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Rosco Purvis Coltrane is a fictional character in the American TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. He is the bumbling sheriff of Hazzard County and right-hand man of its corrupt county commissioner, Jefferson Davis "J.D." Hogg ("Boss Hogg").
The role of Rosco was played by James Best, who had appeared in numerous films and TV series before landing the role as top (and inept) lawman of Hazzard County. He appeared in all the episodes, with the exception of five.
Rosco's name is sometimes spelled with an E, which is incorrect; James Best confirmed it was spelled without an E on his website. The initial "P." was added at the start of the second season.
In the early episodes, the character of Rosco was a serious one. He is depicted as a more hard-nosed, focused, and aggressive sheriff, and actually shot a criminal (not fatally) in an early episode ("Mary Kaye's Baby", the third episode broadcast). He was a much more willing accomplice to Boss Hogg's schemes, fueled by a sense of bitterness and resentment, and also appeared to have the ingenuity to arrange such schemes himself (in the pilot episode, "One Armed Bandits", for example, he seems to be the key organizer behind slot machines being illegally imported into the county), whereas he would soon become a bumbling accomplice, sometimes even unwillingly, with Boss Hogg the brains behind the various scams.
Also in "One Armed Bandits", it was explained that Rosco had served Hazzard County for 30 years as "a fairly honest lawman" but became embittered after watching his pension get wiped out following a failed bond referendum, and with just a few months left in office (something that was soon overlooked as the show settled into its lengthy seven-season run) decided to grab whatever money he could, by whatever means. This notion was explored again in a couple of other very early episodes, most notably a scene where Deputy Enos asks him why he turned so corrupt, in the fourth broadcast episode, "Repo Men". It wasn't until creator Gy Waldron realized that he had found an audience with children that the character was toned down to the more comedic and bumbling persona for which he is best known; something that James Best himself had large input on, insisting that, while Rosco technically was corrupt, he was driven mostly by playful childlike naivety, he never wanted children viewing to feel afraid to go up to a lawman in the street or when in need.
As in the 1975 film Moonrunners from which The Dukes of Hazzard TV series evolved, in the first season the character's name is given as "Rosco Coltrane". The initial P. was added from the start of the second season, after Best convinced show producers that it gave him more to play with vocally when pronouncing it.
Rosco frequently initiates car chases with Bo and Luke Duke (Hogg's most frequent adversaries), but the Duke boys are often able to elude Rosco, who usually winds up wrecking his patrol car (or "scuffing his vehicle" as he called it) in various ways (always escaping injury). Why Rosco does not simply arrest the boys at their farm afterward for resisting arrest is never addressed.
Starting with the third season (1980–1981), Rosco got a pet dog—a lazy basset hound he calls "Flash" and nicknames "Velvet Ears"—which he mothered and loved dearly (Rosco was a bachelor and childless), that loved the Dukes but always barked at Boss Hogg. Early on, the dog's gender was male, but this would change in later episodes. (Flash is "introduced' to the series by Rosco, that bought it from the newspaper "The perfect policeman" announcement, and his first appearing was in the episode "Enos Strate to the Top" .)
Boss Hogg and Rosco are brothers-in-law because Rosco's older sister, Lulu Coltrane, is married to Boss Hogg.
Rosco has just more than $43 in his savings account, and often tries to join Boss in indulging in high-calorie dishes (which usually results in him getting his hands slapped). His patrol car (in the first season a 1974-5 AMC Matador or a 1970 Dodge Polara and in later seasons a 1977 or 1978 Dodge Monaco or Plymouth Fury) also serves as his daily driver except for a few episodes where he has other cars, such as a 1977 Pontiac Lemans in the 3rd season episode "To Catch a Duke" which he apparently saved his nickels and dimes for, as he claims. This car can routinely be seen parked outside the Police station in stock footage exterior shots for the rest of the series. His personal vehicle in the 5th season episode "The Revenge of Hughie Hogg" is a 1967-1968 Chevrolet Impala which he kicks apart. Rosco carries a pearl-handled .38 caliber pistol, with which he is an expert shot, although when he has to use it in the line of duty, he gets too nervous to hit anything (the exception being the first season episode, "Mary Kaye's Baby"). His main deputies — whom he often calls "dipstick" — include Enos Strate and Cletus Hogg. Although he often henpecks and belittles his deputies, he is also shown to be very fond of them (particularly Enos) and shows great concern when they might be in real danger.
Rosco's mentality is that of a clumsy, somewhat slow-witted buffoon. He speaks with a childish vernacular and repeats his favorite catchphrases constantly. One that has always been featured when Rosco arrests the Duke boys or anyone else for that matter is "Cuff 'em and stuff 'em!" One aspect of Rosco's personality that was well-loved and became synonymous with him was a choppy and excited chuckle that was produced from the back of the throat ("Kew-kew-kew-kew!") and became one of the most recognizable aspects of the character (a clip of this laugh was played over the closing Warner Bros. Television logo on the end credits for most episodes, though it sometimes alternated with a clip of Boss Hogg yelling "Them Dukes, them Dukes!"). He is easily excitable and genuinely enjoys law enforcement, especially chasing criminals, which he refers to as "hot pursuit". Rosco's favorite story is Jack and the Beanstalk.
Rosco was married briefly in an episode, "Mrs. Rosco P. Coltrane", during the third season (1980–1981), to a woman he purportedly met through a computer dating service, but the marriage was a sham—his "bride" robbed banks with her husband and his associate — and the union was quickly annulled. This episode was also the only episode to feature Rosco's mother, and the only episode to reveal that the initial 'P' stood for Purvis.
Rosco has shown on numerous occasions (especially on episodes where characters either were thought to have died or found themselves in serious trouble) that he is much more of a caring man than he ordinarily lets on. This is particularly clear when the safety of his best friend Boss Hogg is threatened by somebody.
During the second season (1979–1980) of the series, James Best left over a dispute about the changing-room conditions. His gripe was that he didn’t mind getting soaked and / or covered in mud, etc., when filming Rosco crashing his car into rivers and suchlike, but was unhappy with the poor changing facilities afterwards. During his absence, Rosco was replaced by a number of stand-in sheriffs (played by such actors as James Hampton and Dick Sargent). Eventually the dispute was settled, and Best returned as Rosco, remaining for the rest of the show's run.
Following the death of actor Sorrell Booke who played Boss Hogg, the first reunion film also showed that Boss Hogg had died. Rosco inherited his money (and documents of dirty schemes) and he also became Hazzard County's Commissioner as well as serving as Sheriff (almost 20 years after it was said that he only had a short time in office left).