Who would think a car could be a character on a television show, complete with its own name and personality? Well, it happened once or twice, and resulted in the making of an icon. The 1969 Dodge Charger, otherwise known as The General Lee, was a powerful force on Dukes and was as much – maybe more – a part of the show as the actors that drove it.
For many of the show’s seasons, twenty-three or more Generals were on the lot at any given time. The team that worked on the cars made sure to maintain integrity and consistency; everything had to be exactly right, from the tire lugs to the license plate holder (which never identified the state where the General Lee was registered). During the show’s seven seasons, about 300 Chargers traveled through the air.
For a time, every General was mandated to early retirement after its first (and only) hard landing. But it wasn’t easy keeping a healthy supply of Generals on hand and eventually, the cars were reused. Scouts were always on the lookout for Chargers they could buy, sometimes chasing people down the road asking to buy them on the spot. For a time, they were being hunted by air, with Piper J-3 Cubs searching for replacement Generals.
Who knew that when we wrote a script note in the first episode that said, “Put a Confederate flag on top of the car,” The General become legendary. At first, I pictured a Pontiac Firebird, but the team presented a Dodge Charger and explained that it was a better match. I trusted them to make the right decision, as cars were their area of expertise, not mine. And boy, were they right.
What trivia do you have about The General to share with me?
Country music was always a part of my life and contributed the creation of Dukes. I produced recording sessions in Nashville, going back to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, where I filmed a documentary on the country music Hall of Fame. Also, prior to Dukes, I directed several shows featuring country music singers.
When I sold Dukes to the network, I explained to them that country music was unlike any other musical genre because of its family based, loyal following. Country music fans started listening as kids and didn’t stop listening until they took their last breath. I figured Dukes would be appealing country music fans because of its similarity in feel and values. The network hadn’t considered this, but they were willing to give it a shot.
The unwritten rule was that for every Dukes episode, someone in Nashville ought to be able to write a country music song about it. I think the creative team on Dukes did a pretty good job of making this possible.
How Small is Your World?
If there’s anything I would’ve like to have written and directed it’s Our Town, an iconic play by Thornton Wilder about Grover’s Corners, a fictional American community. It is particularly relevant to me because it explores the relationships between people in a small town. Having been raised in small communities around the South, I have a connection to places where everybody knows everybody else (for better and worse). People in those towns were my family’s extended family. We knew each other’s triumphs and downfalls, heartaches and miracles.
My history inspired the creation of Dukes. Hazzard County was comprised of a small community of people who helped and hurt each other; no matter what the circumstances, they were all connected by the place they lived (for better and worse). There was a southern simplicity to their small town, and those from the big-city were, as narrator Waylon Jennings described it when the Duke boys went to Atlanta, “…a little out of their picture when it comes to breakin’ in the big city.” All of the villains and troublemakers were from the big city, whether it was Atlanta or farther north.
That said, I think we’re all small town people. Even those in big cities stay close to their neighborhoods or boroughs. Most of us like the familiar feeling of walking into the market and seeing the same cashier and knowing them by name. There are countless “small towns” within big cities all over America and much of the world.
The way I see it, all of us stretch our arms as wide as they’ll reach, and whatever’s inside is our town.