Saturday, May 22, 2021

Sheriff Rosco


"I acted the part, as good as I could.  Rosco, let's face it, was a charmer.  It was a fun thing."
  -- James Best

James Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Kentucky on July 26, 1926.  When he was three years old, his mother died of tuberculosis and he was sent to live in an orphanage.  He was later adopted by Armen and Essa Best of Corydon, Indiana.

After high school, Best enlisted in the Army and went to serve his country during World War 2.  Although he was trained as a bombardier, he'd spend the majority of his service, ironically, as a law enforcement officer.  He also joined the army unit of actors, which traveled Europe entertaining the troops.  

After the war, Best moved to Hollywood and became a contract player with Universal Studios.  He got his start in a series of western films released in 1950, with such titles as Winchester '73 and Kansas Raiders.  He worked heavily in the genre throughout the 1950s while also appearing in science-fiction films as well.  His most famous of these is the 1959 cult film The Killer Shrews

Best also began appearing on television in the 1950s, not surprisingly in westerns.  He appeared on such series as The Lone Ranger and Annie Oakley.  He also had a recurring role on The Andy Griffith Show (right) as Jim Lindsey, a traveling guitar player who would often string a chord with Andy himself.  Best also found himself in The Twilight Zone, appearing in three of the series more popular episodes, each of which had a western theme.  The most famous of these was called "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," which found Best waking up in his coffin at his own funeral.  Best worked steadily on television for the next two decades on series such as The Green HornetFlipper, and I Spy.  But his most famous role was yet to come.

In 1978, while living in Georgia, Best was asked to audition for a new series entitled The Dukes of Hazzard.  He initially turned it down based solely on the title, believing it to be a "gang thing."  But once he understood the concept and that it would be filmed entirely in Georgia, he signed on to play the sheriff of fictitious Hazzard County, Rosco Coltrane.  

The series debuted as a mid-season replacement in January 1979.  It was an unexpected hit for CBS, who moved quickly to capitalize on the show's success.  In order to save money, the network decided to move production to Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, much to the dismay of Best and his co-stars.  For the next seven years, Best found himself commuting home to Georgia on the weekends, along with his co-star Ben "Cooter" Jones.

But the headaches didn't end there.  Fans of the series will remember that Sheriff Rosco often found himself driving into a lake, falling in wet cement or being doused with cans of paint.  Despite his years of service, Best was not deemed significant enough by producers to warrant his own dressing room, and was not afforded the privacy to shower or clean up after these recurring gags.  He reached his breaking point during the middle of the second season, when he walked off the set and flew home.  Rather than cancel production, producers hired a series of replacement sheriffs, played by such actors as Dick Sargent, James Hampton and Clifton James, a man perpetually typecast as a southern law enforcement officer.  Best's castmates found these actors difficult to work with however, and producers had no choice but to finally meet his demands.  

When production ended in 1985, Best moved to Orlando, where he taught drama at the University of Central Florida.  He took up painting in his spare time and was known for his landscapes.  By the 1990s, he had semi-retired, but Hollywood, or perhaps more specifically Hazzard, wasn't done with him just yet.

Following the death of series actor Sorrell Booke in 1994, the cast re-assembled for production of a TV movie of the week entitled The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! (1997).  It was successful enough in the ratings that CBS commissioned a second reunion movie, Hazzard in Hollywood (2000), a film so ridiculous that star John Schneider later described it as "having achieved MAD Magazine status."

With Hazzard now officially in his rearview mirror, Best decided to open his own production studio.  One of the more popular films he produced during this period was a sequel to The Killer Shrews, appropriately titled Return of the Killer Shrews. Best reprised his character in the film, which featured a few other familiar faces from Hazzard County.

By 2015, Best and his wife had retired to Hickory, North Carolina.  It was there that he died of pneumonia on April 6th.  He was 88 years old.

