Jewel Franklin Guy
July 26, 1926
Powderly, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||April 6, 2015 (aged 88)|
Hickory, North Carolina, U.S.
|Television||The Dukes of Hazzard|
|Relatives||Don and Phil Everly (cousins)|
Michael Damian (son-in-law)
Jewel Franklin Guy (July 26, 1926 – April 6, 2015), known professionally as James Best, was an American television, film, stage, and voice actor, as well as a writer, director, acting coach, artist, college professor, and musician. During a career that spanned more than 60 years, he performed not only in feature films but also in scores of television series, as well as appearing on various country music programs and talk shows. Television audiences, however, perhaps most closely associate Best with his role as the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the action-comedy series The Dukes of Hazzard, which originally aired on CBS between 1979 and 1985. He reprised the role in 1997 and 2000 for the made-for-television movies The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! and The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood (2000).
Best was born on July 26, 1926, in Powderly, Kentucky, to Lark and Lena (née Everly) Guy. Lena Guy's brother was Ike Everly, the father of the pop duo the Everly Brothers. 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 and his wife, Essa Myrtle (née Knowland) and went to live with them in Corydon, Indiana.
Best served in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II, training in 1944 in Biloxi, Mississippi, as a gunner on a B-17 bomber; but by the time he completed his training the war had almost ended, so he was assigned to the army's law enforcement section. In the military police, as an "MP", Best served in war-torn Germany immediately after the Nazi government's surrender in May 1945. While stationed in Germany, Best soon transferred from the military police to an army unit of actors, who traveled around Europe performing plays for troops. Those experiences formed the beginning of his acting career.
Best began his contract career in 1949 at Universal Studios, where he met fellow actors Julie Adams, Piper Laurie, Tony Curtis, Mamie Van Doren and Rock Hudson. Initially, he performed in several uncredited roles for Universal, such as in the 1950 film One Way Street, but credited performances soon followed that same year in the Westerns Comanche Territory, Winchester '73, and Kansas Raiders. Work in that genre continued to be an important part of his ongoing film career, including roles in The Cimarron Kid (1952), Seven Angry Men (1955) in which he portrays one of the sons of abolitionist John Brown, Last of the Badmen (1957), Cole Younger Gunfighter (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), The Quick Gun (1964), and Firecreek (1968). Yet Best's film roles were not limited to Westerns. He also starred in the 1959 science fiction cult movie The Killer Shrews and in its 2012 sequel Return of the Killer Shrews, as army medic Rhidges in the 1958 film adaptation of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, as escaped POW Carter in the James Stewart classic Shenandoah, as Dr. Ben Mizer in the 1966 comedy Three on a Couch, and as the cross-dressing Dewey Barksdale in the 1976 drama Ode to Billy Joe. He also played Burt Reynolds’s partner Cully in the 1978 movie “Hooper”.
Best guest-starred more than 280 times in various television series. In 1954, he played outlaw Dave Ridley in an episode of Stories of the Century. In 1954, Best appeared twice on the syndicated Annie Oakley series. In 1955, he played Jim Blake on The Lone Ranger, Season 4, Episode 47. He was cast in the religion anthology series Crossroads, in its 1956 episode "The White Carnation." He was also cast on an episode of the NBC sitcom The People's Choice and in the crime drama Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
Best made four appearances on the syndicated anthology series Death Valley Days. His first role was as miner "Tiny" Stoker in the 1955 episode "Million Dollar Wedding".
In 1960, Best appeared in the episode "Love on Credit" of CBS's anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. The same year, he guest-starred on The Andy Griffith Show as "The Guitar Player" (Season 1, Episode 3 and 31). He starred in three episodes of The Twilight Zone including "The Grave" (Season 3, Episode 7), "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," (Season 3, Episode 23) and "Jess-Belle" (Season 4, Episode 7). In 1961 he guest-starred in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Make My Death Bed". 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.
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 in the 1950s and 1960s, including Wagon Train (three times), Laramie (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, The Texan, Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Tombstone Territory, Whispering Smith, Trackdown, The Rifleman, Cheyenne, Stagecoach West, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Overland Trail, Bat Masterson, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Combat!, The Green Hornet ("Deadline For Death"), The Mod Squad, I Spy, The Fugitive and Flipper. He made a guest appearance on Honey West "A Matter of Wife and Death" (episode 4) in 1965.
Best's highest-profile role was as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on CBS's The Dukes of Hazzard. He appeared during the entire run of the program, from 1979 until the end of the series in 1985. He later revealed that the caricature-like persona of Sheriff Coltrane was developed from a voice he used when playing with his young children. 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 often improvised 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.
In 1991, Best appeared in an episode of the NBC crime drama In the Heat of the Night. He portrayed retired sheriff and repentant killer Nathan Bedford in the episode "Sweet, Sweet Blues."
In August 2008, Best was presented the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Best later moved to Florida and taught at the University of Central Florida (Orlando). After semi-retiring, he administered a production company and accepted occasional acting roles. He also developed a reputation as an artist for his paintings of landscapes, scenes from The Dukes of Hazzard, and other subjects. Later, after residing for a while on Lake Murray near Columbia, South Carolina, he moved once again, this time to Hickory, North Carolina.
An acting coach too, Best taught drama and acting techniques for more than 25 years 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.
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."
Best had a son, Gary, with his first wife. In 1959, Best married his second wife, Jobee Ayers. The couple had two daughters, Janeen and JoJami, before divorcing in 1977. Janeen is an actress, screenwriter and producer, first as Janeen Best then as Janeen Damian, after her 1998 marriage to actor and producer Michael Damian. Best married his third wife, Dorothy Collier, in 1986. He had three grandchildren.
He enjoyed a wide range of hobbies and interests. He was an accomplished painter, a guitarist, and a black belt in karate; enjoyed writing; and ran his own acting school. His students included Lindsay Wagner, Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Quentin Tarantino, and Regis Philbin. He was also an animal rights advocate.
Best died on April 6, 2015, at the age of 88, in Hickory, North Carolina, from complications of pneumonia.
Prior to his death, Best's former Dukes of Hazzard co-star and longtime friend John Schneider said: "I laughed and learned more from Jimmie in one hour than from anyone else in a whole year." He also added that, when asked to cry for the camera, "(Best) would say, 'sure thing, which eye?' I'm forever thankful to have cut my teeth in the company of such a fine man." Nearly one year after Best's death, Schneider said about his working relationship with Best:
He was amazing in everything he did; he was not just a funny guy. In fact, I think the comedic timing came to him later on in life because before that he was a very serious actor. I was very fortunate to have grown up working with people like Jimmie Best and Denver Pyle and Sorrell Booke. Incredibly talented men, incredibly talented actors.