James Best (born July. 26, 1926) is an American actor best known for his role as bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the CBS television series The Dukes of Hazzard. He has also worked as an acting coach, artist, and musician.
Best would portray a wide variety of characters in a wide spectrum of film genres. Some of his more notable roles include Jason Brown in the 1955 historical drama Seven Angry Men, Kit Caswell in the 1958 western Cole Younger, Gunfighter, Private Rhidges in the 1958 film adaptation of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, the vicious outlaw Billy John in 1959's Ride Lonesome, Dr. Ben Mizer in the 1966 comedy Three on a Couch, the cross dressing Dewey Barksdale in the 1976 drama Ode to Billy Joe, and the gunman Drew in 1968's Firecreek, with James Stewart and Henry Fonda.
Best has guest starred more than 280 times in numerous televisions shows including the 1960 episode "Love on Credit" of CBS's anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson; co-stars were Carolyn Jones and Jack Mullaney. His other appearances include: The Adventures of Kit Carson (twice as Henry Jordan), Frontier, Sheriff of Cochise, Pony Express ("The Story of Julesburg"), Stories of the Century ("Little Britches"), Behind Closed Doors, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel,Trackdown, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Tombstone Territory (episode "Guilt of a Town"), Whispering Smith, The Twilight Zone, Overland Trail, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Man and the Challenge, Combat, The Mod Squad - Episode "The Price of Terror" (1968), The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy, Perry Mason, The Incredible Hulk, The Fugitive ("Terror At High Point"), Stagecoach West, and In the Heat of the Night.
In 1958, Best appeared as a guilty young man about to be lynched for murder in Gene Barry's NBC series Bat Masterson in the episode "Stampede at Tent City", set in Nevada. As the story unravels, the Best character had killed the brother of a leading townsman played by William Conrad.
Best played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard from the show's debut in 1979 until the series ended in 1985, and this role was Best's most visible success. He later revealed that the caricature-like persona of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane was developed from a voice he used when he would play with his young children.
In the very early episodes, Sheriff Coltrane was a more serious, aggressive, and more competent police officer than he would be by the end of the first season, even shooting one person in an early show. After the show became a hit among children and moved production from Georgia to California, the role of Sheriff Coltrane was toned down and made into the more familiar bumbling and comical character that is best remembered today. On the 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.
The character of Rosco was best known for his love of "hot pursuit," chasing Bo and Luke Duke in car chases that usually ended badly, either with Rosco losing them, a "horrendous crash," or some other problem. Rosco was a bachelor and childless, so he was also known for his love of his pet basset hound, Flash (introduced at the start of the third season, at the suggestion of Best), whom he loved and treated as it was his child. Rosco was also known for insulting and yelling at his deputies, Enos Strate (played by Sonny Shroyer) and Cletus Hogg (played by Rick Hurst), most often calling them "dipstick" and he also often lied to them about the crooked plans that he and Boss Hogg were working on.
After Dukes, Best continued to act. In contrast to the comic Coltrane of Dukes of Hazzard, in an episode of In the Heat of the Night, he played a repentant killer who has to come to terms with his crime.
He later moved to Florida and taught at the University of Central Florida. Now semi-retired, Best runs a production company and takes occasional acting roles. He has also earned a name for himself as an artist and painter. James Best is currently a resident of Hickory, North Carolina.
A highly respected acting coach, he taught drama and acting techniques for over 25 years in Los Angeles. His acting school listed some of the top names in Hollywood as pupils. He also served as artist-in-residence and taught drama at the University of Mississippi for two years prior to his stint on The Dukes of Hazzard.
In 2009, James Best completed his autobiography, Best In Hollywood: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful. The book will be published in August 2009 through Bear Manor Media. According to an official press release from the publishing company, and the actor's official web-site, the book will premiere at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland on August 27.
Best married Jobee Ayers, in 1959. They had two daughters, Janeen and Jojami. They divorced in 1977. Best also has a son, Gary, from a previous marriage.
He married his current wife, Dorothy Best, in 1986. Best is also the father-in-law of actor-singer Michael Damian.
- Winchester '73 (1950) as Crator
- Comanche Territory (1950) as Sam
- Kansas Raiders (1950) as Cole Younger
- Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) as Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz's stand-in)
- The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) as an unnamed radar operator
- Seminole (1953) as Capt. Gerard
- The Caine Mutiny (1954) as Lt. Jorgensen (uncredited)
- Forbidden Planet (1956) as an unnamed crewmember
- The Naked and the Dead (1958) as Pvt. Rhidges
- The Left Handed Gun (1958) as Tom Folliard
- The Killer Shrews (1959) as Thorne Sherman
- Verboten! (1959) as David Brent
- The Andy Griffith Show (TV series, 1960-1968) as Jim Lindsey
- The Mountain Road (1961) as Niergaard
- Shock Corridor (1963) as Stuart Couter
- The Quick Gun (1964) as Sheriff Scotty Wade
- Shenandoah (1965) as Carter
- Three On A Couch (1966) as Dr. Ben Mizer
- Firecreek (1968) as Drew
- Sounder (1972) as Sheriff Young
- Ode to Billy Joe (1976) as Dewey Barksdale
- Nickelodeon (1976) as Jim
- Rolling Thunder (1977) as Texan
- Hooper (1978) as Cully
- Centennial (TV miniseries, 1978) as Hank Garvey
- The Dukes of Hazzard (TV series, 1979–1985) as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane
- The Dukes (TV series, 1983) as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane
- In the Heat of the Night (Tv series, 1991) as Deputy/Sherrif Nathan Bedford
- Moondance Alexander (2007) as friend and storekeeper of the Alexander's (based on life of real-life daughter Janeen)