Max Baer Jr. is best remembered as Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies, but what became of this legend after the show ended?
Max Baer Jr is 84 years old today.
Comedy program The Beverly Hillbillies followed the Clampett family’s saga, with Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebsen, gaining fortune at an alarming rate.
Jed became a millionaire instantly and decided to relocate to Beverly Hills, California. The story’s turning point? The family kept up their backwoods lifestyle.
The streetwise Jed brought his Clampett family clan, and one of the many famous personalities stood out.
Jethro Bodine, the son of Jed’s cousin, Pearl, was played by Max Baer Jr, a naive and borderline dimwitted man who demonstrated his excellent arithmetic skills with his multiplication classic “five gozinta five one times, five gozinta ten two times.”
It was an instant hit when The Beverly Hillbillies first broadcast in 1962. According to IMDB, it soared to the top spot faster than any other show in television history within the first three weeks of its launch.
The show was a hit among television viewers. It lasted 11 years, with nine seasons and 274 episodes, before being discontinued in 1971.
In 1964, The Beverly Hillbillies was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Show Comedy and four Emmy nominations.
On the other hand, Max’s persona had a silly year-to-year grin. His chuckle made everyone else laugh, and, most importantly, he made everyone believe his character, Jethro Bodine, was real.
Max had honed his southern drawl by listening to Andy Griffith and Jonathan Winters recordings. He was able to do this while maintaining a perpetually idiotic expression on his face, which made people chuckle.
By playing the rustic bumpkin Jethro, Max Baer Jr became an American comic star. Not only that, but the show provided Max with his big break.
Unfortunately, his life following the show did not go as planned. This is the story of the guy behind Jethro Bodine, a character Hollywood couldn’t get enough of.
Max Baer Jr. was born in Oakland, California, on December 4, 1937. He is the son of boxing champion Max Baer and Mary Ellen Sullivan.
It would be a long time before Baer Jr entered the acting world. In 1949, he appeared in a theater version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Blackpool Pavilion in England.
Ultimately, a combination of chance, luck, and a lot of self-confidence got him part of a lifetime in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Baer Jr. grew up in Sacramento before moving to Santa Clara to study. He graduated from Santa Clara University with a Bachelor of Business Management in 1959, but a year later, he found himself in a Los Angeles parking lot.
Max Baer Jr chose to ride his motorcycle to Los Angeles the year following graduation. He wound himself on the Warner Bros. lot, where an executive recognized him as James Garner.
After Baer Jr. was noticed, he wanted to try acting. Despite knowing nothing about acting, he quickly signed his first one-year contract. Instead, he reasoned that he might as well go for it.
He had modest parts and guest appearances on television in shows including 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, and Hawaiian Eye.
Even though his career wasn’t taking off, he opted to stay, and soon he found himself with the best job he’d ever had: a sitcom about a country bumpkin family who become wealthy through oil.
After an open audition, he landed the role of Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies, receiving $1000 for the pilot and $500 for the following show.
“It’s extremely difficult to be subjective or objective about yourself when you play a part like Jethro,” Baer Jr told Medium.
“You simply do the best you can with the material you’re given, and then you attempt to contribute to it [with your performance] as much as possible.
Yet, in the end, the audience has the final word. We liked what you did or we didn’t like what you did. And you don’t have any other method of assessing it.”
The show was a big success at this time. Baer never made more than $800 per episode, but he had a special place in the hearts of the American television audience.
Max Baer Jr. felt he was doing well and, more importantly, making people laugh.
“You must perform well. And, in my situation, it’s fine if I’ve made people laugh, even if it’s at my expense. “I don’t care,” remarked Baer Jr. “They can laugh with or at me. It makes no difference as long as they laugh.
So if I can make them laugh, I’ll consider my performance a success. I don’t know what level of success it achieved. Yet I can say it accomplished its purpose.”
A feature-length remake of the iconic TV show starring Dolly Parton debuted in 1993. Regrettably, it did not enjoy the same level of success. Honestly, it’s hard to believe after they cast someone else in the part of Jethro.
On Beverly Hillbillies, celebrated actress Donna Douglas portrayed mountain beauty Elly May Clampett.
In 2013, she applauded Max Baer Jr. for his outstanding performance as Jethro, who may not have been the brightest bulb in the bulb box.
“Max Baer did well as Jethro because he didn’t come across as so stupid that you didn’t like him,” she remarked in the book Dashing, Daring, and Debonair: TV’s Greatest Male Legends from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.
“He was and still is difficult to deal with. Yet we were all like a family. Max could complain about any of us (for whatever cause), but he must not allow anyone else to say anything about us. Max would never let that person take it. He’d defend us as though we were a real family.”
Donna Douglas died in 2015 at 82, leaving Baer Jr as the show’s only surviving cast member.
