James Lee Barrett was a prolific film and TV writer whose work often reflected his Southern roots and salt-of-the earth American values. Barrett received his greatest recognition for Shenandoah, the story of a Virginian family trying to stay out of the fighting during the Civil War. First presented as a 1965 feature film starring James Stewart, the story provided the basis for a Broadway musical starring John Cullum in 1974. Barrett won a Tony Award for the book of the latter. In 1965, besides Shenendoah, Barrett received credit for scripting The Greatest Story Ever Told, in which John Wayne played a Roman centurion supervising the crucifixion of Christ. Wayne subsequently hired Barrett to write the 1968 feature The Green Berets, a salute to the elite forces in Vietnam. James Stewart again performed Barrett's dialogue in light western The Cheyenne Social Club (1970) and Burt Reynolds did the same for the raucous hit Smokey and the Bandit (1977).
Although Barrett had some early TV credits, he did not begin working in the medium in earnest until the late 70s. He created the NBC series Our House, which starred Wilford Brimley as a crusty old man who takes in his widowed daughter-in-law and her three kids despite his cantankerous nature. In 1988, Barrett wrote the TV-movie pilot for In the Heat of the Night, adapted from the feature film, which became a long-running vehicle for Carroll O'Connor. But Barrett never got to see it succeed, as he passed away in 1989.