For a few years, Best's final resting place was something of a mystery, as no information was made publicly available.  This blogger finally tracked it down in 2020.  He was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Corydon, Indiana. 

The exact location is somewhat tricky to find.  Your best bet is to use your GPS or find a helpful park employee, as this blogger did. 

Location: Latitude: 38.2166747, Longitude: -86.1223841
Inscription: Remember Me With Laughter

Rest in peace, Sheriff.

  • Best released his memoirs in 2009.  You can pick up a copy of Best in Hollywood: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful from Amazon.  Fellow blogger and Dukes expert Billie Rae Bates released her book Them Dukes! Them Dukes!: A Guide to TV's The Dukes of Hazzard in 2014.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Best's biological mother, Lena Guy, was born Lena Everly.  Her brother was Ike Everly, father of the Everly Brothers singing duo.  It wasn't until Best was himself a celebrity that he learned he was related to the famed singing family.  But the musical connection doesn't stop there. Best's daughter Janeen married singer Michael Damian in 1988.  Rock on!

  • When Best appeared in the 1966 film Three on a Couch, his billing read "Introducing James Best."  By this point however, he had been in Hollywood for sixteen years and had appeared in thirty films and several television series.

  • Best founded an acting school in Hollywood, the first of its kind to teach motion picture technique.  Some of his more famous students included Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Teri Garr, Farrah Fawcett and Quentin Tarantino.  Another of his students was Lindsay Wagner, who was working as a babysitter tending to Best's children.  Through this connection, he encouraged her to become an actress.

  • Best was a fan favorite at Dukes of Hazzard events and autograph shows.  Mark Miller snapped this photo in Virginia in 2001, when Best appeared at Cooter's Garage in Sperryville.

  • Best was a martial arts enthusiast who held a black belt in karate.

  • Best stated in interviews that the majority of his lines with Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg) were ad-libbed.  "If it was good, the writers took credit for it.  If it didn't go over so well, they'd say that SOB is ad-libbing again."

  • Although their characters were not fond of one another, in real life, Best and Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse) had a friendship dating back to 1958, when they appeared together in the film The Left Handed Gun.

Saturday, May 15, 2021



George Smith Lindsey was born in Fairfield, Alabama on December 17, 1928.  He was raised by his grandparents in the town of Jasper, where he attended Walker County High School. 

After graduation in 1946, he attended what is now the University of North Alabama, where he double majored in biology and physical education.  Yeah, Goober.  He played quarterback on the football team, but he also got his start on the stage, appearing in several college productions.

He graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree, which he immediately put to good use as a high school science teacher.  Yeah, Goober.  However, he longed to return to the stage. 

He moved to New York City in 1956 and immediately found work on Broadway, starring in productions of Wonderful Town and All American.  During this period, he made his first television appearance, posing as a spear fisherman on the game show To Tell the Truth.  

With one screen credit under his belt, Lindsey decided to make it his career.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1962, where he found work on such series as The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman, and as was required by law of all actors at the time, Gunsmoke.

His big break came in 1964, when he was cast in the role that would define his career, Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show.  The character was introduced as a replacement for Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors, who was at this point leaving the series for his spin-off, Gomer Pyle, USMC.  Unlike replacement characters that would occupy future sit-coms, the audience took to Goober and he quickly became a fan favorite.  His Goober dance and Cary Grant impressions are fondly remembered to this day.

In 1968, Andy Griffith decided to leave the series, but the supporting players weren't quite ready to say goodbye.  Lindsey and most of the other actors returned in the retooled series Mayberry RFD, which ran for three seasons.  Although this series gave Lindsey more to do, he often felt that the writing did not meet the standards of the original.

When the series concluded in 1972, Lindsey joined the cast of Hee Haw, often reprising his Goober character.  He continued playing the part for the next twenty years.  All in all, he played Goober on three different series, spanning from 1964 to 1992.  That has to be a record.

