The Dukes Of Hazzard
On January 26, 1979, CBS aired for the first time The Dukes of Hazzard as a pinch-hit replacement for a midseason flop. Six years and 147 episodes later, the series concluded its run as one of the most successful television shows of its era, ranking consistently in the Nielsen top 10 and reaping millions of dollars for Warner Brothers in licensing fees.
More than a decade after they made their last episode, the extended Duke family remains an icon of pop culture. Their infamous 1969 Dodge Charger, the General Lee, is as familiar to the average American 20-year old as a Coke can or the Nike Swoosh symbol. One member of the cast, Ben Jones, even managed to cash in on his role as Cooter with a four-year stint in the United States Congress. The Duke phenomenon may have come as a surprise to its producers and CBS, but given the social situation in the United States at the time, it should only have been expected. The show had been originaly slated for eight episodes, but when the show skyrocketed to the top of the Nielsen ratings, its critics at CBS and Warner Brothers had no other choice but to leave The Dukes on. The Dukes may not have been the only Southern rural sitcom to appear on television, but it met with the most all around success and resurrected the Southern outlaw-hero from the dust that it lay in after the 1960s.
Although Hazzard County, Georgia was a fictional location (the early episodes of the show were filmed in Covington, Georgia and Conyers, Georgia), the real-life town of Hazard, Kentucky was a beneficiary of the show's popularity. Members of the cast were frequent visitors to the town's annual Black Gold Festival. There are still gatherings of Dukes of Hazzard fans, the largest of which is the Dukesfest, which is now held at the Music City Motorplex in Nashville, Tennessee and organized by Ben Jones (Cooter Davenport) and his wife. More than 100,000 fans attended the 2 day event in 2006; the largest gathering of fans for a TV show in history.
The General Lee was a 1969 Dodge Charger. It was orange with a Confederate battle flag painted on the roof, and the words "GENERAL LEE" over each door and the number "01" on each door. In the first episode ("One-Armed Bandits"), a confederate flag along with a checkered racing flag in a criss-cross pattern could be seen behind the rear window. The name refers to the American Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Since it was built as a race car, the windows were always open, a rollbar was installed, and the doors were welded shut. Through the history of the show, an estimated 309 General Lees were used; twenty-three are still known to exist in various states of repair.
The Duke boys had added a custom air horn to the General which played the first twelve notes of the song Dixie. Warner Brothers purchased several Chargers for stunts, as they generally destroyed at least one or two cars per episode. By the end of the show's sixth season, the Chargers were becoming harder to find, and more expensive, so the producers used radio-controlled miniatures or recycled stock jump footage. The third episode, "Mary Kaye's Baby", is the only episode of the entire run that (bar the opening and closing credits) the General Lee does not appear in. In that episode Bo and Luke drove around in a blue 1975 Plymouth Fury they borrowed from Cooter (which unbenownst to them he'd loaded with moonshine to deliver for Boss Hogg, a slip-up that could've wrecked their probation) that Luke later blew up with a stick of dynamite during a duel with some mobsters.
One of the show's notable recurring gags was the celebrity speed trap. With orders from Boss Hogg, Rosco would lower the speed limit on a particular road to an unreasonable level so that singers of country music passing that way would be in violation. The singers would then be required to sing at the Boars' Nest in exchange for having their citations forgiven. Typically, the nabbed act would give a parting shot to the nefarious commissioner and his half-witted yes man.
The Dukes offers no real glimpse at the Southern middle class. The Dukes, and the rest of Hazzard county, are all blue collar workers, and Boss Hogg, who owns the bank, the Boar's Nest, and most of the property in the county, serves as the lone representative of the rich. But to find someone whose occupation and speech indicate that they have had the benefit of a college education, viewers must stick to the random background characters that occasionally materialize to fill the support roles that some scripts require.
The Dukes was a simple series that required little digestion or deep thought on the part of the viewer: "Dukes considered the South to be a land of freedom, moral valued, and simple people. Good and evil are easily defined, and the good guys always won." As a television series designed to draw a viewing audience and get a few laughs, Dukes served its purpose well, but it, and its sitcom predecessors, are should be billed as neither a thorough nor accurate representation of average working class Southerners.
The contents of Hazzard County, as created by Warner Brothers, are a brilliant amalgamation not of what tells about the South, but what sells the South. But what ever happened to the hard-drivin', fast-talkin', short-shorts-wearn' crew of The Dukes of Hazzard?
Lucas "Luke" Duke (Tom Wopat) (1979-1982 & 1983-1985) was the dark-haired, slightly older cousin. More mature and rational than his cousin Bo, he was typically the one who thought of the plan that would get the two out of whatever trouble they had gotten into. Luke wore a checked blue shirt (a plain blue shirt in most second season episodes), and a denim jacket over it in early episodes. He was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a former boxer. He was the more physical of the two, often doing stunts like jumping onto moving cars.
Eager to leave Hazzard, Tom Wopat dabbles in country music, cranking out four albums and two Top 20 country singles (1987). Tom returns to TV (1995) as a womanizing ex on Cybill. In real life the twice-divorced Wopat soon has five kids from four different mothers. Wopat hits Broadway in Annie Get Your Gunand is nominated for a Tony for best actor (1999). Wait what? Tom makes an album of love songs. As for Dukes, he says, "I'm glad to move on." Then he hits the road in the General Lee on a Dukes reunion tour with John Schneider (2000). After dancing down 42nd Street, he joins the Broadway cast of Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). One critic describes him as "skillfully schlumpy."
