Things you never knew about ‘Dukes of Hazzard’
Everyone remembers the Duke boys and their crazy adventures in Hazzard County, leaping rivers in their custom car and evading the clutches of the nefarious Boss Hogg. And who could forget they lovely Daisy Duke and her famous short shorts? Come take a drive down memory lane with us and learn some behind the scenes secrets about everyone’s favorite good ‘ol boys in ‘Dukes of Hazzard!’
John Schneider was a fake cowboy
John Schneider was just a young aspiring actor looking for his first big break in Hollywood when he came across auditions for a new show. It was about two wayward country cousins who pull off crazy car stunts while evading the law, and he wanted the role. There was just one major issue — he didn’t fit the part at all.
Schneider didn’t let that stop him, though. The 18-year-old New Yorker showed up to the audition wearing a cowboy hat and blue jeans, toting a six-pack of beer, and did his best to emulate a southern accent. He also told the producers that he was a certified stunt driver (plot twist: he wasn’t) and claimed to be 24. All of this was enough to land him the role.
Bo and Luke first met in an…interesting way
Once Schneider was hired, producers needed to find his counterpart. They called in a number of actors to test for the role, and among them was actor and singer Tom Wopat. On the day that Wopat came to the studio for a screen test, he went to use the restroom and noticed that the man in the stall next door had a guitar.
Being the music fan that he was, he struck up a conversation with his unseen bathroom buddy, who just happened to be John Schneider. The two got along and, after finishing their “business,” went out to perform the scene together.
Their chemistry was obvious, and Wopat was offered the role on the spot. We’re still wondering why John Schneider brought his guitar to the bathroom with him, however.
Daisy Duke or Dolly Duke?
Daisy Duke has become an iconic character over the years thanks to her barely-there wardrobe and folksy charm, but fans may not know her character was based on an even more famous Southern Belle. Originally, the show’s creators imagined Daisy as a carbon copy of the queen of country music, Dolly Parton.
Her character was even supposed to be a huge Dolly fan and would-be country singer. They wanted her in go-go boots, a white turtleneck, and blonde wig, but Catherine Bach suggested an ensemble out of her own closet: teeny jean shorts, a crop top, and classic cowboy boots. She also made the character her own by injecting some personality into the former Dolly wannabe, making Daisy more well-rounded.
The show was expected to fail
Before it premiered, nobody expected Dukes of Hazzard to become the smash hit that it became. It was initially conceived as a mid-season “filler” program for a Captain America series that flopped miserably. CBS chairman William Paley openly expressed his distaste for the show, calling it “lousy.”
Little did he know the show would take off. At the height of its popularity, it was one of the most-watched shows on television, bringing in over 46 million viewers with each episode. In total, it ran for seven seasons, airing 147 episodes, not to mention the numerous spin-off shows, video games, and movies it inspired. Hardly “lousy,” if you ask us.
The real-life Dukes of Hazzard
Did you know that there were once real-life Duke boys?
Dukes of Hazzard is actually based on a 1975 movie called Moonrunners, a film dramatization of the true story behind moonshiners Jerry and Johnny Rushing. The brothers ran an illegal moonshine delivery service from behind the wheel of their souped up 1958 Chrysler 300D, nicknamed “Traveller” after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s horse.
The car was specially equipped with a mechanism that dumped oil on the road to help them evade the police. Sound familiar? The similarities don’t stop there. The Rushing brothers were often accompanied in their escapades by their female cousin, Delane, and Jerry Rushing was known to be a dead-eye shot with a bow and arrow.
The most popular character had wheels
Though the charming Duke family members were technically the main characters in the show, one “cast member” outshined them all — the car. Bo and Luke Duke drove a 1969 Dodge Charger emblazoned with the Confederate flag, aptly named “General Lee,” and audiences absolutely loved it.
In fact, back in the days when viewers would send in fan mail, the General received more admiring letters (over 35,000 a month!) than any cast member, even the Duke boys and the alluring Daisy. The legendary car continued to be a fan favorite, even through surrounding controversy in later years.
The General Lee took a beating
Fans were thrilled by all the high-flying stunts performed in the show, many of which were practical, meaning they actually launched a car 150 feet into the air. Though no actors were ever harmed during filming, the same couldn’t be said for the cars. Multiple “Generals” were needed over the show’s seven seasons, as the crazy tricks often left the cars used in a sorry state.
