Max Baer (born December 4, 1937) is an American actor, screenwriter, producer, and director. He is best known for playing Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies.
Early life Baer was born Maximilian Adalbert Baer Jr. in Oakland, California, the son of boxing champion Max Baer and his wife Mary Ellen Sullivan. His father was of Jewish and Scots-Irish descent. His brother and sister are James Baer (b. 1941) and Maude Baer (b. 1943). His uncle was boxer and actor Buddy Baer. Baer earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Santa Clara University, with a minor in philosophy.
Baer's first acting role was in Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Blackpool Pavilion in England in 1949. He began acting professionally in 1960 at Warner Bros., where he made appearances on television programs such Maverick, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Cheyenne, The Roaring 20s, and 77 Sunset Strip. His career took off two years later, when he joined the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies.
The Beverly Hillbillies
Max Baer (left), Nancy Kulp and Sharon Tate in The Beverly Hillbillies (1965)
Baer was cast in the role of the doltish "Jethro Bodine", Jed Clampett's nephew. It would prove to be the high point of his acting career and the one he is best remembered for. He still found time to act elsewhere during the nine-year run of The Beverly Hillbilles, and appeared on Vacation Playhouse, Love, American Style, and in the Western movie A Time for Killing.
The Beverly Hillbillies went off the air in 1971, and Baer made numerous guest appearances on television. However, he found himself typecast by his former role. He then concentrated on feature motion pictures.
Baer wrote and produced the drama Macon County Line (1974), in which he played Deputy Reed Morgan. It was the highest-grossing movie per dollar invested at the time. Made for just US$110,000, it earned almost US$25 million at the box office. This record would last until it was broken by The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
Baer also wrote, produced, and directed the drama The Wild McCullochs (1975), in which he played Culver Robinson.
He then got the idea of using the title of a popular song as a movie title, acquiring the rights to the Bobbie Gentry hit song and producing Ode to Billy Joe (1976). Made for US$1.1 million, it grossed US$27 million at the box office, plus earnings in excess of US$2.65 million in the foreign market, US$4.75 million from television, and US$2.5 million from video. The film starred Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor.
Since the success of Ode to Billy Joe, the motion picture industry has capitalized on the idea, producing more than one hundred song title movies. Baer decided to pursue the rights to the hit song "Like a Virgin", recorded by the singer Madonna in 1984. When ABC tried to prevent him from making the film, he sued and won a judgment of more than US$2 million.
He directed the comedy Hometown USA (1979), then retired to his home at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. He still makes occasional guest appearances on television.
Baer has said he feels playing Jethro Bodine sank his acting career. He was asked by Paul Henning to reprise the role for a 1981 television movie, but he declined. Nevertheless, when the feature film The Beverly Hillbillies was made twelve years later, Baer was reportedly upset that only Buddy Ebsen was asked to do a cameo. By 2004, Baer had recognized the marketability of The Beverly Hillbillies and appeared with actress Donna Douglas at the annual "TV Land Awards".
In 1985, Baer began investigating the gambling industry. He saw that tourists paid a US$5 to US$6 admission to tour the "Ponderosa Ranch", which was the location for filming some episodes of TV's Bonanza. There was nothing to see but a working cattle ranch, but people enjoyed it because of the Bonanza connection. Baer decided that tourists would also pay for something dealing with The Beverly Hillbillies. He began using his Jethro Bodine role as a marketing opportunity toward the gambling and hotel industry. Baer obtained the sublicensing rights, including food and beverage rights, to The Beverly Hillbillies from CBS in 1991. His business partner estimates the cost of obtaining the rights and developing the ideas has been US$1 million. Sixty-five Beverly Hillbillies slot machines were built in 1999 and placed in ten casinos.
In late 2003, Baer attempted the redevelopment of a former Wal-Mart location in Carson City into a Beverly Hillbillies-themed hotel and casino, but was unsuccessful due to building code conflicts and other developers on the neighboring properties. On May 4, 2007, Baer announced the sale of the property and the purchase of another parcel just outside of Carson City, in neighboring Douglas County, where he expected less resistance to his plans. Baer purchased a 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) parcel in north Douglas County for $1.2 million, and will purchase an additional 20 acres (81,000 m2) once he has obtained the required zoning variances. The plans are for a 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) gambling area with 800 slot machines and 16 tables, flanked by various eateries including "Jethro's All You Ken Et Buffet". The project would feature a showroom, cinema complex and a 240-room, five-story hotel.
Plans for Baer's casino included a 200-foot-tall (61 m) mock oil derrick spouting a 20 to 30-foot (9.1 m) flame.