The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985): Gone But Not Forgotten

Growing up in the 80s it was a special time for kids who loved cars.  Series like Magnum PI, Knight Rider, and The A-Team all had an iconic vehicle that was a centerpiece of the series and epitomized the spirit of the show.  But perhaps none was as iconic and memorable as the car at the heart of this episode, The General Lee.  

The orange painted muscle car was the chariot of Bo and Luke, the two modern day Robin Hoods AKA The Duke Boys. In this episode of Gone But Not Forgotten we’re going climb through the window and get behind the wheel of The General as we revisit The Dukes of Hazzard.

The late 70s and early 80s were a massive time in the land of country music.  It had become part of the main stream in a major way thanks to films like Urban Cowboy and outlaw musicians like Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, and Kris Kristofferson crossing over.  Kenny Rogers was another one of those artists who would start a trend with his music actually being taken and made into films. 

CBS readily embraced the country music bandwagon, no pun intended.  It had started with the variety series Hee Haw in 1969 which would see a number of actors and musicians pass through the cornfield.  But in 1979 CBS took a step into a new sort of country with a TV series that would combine action, comedy, and country music. When it created a little slice of backwoods magic called The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Dukes of Hazzard would owe more than a little bit to the films of Burt Reynolds that rampaged through the 70s with Smokey and The Bandit and Gator. Which would feature rollicking country soundtracks with tough and loyal lead characters that drove fast cars in the back roads. But, it would literally be inspired by a film made in 1975 called The Moonrunners that was written and directed by Gy Waldron.

The Moonrunners followed the exploits of two cousins who ran Moonshine for their Uncle Jesse in the backwoods of Shiloh County.  Sound familiar?  Well if that’s not enough the music and narration is done by Waylon Jennings.  There’s even a “Boss Hog” and Cooter.  Variations on these characters and especially Jennings would be carried over to the TV series.  The film and the Duke series were inspired by the real-life moonshiner Jerry Rushing.  Waldron took the stories that Rushing shared and used them for both properties.  Rushing would wind up suing Waldron due to lack of credit and lack of royalties for his heavy contributions but would appear in an episode of Dukes.

The story of the Dukes of Hazzard truly began in 1977 when Gy Waldron was asked to do a limited series of Moonrunners for CBS.  But the work turned out to be so well received that it was ordered into a full series run.

The Dukes of Hazzard focused on the exploits of The Duke boys mainly.  Hazzard County was a small town, back woods spot in Georgia.  The Dukes, Bo and Luke, were cousins who drove fast in their brilliantly orange car, The General Lee.  Their Uncle Jesse was an old school moonshiner and had raised the boys like they were his own sons.  Along with the boys was their beautiful cousin Daisy with her iconic…shorts. Yes, Daisy Duke…this is where it all came from kids. Daisy, Bo and Luke spend most of the series butting heads with Boss Hogg, the notorious town leader and owner of The Boars Nest, a local watering hole.  

Boss Hogg is in control of the local police and spends most of his time trying to catch the Duke boys who are always trying to stop his nefarious schemes.  His minions consist of Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane and deputies Enos and Cletus.  Roscoe’s dog Flash doesn’t really comment on the situation that much.

Helping Bo and Luke besides their fellow Duke family is honorary Duke, Cooter.  Cooter is the local mechanic in Hazzard and is often helping get the boys out of jams and stopping Boss Hogg.  

Interspersed with the exploits was a LOT of car chases, driving in front of green screen, and cars jumping over things, usually with the help of a conveniently placed ramp of some sort. There was corny comedy, good looking cousins, and the voice of Waylon Jennings. Who told us the story and giving a witty lines as a commercial break happened and a still shot of a car in mid air led us to the sponsor of the day.

The Dukes of Hazzard was simply awesome.  It didn’t take itself seriously at all and was an escape into a reality were family was important, people helped one another, and kids could see an epic car driving like crazy that did insane stunts every week.  The modern day Robin Hood line was accurate for Bo and Luke who were good hearted guys that helped everyone they met that needed it.  Daisy wasn’t just a pretty face and held her own when it came to the adventures she shared with her cousins.  She could shoot, drive, and rebuild a damn carburetor blindfolded if the need arose.  Plus she also had a badass car in the form of her Jeep.  

And let me tell you, for a little kid who grew up in the sticks in the southern part of the country, seeing people who talked a lot like me and my neighbors shown in a good light like this was pretty nice.  Usually those of us who grew up around cricks, the holler, or in an area that was considered even slightly southern were usually the yokels, or well…you’ve heard of Deliverance.  But that’s not what the Dukes were and let me tell you…the public responded.

