Southern Hospitality (and Politics) Gives 'the Dukes of Hazzard' An Old Kentucky Home
Nestled in a wooded valley in the heart of Appalachian coal country, tiny (pop. 5,500) Hazard, Ky. hardly seems the kind of place whose "Black Gold Festival" would attract some 80,000 people from as far away as Chicago and Florida and cause traffic jams three miles long. But this year the town fathers realized they might share in the real gold being mined out in Burbank, Calif. Capitalizing on the name similarity, they invited the stars of CBS's smash The Dukes of Hazzard to participate. Nobody noticed the absence of "Duke" boys Tom Wopat and John Schneider, because Catherine (Daisy) Bach, Sorrell (Boss Hogg) Booke, Rick (Cletus) Hurst and James (Sheriff Rosco) Best enthusiastically winged in. The result was just about the biggest thing to hit town since its namesake, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, led off a troop of local boys to the War of 1812.
"It's a real good turnout, the best I ever saw here," reckoned truck fleet operator Jimmy Fleming, while octogenarian Ollie Miniard gasped, " 'Course I'm having a good time—I just got a kiss from Sheriff Rosco!" The stars were beaming. "I come from a small town myself," observed Bach (who hails from Faith, S.Dak., pop. 576), "and being here feels just like going home." Booke, resplendent in cartoonishly venal Boss Hogg's white suit, told the roaring crowd, "When I hear your response, it puts a real lump in my wallet...I mean, my throat." Best, a crowd favorite, thoughtfully arranged for one fan, seriously ill 7-year-old Deonna Jo Holloway of Ferriday, La., to fly in and share his parade convertible, and delighted the throng by promising the Duke boys to "cuff 'em and stuff 'em" when he caught 'em.
The four-day festival (named for coal, the region's chief source of income) raised $5,000 for a youth center and brought an estimated $3 million of business into town. Yet some locals were unhappy about their town's TV counterpart. Joe Pat Gorman, who runs the county's top hotel and whose brother is mayor of Hazard, complains, he show is bad for our image. There are some of us in town who actually have money and taste." But insurance agent Danny Martin, who masterminded the event, thinks Dukes may turn out to be Hazard's saviors. "You keep digging coal, and what happens in the end? It runs out," he says. "Prior to The Dukes of Hazzard, there was just no reason for anyone to come here."
Although Martin's vision of a transformed Main Street flourishing with craft boutiques and antique shops seems a good piece down the line, Gov. John Y. Brown—who with wife Phyllis George has been promoting Kentucky crafts throughout the country—supportively attended the festival. So far, the TV show's impact on Hazard is best represented by the local pool hall, which was rechristened "Boss Hogg's Place" 18 months ago and decorated with life-size drawings of Boss and Rosco. "Business went up 40 percent right away," reports owner Reenie Feltner. Entering for the first time, Booke proclaimed, "Seems like a place befitting my style."
Indeed, the party day was no time to think on it, but parts of Hazard's style sometimes seem uncomfortably similar to the Southern lawlessness of the TV show. With 25 murders already this year, surrounding Perry County (pop. 30,000) rivals the reputation of its infamous neighbor, "Bloody Harlan" County. "There's still a feeling here that people take care of their own differences," comments Hazard Police Lt. Bill Morgan. "There are a lot of bar fights and a lot of family feuds." But perhaps Hazard's most hard-to-miss similarity to the TV show was conspicuously absent. Until a few months ago, Perry County Judge-Executive Carroll C. Fugate used to ride around town in a shiny white Cadillac, decked out in a white hat and suit and chomping on a huge cigar—the spittin' image of Boss Hogg. Last April, however, Fugate was indicted with two other men on 41 charges—including mail fraud and arson—for allegedly burning down the county's maintenance garage for insurance, while filing scads of suspicious claims for state and federal government revenues. Fugate pleaded guilty to four counts and will be sentenced later this month. Since losing the Democratic primary last May, his political career seems finished, unlike Boss Hogg—who with his co-stars definitely carried the day in Hazard. He joked, "Maybe I should stay around. I might just run for office up here. Maybe two or three offices." Still, Governor Brown may not have been altogether joking when he told the roisterous gathering: "I wanted to meet Boss Hogg face to face—because he's the very kind of fellow I want to run out of Kentucky politics."
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