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James Best (1926-2015)


jakeem
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I just now learned that JB was a cousin of the Everly Brothers -- his mother was the sister of bluegrass musician Ike Everly (the boys' pa).

 

His best role was in Sam Fuller's Verboten, though seekers of the super-duper-obscure may attempt to search for The Islander (1977), a half-hour biopic-documentary produced by Mississippi Public Television, about the eccentric Gulf Coast artist Walter Anderson (1902-1965) .

 

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Late '40s self-portrait of Walter Anderson:

 

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http://www.walterandersonmuseum.org/index.php/

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A few years ago I got to say hello to Mr Best at a car show. I don't usually go  in  for celebrity autographs but he had a book that just came  out reflecting on his career in film and tv. Of course he was dressed as "Rosco" and most everyone was there for that, but I brought with me a few movie stills I had from THE CAINE MUTINY and  WINCHESTER 73 (with him in the pictures). I'm sure he and his wife were quite surprised that someone was interested in something other then "the Dukes". We only got to talk for a few minutes, he signed my "Caine" picture,  a very nice fellow.  I believe he was the last living member of the cast from that film.  R I P Jimmy, condolences to his family and many friends.

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A few years ago I got to say hello to Mr Best at a car show. I don't usually go  in  for celebrity autographs but he had a book that just came  out reflecting on his career in film and tv. Of course he was dressed as "Rosco" and most everyone was there for that, but I brought with me a few movie stills I had from THE CAINE MUTINY and  WINCHESTER 73 (with him in the pictures). I'm sure he and his wife were quite surprised that someone was interested in something other then "the Dukes". We only got to talk for a few minutes, he signed my "Caine" picture,  a very nice fellow.  I believe he was the last living member of the cast from that film.  R I P Jimmy, condolences to his family and many friends.

 

May Wynn, who played Robert Francis' love interest in "The Caine Mutiny," is still alive and turned 87 in January. She was married to Jack Kelly of "Maverick" fame from 1956 to 1964. Her real name was Donna Lee Hickey but -- like Anne Shirley, Gig Young and L.Q. Jones -- she adopted her movie character's name professionally.

 

Johnny Duncan, who played a radioman in "The Caine Mutiny," is 91.

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May Wynn, who played Robert Francis' love interest in "The Caine Mutiny," is still alive and turned 87 in January. She was married to Jack Kelly of "Maverick" fame from 1956 to 1964. Her real name was Donna Lee Hickey but -- like Anne Shirley, Gig Young and L.Q. Jones -- she adopted her movie character's name professionally.

 

Ah yes, one of my killer trivia questions pre-internet

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Ah yes, The Killer Shrews (1959), one of Jimmy's best, co-starring the venerable Ken Curtis.

 

I place it right up there with former child prodigy Marjoe Gortner's The Food of the Gods (1976), with a sterling cast that included Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker and Ida Lupino.

 

They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

...or do they?

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Ah yes, The Killer Shrews (1959), one of Jimmy's best, co-starring the venerable Ken Curtis.

 

I place it right up there with former child prodigy Marjoe Gortner's The Food of the Gods (1976), with a sterling cast that included Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker and Ida Lupino.

 

They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

...or do they?

Yep, called the SciFi channel, among others.  Not to mention, lots and lots and lots of direct to DVD.

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I'm so sad to learn of his passing.  He was always a favorite of mine.  He had small parts in many Universal westerns, sometimes not even getting screen credit.  But his presence was always obvious.  It has been said that his Southern drawl got in the way of his becoming a major star.  But I question that.  After all, it didn't do Joanne Woodward any harm.  Nonetheless, I will miss him terribly.  Most of the time, he played someone that I'd like to know personally.

 

Terrence.

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A few years ago I got to say hello to Mr Best at a car show. I don't usually go  in  for celebrity autographs but he had a book that just came  out reflecting on his career in film and tv. Of course he was dressed as "Rosco" and most everyone was there for that, but I brought with me a few movie stills I had from THE CAINE MUTINY and  WINCHESTER 73 (with him in the pictures). I'm sure he and his wife were quite surprised that someone was interested in something other then "the Dukes". We only got to talk for a few minutes, he signed my "Caine" picture,  a very nice fellow.  I believe he was the last living member of the cast from that film.  R I P Jimmy, condolences to his family and many friends.

I believe he was originally signed by Universal in 1949 or 1950, which probably makes WINCHESTER 73 one of his first films, if not the very first. In those days, he was buddies with Audie Murphy and Tony Curtis. They were all being groomed by the studio for lead roles. But James Best never really became a lead at Universal, instead finding his niche in low budget films and on television-- mostly in supporting roles and character parts.

 

I think his daughter married Michael Damian, the singer/actor who spent many years on The Young and the Restless.