The Dukes of Hazzard became a phenomenon on the level of other classic TV series of the era.  And the merchandising reflected this in spades.  Little girls had nightgowns that bore the image of a young John Schneider with the phrase “My Heart Belongs to Bo” on them.  Tom Wopat was everywhere clad in head to toe denim and grinning from the covers of three ring school binders.  One year Santa brought yours truly EVERY Dukes of Hazzard car and action figures. This included Daisy, her Jeep of course, the General Lee.  .

Needless to say, I and the rest of the country fell in love with the Dukes.  And it wasn’t hard to see why.

John Schneider played Bo Duke.  Schneider pulled a fast one on the casting people when he auditioned.  The casting directors were looking for someone in the early to mid-20s, Schneider was just barely 18.  He knew they were looking for a country boy and when he arrived, he was driving a beat-up pickup truck wearing cowboy boots with an accent and, as legend has it, smoking a cigarette.  With that accent in place Schneider got the part as the blonde Bo.  

Bo was actually the most inspired by the real-life Jerry Rushing, with maybe a little of Elvis thrown into the mix.  Of the two Duke Boys, Bo is the youngest, the most reckless, and the most interested in the fairer sex…which manages to get both of the boys into trouble on more than one occasion.  

Tom Wopat played Luke, the elder Duke boy and one who, like many characters in the early and mid-80s had done a tour in Vietnam.  Wopat wasn’t the first choice for the role and in an interesting bit of casting history, it almost went to Dennis Quaid.  Quaid had a stipulation though and it wound up being what kept him from being part of Hazzard history.  He wanted his at the time wife and 70s icon PJ Soles to play Daisy Duke…one wonders just how close Quaid thought the cousins would be in the series.  But Soles just wasn’t a fit for Daisy and so Quaid was out of the running.  Wopat and Schneider had a good chemistry after meeting in the bathroom prior to his read. Luke was the more levelheaded of the two but is very much a brawler when needed.  The Luke hood slide was actually created by accident when Wopat was trying to jump the hood and his foot caught on the antenna.  But that accident inspired a lot of kids with unhappy parents and dented hoods.  

Funnily enough both John Schneider and Tom Wopat would wind up in the DC universe in later years.  Schneider taking on the role of Johnathan Kent in Smallville and Wopat starring as the villain Colonel Slocum in the 2010 film Jonah Hex.  Wopat would also show up in an episode of Smallville, driving a very fast Dodge Charger that’s blue…not orange.

Daisy Duke was played by the iconic Catherine Bach.  Bach’s image as Daisy and the poster that she spawned is the stuff of legend, even catching the eye of Nancy Reagan.  Daisy of course inspired a fashion trend that continues to this day.  In fact, the outfits made network execs so nervous that Bach had to wear a layer of thin pantyhose under her “dukes” to ensure there were no wardrobe malfunctions.  Famously, Bach’s legs were insured for $1,000,000.00 while shooting The Dukes of Hazzard.  

The patriarch of the Dukes, Uncle Jesse was played by Denver Pyle, a familiar face in film with a penchant for westerns as well as having appeared on The Andy Griffith Show.  Jesse was a well-known Moonshiner and beloved by most of the residents of Hazzard.  Pyle was an interesting character off screen as well as on.  In an interesting turn, the actor invested in oil back in the 60s and got a healthy dose of cash from all that black gold or Texas Tea (to borrow another classic series phrase) prior to starring in Dukes.  

But every group of heroes needs their villains to take on and the Dukes were no different.  Boss Hogg was the undisputed King of Hazzard and would set the standard for bad guys in white. In Prisoners of the Ghostland years later, Bill Mosley’s Governor would borrow quite a bit of Boss Hogg’s look. With his big car and bigger waistline, Boss Hogg spent every opportunity to catch the Dukes or pin something on the Dukes in order to get them out of his barely there hair.  

Actor Sorrell Brooke who played Boss Hogg was not a big man and had quite a bit of padding to make himself look fatter.  Brooks had a lengthy filmography from work in TV and film and he played the villainous yet lovable Boss Hogg perfectly. Hoggg was a mix, he was part used car salesman and part politician.  Even with all the feuding between the Dukes and Boss Hogg they’d usually wind up all celebrating at the Boars Nest at some point.

Boss Hogg had a number of minions who served under him. But, my favorite and that of many of the fans, was Rosco P Coltrane, the long-suffering Sheriff of Hazzard.  Rosco had a fantastic giggle/cackle and was often in “hot pursuit” thinking he could out drive the Dukes.  Spoiler alert, he couldn’t.  But he and his faithful floppy eared companion Flash would always try.  

Rosco was played by the awesome James Best.  Best was another actor with a storied career in TV and film, again having appeared in The Andy Griffith Show.  With numerous roles throughout the years one of most famous other than Dukes of Hazzard was The Killer Shrews.  He would actually appear in the sequel Return of the Killer Shrews which would co-star John Schneider and Rick Hurst who played Boss Hoggs Cousin Cletus in Dukes.