Beauregard "Bo" Duke (John Schneider) (1979-1982 & 1983-1985) was the blond-haired Duke boy. He was the younger, wilder one of the pair. He was more of a "shoot first, ask questions later" type, and was often the one to get the duo into the various scrapes they found themselves in. Bo usually wore a cream-yellow shirt (though could be seen wearing a red or blue one on occasion in very early episodes), and for most of the first three seasons, a blue t-shirt underneath (brown in the first episode). An ex-stock car test driver, Bo was the one who, in the earlier episodes at least, drove The General Lee most of the time. He was known for taking the car off wild jumps (and landing without a scratch). Along with Luke, Bo regularly fought on the side of justice against the corrupt law officials in Hazzard. Bo was known for his rebel yell, "Yeeeee-Haaa!"
Tough year (1986): Former Miss America Tawny Little divorces John Schneider and the IRS wants $1.5 million: "I spent my money on exotic cars." Somehow John is a #1 country music star and the L.A. Times praises his songwriting (1987). Today's forecast for Hell: chilly, 80% chance of flurries. Founds FaithWorks Productions (1995) to make family-friendly fare. Later admits he was addicted to sex, but is now recovered. Guest-stars on Veronica's Closet (1999) as a construction worker who romances Kirstie Alley (gulp). There's a lunch we'll never get back. Finds success as Clark Kent's father on Smallville (2001), which has a scene where he listens to the Dukes theme song in his car.
Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) was Bo and Luke's pretty young cousin. She was honest and kind, although she could sometimes be slightly over-trusting and naive, which led the Duke family into trouble on occasion. She sometimes aspired to be a singer, and at other times a reporter. She raced around Hazzard with her cousins, first in a yellow and black 1974 Plymouth Road Runner (later on it was a Plymouth Satellite) and then in her trademark white 1980 Jeep CJ-7 enchristened "Dixie" with a Golden Eagle emblem on the hood (and the name "Dixie" on the hood sides).
Pigeonholed, Catherine Bach finds it tough to get work. After starring at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater, she gives acting a rest (1986). Seeing a man slap his wife, Bach beats the crap out of him. She also marries Peter Lopez, David Hasselhoff's lawyer (1990). The rap song "Dazzey Duks" is a huge hit (1992). But Bach doesn't have her Daisy Dukes onor enjoy being known as the hottest woman in history. Bach talks the cast into a reunion show. James Best says they'll do a bunch if Catherine stops having babies. Has babies (1994). A stay-at-home mom with two daughters, Bach attends car shows, signing autographs as Daisy Duke (2004).
Sheriff Rosco Purvis Coltrane (James Best) was the bumbling sheriff of Hazzard County and right-hand man and brother-in-law of its corrupt county administrator, Jefferson Davis "J.D." Hogg ("Boss Hogg"), whom Rosco referred to as his "little fat buddy", "Little Chrome Dome", and several other names. Although Rosco spent the first 20 years of his career as a mostly honest lawman, after the county voted away his pension Rosco joined Hogg in an effort to fund his retirement.
A tired James Best returns to teaching acting (1987). One of his students is Quentin Tarantino, who later gets trashed for his lack of acting ability. Writes, produces, and stars in Death Mask. It goes straight to video. The Dukes reunion show airs on CBS, riveting 15 million viewers (1997). "I'd like to leave a legacy other than Rosco P. Coltrane," Best says. Then he does a second reunion show and hits the car show/state-fair circuit (2000). Gets hired to make a Britney Spears special for MTV. "It didn't hurt that her brother was a big Dukes of Hazzard fan," he admits (2003). Best's short film House of Forever wins an award (2004). Then he puts on the sheriff's uniform and heads to the Oregon State Fairgrounds
Cooter Davenport (Ben Jones) was the Hazzard County mechanic, also known as "Crazy" Cooter. In the very early episodes, he was a wild man, often breaking the law (stealing the Sheriff's patrol car in "One Armed Bandits", reportedly wrecking Luke's car prior to the same episode, running moonshine for Boss Hogg in "Mary Kaye's Baby", and 'borrowing' the President's Limousine for a joy-ride in "Limo One Is Missing"). By the end of the first season, he had settled down and become an easy going good ol' boy.
Ben Jones runs for Congress as a Democrat in a Georgia district that includes areas where Dukes was filmed. He wins (1988). Challenges Republican juggernaut Newt Gingrich. Gingrich refuses to debateso Cooter chases him with a pair of beagles. Cooter loses (1994). His wife calls it "the dumbest idea ever," but his Cooter's Place museum draws 5,000 in one weekend (1999). He says, "They scoffed at the great geniuses: Galileo, Einstein, Cooter." Runs for Congress against an incumbent in the most conservative district in Virginia (2002). Cooter loses, conceding, "I left politics because of illnessthe voters got sick of me." Cooter's DukesFest party is so big it moves to the Bristol Motor Speedway (2004). Next stop: sainthood.
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