Where Are They Now? The Dukes of Hazzard
Audrey Hingley interviews the Duke Boys all grown up.
From 1979 to 1985, Luke (Tom Wopat) and Bo Duke (John Schneider) careened around fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, in “The General Lee,” a customized ’69 Dodge Charger prominently featured in the Southern-steeped comedy The Dukes of Hazzard. Along with short-shorts-clad cousin Daisy (Catherine Bach), Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle) and other unique characters, the show spawned three TV movies, extensive merchandising and DVD releases, elevating good-ole-boys Bo and Luke to cult status.
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
Now the original “Duke boys” have teamed for their first recording, Home For Christmas. The 18-track, jazz-infused CD blends Christmas standards, lesser-known holiday tunes and humorous banter reflecting the duo’s long friendship. There’s also a Virginia link: a song penned by Virginia-based singer/songwriters Robin and Linda Williams. “We wanted to have some country to tap into John’s big success in country music,” Wopat says of “On a Quiet Christmas Morn,” which showcases a fiddle and layered harmonies.
“Tom’s phrasing was fantastic [on that song],” Schneider says. “Tom sang lead and I sang harmony and copied his phrasing. I would not have [ordinarily] sung it that way. We’re different, we don’t sound alike, but when we sing together it’s like there’s a third person in the room.”
A SMALL-SCREEN SMOKEY WITH A BIG-SCREEN BUDGET
Schneider was 18 and Wopat was 27 when tapped to play the Duke boys. Wopat had graced the Broadway stage and Schneider had done community theater but Dukes propelled their careers into overdrive. “I’m from Mount Kisco, New York, but I went to high school in Atlanta. I told people [at the audition] I’d just graduated first in my class from the Georgia School of High Performance Driving; there was no such thing [as that school] but no one bothered to find out,” Schneider recalls, laughing.
“I was surprised by its longevity but not by its success,” Schneider adds. “Smokey and the Bandit had broken every box-office record two years prior and changed the whole model back to rural storytelling with car chases. It [Dukes] was amazingly expensive in its day, over a million dollars an episode. Our stunt folks had done movies like Bullitt and The French Connection. To me it was a weekly movie on television.”
“I think the show was successful because of all the things it’s not: no blood, no real sex, basically a family trying to do the right thing,” says Wopat, who was raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm. “Even our bad guys weren’t really bad, they were mostly inept … they were funny bad guys.”
THE BIG WORLD AFTER DUKES
Post-Dukes, Wopat, a college voice major, recorded popular country albums before making a series of acclaimed jazz/pop albums with a retro tinge. He continues to act in film, television and stage roles; his long string of Broadway credits includes last year’s Tony Award-winning The Trip To Bountiful with Cicely Tyson and Tony nominations for roles in Annie Get Your Gun (1999) and A Catered Affair (2008). He was in Django Unchained (2012). His latest film, Fair Haven, is due in 2015.
Wopat, who is married (Kathy) and lives in Manhattan, has no thoughts of retirement. “I don’t know what that means,” Wopat says, adding, “Our generation – I’m 63 – is not anything like my father’s generation. Age is not nearly as confining as it once was. I’m fortunate, I get to work at things I love to do.” Meanwhile, Schneider recorded 10 successful 1980s country albums. In 1983, he and Marie Osmond founded The Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit that has raised more than $5 billion for children’s hospitals. He’s continued to act in stage, screen and TV roles, including starring in 100 episodes of the 218-episode Smallville (2001-2011). Since 2013, he’s played Jim Cryer, a philandering judge and patriarch of a dysfunctional family, in The Haves and The Have Nots, produced by Tyler Perry for the Oprah Winfrey Network. The Haves, OWN’s top-rated show, returns in January.
“I play an awful human being. I am a terrible person on the show and I love it,” Schneider says.
Schneider and his wife, Elly, have three grown children and live in Louisiana, where he opened John Schneider Studios in 2014. He also has a film production company; Smothered, which he wrote, directed and filmed at his new studio, is due in 2015.
Schneider, 54, likes his work. “There’s no point in doing something you don’t like. Life is too short and really, you can’t be good at something you don’t like, anyway.”
A UNIQUE FRIENDSHIP
Schneider calls their long friendship “completely unique.”
Wopat adds, “We trust each other. There’s not a lot of that in [this] business.” Dukes came to the forefront again when they recently reprised their Bo/Luke roles in a series of ballyhooed filmed commercials for autotrader.com.
Upcoming concert dates are on the horizon for Home For Christmas. “We had a great time doing [the CD] … I think there will be more to come,” Wopat says.
To hear three selections from Home For Christmas, visit soundcloud.com/johnandtom
For more, visit TomWopat.com and JohnScheiderOnline.com.