Update, 1 p.m. PT: This story has been updated with a new statement from Warner Bros. Consumer Products.
The 1969 Dodge Charger from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” known to the world as the General Lee, prominently features the Confederate flag on its roof in the popular 1970s-1980s TV show. Some reports now say the flag will be removed from certain toy versions of the car, and at least one former "Dukes" cast member tells TODAY he's furious.
Tom Wopat and John Schneider flew around the hills of Hazzard County in the General Lee on "The Dukes of Hazzard." Now the car's Confederate flag has become an issue.
Exactly what products might be altered isn't clear. As reported by ScreenCrush, a poster to HobbyTalk.com's message board wrote there that he was told by a sales rep for the Tomy toy company that "starting January 1, 2013 all Dukes of Hazzard General Lee vehicles will not be allowed to be produced with the Confederate flag on the top of the vehicle. This directive has been passed onto us from the licensor Warner Brothers."
But a Warner Bros. Consumer Products spokesperson denied the report, telling TODAY on Thursday, "We were not, and are not, planning to change the design of the General Lee on merchandise. All reports to the contrary have been inaccurate."
Despite the denial, HobbyTalk readers had no problem sharing various sightings of cars without the flag. Wrote one, "Not surprising. They have been removing the image from the model boxes for years. I have one that was a giveaway from the Kansas City Royals that has the Royals logo on the trunk and no roof flag."
Another wrote, "Was at a Hobby Lobby today. In the model kit section was a 1/25th scale General Lee ... without the Confederate flag on the roof!!! It looked strange, to say the least! It's like the Batmobile without the bat logo."
But another reader took a different stance. "I am from the West and yes to me the Confederate flag does not (represent) anything positive," he wrote. "We don't see Germans flying around the swastika flags (because) it's their history."
And yet another wrote that rather than produce a General Lee without the flag, he believed that toymakers would just stop making reproductions of the car. "Warner Bros. will no longer endorse the license for anything that has the Confederate flag on it," he wrote. "Therefore, if you are a die-cast manufacturer, your license will not be approved if your sample has a Confederate flag on it, (such as the General Lee, Hazzard County Patrol cars, Cooter's tow truck and so on) if the sample is produced without a flag then it will be issued, but no one is going to do a General Lee with just the 01s and General Lee lettering, it would look silly."
That same writer noted that with an earlier version of the General Lee, "Warner Bros. requested the flag not be seen when it was on a store shelf. A removable, body-colored cling was attached to the roof of the car to cover the flag until purchase. I knew when this happened that things would be changing soon."
Although the report still hasn't been fully confirmed, the mere idea that the General Lee could be altered has angered “Dukes of Hazzard” star Ben Jones. Jones played the General Lee's mechanic, Cooter Davenport, on "Dukes of Hazzard" and later served two terms in Congress as a Democrat from Georgia. He now owns Cooter’s Place, a chain of “Dukes of Hazzard” museums located in Gatlinburg and Nashville, Tenn.
After hearing the report, Jones released a letter of disapproval to the press on Wednesday, criticizing what he feels is a “narrow-minded, elitist” move on the part of the television studio.
“More than 33 years since the show premiered on CBS-TV on Friday nights, Warner Bros. has issued a new and terribly insulting attack on the South, a region and a culture which Hollywood has trashed for decades," Jones wrote. "Some unnamed genius at the company feels that the flag is 'offensive to some' and therefore it has no business on a classic TV comedy about a bunch of good ol' boys and girls in the Southern mountains. This is a new level of "P.C." idiocy. I don't know about you, but I am tired of being insulted by morons.”
Jones tells TODAY that the decision could hurt the "Dukes of Hazzard" brand by misrepresenting the nature of the flag to young people who watch the show.
“It will make kids unhappy and confused,” he says. “To me, they’re destroying innocence. They’re not responding to people who watch the show, they’re responding to those who don’t follow it. It’s insulting to my culture and my work.”
He adds, “The flag is a part of the almost perfect design of that car, which has been voted the most popular car in the history of film and television. That’s not going to go away. It’s an idiotic decision.”
Jones stresses that he was an avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, participating in countless demonstrations in the South in the 1960s. He says he believes in a deep respect for all people, but believes that to assume the Confederate flag merely represents slavery is to overlook history.
“I have a good feel for where people’s heads are on this thing and I don’t understand why it’s happening,” Jones told TODAY. “When “The Dukes of Hazzard” was a big show, it was this positive thing about the car and the culture and the kids, and that went on for years. It is a permanent part of Americana.”
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