Baer Jr.’s buddy and TV historian Jeffrey D. Dalrymple agrees.
“You thought Uncle Jed, Granny, and cousin Elly May were his family because they were so good at it,” he adds. “And Max could mix in with the other cast members without overplaying or underplaying Jethro. He was and still is a good performer and a decent guy.”
Baer Jr., in addition to being a recognized star on The Beverly Hillbillies, had a keen interest in sports, much like his father, who was a professional boxer.
Max Bear used to make a living by wandering across town and collecting garbage from restaurants. He earned 35 cents every night and worked seven nights per week.
Boxing contests were another source of income for the father; during the Great Depression, Max Baer requested additional fights.
Max Baer delivered a fatal punch to his opponent Frankie Campbell during a fight in 1930. The tragic experience shocked Max Baer, and he was never the same afterward. He had to spend some time in jail, and his reputation suffered.
“He was only interested in the money. “He never liked boxing,” Max Baer Jr. claimed, adding:
“They transformed a good-hearted, fun-loving, pleasant, and warm human being who despised boxing into Mr. T from Rocky III with no redeeming qualities.”
Tragically, Baer Jr’s father, Max Baer, died in 1959 at 50.
Baer Jr. was no boxer, but he did play professional golf, competing in various California competitions.
Baer Jr. lettered in golf, football, baseball, and basketball while attending Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, California.
He also won the Sacramento Junior Open Golf Championship for the second year. Eventually, he finished second in the men’s tournament.
Max Baer Jr. paired up with professional golfer Charlie Sifford to win the pro-am division of the Andy Williams Golf Championship in San Diego in 1968.
“Acting, on the other hand, is just a hobby for me,” Baer told The Times in 1971. “Golf is my profession.”
Following the cancellation of The Beverly Hillbillies, Baer Jr was left with few options.
One issue was that the producers only saw him as Jethro, not Baer. He appeared as a guest on various shows, including Love, Fantasy Island, and Murder, She Wrote.
Instead of working on many little films and TV series, he decided to strike out on his own, producing and directing. They may not have been Academy Award-worthy films, but he sure put food on the table.
Bear Jr. produced and directed two films, Ode to Billie Joe and Macon County Line, about small-town cops (1974).
According to reports, the film cost $225,000 to make. Nonetheless, it was a bigger success than anyone could have predicted. According to IMDB, it was the most profitable indie film of 1974, with $18.8 million in North America and more than $30 million globally.
It also inspired the sequel Return to Macon County (1975).
Max Baer Jr amassed a fortune from his films. And it quickly inspired the actor, writer, and producer to start his firm.
His Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies legend was still intact. That’s why, in 1991, he chose to buy the Beverly Hillbillies moniker from CBS.
Baer Jr, now 84, intended to use the show’s premise and characters in casinos, amusement parks, restaurants, and cosmetics. The themed casino and amusement park were to be erected on 24 acres of his land in Carson Valley, Nevada.
The resort was to include over 200 rooms, 1,000 slot machines, and animatronic figures of the performers.
Nevertheless, Baer Jr. has been involved in various disputes relating to his projects. Nothing has come of his desire to create a blockbuster franchise based on the successful TV series.
Baer was said to have sued CBS in 2014. He alleged the network had struck a secret contract with Jethro’s Barbecue in Des Moines. According to the actor, it hampered his ability to earn money from his position on the popular television show.
Yet, the Des Moines proprietors were convinced it would not impact their business.
Max Baer Jr has had one marriage. Joanne Kathleen Hill and he married in 1966. In 1971, they divorced.
After a string of relationships, he dated Chere Rhodes, a 30-year-old model from California. Their romance lasted until a tragedy occurred in Carson City, Nevada, in January 2008. Chere was shot in the chest, and his death was ruled a suicide after an investigation by authorities.
Baer Jr. told up about the incident three months after her death, revealing that blood was everywhere and that he was shocked when he saw her.
Officers allegedly performed a paraffin test on him “to make sure I didn’t shoot her,” according to the famous actor.
Max Baer Jr. had to fight his way into the spotlight in Hollywood. He remarked about his future in 1963, a quote that accurately depicted what he went through in the following years.
“We Baers never turned out the way we had intended. My grandfather always wanted to be a prize boxer but worked as a butcher. “He did win a butchering championship once,” Baer told Closer.
“Dad had planned to become an actress, and, as everyone knows, he became a boxer. I intended to be a lawyer, and now I’m an actor. My career has benefited greatly from the show.”
“The exposure will also help me get work in the future. And I aspire to prove someday that I can play something other than a hillbilly.”
Whatever happened before or after the show, we will remember Max Baer Jr as a fantastic actor who made us laugh in almost every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.
He’ll always have a special place in our hearts; it’s safe to say.
Please tell your friends and family about this tale!