Birthday: July 26, 1926
Died At Age: 88
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Jewel Franklin Guy
Born in: Powderly, Kentucky
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'1" (185 cm), 6'1" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Collier (m. 1986), Jobee Ayers (m. 1959 – div. 1977), Matilda Engleberg (m. 1949 - div. - )
father: Armen Best
mother: Essa Best
children: Gary Best, Janeen Damian, Jojami Best
Died on: April 6, 2015
place of death: Hickory, North Carolina
U.S. State: Kentucky
Who was James Best?
James Best was a renowned American actor, director, writer, artist and acting coach. He gained fame for portraying the awkwardly babbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the CBS comedy series ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. He also delivered unmatched performances as the sheriff in the made-for-TV movies ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!’ and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood’. Throughout his career, he managed to deliver realistic performances while playing a wide array of roles. Some of his top-rated movies were ‘Ride Lonesome’, ‘Ode to Billy Joe’, ‘Firecreek’, ‘The Killer Shrews’, ‘Sounder’, and ‘Rolling Thunder’, etc. Simultaneously, his work was equally praised in TV shows like ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Have Gun – Will Travel’, ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, ‘Laramie’, ‘Death Valley Days’ and ‘Gun Smoke’. Additionally, he had become quite famous for his appearances in Western movies. In his later career, not only did he sporadically appear in films but also became an acting coach and artist. His landscape paintings, capturing different scenes from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, only cemented his legacy and immortalized him in the hearts of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ fans.
Childhood & Early Life
James Best was born as Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Kentucky, on July 26, 1926. His father Lark was a coal miner, while his mother Lena Guy’s profession is unknown. After the deaths of his father and mother in 1929, he was sent to an orphanage.
Armen Best (1897 – 1984) and Essa Myrtle (1896 – 1988) from Corydon, Indiana, adopted him, and his life changed for the better. They renamed him James or Jimmie.
During World War II, James Best served in the U.S. Army. He trained as a gunner on B-17 bomber planes. The end of his training coincided with the end of the war, and he was stationed as military police in Germany in May 1945.
It was in Germany that he transferred from military police to the army unit of actors, performing for troops all over Europe. James’s first on-stage appearance was as part of that unit in Arthur Penn’s play ‘My Sister Eileen’.
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After leaving the U.S. Army, James Best debuted as a stage actor in New York. Around this time, he also became a fashion model. This brought him to the notice of Hollywood casting directors, and a contract with ‘Universal Studios’ soon followed.
James made his movie debut in the uncredited role of a driver in ‘One Way Street’ (1950). He was then cast in his first major role in ‘Comanche Territory’ (1950). The movie was a box-office success and proved to be a launchpad for his career.
The year 1951 was a breakthrough one for the actor. He appeared in successful movies like ‘Target Unknown’ (1951), ‘Apache Drums’ (1951) and ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man’ (1951), to name a few.
In 1952, James became one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. Some of his top-rated movies of that year were ‘The Cimarron Kid’, ‘The Battle of Apache Pass’, and ‘Francis Goes to West Point’. In 1953, he also made his TV debut in the telefilm ‘McCoy of Abilene’ and the TV series ‘Fireside Theatre’.
In the mid-1950s, he continued to portray diverse kinds of characters in movies, such as ‘Riders to the Stars’ (1954), ‘Seven Angry Men’ (1955), and ‘Come Next Spring’ (1956).
In 1954, James was seen in two episodes of the series ‘Annie Oakley’. He was also seen in ‘The Lineup’ (1955 – 1959), ‘Trackdown’ (1957 – 1958), and ‘Wagon Train’ (1959 – 1960).
Between 1959 and 1960, he appeared in movies like ‘The Left Handed Gun’ (1958) and ‘Ride Lonesome’ (1959). In 1959, he played one of his most iconic movie roles of Thorne Sherman in the cult-horror classic, ‘The Killer Shrews’. He later reprised this role in ‘Return of the Killer Shrews’ in 2012.
Besides appearing in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ (1960 – 1961), James portrayed different characters in the TV series ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1958 – 1961) and got critical acclaim for them. He followed that up with TV shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1961 – 1963) and ‘Death Valley Days’ (1955 – 1964).
In the 1970s, the actor appeared in movies like ‘Sounder’ (1972) and ‘Rolling Thunder’ (1977), etc. But most of his acting output was reserved for TV series, including ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ (1979 – 1985) and ‘The Dukes’ (1983). In the meantime, he was also teaching drama at the ‘University of Mississippi’.
In the latter part of his acting career, James was seen playing small roles in movies like ‘Hot Tamale’ (2006), ‘Moondance Alexander’ (2007) and ‘The Sweeter Side of Life’ (2013). He was semi-retired at this point and also began to teach acting at the ‘University of Central Florida’.
James Best is most famous for playing the role of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the following TV series, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ (1979 – 1985) and ‘The Dukes’ (1983). Such was the popularity of the aforementioned role that he reprised it the TV movies, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!’ (1997) and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood’ (2000).
He voiced the character of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the video games ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home’ (1999) and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee’ (2004).
Family & Personal Life
James Best married Matilda Engleberg in 1949 and had a son with her, named Gary. However, they got divorced later.
He married Jobee Ayers in 1959 and divorced her 1977. He had two daughters with his second wife: Janeen and Jojami.
James got married to Dorothy Collier on August 15, 1986 and they remained married until his death on April 6, 2015.