Max Baer Jr. is most commonly known as Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies, but whatever happened to this legend after the show?
This is Max Baer Jr today, age 84.
Comedy show The Beverly Hillbillies followed the story of the Clampett family, with Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebsen, who found himself accumulating wealth extremely fast.
Max Baer Jr – Jethro Bodine
The street-smart Jed brought his Clampett family clan with him, and among the many popular characters was one that stood out.
Max Baer Jr played the role of Jethro Bodine, the son of Jed’s cousin, Pearl, a naive and borderline dim-witted man who showed off his great math skills with his multiplication classic “five gozinta five one times, five gozinta ten two times.”
The Beverly Hillbillies was an instant success when it aired in 1962. It rose to the No. 1 spot quicker than any other show in television history within the first three weeks after its debut, according to IMDB.
Television audiences loved the show. It ran for 11 years, amassing a total of nine seasons and 274 episodes, before being cancelled in 1971
The Beverly Hillbillies was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Show Comedy in 1964, in addition to four Emmy nominations.
The Beverly Hillbillies – Jethro
As for Max’s character, he had a goofy year-to-ear grin, his laugh made everyone else laugh, and, above all else, he made everyone believe his character Jethro Bodine was real.
Max had practiced his backwood accent by listing to Andy Griffith and Jonathan Winters records. He was able to couple this with maintaining a constantly stupid look on his face, which obviously had fans laughing.
Max Baer Jr was truly an American comedy icon while portraying the country bumpkin Jethro. Not only that, but the show gave Max his big breakthrough.
Sadly, his life after the show didn’t turn out as many would’ve thought. This is the story of the man behind Jethro Bodine – a character people in Hollywood never wanted to let go of.
Max Baer Jr was born Dec 4, 1937 in Oakland, California. He is the son of legendary boxer Max Baer and his wife Mary Ellen Sullivan.
Picked up in parking lot
It would be a long time before Baer Jr went into acting. His first acting role was in a stage production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Blackpool Pavilion in England in 1949. Later, it was actually just a mixture of coincidence, luck and a great self-confidence that landed him the role of a lifetime in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Baer Jr was raised in Sacramento and later moved to Santa Clara to study. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Santa Clara University in 1959, but only a year later, he would find himself standing in a parking lot in Los Angeles.
According to a 1999 article in People Magazine, Max Baer Jr decided to ride his motorcycle to Los Angeles the year after graduation. He ended up in the Warner Bros. lot, where an executive thought he looked like James Garner.
Baer Jr was discovered, and he decided to give acting a chance. Soon, he had signed his first one-year contract, despite knowing anything about acting. Instead, he just thought he might as well should go for it.
He scored small parts and guest roles in television, appearing in series such as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick and Hawaiian Eye.
Even though his career wasn’t skyrocketing, he decided to stay, and soon he found himself the greatest gig he would ever land: a sitcom about a country bumpkin family getting rich off oil.
Max Baer Jr – career
Following an open audition, he scored the role as Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies, earning $1000 for the pilot and $500 the following show.
“When you play a role like Jethro it’s for other people to judge because it’s pretty hard to be subjective or objective about yourself,” Baer Jr told Medium.
“You just do the best you can with the material that you’re given, and then you try to add to it [with your performance] as much as you possibly can. But in the end, it’s the audience who has the final say. Well, we liked what you did’ or ‘We don’t like what you did.’ And you really don’t have any other way of evaluating it.”
At this point, the show was a huge success. Baer never earned more than $800 per episode, but he held a very special place in the hearts of the American TV public.
Max Baer Jr knew he was doing a good job, and most importantly, getting people to laugh.
“You have to perform well. And, in my case, if I have made the people laugh and even if they can laugh at my expense, it’s okay. I don’t care,” Baer Jr said. “They can laugh with me or at me. It doesn’t matter, just as long as they laugh. Because if I can make them laugh, then I believe that my performance was a successful one. I can’t evaluate it as to what degree of success it was. But I can say it did what it was supposed to do.”
In 1993, a feature-length adaptation of the classic TV show aired, including Dolly Parton among others. Unfortunately, it didn’t achieve quite the same level of success. To be honest, how could it be after they had cast someone else in the role of Jethro?
Praised as Jethro Bodine
Celebrated actress Donna Douglas played the role of the mountain beauty Elly May Clampett on Beverly Hillbillies.
Speaking in 2013, she praised Max Baer Jr for his outstanding role as Jethro, who might not have been seen as the brightest bulb in the bulb box.
“Max Baer did well as Jethro because he didn’t come across as so dumb that you didn’t like him,” she said according to the book Dashing, Daring, and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
“He gave me a hard time then and still does. But we all were like a family. Max could complain about any one of us (for whatever reason), but do not let someone else say something about one of us. Boy — would Max really let that person have it. He’d defend us just like with a real family member.”
Donna Douglas passed away in 2015, aged 82, leaving Baer Jr the only surviving cast member of the show.
