At a tribute titled “Remember Me With Laughter,” held Friday to honor the late James Best, the audience at The Earl Theater did what the actor had asked of them.
“It was an absolute order and a direct message from Jimmy,” said his wife of 38 years, Dorothy Best, who hosted the tribute with David Browning, The Mayberry Deputy. Dorothy Best said the tribute was named after a 2012 poem written by James.
“It was very important to him,” Dorothy Best said. “It was one of the last things he said to me.”
Best, who died in April, was a regular Mayberry Days favorite who had appeared on two episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” as guitar player Jim Lindy.
With clips of Best carrying on with David Browning, The Mayberry Deputy, at past Mayberry Days performances, and from his trademark role as Roscoe P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard, the crowd couldn’t help but obey orders.
“This is a wonderful celebration,” Dorothy Best said at the show’s start. “And as my friend from Florida just reminded me, you better be good because I didn’t drive all this way to see a crummy show.”
Cue the laughter, which bubbled up throughout the show, in which Browning and Dorothy Best shared memories and reflections in between clips from James Best’s television and films, interview clips, performing his one-man show and reading passages of poetry.
Browning and Dorothy Best could even be heard laughing through their microphones, at bits they no doubt had seen many times before.
It would appear James Best got his wish.
The presentation traced James Best’s career from how he stumbled into acting while in the service oversees and through his many noteworthy roles, as well as family photos and a slide show of some of his paintings.
One crowd favorite was a behind-the-scenes tale James Best had told an interviewer about working with Jimmy Stewart.
While staying at the same hotel, he mimicked Stewart’s notable voice and ordered himself two bottles of “fine French wine” on Stewart’s tab.
In another clip, Best spoke about preferring to be a character actor to the leading man.
“Character actors are still working in their eighties,” he said, noting that he was in his eighties — and still working. “The leading men have lost their hair and their teeth. I still have mine.”
The tribute was not without its poignant moments.
Dorothy Best said that moment from James Best’s last film, which was written by his daughter and son-in-law and directed by his son-in-law, had taken on new meaning for her.
In the clip he tells his on-screen daughter, “You’d be amazed at what you can live without.”
Dorothy Best, who had recalled seeing a literal twinkle in her husband’s eye when he was about to do or say something funny, distilled his rich experiences into a few simple life lessons.
“He was always growing, always experimenting. He never gave up,” she said. “You stay young at heart and always keep learning.”
At the end of the show Browning read the title poem “Remember Me With Laughter” while photos of a laughing James Best played on the backdrop before the final send off: a happy montage of Roscoe P. Coltrane with the character’s beloved dog Flash.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734 or on Twitter @terriflagg.