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Sadly, too many will only remember him for that dumb goof-ball sheriff on the "Dukes" show.

 

He's done SO much better before that.

 

Sad to hear this...I've always liked his recurring role as that guitar player on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.

 

And his TWIGHLIGHT ZONE work wasn't too shabby, either!

 

 

Sepiatone

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I don't think that James Best minded the fact that "Rosco" became his main claim to fame. He seemed to enjoy that many people, kids and adults, liked the show and the characters. It was 6 or 7 years ago that I saw him at the car show, he was there for all 3 days of the event and spent many hours autographing and talking to people, and there were a LOT of people there to see him. And he was dressed like the Sheriff, giving the people the  Rosco routine.  Some people may not know he was quite the serious  actor and even conducted acting classes at times.  When he and Sorrell  Booke (Boss Hogg) started working on the Dukes show they evolved their characters into a kind of Laurel and Hardy comedy team, which proved very popular. Booke by the way was also an accomplished veteran actor from stage and film.  James Best's book, "Best In Hollywood" is an interesting read, giving a lot of insight to the ups and downs of being an actor. I only chatted with him for a few minutes and  I hadn't read his  book yet.  When I showed him the photo still I had from WINCHESTER 73 he told me he got "killed" twice in the movie.  Once as his assigned character (Cavalry soldiers being attacked by Indians, including "Chief" Rock Hudson) and a second time as another unnamed soldier.  Jimmy worked in several films with James Stewart over the years. He had an exceptionally good role  in the very fine film SHENANDOAH.  Wish I could have had a few more minutes of talk time, so many questions to ask.

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I'm so sad to learn of his passing.  He was always a favorite of mine.  He had small parts in many Universal westerns, sometimes not even getting screen credit.  But his presence was always obvious.  It has been said that his Southern drawl got in the way of his becoming a major star.  But I question that.  After all, it didn't do Joanne Woodward any harm. 

 

While a Southern accent definitely became a drawback for an actor once westerns went out of fashion, I agree that's not what kept Best from leading man status. IMHO it was his giving off a vibe of (moral) weakness and vacillation. He would have to be satisfied with heavies and second leads while resolute, macho hunks got the lead roles.

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'The Killer Shrews' is always the first thing I think of when I see James Best in anything.

 

Those dogs with the rugs on their backs were pretty darn scary. Thank goodness for oil drums.

 

 

Even as a kid I thought that movie was so dumb...........

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 I remember him in an unusual story on Gunsmoke. He killed a man and is sentenced to hang. His father knows the sentence was just, but is afraid that he will die a cringing coward. A plan is devised to tell him that the rope around his neck will not operate properly and he will be spared. He believes this and goes to his death with courage.  Certainly a different kind of story and a good one. The father,by the way,was played by R.G.Armstrong. Dick Foran was also in this Gunsmoke episode.

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Sadly, too many will only remember him for that dumb goof-ball sheriff on the "Dukes" show.

 

He's done SO much better before that.

 

Sad to hear this...I've always liked his recurring role as that guitar player on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.

 

And his TWIGHLIGHT ZONE work wasn't too shabby, either!

 

 

Sepiatone

I would never had known he was in the "Dukes" show if I hadn't seen it posted here. I remember him in a lot of the old TV shows. I had no idea he was in the Killer Shrews either.

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MeTV has been showing a tribute picture of James Best during commercial breaks. Since they currently are running Andy Griffith and Twilight  Zone episodes I would not be surprised that they will have an evening of  the shows where he was a guest star on those programs.

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A couple of his appearances spring to mind: 

 

He had a small part in the 1978 Burt Reynolds dark comedy "THE END" as a hospital patient all bandaged up attempting to have phone sex when Reynolds chances up behind him and needs to use the phone.  Best says something like "Come on, give me more of that lovey talk" and tells Burt to bug off and then Burt does something to Best's medicine.  It's pretty darn funny.  If you've ever seen the movie I'd swear that is also James Best's voice over the hospital intercom as well saying "Calling Dr. Cambern; called Dr. Cambern".  (Donn Cambern was a member of the production crew, though I can't remember what he did). 

 

     He plays a meanie in the 1977 action drama 'ROLLING THUNDER'.  He ain't nice at all in this one!  Luke Askew was also one of the baddies who attempts to extract information from William Devane.

 

    

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He plays a meanie in the 1977 action drama 'ROLLING THUNDER'.  He ain't nice at all in this one!  Luke Askew was also one of the baddies who attempts to extract information from William Devane.

 

Now, there's a movie that should be shown on Underground.

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MeTV has been showing a tribute picture of James Best during commercial breaks. Since they currently are running Andy Griffith and Twilight  Zone episodes I would not be surprised that they will have an evening of  the shows where he was a guest star on those programs.

 

 

That would be nice. He was in some really good ones.........

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