James Best

James Best


Also Known As
Jules Guy, James K. Best, Jimmy Best
Birth Place
Powderly, Kentucky, USA
July 26, 1926
April 06, 2015


Despite having played some of the orneriest bad guys in films and on television for over four decades, actor James Best was forever ingrained in the minds of audiences as the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). A World War II veteran, he fell in love with acting while serving in Europe, and became a Universal contract player in the early 1950s. ...


Despite having played some of the orneriest bad guys in films and on television for over four decades, actor James Best was forever ingrained in the minds of audiences as the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). A World War II veteran, he fell in love with acting while serving in Europe, and became a Universal contract player in the early 1950s. Scores of small film roles led to steady work in television and films, frequently as villainous cowpokes in "Ride Lonesome" (1959) and "Shenandoah" (1965). The bumbling Rosco P. Coltrane showcased Best's rarely-seen comic side to its fullest, and if it typecast him for the remainder of his career, he did not seem to mind. A respected acting teacher and occasional producer-director, he settled into independent film production and enjoyed the minor immortality afforded by nostalgia and television reruns. James Best died of complications from pneumonia on April 6, 2015. He was 88.

Born Jules Guy on July 26, 1926 in Powderly, KY, he was first cousin to Don and Phil Everly, better known as the pop group the Everly Brothers, through his mother's side of the family. One of nine children, Best's family was torn apart by his father's alcoholism and the financial devastation of the Great Depression. When his mother died in 1929, Best and his siblings were given up for adoption. The three-year-old was adopted by Armen and Essy Best and raised in Corydon, IN. After high school, he was a metalworker before joining the U.S. Army to serve in World War II; Best served on Army Air Corps B-17s and as a military policeman in postwar Germany. A chance encounter with a USO performer inspired him to audition for Army Special Services, which sent him across Europe as an actor in the play "My Sister Eileen." His director was Arthur Penn, who later enjoyed fame for helming "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967).

After his discharge, Best headed for New York City to try his hand as a professional actor. Like many others, he landed small parts without much consistency, and supplemented his income by working as a model. When an opportunity arose to audition for a Universal Studios talent representative, Best gave his all and was signed to a contract. There, alongside such fellow up-and-comers as Clint Eastwood, Shelley Winters and Tony Curtis, he was given bit and supporting parts in features, starting in 1950 with an uncredited turn in "One Way Street" (1950). A friendship with decorated World War II vet-turned-actor Audie Murphy led to more substantial roles in "Kansas Raiders" (1950) and a growing fan base of starstruck females. But an ill-timed dalliance with the girlfriend of a Universal executive put an end to his contract, and he was back to bit parts in films like "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953).

Cowboy star Gene Autry took a liking to Best, casting him in several of his kid-oriented Western series, including "Annie Oakley" (syndicated, 1953-56) and "The Gene Autry Show" (CBS, 1950-56). Time and patience eventually elevated him from background player in films like "Forbidden Planet" (1956) to a character actor specializing in intense, often unhinged Southern men like the psychopathic lead in "Man on the Prowl" (1957), "The Left-Handed Gun" (1958) as a wild sidekick to Paul Newman's Billy the Kid; and the vicious outlaw targeted by bounty hunter Randolph Scott in Budd Boetticher's "Ride Lonesome" (1959). There were protagonists on Best's résumé as well, like the cult favorite "The Killer Shrews" (1959) and a rare lead in "Verboten!" (1959), a gritty drama by Samuel Fuller about an American GI in postwar Germany that bore similarities to Best's own military experience.

Television became Best's steadiest source of income in the early 1960s; Westerns were of course a natural destination, but he was also memorably featured in three episodes of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964) and twice on "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68) as Jim Lindsay, a talented musician who needs a little guidance from Andy. Features during this period were few, though "Shock Corridor" (1963), his second film for Samuel Fuller, provided him with a show-stopping part as a shell-shocked Korean War vet who believes himself to be Confederate colonel Jeb Stuart. Best also turned up in the Jerry Lewis comedy "Three on a Couch" (1966), which featured the screen credit "Introducing James Best," and the Westerns "Shenandoah" (1965) and "Firecreek" (1968), both starring his acting hero, James Stewart.

