiar laugh, he recalls, "I did meet The Everly Brothers once and we talked for awhile. Then we figured out we were first cousins! My late mother was the sister of Don and Phil's father, Ike Everly."
Taking a more serious look at a lifetime spent acting in comedies, drama, westerns and more, Best seemed a bit nostalgic for the golden days of Hollywood films and T.V.
"Today someone who never took one acting class in their life can do one movie or sing one song and they call themselves 'a megastar’ and they can't even spell 'megastar'. These so-called 'reality stars'… they're not stars. They do one show, or two shows. Go do fifty shows, and then somebody might be able to call themselves a 'star'." Best lamented, taking aim at the almost endless stampede of reality shows that seem to have taken over TV programming these days.
Best will be coming home to Muhlenberg County's Merle Travis Music Center September 14th at 7:00 p.m. He promises that this will be an up close and personal night of childhood and Hollywood memories, answering questions from the audience, and autographing a wide range of "Best Memorabilia", including his highly sought after oil paintings. You'll also be able to pre-order autographed copies of Best's new movie, "Return of the Killer Shrews", which co-stars fellow "Dukes of Hazzard" cast members John Schneider and Rick Hurst.
"The DVD actually includes two films...the new one we just finished, and the 1959 horror/sci-fi cult classic "The Killer Shrews" which starred Ken Curtis, better known to many as Festus on 'Gunsmoke'.
Best added, "Without sounding conceited, people really seem to enjoy a night of reminiscing. We've hired an agent and we now have booking all over the U.S. We were even invited to make some appearances in China, but that's a bit too far from home for me. We'll just stick to touring the good old United States."
It doesn't sound like this Western Kentucky native is quite ready to fire up the General Lee and head into the sunset quite yet. Nevertheless, he says he can't wait to return to the rolling hills where he was born, and spend some time with some good ole boys (and girls) who might want to hear a tale or two about his 87 years enjoying life and trying to make every moment it's very "Best".
Reserve your tickets now by calling 270-977-0409 or log on to Merle Travis Music Center on Facebook to find out more.
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