Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bad Guys Wear White: The Best of Boss Hogg


Twenty years ago I had the great pleasure of writing a book about The Dukes of Hazzard, and interviewing almost everyone in the cast about their high-flying days in Hazzard County.



The one notable exception was Sorrell Booke, who played Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg. He had passed away in 1994, at the too-young age of 64.

I regret not having the opportunity to ask him about his most memorable role. In fact, I still wonder how this Yale graduate and classically trained actor who performed Shakespeare, Shaw and O’Neill felt about being famous for wolfing down barbecued ribs and yelling “Get them Duke boys!”



But after reading interviews with Booke from during and after the series run, I think he was content with his legacy as Sheriff Rosco’s “little fat buddy.”

Though he told TV Guide that he took the role because he “liked the idea of making a lot of money” (something Boss might have said!), he approached the character with the same attention to detail as he did any other role in his esteemed career. He modeled his Southern accent after South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, and knew where to draw the line between being a serious antagonist and a comic villain.

“Anger can be threatening when it appears to lead to violence,” he said. “But when anger is mixed with ineffectuality, or impotence, or frustration, it becomes comic and you dissipate the violent threat. And that’s what I try to put into the part.”

He also loved the teasing from little Dukes fans about how he could never catch Bo and Luke. “Ah ketch ‘em, ah ketch ‘em all the time,” he would say, “but that stupid Rosco, he always lets them get away.” 



What surprised me most when I revisited the series was the remarkable comic chemistry between Booke and James Best (Rosco). They were one of the funniest comedy teams of the classic TV era, but never received the accolades they deserved on a series where a car was considered the star. 



The Dukes of Hazzard is beloved by its loyal fanbase, who still gather at celebrations and events attended by the cast. But its reputation among the ironically dubbed intelligentsia continues to suffer, especially since it was dragged into the Confederate flag controversy that temporarily pulled the series out of syndication and kept the DVDs off store shelves. 



If I say any more about that I’m going to get angry, so let’s just continue with this tribute to a fine actor who found a symphony’s worth of laughs in a one-note role. If there’s still any question of whether Sorrell Booke enjoyed his days in Hazzard, let it be settled by his tombstone, which reads “Beloved Pa, Grandpa, Brother and Boss.” 



To revisit the best of Boss Hogg, start with these 7 episodes:

“High Octane” (1979)
This is one of the five Dukes shows filmed in Georgia. Boss persuades Uncle Jesse to enter a jug of his moonshine into a contest to develop a new fuel source – then reports Jesse to the government for firing up his still.

“The Big Heist” (1979)
This episode has a standard Dukes plot, but features one of the first classic comedy moments between Boss and Rosco.

“Witness for the Persecution” (1979)
Boss Hogg in bed with Daisy? That’s just one of the memorable scenes in this classic episode, in which Boss is targeted by assassins, and goes into hiding at the Duke farm. “Witness for the Persecution” also provides a glimpse into the awkward but persistent friendship between J.D. and Uncle Jesse, dating back to their days as moonshine runners. 



“People’s Choice” (1979)
How did someone as corrupt as J.D. Hogg get elected county commissioner? This humorous send-up of old-school southern politics shows J.D. using every dirty trick in the book to hold on to his office.

“The Late J.D. Hogg” (1980)
This is arguably the best J.D. Hogg episode, even if its plot is not exactly original. Told he has just two weeks to live, Boss sees the light and becomes the town philanthropist. He tears up the mortgage on the Duke farm, and pledges to give all his money to widows and orphans. Of course, then the doctor calls again about a mix-up of test results at the lab…



“Coltrane vs. Duke” (1981)
Rosco crashes another squad car after failing to catch the General Lee – so he fakes an injury and sues the Dukes for $50,000. The scene in which Boss reads “Jack and the Beanstalk” to the sheriff is one of the show’s funniest moments. 

“Boss Behind Bars” (1983)
In a long-overdue twist, Boss is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and it’s up to Bo and Luke to clear his name. The backwoods Beaudry family may be the most intimidating villains the series introduced, so it’s always fun to watch Boss and the Dukes join forces against a common enemy. 



And if you want to read about more timeless TV bad guys, be sure to check out the other entries in the Classic TV Villain Blogathon, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association!


11 comments:

  1. I love the photo from “Witness for the Persecution” (great title, too)! Sorrell Booke truly embraced his role as Boss Hogg and I think that's why it worked so well. I saw him in UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE last year and didn't recognize him at all. He was very good as an educator in a urban high school in the 1960s.

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    1. I know what you mean - I saw him in a episode of 'Police Story' I watched the other night, and if I had not seen his name in the credits I might not have recognized him. He was not as round as Boss in real life either, so he looks and sounds different in just about every other role.

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  2. Mr. Hofstede, I imagine you are aware that Tom Wopat was charged with indecent assault recently. However, he was arrested BEFORE the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. What do you have to say about the Tom Wopat situation?

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    1. Nothing, really - except he's maintained his innocence.

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  3. I didn't know they actually filmed any of Dukes in Georgia outside the pilot. A fellow I knew once upon a time made a long, long pilgrimage to Covington, on the other side of Atlanta's metro area from where I was raised, so I remember him telling me that establishing shots of its downtown square were used throughout the series. But knowing there are several episodes actually tempts me to look up season one to see whether there are any fun local '70s landmarks to see. (That's half the reason I enjoy Smokey & the Bandit!)

    --Grant

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  4. I LOVE BOSS HOGG!! Terrific choice for this blogathon and thank you so much for the episode recommendations. Making a note for sure as a strategy to revisit the series. "The Late J. D. Hogg" is the one I remember best.

    Aurora

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  5. Great post; loved this show when I was a kid (and your book about it too)

    A few more personal faves of mine:

    DAYS OF SHINE AND ROSES: Boss Hogg and Uncle Jesse have one last moonshine race (with water) to determine the best once and for all. Of course, much like Dick Dastardly, Boss can't help but cheat.

    BAA BAA WHITE SHEEP: Boss in a dual role, also getting to play good brother Abraham Lincoln Hogg.

    SOUND OF MUSIC - HAZZARD STYLE: Boss working with record pirates; surprised it took until season 4 for this to happen.

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  6. Excellent post, David. Sorrell Booke is one of those actors who appears in so many different roles, and as Rick mentioned, he can really disappear in some of them. He must have really enjoyed getting into this role!

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  7. I love your words, "symphony’s worth of laughs in a one-note role." What a classic TV villain. Thanks for joining the blogathon :)

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  8. HOGG FOR THE WIN! One of my absolute favorite shows as a child. (I also loved ENOS.) Boss Hogg was one of the Ultimate Villains when I was young. Although he had power and could cause trouble, he was just so gloriously goofy that he was never a real full-on threat. Just the sort of thing I liked as a child. Thank you!

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