Another of Boss Hogg’s deputies was Enos played by Sonny Shroyer.  Enos was in crazy love with Daisy and the two have a star-crossed type of romance over the years that never seems to quite happen.  Enos is actually a sweetheart of a guy and doesn’t like trying to ruin the Dukes lives or play into Boss Hoggs schemes.  He’s frequently the recipient of Roscoe’s anger.  Sonny Shroyer got his start in the film business playing heavies in films, believe it or not.  And he’d actually appear in a couple of the films I mentioned earlier, Gator and Smokey and the Bandit.  

Shroyer actually has the distinction as Enos of having the only spin off series to happen from The Dukes of Hazzard.  The short lived, one season 1980 series had Enos moving to LA with characters showing up during the series from Hazzard County.  Enos joined the LAPD and was partnered with Turk Adams, played by Sebastian himself Sam Wright.  But as said, the series never caught the audience that Dukes had and Enos would return to Hazzard after it was cancelled in 1981.

Cooter was played by Ben Jones.  Jones was in the seed of the Dukes movie Moonrunners and was also in Smokey and The Bandit.  Jones continues championing the Dukes and keeping the shows legacy alive with Cooter’s Place which can be found in Nashville, Pigeon Forge, and Luray Tennessee.  Fans can get photo ops in Cooter’s tow truck, the General Lee, Daisy’s Jeep and even Roscoe’s patrol car with Flash hanging out on top.  The locations contain Duke memorabilia and museums where you can see props and the literal tons of Duke merchandise produced over the years as well as buying some of your own.

Jones is an interesting character and truly believes in the Dukes of Hazzard as an ongoing source of joy for families and fans.  He actually served in the House of Representatives from 1989 through 1993 for the state of Georgia. 

The Dukes of Hazzard would run for 7 total seasons…and we might as well go ahead and talk about Season 5.  Season 5 was a time of upheaval in Hazzard County.  John Schneider and Tom Wopat were not happy with how the show was being written or how they were getting paid.  Remember all of that merchandise I mentioned before?  So when season 5 came around, part of the Dukes of Hazzard were missing.  While contracts were being disputed and changed, our leads vanished.  Enter Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer…AKA Coy and Vance two characters who were on the same level of fan ire as Scrappy-Doo in the land of Scooby.

While you can understand WHY they had to do this, the how was just bad.  Coy and Vance were literally color coded to Bo and Luke and replaced the cousins while Bo and Luke went off to fulfill their NASCAR dreams.  Coy and Vance, to put it unkindly, were what you got when you ordered Bo and Luke off Wish.com.  The series wasn’t even retooled for these two, they were literally using scripts that had been written for the characters of Bo and Luke.  As a young kid watching this show, I instantly pointed at the TV like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

No offense to the Cherry and Mayer, they were given a losing hand with this entire thing.  But, there was much rejoicing 19 episodes later when “Welcome Back, Bo N Luke” aired and they rather unceremoniously switched cars with the returning Bo and Luke. The explanation was that they decided to come back to Hazzard after their time at NASCAR and take back the General Lee.

Speaking of which…when I said Enos was the only spin off that was sort of a fib.  He was the only LIVE ACTION spin off.  “The Dukes” was a cartoon spin off that aired in 1983 from Hanna Barbara for a total of 20 episodes.  It also featured Coy and Vance for its first season as it was happening during the contract dispute starring along with most of the main cast. As was Hanna Barbara’s penchant for racing, the story had the Dukes vs Boss Hogg in a race around the world in order to save Uncle Jesse’s farm.

Speaking of sound, we need to talk about the music again.  Specifically just how many country acts would appear in the show besides the always epic Waylon Jennings.  Jennings would actually appear as himself in one episode and perform at the Boars Nest.  The Boars Nest was a great plot device when it came to adding hot country music talent to spice up an episode.  This trick was known as The Celebrity Sped Trap.  Besides Waylon Jennings we’d see stars like Roy Orbison, Hoyt Axton, Johnny Paycheck, and The Oak Ridge Boys.  The way it would work is Boss Hogg would set up a speed trap knowing a country star would be heading through town and in order to get out of it, they’d have to do a free performance at his bar.  Ingenious! 

The list of guest stars that would come through Hazzard and the surrounding area is HUGE.  While not on the level of The Love Boat, Hazzard had a long guest list.  Clancy Brown, Johnathan Frakes, Brion James, Ernie Hudson, Charles Cyphers, and Kevin Peter Hall are just some of the familiar names fans might recognize. 

Speaking of recognize, lets talk for a second about The General Lee and all the other cars that took part in The Dukes of Hazzard.  The General actually got more fan mail than anyone else in the cast, somewhere around 30,000 letters a week.  The use of the car in the show, a 1969 Dodge Charger, caused a shortage of the vehicles, at least that’s the rumor.  In total possibly over 320 of the cars were used during filming, most of them beaten to hell due to the stunt work required.  As of now the number of still remaining original used General Lee’s is around 17.  

