‘Dukes of Hazzard’ and ‘Andy Griffith Show’ Actor Denver Pyle Had Real-Life Oil Success Like Jed Clampett

by John Jamison
(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Uncle Jesse actor Denver Pyle was a man of many talents. “Dukes of Hazzard” fans knew him as uncle to Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke. Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” recognized him as Briscoe Darling, the musical mountain man. However, when Pyle wasn’t on set, the legendary actor wore a very different hat—that of an oil speculator.

That’s right. Colorado native Denver Pyle was a real-life Jed Clampett. The story of the “Dukes of Hazzard” star’s oil success, though, happened in reverse. Pyle had already made it big on “The Andy Griffith Show” before getting involved with crude. The character actor’s reach went far beyond the iconic Andy Griffith-led show, however. He was acting in anything and everything he could get, including shows like “Wyatt Earp,” “Grizzly Adams,” and “The Doris Day Show.”

According to a 1981 article from United Press International, Denver Pyle made a series of brilliant investments buying up oil leases.

“I bought fringe producing wells in Texas and Colorado that were mostly dissipated. And as technology progressed by leaps and bounds, more and more oil was reclaimed,” said Pyle. “So I just kept buying and selling leases and investing in drilling programs.”

His timing couldn’t have been better. Oil drilling technology exploded, oil prices went through the roof, and the “Dukes of Hazzard” star suddenly became a tycoon as a partner in Otis Energy. So why continue acting? Was he only doing it to support his oil habit? Well, yes and no.

“I look at it this way, acting provides the cash flow I need for oil speculation. And besides that I like acting. It’s fun,” Pyle told UPI in 1981.

Of all the things to have a knack for, Pyle was born with two of the most lucrative—mining black gold and entertaining.

‘Dukes of Hazzard’ Star Denver Pyle Talked About How Uncle Jesse Was Born From Briscoe Darling

Denver Pyle wasn’t exactly your typical leading man. Of course, he was a talented actor, but he was quickly typecast as an old-fashioned, grandpa-type—even in his thirties.

He certainly wasn’t complaining about it. From 1948 to 1997, the “Dukes of Hazzard” star earned himself 263 acting credits, per IMDb.

“Uncle Jesse is a variation on a constant theme I’ve played since I began acting back in 1948. I was 30, playing guys 60 years old,” Pyle told UPI.

So many of his characters were reminiscent of or at least informed by ones he played in the past. In hindsight, however, two of the most iconic shows on which he contributed were intertwined.

“I guess Jesse’s character came to life first on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ as Mr. Darling who came to town every once in a while with his four sons and a daughter that he was trying to get married off,” he continued.