In 1964, Best established his own acting school in Los Angeles. He soon became known as one of the best teachers in the city, and counted such talents as Farrah Fawcett, Gary Busey, Teri Garr and his children's babysitter, Lindsay Wagner, among his pupils. He maintained the school until 1971, when he relocated with his family to Mississippi, where he became the artist-in-residence at the University of Mississippi and continued to teach drama, in addition to helping to establish the Mississippi Film Commission.

In the years prior to "The Dukes of Hazzard," Best ironically played some of his darkest roles in films and on television; he was the racist sheriff who arrests Paul Winfield, separating him from his family, in "Sounder" (1972), a cross-dressing lumber mill owner who seduces Robby Benson in "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976), and a venal thief who mutilates traumatized Vietnam War vet William Devane, setting off a brutal revenge streak in the Paul Schrader-penned "Rolling Thunder" (1977). Best also began his career behind the camera on several films for longtime friend Burt Reynolds, including "Gator" (1976) and "The End" (1978). Best served as associate producer on the former, and uncredited director on both films; his role was to direct the scenes when Reynolds, the credited director, was on camera. The pair also appeared together in Peter Bogdanovich's "Silent Movie" (1976) and "Hooper" (1978).

The following year, Best received the part that became his calling card for the next three decades - that of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard." Initially, the role was darker and more in tone with some of Best's previous bad guy parts; in one early episode, Coltrane even murdered a man. But when the network discovered that children were tuning into the series, the focus - and Best's character - was given a more cartoonish feel. Inept, utterly corrupt and borderline idiotic, Coltrane became one of the show's most popular characters, providing much of the laughs in his interaction with main villain Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke), who was also his brother-in-law. Best improvised much of his dialogue with Booke in their scenes together, and also gave the character his famous pinched delivery and stuttering laugh; it was reportedly a voice he used when playing with his children.

Best stayed with "The Dukes" for its entire network run, and even reprised his role on the animated spin-off, "The Dukes" (CBS, 1983). He also co-wrote and rewrote numerous episodes, and directed three between 1981 and 1984. In 1997, he reunited with his original castmates for "The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion" (CBS), which saw Coltrane promoted to town boss, and "Hazzard in Hollywood" (CBS, 2000), as well as several "Dukes"-related video games. Rosco P. Coltrane would eventually come to dominate Best's career; though he had been an actor for over four decades, and the role had made him financially sound, producers and casting directors could not see him as anyone but the silly sheriff. Aside from a few appearances on episodic television and in independent films - one of which, "Death Mask" (1998), he also wrote - Best retired from acting. A resident of Florida since 1987, he taught acting at the University of Central Florida and served on the Advisory Council for the Motion Picture, Television and Recording Industry of the state. With his second wife, actress Dorothy Best, he established a production company, Best Friend Films, which offered high definition production services for independent producers. Best continued working well into his 80s, and co-wrote the horror sequel "Return of the Killer Shrews" (2012), in which he co-starred with his "Dukes" partner John Schneider. James Best died of complications of pneumonia on April 6, 2015 in Hickory, NC. He was 88 years old.



Cast (Feature Film)