They weren’t shy about totally wrecking the vehicles, either. After launching the General over a river, ravine, or even a moving train, the cars were often destroyed beyond repair and subsequently scrapped. Supposedly, over 150 General Lees were used throughout the show’s run; an on-set garage cranked them out as needed…until they ran into some issues, that is…
Running out of Chargers
Towards the end of the show’s run, the show had used and abused so many 1969 Dodge Chargers that they single-handedly created a shortage in the market. By that time, Dodge had stopped manufacturing the car, and it was no longer the affordable option it once was.
The deficit became so severe that, eventually, any time a crew member spotted one around town, they would stop the owner and ask to purchase the car right then and there. Even then, they still ended up having to using miniature models for the show’s final season, much to the chagrin of the actors and crew.
Daisy almost didn’t wear shorts
Of all the show’s famous exports, perhaps the most well-known are the iconic denim shorts named after the feisty bombshell who made them popular. To this day, ultra-short shorts are referred to as “Daisy Dukes,” and they’ve become a popular summertime wardrobe staple for women around the world.
The distinct denim was almost a victim of network censorship and never would’ve made it to the air without some creative adjustments. According to show execs, the mini shorts Catherine Bach wanted to wear were too short for TV. They compromised, allowing the shorts on the condition that Bach wear skin-tone pantyhose underneath to prevent any…wardrobe malfunctions.
The ‘hood slide’ was unintentional
Is there anything cooler than effortlessly sliding over the hood of a car and jumping into the driver’s seat to make a quick getaway? The Duke boys’ signature move inspired action movie stars for years to come, but the very first “hood slide” on the show was completely accidental.
According to Tom Wopat, the first time it happened, he was supposed to be jumping over the hood, but his foot got caught on the way over and he ended up sliding across on his knee. He actually injured himself with the car’s antenna in the process. It looked so cool on camera, they decided to stick with it, though they did make sure to remove the antenna from future General Lees.
World record stunts
Audiences absolutely loved the gravity-defying car jumps and high-speed car chases that the show became known for, and the show’s producers were more than happy to oblige. Of all the crazy car stunts they pulled off, one actually set a world record!
Just before the show premiered in 1979, stuntman Craig R. Baxley was filmed driving the General Lee over a dirt ramp, making an impressive jump over a police cruiser. That jump, at an insane 16 feet high and 82 feet far, was the longest in the world at the time. Want to see it? Look no further than the show’s intro sequence, just before the one-minute mark. Yeeee-haw!
Contract disputes and the ‘other Dukes’
By the time the show reached its fifth season, it had started raking in some serious cash through merchandising. They reportedly made over $190 million on branded products alone in 1981. Unsurprisingly, the actors started to wonder where their cuts of these massive profits were, as Schneider and Wopat had only received a total of $25,000 each for royalties over the years.
The two leads filed a suit against Warner Brothers in 1982. The studio executives disputed their claim and refused to pay up. Schneider and Wopat threatened to quit. They suddenly found themselves replaced by cousins Coy and Vance Duke (Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer) for one season until they were ousted for the originals due to rock-bottom ratings and outrage from fans. Not even CBS messes with the Duke boys!
The original cast refused roles in the reboot
In 2005, when comedian Jay Chandrasekhar proposed a reboot of the beloved series, people were excited to see how their favorite characters and the hijinks of Hazzard county would translate onto the big screen. Johnny Knoxville and Seann Willam Scott were brought on to play Luke and Bo, and singer Jessica Simpson had her film acting debut as Daisy Duke.
Once the movie premiered, diehard fans noticed that something was missing. Tom Wopat, John Schneider, and Catherine Bach were offered roles in the remake, but they all turned the opportunity down. Each agreed the script was too “raunchy” and didn’t stay true to the show’s family-friendly nature. They may have been right, as the movie was harshly critiqued by audiences, averaging a measly 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.
About that flag…
One of the most notorious controversies surrounding the show involved the now-infamous Confederate flag painted across the top of the General Lee. Though the flag’s image had been widely used in the southern U.S. for many years, vital discussions eventually began to arise regarding its association with white supremacist ideology and hate groups.
As tensions reached a head in late 2015, the flag was pulled from public buildings, retail stores, and NASCAR races. Warner Brothers followed suit, announcing they would no longer produce merchandise bearing the emblem, including toys of the famous car. Along with fans, John Schnieder and Ben Jones denounced the move, stating that the characterization of the flag as a racist symbol was unfair and cast the show in “a terrible light that it does not deserve.”