Lindsey also worked for Disney during the 1970s, doing voice-over work in a number of animated productions, including The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973) and The Rescuers (1977).  He also put in a memorable guest appearance on M*A*S*H, playing visiting surgeon Roy Dupree from the 8063 (left).  His episode is unique in that it's the only one of the entire series in which lead actor Alan Alda has less than one minute of screen time.  

When his time as Goober came to end, Lindsey went to work for the Alabama Special Olympics.  Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he helped raise more than $1 million for that charity.  He also started a scholarship in his name at the University of North Alabama, which awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 1992.  Yeah, Goober.

By 2012, Lindsey's health was in decline.  He ultimately died of heart failure on May 6, 2012.  He was 83 years old.

George Lindsey was entombed at Oak Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Jasper.

I'm Glad I Made You Laugh

Rest in peace, Goob.


  • Lindsey released his memoirs in 1995.  You can order a copy of Goober In a Nutshell from Amazon.

  • After graduating from college, Lindsey enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico.

  • Live long and prosper?  According to Leonard Nimoy, Lindsey was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's first choice to play Mr. Spock.  And according to Jim Nabors, Lindsey was considered for but not offered the part of Gomer Pyle.

  • Goober Pyle was originally named Goober Beasley, but producers decided to change his name at the 11th hour and make him Gomer Pyle's cousin.

  • Lindsey's Goober costume and hat are on permanent display at the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, North Carolina.  The hat was bronzed.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Big Mouth


"I didn't have to work till I was three.  But after that, I never stopped."
  -- Martha Raye

Martha Raye was born Margy Reed in Butte, Montana on August 27, 1916.  She was the daughter of Peter and Maybelle Reed, a vaudeville act known as "Reed and Hooper."  Martha joined the act when she was just three years old, performing with her brother Bud.  The siblings proved so popular on stage that their parents renamed the act "Margie and Bud."

Raye was a gifted actress and vocalist.  In 1934, she made her Broadway debut in the musical Calling All Stars.  After a successful run, she made her way to Hollywood, where it didn't take long to find work.  Her first screen role was in the 1934 short A Nite in the Nite Club.  Two years later, she signed with Paramount and made her feature film debut in the 1936 motion picture Rhythm on the Range with Bing Crosby.

For the next three years, Raye was a featured player on Al Jolson's weekly radio show The Lifebuoy Program, performing comedy acts and singing duets.  You can hear one program in its entirety on YouTube.

As America entered into World War 2, Raye left Hollywood and joined the USO.  It was the beginning of a lifetime of service in support of the troops that would ultimately define her career.  Throughout World War 2, the Korean War and later Vietnam, Raye went on several tours overseas to entertain the troops, earning the nickname "Colonel Maggie" along the way.  It wasn't always easy on her though, as Raye was deathly afraid of flying.

Between wars, Raye returned to Hollywood and the world of television.  The Martha Raye Show, a variety series, premiered in 1954 and ran for two seasons.  She was cast opposite former boxer Rocky Graziano, playing her boyfriend on the series.  It featured such notable guest stars as Zsa Zsa Gabor and Cesar Romero.

The series was canceled in 1956, at the same time that Raye's marriage to Edward Begley, her fifth husband, ended in divorce.  Coupled with a series of health issues, she attempted to commit suicide on August 14, when she overdosed on sleeping pills.  She survived the attempt however, and spent several weeks recovering at the Sisters of St. Francis Hospital in Miami.  There she was given the Star of David, a St. Christopher's medal and a St. Genesius medal by well wishers.  Although she was a devout Methodist, Raye would wear the amulets faithfully for the rest of her life.  When she returned to television, she would conclude each broadcast with the phrase "goodnight, sisters," as a sign of gratitude.

In 1970, Raye appeared in the Sid and Marty Krofft feature film Pufnstuf, based on their TV series of the same name.  The Kroffts enjoyed working with Raye, and later cast her on their new series The Bugaloos (left), which premiered that fall.  Surely you remember its catchy theme song.