TV historian Jeffrey D. Dalrymple, a good friend of Baer Jr’s, agrees.
“You believed Uncle Jed, Granny, and cousin Elly May was his family because they played it so well,” he says. “And Max had the ability to blend in with the other cast members, without overplaying or underplaying Jethro. He was a good actor and a good guy, and he still is”
Max Baer Jr father
Besides being a celebrated star on The Beverly Hillbillies, Baer Jr had a great interest in sports, just like his father, who was a professional boxer.
In his early days, Max Bear made a living by walking around town and collecting garbage from restaurants. He was paid 35 cents each night and worked seven nights a week.
The father also earned money through boxing matches; during the Great Depression, Max Baer asked for more fights.
During a fight in 1930, Max Baer landed a fatal punch that killed his opponent Frankie Campbell. The horrible event traumatized Max Baer, and he was never the same afterward. He had to spend some time in jail, and his reputation was damaged.
”He just wanted the money. He never loved boxing,” Max Baer Jr said and added:
”They turned a good-hearted, fun-loving, friendly and warm human being who hated boxing into Mr. T from Rocky III with no redeeming characteristics.”
Unfortunately, Baer Jr’s father, Max Baer, passed away in 1959, at age 50.
Baer Jr was no boxier, but he played professional golf, participating in several tournaments in California.
While attending Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, California, Baer Jr won letter in golf, football, baseball and basketball. In addition, he won the Sacramento Junior Open Golf Championship two years in a row. Later, he was also a runner-up in the men’s tournament.
In 1968, Max Baer Jr teamed up with professional golfer Charlie Sifford, with whom the actor won the pro-am division of the Andy Williams Golf Classic in San Diego.
”Acting, though, is really only a hobby with me”, Baer told The Times in 1971. ”Golf is my occupation.”
Following The Beverly Hillbillies being cancelled, Baer Jr didn’t have a great amount of offers on the table.
One of the problems was that producers only saw him as Jethro, not Baer. He managed to get guest appearances on several shows like Love, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote.
Director and producer
Instead of taking on different small projects and TV shows, he decided to go his own path, producing and directing. They might not have been movies meant for the Academy Awards, but boy, did he put food on the table.
Bear Jr found himself producing and directing two movies named Ode to Billie Joe and the small-town psycho cop film Macon County Line (1974).
The movie reportedly cost $225,000 to make. However, it became a bigger success than anyone could’ve ever imagined. In fact, it was the single most profitable indie-film of 1974, earning $18.8 million in North America and over $30 million worldwide, according to IMDB.
It also inspired the sequel Return to Macon County (1975).
Max Baer Jr made a fortune on his own movies. And it soon led the actor, writer and producer into becoming a businessman.
His legacy of Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies was still intact. That’s why, in 1991, he decided to purchase the rights to The Beverly Hillbillies name from CBS.
Max Baer Jr – casino plans
Baer Jr, now 84 years of age, had plans of using the show’s theme and characters for casinos, theme parks, restaurants and cosmetics. The themed casino and theme park were supposed to be built on 24 acres of land he owns in Carson Valley, Nevada.
More than 200 rooms, 1,000 slot machines and animatronic figures of the cast were planned for the resort.
However, Baer Jr’s been through several lawsuits regarding his projects and nothing really came out of his dream of making a blockbuster franchise of the popular TV series.
In 2014, it was reported that Baer had sued CBS. He claimed that the network had made a secret deal with a Des Moines based Jethro’s BBQ. According to the actor, it interfered with his opportunity to make money on his role from the iconic television show.
However, the owners in Des Moines were confident it wouldn’t affect their business.
Max Baer Jr has been married once. In 1966, he tied the knot with Joanne Kathleen Hill. They divorced in 1971.
Max Baer Jr – relationships
Following several relationships, he dated Chere Rhodes, a 30-year-old model from California. Their relationship continued until a tragedy happened in January of 2008 in Carson City, Nevada. Chere was shot in the chest, and following a police investigation, the death was labeled as suicide.
Three months after her death, Baer Jr. opened up about the incident and revealed that there was blood everywhere and that he was horrified when he discovered her.
The famous actor also claimed that officers performed a paraffin test on him ”to make sure I didn’t shoot her”.
Max Baer Jr had to fight his way into the Hollywood spotlight. In 1963, he spoke about his future, a quote that truly showed what he went through in the years that followed.
“We Baers never wound up exactly the way we hoped we would. My grandfather always wanted to be a prize fighter, but he became a butcher. He did win a slaughtering championship once,” Baer said according to Closer. “Dad had hoped to become an actor and, as everyone knows, he became a boxer. I wanted to be a lawyer and here I am acting. The show has done a lot for my career. The exposure will help insure work for me in the future, too. And someday I hope to prove I can play something besides a hillbilly.”
No matter what happened before or after the show, we will remember Max Baer Jr as a great actor that made us laugh in pretty much every single episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.
It’s safe to say he will always have a special place in our hearts.
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