Every television show comes with its fair share of history and fun facts, but The Dukes of Hazzard certainly has one of the most unique origin stories out there. From real life moonshiners to wacky car stunts, the show touched millions of viewers and continues to have a strong presence in pop culture today in the form of Dukes of Hazzard shirts and other items.
Whether you’re a newcomer to The Dukes of Hazzard or simply looking to brush up on your Dukes history, this beginner’s guide is the best way to go. Let’s get started!
In the Beginning, There Were Moonshiners
Jerry Elijah Rushing
Jerry Elijah Rushing was a real moonshiner who lived in North Carolina. Born in 1937, he spent much of his adult life crafting and running moonshine from place to place. In fact, at the age of 12 he was already making deliveries. With a legacy firmly in place by the time 1970 rolled around, Rushing’s life actually became the inspiration for several media productions.
Before The Dukes of Hazzard, there was a movie called “Moonrunners,” which actually focused on Rushing’s life. After seeing this movie, Dukes creator and producer Gy Waldron actually used the movie and Rushing to create some of the characters on the show, as well as its basic background. Bo Duke, one of the principal characters, was supposedly modeled on Rushing himself, and General Lee’s name was actually Traveler in pre-production in homage to Rushing’s own car.
Then, There Was Country Music
No Country Television?
When producer Gy Waldron saw that one sixth of all music sales were from the country genre, but there were no television programs aimed at that audience, he decided to make a change. Waldron wrote episodes in what he called a “country music narrative style.” It’s not a term that many people are familiar with, but Waldron explained it as “when you get through watching an episode, replay it in Nashville, and somebody should be able to write a pretty good country song about it.”
Even the Stars Love Country
After the era of The Dukes of Hazzard ended, one of its stars actually went on to write and perform country music. Tom Wopat, who played Luke Duke in the television series, has been writing and performing country music since 1981. In fact, he even held the number one slot in the Billboard country chart after Dukes had been cancelled.
The Actors Are Everything
John Schneider, best known for his role as Bo Duke on the show, was a native New Yorker and only 18 when he auditioned, but that didn’t stop him. He walked into his audition with a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth, a can of beer, and even claimed to be a stunt driver. His performance went over so well that he was cast for the part of Bo Duke.
Sorrel Brooke played Boss Hogg on the television show, but in reality was classically trained as a Shakespearean actor. Not only that, but he was fluent in five language and a master of replicating dialects, which made his transformation into Boss Hogg that much more believable for the audience.
What About the Car?
The Ever-Popular General Lee
Believe it or not, the 1969 custom painted Dodge Charger was one of the most popular characters on the show! In 1981, the series received an average of 60,000 fan letters every month. Approximately 35,000 of those fan letters were solely addressed to General Lee. It’s no wonder that most Dukes of Hazzard shirts feature the vehicle.
The Iconic Dixie Horn
If someone mentions a Dukes of Hazzard horn, there can only be one thing they’re referring to: General Lee’s iconic Dixie horn. The car wasn’t originally going to have this horn, but while filming the pilot episode, two directors were having breakfast when they heard the custom horn that absolutely had to be in the show. They flagged down the owner and bought it for $300 to install in the General Lee.
Unforgettable Stunt Work
One of the biggest selling points of the show was the incredible, death-defying stunt driving done in the General. While the actors and their respective characters always seemed to make it out without a scrape or scratch on them, the cars performing the actual stunts weren’t so lucky. During its seven-season run, the show used approximately 300 General Lees because they kept getting destroyed as a result of the insane stunts.
Dukes in Pop Culture
If you’ve ever seen a Dukes of Hazzard shirt or DVD, you know exactly what Daisy Dukes are. But the funny thing is that even if you have never been exposed to The Dukes of Hazzard, Daisy Dukes are still a household name. Catherine Bach, the actress who played Daisy Buchanan, actually came up with the idea for her character’s shorts. The producers had originally wanted a denim miniskirt, but the shorts easily won.
If you’re a true super fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, but Dukes of Hazzard shirts and Dukes of Hazzard hats just aren’t doing it for you, there’s a chance you attended this festival. It was held annually from 2001 to 2007 and it was hosted by the show’s very own Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport on the show.
The iconic hood sliding move that Wopat performs all throughout the Dukes of Hazzard DVDs was actually an accident the first time. When it happened, the rest of the cast and crew loved it so much that it actually became a staple on the show. Now, hood sliding is a signature move that can make and car-loving character look cool.
Whether you have closets full of Dukes of Hazzard shirts or you’re still gathering Dukes memorabilia, this beginner’s guide will certainly help enrich your knowledge of a television show beloved by millions of people today.