Tony Kelley was just a young-un when he began his role in the "Dukes of Hazzard" world. As a tender 18-year-old working at H&H Body Shop in Metro Atlanta, he was called into service to keep a small fleet of blazin'-orange 1969 Dodge Chargers in fine running (and filming) form for the first five episodes of the show.
"When our first General Lee hit the yard, we'd been waiting on it for a week," Kelley told the standing-room only crowd at the meeting room of the Super 8 Motel in Covington this past Friday. "That was the first jump car. We thought, who in the world would paint a car orange, put a flag on it and call it General Lee? It's just unbelievable how it took off and was done."
Kelley's job was to take a wrecked car and overnight turn it into a gleaming car ready for filming the next day. "There was only three of us in the body shop. People would come by in the afternoon just to see what kind of wreck was coming into the body shop. They'd be hanging out, and then the stunt man comes in because he left his stunt gear in the Charger one time. He said, 'I'm glad to see there's more than three of you'all, because we wreck 'em just as fast as we need 'em.' "
Indeed. We know just how often we saw that General Lee in the air! And everytime you saw a General Lee in the air, show creator Gy Waldron has said, that was another General Lee wrecked. In the case of the very first General Lee ever jumped, however, the path to film-readiness was a bit different. The car that's affectionately labeled Lee 1 may have arrived at the shop as a wrecked orange Lee, but it was put back into commission as the even-more-wrecked blue Petty car for the episode "Repo Men." Kelley, who assisted in the search for the car that ended in a Metro Atlanta junkyard a few years ago, reminisced with BRBTV just before the meeting-room talk. He said that he and the guys at H&H Body Shop had a little fun with putting the shop's name on the car before it was sent back for filming. Alas and alack .. the production team removed the name before shooting!
Back then, in late 1978, Kelley didn't get to see the results of his work. "All the stuff we did was prior to the TV series ever starting," he said. "When they got out to California, it had aired and the General Lee had actually been seen by then."
Kelley shared a funny story with BRBTV, then later with the group during the talk, about a case of "mistaken identity" during the transport of one of the Hazzard County Sheriff's cars for filming.
"We were taking a police car back to Conyers, on the back roads," he said. "We started out on Norcross, got onto Beaver Ruin Road, and these police detectives came. They followed us for a little while, and we got to this cutoff road. And pretty soon here comes this police car behind us, and a helicopter above us, and they pulled us over."
In the Hazzard County car was Kelley, camera man Doug Smith and fellow mechanic Henry Holman. (Yikes! Where's Rosco when you need him?)
"They had Henry and Doug get out, and I couldn't get out of the back seat. They kept hollering at us, 'Get out! Get out!' And I couldn't get out." (Dad-gum safety mechanisms!)
"Doug had all of the paperwork in the front seat in a briefcase, and as soon as he had his hand on the handle to get it, they had their guns pulled and said, 'Don't make another move!'"
It took an hour and a half, including calls to the Holiday Inn in Conyers where the cast and crew had been staying, to sort the mess out and convince the local constables that these kind young fellows were no threat. What really was happening, Kelley told BRBTV, was that someone had been driving around Metro Atlanta with a fake police car, pulling over women.
And that wasn't even the only ... er, hazard ... that Kelley encountered in his line of work for "The Dukes." Remember, a large portion of the work involved fresh paint.
"The dark blue and the red took a long time to dry," he said of the (in)famous Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee. "Sometimes they would be wet the next morning when they'd come to get the car. I had to run between three of them. Henry, he did most of the paint work, and Danny (Hobbs) did the body work, and I'd stay there and help Danny until we got it ready to prime. At times, both of them would go."
Sound exhausting? Listen on ...
"It'd get to be that I'd sleep in the corner every now and then, or find a car to sleep in. One of the worst things was Boss Hogg's Cadillac. It was actually a gold car. We had to paint it white. I stayed in Boss Hogg's Cadillac, and the next thing you know, I was outside at the side of the building wondering where I was at! We were bad about wearing masks."
Thankfully, Tony Kelley lived to tell the tales. And he doesn't mind being part of a phenomenon that lives on so strongly.
"It's unbelievable that an orange car can be as popular as it is."
Photos by Billie Rae Bates / BRBTV