From 1979 to 1984, Raye had a recurring role on the CBS sit-com Alice, playing Carrie Sharples, mother of diner owner Mel Sharples.  During this time period, she also made guest appearances on other popular series of the time, including The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.  She also appeared in her final feature film The Concorde...Airport '79, playing a passenger who should not have had that second cup of coffee. 

In 1991, Raye married her seventh and final husband, wannabe celebrity Mark Harris, a man 33 years her junior.  His claim to fame was being a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show, where he would promote a series of projects that ultimately never went anywhere.  One Stern fan put them all together in a 10-hour clip on YouTube.

By this point, Raye's health was already in decline as she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.  Then in 1993, doctors removed both of her legs due to poor circulation.  While she was recuperating from this procedure, her home in Los Angeles was destroyed during the Northridge earthquake in January 1994.  Harris moved the couple into a hotel, where she would spend her final days.  She ultimately died of pneumonia on October 19.  She was 78 years old.

As an honorary colonel in both the Army and the Marines, Raye was eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  Instead, she was buried with full military honors at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of her beloved Special Forces.  She is the only female buried there.

Location: Row 28, Grave 780-B

Rest in peace, Mrs. Sharples.


  • Although Raye never published her own memoirs, a number of biographies have been released.  The following are all available from Amazon:
      * Remembering Maggie: WW2 Korea Nam by Robert F. Burgess
      * Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown by David C. Tucker
      * Take it From the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye by
         Jean Maddern Pitrone 

  • Raye was known as "The Big Mouth."  While this typically describes someone who talks too much, in Raye's case it was a literal description.  It would limit her work to supporting, comedic roles, and was often satirized.  The 1937 Warner Brothers cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos caricatured Raye as a donkey named Moutha Bray.

  • During the 1980s, Raye did a series of commercials for Polident, using the catchphrase "take it from the Big Mouth."  Here's one of the more memorable ones, featuring fellow denture wearers Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman, Scatman Crothers and Yvonne DeCarlo.

  • Not surprisingly, Raye was politically active, supporting the campaigns of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  Near the end of her life, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton.

  • Raye has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - one for motion pictures, the other for television.

  • Shortly before her death, Raye sued Bette Midler and producers of the film For the Boys, claiming it was based on her life experience entertaining the troops during wartime.  The judge ruled however that she didn't have a case.

  • Raye left some of her estate to PETA, but the bulk of it went to her husband Mark Harris.  Ironically, he used his inheritance to design a line of furs.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Jack Kevorkian

"Let's hope you feel better now."
  -- Dr. Jack Kevorkian

Murad Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan on May 26, 1928.  He was the second of three children born to Armenian immigrants.

Kevorkian was a child prodigy.  By age 12, he had taught himself multiple languages, including German, Russian and Japanese.  He skipped the sixth grade entirely and went straight to junior high.

Around the same time, he was beginning to question his family's faith.  His mother had fled her home country following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and young Jack questioned why God would have allowed such a thing to happen.  He stopped attending regular services with his family and never returned to the church. 

Kevorkian graduated from Pontiac Central High School when he was 17.  He enrolled in the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, graduating when he was just 22.  He then completed his residency in anatomical and clinical pathology, while simultaneously conducting his own research on blood transfusion.  Hmmmm.

By 1959, Kevorkian was working at the University of Michigan.  It was here that he first started making headlines for his controversial ideas regarding death.  In an article published in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, Kevorkian wrote "I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods prescribed by law."  His employers disagreed however, demanding that he recant his proposal.  Kevorkian refused, opting to leave the university instead. 

Kevorkian continued to advocate for experimenting on the condemned.  Following the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which re-institutionalized the death penalty, he called for harvesting the organs of death row inmates after the sentence had been carried out.  As before, he failed to gain any public support for his plan.

