Sept. 25--Actor, author and artist James Best has paused temporarily from his one-man show "Best In Hollywood" to "take down your fishin' pole and meet at the fishin' hole" like many looking forward to Mayberry Days this year.
The 87-year-old veteran actor certainly has a vast body of work to draw from for his ad-libbed shows before audiences with performances in 200 westerns, 600 television shows and 87 feature films. Best said he likes to use "clips" from many of his movies as a catalyst to get his audiences going and give him plenty of directions to go in with the show.
"I get involved with the audience. It's so much fun," said Best. "I tailor the shows to what the audience is. I enjoy it a lot more than the autograph sessions where there are 20,000 fans and you're signing for eight hours. It is nice to meet the fans, but you don't get to really meet everyone like you do when it's a small show and you talk to everyone in the lobby."
Best said two recent performances of this show in his home state of Kentucky and where he was raised, in south Indiana, went over well with his hometown crowds. He said many of his audiences learn things about movies and television they didn't know before. The collection of clips and memorabilia have reached a point where they jump-start a lot of memories for him as well.
He said often a picture will bring to mind incidents that happened when shooting certain films. Best recalled one production where he played opposite James Steward and Henry Fonda. He said Stewart was "a total gentleman. Modest. Sincere. All the qualities you expect in a movie hero." He said Stewart presented him with a picture of the invisible pooka, Harvey, from his movie of the same name.
"I wouldn't take a million dollars for that painting. He said he was the only person in the world who knew what Harvey looked like," Best said. "He did a lot of those drawings on napkins, but the signed picture is just one of a few. The napkin drawings often sell for $5,000."
Best said he has 50 years experience in painting and is bringing some of his work to Mount Airy for Mayberry Days. He said one popular print he offers is titled "The Mayberry Pond" and is proud of offering his works at prices "average people can afford."
"I'm honored when they hang one of my paintings in their home," said Best. "I really like southern landscapes."
He said the draw which has bound him to returning to Mayberry Days for more than 15 years is family, which many of the ensemble casts in films and television become.
"There are such wonderful fans in Mount Airy," Best said. "There aren't a lot of shows anymore which favor families." Best starred in two episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" as guitar player Jim Lindsey who gets to sing and play alongside the Sheriff Taylor.
"I think the reason a lot of people like his (Griffith's) singing is he had a beautiful voice," Best said. "Barney, of course, sings with Andy as well, and the whole scene is adorable. What a nice group of people were involved with that show."
Best also fondly remembers working with Ron Howard during "The Andy Griffith Show" and later got another chance to work with the young actor in his teens on the set of "Gunsmoke."
"Mayberry Days is like family," Best said. "It's really like coming home to family. No matter how long it's been you never forget. That's why so many love 'The Andy Griffith Show' as much today as years ago. It's wonderful. To see old fans and new fans enjoy, it is just a blessing."
He said he looks forward to staging the annual "Battle of the Sheriffs" with Barney Fife impersonator David Browning.
"A lot of what we do is ad-libbed," said Best. "I try to trick him and he does the same, we have a lot of fun with it. I also plan to be there for three autograph sessions for fans during Mayberry Days."
Best is showing no sign of resting on his past with a new movie, "Return of the Killer Shrews," due out Oct. 22 on Digital Video Disc. He said the film is a spoof on a film he made 50 years ago. John Schneider of "The Dukes of Hazard" and Bruce Davidson of "Willard" also star in the film.
"The first movie was so badly done it became a cult film," said Best. "The sequel is done with a lot of care. John does a great job. It's hysterically funny. Our newer version spoofs the first one and both are on DVD with additional material."
Best said he is hopeful the production will make the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest amount of time between an original film and its sequel.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 336-719-1952.
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