Tom Wopat had some legal troubles
Much like their onscreen counterparts, Tom Wopat and John Schnieder are familiar with being on the wrong side of the law. Wopat (Luke Duke), found himself in hot water in August 2017, when he was arrested on indecent assault and battery and drug charges in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The actor was starring in a production of the musical 42nd Street and was accused of inappropriately touching two of his female costars, one of whom was 16 at the time.
He also had a large amount of illicit substances when arrested. The felony assault and drug charges were eventually dropped as a part of a plea deal, and Wopat pleaded guilty to “annoying and accosting a person of the opposite sex.” He was sentenced to a year of probation.
John Schnieder had some legal troubles too…
John Schnieder (Bo Duke) also faced his share of legal issues in recent years. The actor was sentenced to three days in jail for failing to pay the $18,000 monthly alimony to his ex-wife, Elvira Castle. He claimed that recent financial hardship rendered him unable to make payments per their arrangement.
Due to overcrowding, the celeb spent mere hours in the prison, entering at 10:29 AM and walking out the doors at 3:45 PM that afternoon. He’s still on the hook for the owed funds. He could face up to 5 years in prison for another slip-up, so let’s hope the star keeps a better eye on his bank account from now on.
Catherine Bach’s legs were insured for a crazy amount of money
Daisy Duke may have been known for her shorts, but those shorts wouldn’t have made nearly the impact that they did if they’d been attached to a different pair of legs! Catherine Bach is blessed with a truly great pair of gams and wasn’t shy about showing them off.
Combining her physical gifts with some serious comedic acting chops, Bach helped make the character (and show) an unforgettable part of television history. She maintained her svelte appearance with lots of hiking and swimming, but also reportedly insured her legendary legs with a $1 million policy from notable celebrity insurer Lloyd’s of London.
How the General got its horn
Aside from its bright orange hue and polarizing adornments, perhaps the most recognizable feature of the Dukes’ famed ride was its novelty horn that loudly played the opening notes to “Dixie.” As emblematic as the horn has become, it was not originally featured in the show.
Legend says that the directors in charge of the pilot episode were sitting down to a peaceful breakfast when, suddenly, they heard the shrill notes echo through the town square. In a moment of serendipitous inspiration, they chased down the car on foot, begging the owner to sell the unique horn. They paid $300 for the noisemaker and installed it in the General Lee.
Enos a good show when he sees one
Sonny Shroyer (Deputy Enos Strate), was one of the show’s best-loved supporting characters. He became so popular by Season 3 that he was given the opportunity to star in his own spin-off show, Enos. The show followed Enos leaving Hazzard county to become an LAPD officer.
Shroyer wasn’t too confident in the show’s premise, however, and requested that a clause be included in his contract that allowed him to return to Dukes of Hazzard if Enos failed. It turns out that was a pretty savvy move, as his show only lasted 17 episodes. Enos made his comeback to Dukes in 1979 and continued as a series regular until its conclusion in 1985.
Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane the…Renaissance man?
Villainous Boss Hogg’s right hand man, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, wasn’t exactly known for his smarts. The character, played by actor James Best, was often shown as a goofy, inept sidekick to the corrupt county commissioner in his dastardly schemes against the Dukes.
Due to his expert portrayal of the character, fans were often surprised to find that James Best was actually highly educated and quite the Renaissance man. Not only did Best serve in the U.S. Army in WWII, he taught acting at the University of Central Florida and University of Mississippi. In addition to his academic exploits, Best was an accomplished painter and black belt in karate.
Crazy Cooter the…politician?
Yet another Dukes of Hazzard cast member who had some pretty impressive off-screen accomplishments was Ben Jones. He played “Crazy Cooter,” the Hazzard County mechanic who helps the Duke boys evade and outsmart Coltrane and Boss Hogg. After the show ended, Jones pursued a career in politics.
He was elected to one of Georgia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988, was re-elected in 1990, and remains an active member of the Democratic Party to this day as a political commentator. He also runs a chain of Dukes-themed stores called “Cooter’s Place” where he sells memorabilia and keepsakes from the show.
The ol’ celebrity speed trap
One way Dukes of Hazzard managed to snag some celebrity guest stars was a clever plot device the writers dreamed up called ”The Celebrity Speed Trap.” Basically, Boss Hogg would use his authority to make Rosco lower the speed limit along a specific road in order to catch country music stars “speeding.”
Boss Hogg would let them slide every time — after they agreed to perform a set at the Boar’s Nest. Though it was often used as a filler sequence at the end of episodes, through this gag, the show was able to feature top country and western acts like Roy Orbison, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn.