Moondance Alexander (2007)
The Dukes of Hazzard -- Hazzard in Hollywood (2000)
Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion (1997)
Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane
Death Mask (1996)
Night Train (1990)
The End (1978)
Hooper (1978)
Rolling Thunder (1977)
Nickelodeon (1976)
Ode To Billy Joe (1976)
Dewey Barksdale
The Savage Bees (1976)
Deputy Mayor Pelligrino
The Runaway Barge (1975)
Savages (1974)
Sounder (1972)
Sheriff [Charlie] Young
Firecreek (1968)
First To Fight (1967)
Sergeant Carnavan
Three on a Couch (1966)
Dr. Ben Mizer
Black Spurs (1965)
Sheriff Elkins
Shenandoah (1965)
The Quick Gun (1964)
Scotty Grant
Black Gold (1963)
Jericho Larkin
Shock Corridor (1963)
The Mountain Road (1960)
Cast a Long Shadow (1959)
Sam Muller
Verboten! (1959)
Sgt. David Brent
Ride Lonesome (1959)
Billy John
The Killer Shrews (1959)
Thorne Sherman
Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958)
Kit Caswell
The Naked and the Dead (1958)
The Left Handed Gun (1958)
Tom Folliard
Man on the Prowl (1957)
Doug Gerhardt
Last of the Bad Men (1957)
Ted Hamilton
Hot Summer Night (1957)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Come Next Spring (1956)
Bill Jackson
The Rack (1956)
Millard Chilson Cassidy
When Gangland Strikes (1956)
Jerry Ames
Calling Homicide (1956)
Arnie Arnholf
Gaby (1956)
Seven Angry Men (1955)
Jason Brown
The Eternal Sea (1955)
They Rode West (1954)
Lt. Finlay
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Lt. Jorgensen
The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
Private Bliss
Return from the Sea (1954)
The Raid (1954)
Lt. Robinson
Riders to the Stars (1954)
Sidney Fuller
City of Bad Men (1953)
The President's Lady (1953)
Samuel Donelson
Seminole (1953)
Corp. Gerad
Column South (1953)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Radar man
Flat Top (1952)
Radar operator
The Cimarron Kid (1952)
Bitter Creek Dalton
Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952)
Marvin Johnson
Steel Town (1952)
Joe Rakich
Francis Goes to West Point (1952)
Corp. Ransom
The Battle at Apache Pass (1952)
Corp. Hassett
About Face (1952)
Hal's roommate
Air Cadet (1951)
Jerry Connell
Apache Drums (1951)
Bert Keon
Target Unknown (1951)
Ralph [G.] Phelps
Comanche Territory (1950)
Kansas Raiders (1950)
Cole Younger
Peggy (1950)
Winchester '73 (1950)
One Way Street (1950)

Cinematography (Feature Film)

King Kong (2005)
2d unit digital assist Assistant

Producer (Feature Film)

The End (1978)
Associate Producer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Cookout (2004)

Cast (Special)

McLaren's Riders (1977)
Lamarr Skinner
The Code of Jonathan West (1960)
Hardy Couter (Guest)
Gentry's People (1959)
Frank Simms (Guest)

Life Events


Had first acting role in stage play "My Sister Eileen"


Played supporting role in the film "One Way Street"


Played role in the more popular film "Kansas Raiders"


Played lead role in the film "Verboten!"


Appeared in three episodes of NBC's "The Twilight Zone"


Played an overtly racist sheriff in "Sounder"


Played Sheriff Roscoe T. Coltrane in "Dukes of Hazzard"


Acted in and wrote independent film "Death Mask"


