Biography of James Best
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James Best – Writer/Director/Producer/Actor
While he is probably most widely known for his role as Rosco P. Coltrane in the long running television hit, “The Dukes of Hazzard” James Best has built an impressive career on both stage and screen, and has taught and guided the careers of some of the Film Industry's biggest stars.
Born in Kentucky and reared in Indiana, Best's first professional stage experience came after WW II in a European tour of “My Sister Eileen” which was produced and directed by Arthur Penn. Penn would later go on to direct Best in “Left Handed Gun” with Paul Newman.
With the completion of the European tour, Best returned to New York, where he performed in both summer and winter stock productions. Additionally, he performed on stage throughout the Northeast, and toured nationally for almost 18 months in the Broadway touring company musical, “Marinka”.
Upon his return to New York, an executive for Universal Pictures noticed James, and he moved to California and was placed under contract to Universal Studios for two years. He then embarked on a freelance career that firmly established his credentials in the performance arena of Hollywood.
Since then, he has appeared in more than 600 television shows, including “The Twilight Zone”, “Gunsmoke”, “Andy Griffith Show”, “Rawhide”, “Wagon Train”, “The Rebel”, “Bonanza”, “Mod Squad”, “Perry Mason”, “The Fugitive”, to name a few.
During the years in Hollywood, he has also made 83 features, working with some of the screen's most prominent stars. His film credits include, five films with Jimmy Stewart; “The Cain Mutiny”, with Humphrey Bogart; five westerns with Audie Murphy; “Ride Lonesome” with Randolph Scott; “Firecreek” with Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart; and Norman Mailer's classic, “The Naked and the Dead”, “Three on a Couch” with Jerry Lewis; Sammy Fuller's classic “Shock Corridor” and “Verboten”, “Cimarron Kid”, “First to Fight”, “Seminole” with Rock Hudson and Anthony Quinn: multiple Academy Award nominee “Sounder” and three films with Burt Reynolds, including “Gator” on which he served as Associate Producer and script writer. “The End” which he also helped write and he directed while Reynolds was on camera, “Hooper” in which he co-stared and did the re-writes on the script.
Best's friendship with Reynold's led to appearances at the latter's renowned Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida. He directed and starred in “Goodbye Charlie” with Luci Arnez: starred in the Reynold's directed “Bus Stop” with Sally Field and Robert Urich, and then directed “The Fantastick's”.
In the early 1970' Best decided to take a semi-retirement, and became an artist-in-residence at the University of Mississippi. During his two years there, he taught Motion Picture technique and Drama; directed four plays, established the Mississippi Film Commission and was elected to the University's Hall of Fame.
While the years in Mississippi were productive, Best returned to California. He signed with Warner Brothers to do his first regular TV series, an hour-long comedy/adventure series set in the rural America.
“The Dukes of Hazzard” of course went on to become one of the biggest hits in Television history. The CBS show, which ran for seven seasons was the top rated series on the air for three full years. The popularity remains to this day, and periodically returns to syndication.