Hazzard County, by way of Hollywood
Though Dukes of Hazzard was obviously intended as a show firmly rooted in the American South, little hints of its true home in Hollywood slipped through the cracks every now and again. For the fist few episodes, the show was filmed in Georgia, where the fictional Hazzard County was said to be, but production costs and convenience brought them back to Burbank, California.
If amateur botanists take a close look at the backgrounds, they can see plants and vistas that are clearly Californian. Many of the car stunts were filmed at a ranch just up the street from Six Flags Magic Mountain!
Additionally, the cars used as Hazzard County police cruisers were often retired LAPD vehicles with actual working light bars and sirens.
How to prevent a flying car from crashing
We’re guessing you’ve never tried to drive your car off a ramp and high to catch air but, if you have, you’ll know that most vehicles tend to take a nosedive due to the weight of the engine in the front of the car. The Dodge Chargers that were used to “play” General Lee in stunt scenes weren’t immune to this issue.
In order to perform the impressive jumps, stunt coordinators had to weigh down the back halves of all the cars so they wouldn’t go crashing forward into the ground. They welded specialized weight boxes into the trunks of the vehicles, filling the boxes with anywhere from 300-400 pounds of cement to keep the car balanced in the air.
Dennis Quaid almost starred in the show
Way back when casting directors were still trying to find their “Luke Duke,” they considered Dennis Quaid for the role. Quaid was interested as well, but had some conditions before he’d accept.
He wanted his new wife, Carrie and Halloween actress P.J. Soles, to play Daisy Duke, and wasn’t interested in moving forward unless she was part of the cast. Producers didn’t feel that Soles was right for the part, so Quaid walked away from the project and was replaced by Tom Wopat. Catherine Bach came along soon after, and the rest was Hazzards history!
National Treasure: Daisy Dukes
We all know that Daisy’s flirty attire helped make the show popular, but did you realize that the denim shorts were considered such an iconic part of American history, they were put on display in the Smithsonian Institution? It’s true!
The classic bottoms were displayed in the nation’s most prestigious museum, sharing space with other famous TV and film artifacts like Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Indiana Jones’ fedora and whip! It may have been “just a TV show” to some, but Dukes of Hazzard made a major impression on audiences and the entertainment industry alike, and certainly deserves to be remembered.
There’s more (or less) to Boss Hogg than meets the eye
Some actors are so similar to the characters they play on TV, it can be hard to distinguish between the person and their character. This was NOT the case with Boss Hogg actor Sorrell Brooke. As a classically trained actor and graduate of both Columbia and Yale, Brooke was hardly the bumbling country bumpkin his character was made out to be.
Those weren’t the only major differences between Boss Hogg and his alter ego. Brooke lacked the portly waistline that producers envisioned for Boss Hogg, so in every episode except the first few, he wore a fat suit to make him appear more rotund. He was also a talented linguist and spoke five languages fluently!
Coltrane’s dressing room wasn’t the Best
Among the notable quarrels between talent and production on the show was James Best’s gripes with the amenities (or lack thereof) on set. The veteran actor claimed that he was often treated more like cattle than an accomplished movie star. His “dressing room” was reportedly nothing more than a dilapidated pile of plywood — hardly befitting a performer of his stature.
Even worse were the “showers.” Best often found himself covered in mud and grime as a result of Sheriff Coltrane being outsmarted by the wily Dukes. When it came time to clean up, production would simply hose down the actor like a horse, or one of the stunt cars! This led to his temporary departure from the show in Season 2, until conditions improved.
The Dukes of Hanna-Barbera
Among the several spin-offs inspired by Dukes of Hazzard, one of the most unique is the animated series, The Dukes. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon followed the Duke boys as they raced around the globe, foiling Boss Hogg and Rosco’s crooked schemes.
Interestingly, this show was launched during the “walk-out” era when Bo and Luke were replaced by Coy and Vance after the actors’ contract dispute. By the time they reached Season 2, the matter was settled, so Wopat and Schneider replaced Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, who played the live-action and animated versions of Coy and Vance Duke. It only ran seven more episodes before it was canceled.
The last surviving General was auctioned for some serious cash
With the way the stunt crew burned through Dodge Chargers on set, it’s a miracle that any original General Lees still exist today. Of the 150+ stunt cars used in the show, only one remained in 2011. The thoroughly banged-up vehicle was offered up for auction by its owner.
Though replicas of the famous car come up for auction fairly frequently (and still fetch decent prices), this one-of-a-kind authentic relic that actually appeared onscreen had collectors champing at the bit to own a piece of Hazzard history. Though it was estimated to sell for around $51,000, it actually ended up coming to a hefty $110,000!