Movie Clip

Sounder (1972) -- (Movie Clip) You Got You A Low Life Job Pieces of Cicely Tyson's Academy Award-nominated performance as Louisiana sharecroppers' wife Rebecca, attempting to visit her unjustly jailed husband, with the Sheriff (James Best) and a shopkeeper (Ted Airhart), in Martin Ritt's Sounder, 1972.
Sounder (1972) -- (Movie Clip) In These Hard Times Sharecropper Nathan (Paul Winfield) and wife Rebecca (Cicely Tyson) leading the family home, finding Sheriff Young (James Best) waiting to make a bogus arrest, in Martin Ritt's Sounder, 1972.
Sounder (1972) -- (Movie Clip) Open, Needed Time Opening with the original Lightnin’ Hopkins recording of the song on which Taj Mahal based his score, leading to his first original song, with Paul Winfield as Nathan and Kevin Hooks as David Lee, hunting a raccoon in the dark, on location in Louisiana, opening Martin Ritt's Sounder, 1972.
Hooper (1978) -- (Movie Clip) I Won't Do Any Acting After suiting up in the credits, star Burt Reynolds (the stunt-man title character Sonny) roars down to the set where Robert Klein is the director, Adam West plays himself as the star he’s doubling-for, and James Best his buddy Cully, with Burt pal and legendary stunt man Hal Needham directing, in Hooper, 1978.
Ode To Billy Joe (1976) -- (Movie Clip) Your Dad's In Trouble With her dad (Sandy McPeak) left stuck on the bridge after an encounter with out of state hoodlums, Bobbie (Glynnis O’Connor) fetches brother James (Terence Goodman) with Billy Joe (Robby Benson) and Tom (Eddie Talr) from the sawmill for help, early in Ode To Billy Joe, 1976.
Shock Corridor (1963) -- (Movie Clip) Nathan Bedford Forrest Now a patient in the mental hospital, on-assignment reporter Johnny (Peter Breck), lookng to solve a murder case, approaches delusional witness Stuart (James Best), then sees Pagliacci (Larry Tucker) et al cause a scene, in writer-director Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, 1963.
Left Handed Gun, The (1958) -- (Movie Clip) He Is Death's Child From Leslie Stevens' script based on Gore Vidal's teleplay, the lyric in the theme by William Goyen, Paul Newman's Billy the Kid stumbles and mumbles and meets first Tom (James Best), then rancher Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston), in Arthur Penn's radical western The Left Handed Gun, 1958.
Left Handed Gun, The (1958) -- (Movie Clip) You Can't Shoot A Sheriff Paul Newman as Billy the Kid seems overly thrilled by the calliope, after the burial of his new boss, bouncing off Southerner Moultrie (Hurd Hatfield) and lawman Garrett (John Dehner), then frightening pals Tom and Charlie (James Best, James Congdon), in Arthur Penn’s, The Left Handed Gun, 1958.
Firecreek (1968) -- (Movie Clip) An Honorary Position Part-time sheriff Cobb (James Stewart) confronts visiting thug Earl (Gary Lockwood) and meets the injured gang-leader Larkin (Henry Fonda), hoping to avoid trouble in Firecreek, 1968.
Firecreek (1968) -- (Movie Clip) Lost Our Bearings Outlaws Norman (Jack Elam) and Earl (Gary Lockwood) are closing in on innocent Leah (Brooke Bundy) when their boss Larkin (Henry Fonda) rides up, early in Firecreek, 1968.
Ride Lonesome (1959) -- (Movie Clip) He'll Know What To Do First scene from the credits, bounty hunter Brigade (Randolph Scott) finds outlaw Billy John (James Best), in Budd Boetticher's flawless Western from Burt Kennedy's original screenplay, Ride Lonesome, 1959.
Ride Lonesome (1959) -- (Movie Clip) I Thought You Didn't Scare! Setting out to find the missing station-master husband of Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele), bounty hunter Brigade (Randolph Scott), with prisoner (James Best) and two semi-allies (Pernell Roberts, James Coburn), are confronted by Indians, strategy ensuing, in Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome, 1959.


Winchester '73 - (Re-issue Trailer) A man (James Stewart) combs the West in search of his stolen rifle. Co-starring Shelley Winters. Directed by Anthony Mann.
Ode To Billy Joe (1976) -- (Original Trailer) Theatrical trailer for the 1976 box office hit Ode To Billy Joe, starring Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor, directed by Max Baer Jr., often cited as the first major feature named-for and based-on a popular song.
Gaby - (Original Trailer) Gaby (1956), Waterloo Bridge in color and widescreen with Leslie Caron as the woman left behind in World War II.
Firecreek - (Original Trailer) A pacifist sheriff (James Stewart) must use tougher means when his town is threatened by a band of outlaws in Firecreek (1968) co-starring Henry Fonda.
End, The - (Original Trailer) Burt Reynolds is dying so he hires loony Dom DeLuise to kill him in the comedy The End (1978).
Cast a Long Shadow - (Original Trailer) Audie Murphy plays a hard-drinking drifter who tries to claim a deceased cattle baron's estate in Cast A Long Shadow (1959).
Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The - (Original Trailer) A nuclear blast in the Arctic awakens The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).
Forbidden Planet - (Original Trailer) A group of space troopers investigates the destruction of an earth colony on a remote planet in Forbidden Planet (1956), the sci-fi thriller that introduced Robby the Robot.
Mountain Road, The - (Original Trailer) An American officer (James Stewart) helps villagers against the Japanese during WWII on The Mountain Road (1960).
Verboten! - (Original Trailer) U.S. Occupation Forces vs. Neo-Nazis in post-war Germany in Samuel Fuller's Verboten! (1959) starring James Best and Susan Cummings.
Naked and the Dead, The - (Original Trailer) A green lieutenant comes up against incompetent officers and a sadistic sergeant during World War II in The Naked and the Dead (1958), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Aldo Ray.
Shenandoah - (Original Trailer) James Stewart is a Virginia farmer who refuses to take sides in the Civil War even as it rages around him in Shenandoah (1965).