By this time, Kevorkian was working as a pathologist at Pontiac General Hospital.  There, he continued his blood transfusion research, placing blood from the recently deceased into the currently living.  He thought it had battlefield applications and petitioned the U.S. military to consider his research, but the Pentagon wasn't interested.

Dr. Kevorkian and his Thanatron.
By 1987, Kevorkian was publicly advocating for assisted suicide.  He started placing ads in several Detroit newspapers, offering his services as a "death counselor."  His first client was 54-year-old Janet Adkins, a woman already in the throes of Alzheimer's disease.  With Kevorkian's assistance, she committed suicide in 1990, and the doctor was brought up on charges of murder.  Those charges were ultimately dropped however, as Michigan did not have any laws regarding assisted suicide.  However, the state took away his medical license.

To aid Adkins in her death, Kevorkian constructed a euthanasia device that he called a "Thanatron," from the Greek word thanos, or death.  Once hooked up to the device, Adkins pushed a button that released drugs and chemicals into her system, ultimately ending her life.  The Thanatron proved so successful that Kevorkian later developed another device he called the "Mercitron," or mercy machine.  This version required the user to place a gas mask over their face, one that would deliver carbon monoxide directly into the system.  Between these two devices, Kevorkian allegedly helped 130 terminally ill people shed their mortal coil throughout the 1990s.

During this time period, Kevorkian was tried for assisting suicides no less than four times.  He was acquitted of the first three, while the fourth ended in a mistrial.  All the while, the doctor was gaining publicity and support for the practice of euthanasia.

The doctor received the most exposure on November 22, 1998, during an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes.  During the segment, viewers saw Kevorkian end the life of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.  Although Kevorkian's patients had always pushed the button themselves, this was the first time in which the doctor had done it for them, in front of millions of viewers no less.  As you can imagine, this would bring the law down on him as never before.  You can view that 60 Minutes piece in its entirety on YouTube.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Just three days after the broadcast, Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder.  He was also charged with delivery of a controlled substance, given that his license to practice medicine had been revoked.  The trial had a different tone from his earlier three and Kevorkian had less public support than he had before.  It lasted only two days, after which the jury found him guilty (left).  He was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.

Ultimately, Kevorkian served just eight years at a prison in Coldwater, Michigan.  He was paroled in May 2007 after it was disclosed that he was himself terminally ill.  He was given two years probation and one year to live.  He was also ordered not to kill anyone.

Kevorkian had a history of kidney disease and was diagnosed with cancer of the liver.  He was eventually hospitalized in May 2011 as his condition deteriorated.  Coupled with pneumonia, the cancer ultimately took his life on June 3.  He was 83 years old.  There were no attempts to keep him alive through artificial means and according to all sources, his death was painless.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.

Location: Section H, #6178
Inscription: He Sacrificed Himself for Everyone's Rights

Rest in peace, Dr. Death.

  • In 1991, Kevorkian released his book Prescription: Medicide, detailing his beliefs on assisted suicide.  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Kevorkian was a jazz musician and musical composer.  In 1997, he released his album The Kevorkian Suite: A Very Still Life.  Seriously.  You can listen to it in its entirety on YouTube.

  • The good doctor was also an oil painter, who's work has been described as "grotesque and surreal."  But don't let that stop you from owning a piece for yourself.  Reproductions of his collection are available exclusively from the Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Michigan.  

    "Nearer My God to Thee"
    oil on canvas
    Dr. Jack Kevorkian

  • In 2008, Kevorkian launched his bid for the U.S. Congress, running as an Independent candidate in Michigan's 9th Congressional District.  When the votes were tallied, he earned a dismal 2.6 percent. 

  • In 2010, HBO produced a documentary on Kevorkian's life entitled You Don't Know Jack, which featured Al Pacino in the title role.  Check out the trailer on YouTube.

  • Kevorkian's death van is on permanent display at Zak Bagan's Haunted Museum in Las Vegas.  This blogger recommends taking the tour.