To save the amount of work needed to upkeep the vehicles the series would start reusing footage of all the cars including the police vehicles.  The amount of stunt work on the show and damage to the cars wound up having producers using miniatures for some of the stunts.  The General Lee has since become one of the most recognizable cars in the history of TV or film, rallying horn and all. 

The Dukes run would end in 1985 but the crew from Hazzard would return a couple of times.  In 1997 The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! aired on CBS.  Roscoe inherits all of Boss Hogg’s legacy after he passes.  Bo is a race car driver and Luke is a smokejumper.  Daisy has a degree in ecology and is divorced which is important as Enos finally asks her to marry him…which doesn’t turn out great for him.  The film, while nice to see everyone again, it felt strange as it did for some of the actors.  At this time Sorrell Brooke’s had passed away and Denver Pyle had to wear a fat suit to look as he used to as Uncle Jesse.  Pyle would actually pass away two years later.  Don Williams instead of Waylon Jennings would be the balladeer.

The next time we’d see the Dukes would be in 2000 for The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood.  Again on CBS, the film would see everyone heading to Hollywood. The story revolved around selling recordings of the country performances that have happened in Hazzard to raise money for the county.  The film is a little odd due to the loss at this time of not only Brooks but also Denver Pyle to whom its dedicated.    Mac Davis is now the “balladeer” and actually appears on camera giving us insight into what’s happening.  Most of the living cast members appear including James Best as Roscoe.  It feels forced and not nearly as fun as the original series.

In 2005, riding the wave of many remake feature films came The Dukes of Hazzard which had Johnny Knoxville as Luke and Seann William Scott as Bo.  Jessica Simpson stepped into Daisy’s Dukes and in probably the most inspired bit of casting, Willie Nelson was Uncle Jesse and Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg.  The film truly takes advantage of the nostalgia bug as it also has Joe Don Baker, Andrew Prine, and Lynda Carter as part of the cast.  

The film wasn’t nearly as family friendly as the TV series became.  While The Dukes of Hazzard may have started out a little rough around the edges it eventually became a family viewing event.  The 2005 film went head on with overtly sexualizing Daisy as played by Jessica Simpson above and beyond anything in the original series.  It also truly embraced Knoxville’s Jackass roots.  Junior Brown was brought in as the balladeer this time around.  It was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar of Broken Lizard and Super Troopers fame which is well known for very edgy comedy.  There was an unrated edition with around 3 minutes of additional footage added.

The film had a little over 50-million-dollar budget and wound up just about doubling that due to poor reviews and poor reception.  While the film wasn’t that bad it birthed something unholy in the form of a prequel that was released 2 years later.  

The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning is something that mankind should never have had to witness.  Somehow bringing back Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse, literally no one else from the main cast of the 2005 film is here.  The humor, acting, and story are basically if you threw Dumb and Dumber into a blender with 2005 film with less budget and this is what you get.  There was a “family friendly” version released on ABC family with an R-rated version that came out on DVD.  No one talks about this film.  

The reason these remakes and reimagining’s didn’t work is pretty simple and that is the original Dukes of Hazzard had an innocent perfection to it you can’t really replicate.  All the actors and performers loved what they were doing even if there were some contract disputes along the way.  You can tell this by the way the cast has really kept the Dukes of Hazzard alive and want to remain true to it.  

When the Balladeer sings modern day Robin Hoods it’s actually accurate.  Bo and Luke steal from the rich, Boss Hogg, and give to the poor.  Due to their previous infractions with the law they aren’t allowed to use firearms, hence why you see so much use of bows and arrows which another reference to Robin Hood.  There’s the free-wheeling charm of those 70s action comedies. You want to root for them, sticking it to giving the corrupt authority figures. All the while doing it in style, with a car that kids could only dream of.  

The characters were great and there was a sense of fun about all of it that let kids imagine themselves behind the wheel of the General Lee or driving Daisy’s Jeep while saving the day from Boss Hogg.  

If your interested in catching up with those good old duke boys, you can rent the show on Amazon or buy it on DVD. Sadly, there’s no Blu-ray quality for this duo. 

When we ask that question about bringing the Dukes back today. I honestly don’t think we could, as they tried and just missed the point and the mark…something Bo and Luke could never do.  The Dukes of Hazzard is sort of timeless or at least a time capsule of a simpler time with fantastic music and characters. They were just perfect as they were.  Bo and Luke and General Lee will always be jumping those bridges with style and a cry of Yee Haa, and that’s just as it should be just two good ol boys that shouldn’t change.

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-dukes-of-hazzard-1979-1985-gone-but-not-forgotten/