Max Baer Jr.: Beyond Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies

Max Baer Jr., widely known for his iconic portrayal of Jethro Bodine in the beloved TV series The Beverly Hillbillies, has a story that extends far beyond the hillbilly persona that made him famous. Today, at the age of 84, he reflects on a diverse career that took unexpected turns after the show’s conclusion.

The Beverly Hillbillies Phenomenon

The Beverly Hillbillies was a cultural phenomenon that captivated audiences in the early 1960s. The show revolved around the Clampett family, led by patriarch Jed Clampett, who suddenly became a millionaire through oil wealth and decided to move to the upscale Beverly Hills, California. The twist was that the Clampetts maintained their down-to-earth, hillbilly way of life.

Max Baer Jr.’s portrayal of Jethro Bodine, Jed’s cousin Pearl’s son, was a standout character. Jethro, portrayed as naive and somewhat dim-witted, added humor to the show with his famous math skills, as he would say, “five gozinta five one times, five gozinta ten two times.”

The Beverly Hillbillies was an instant success, reaching the No. 1 spot in television history within the first three weeks of its debut, according to IMDb. It ran for an impressive 11 years, totaling nine seasons and 274 episodes before concluding in 1971. The show even received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best TV Show Comedy in 1964 and earned four Emmy nominations.

Max Baer Jr.’s Role as Jethro Bodine

Max Baer Jr.’s portrayal of Jethro Bodine left an indelible mark on television history. With a goofy grin, infectious laugh, and a knack for maintaining a clueless expression, he brought Jethro to life. Baer Jr. had honed his backwoods accent by listening to Andy Griffith and Jonathan Winters records, adding authenticity to his character.

Despite his undeniable success in playing Jethro, Max Baer Jr. faced unique challenges and opportunities in his life after The Beverly Hillbillies.

Early Life and Career

Max Baer Jr. was born on December 4, 1937, in Oakland, California. He was the son of legendary boxer Max Baer and his wife, Mary Ellen Sullivan.

His journey into acting didn’t start until later in life. In 1949, his first acting role was in a stage production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Blackpool Pavilion in England. It was a combination of coincidence, luck, and self-confidence that eventually led him to his iconic role in The Beverly Hillbillies.

Baer Jr. grew up in Sacramento and later moved to Santa Clara for his studies. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Santa Clara University in 1959. A year later, he found himself standing in a Los Angeles parking lot.

His introduction to acting was accidental. While riding his motorcycle to Los Angeles, Baer Jr. ended up on the Warner Bros. lot. An executive noticed his resemblance to James Garner and offered him a one-year contract, despite his lack of experience in acting. He decided to take a chance, and this marked the beginning of his acting career.

Baer Jr. made appearances in several television series, including “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” and “Hawaiian Eye.” Despite modest success, he continued to work in Hollywood. His breakthrough came when he auditioned for the role of Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies. He earned $1,000 for the pilot and $500 per episode for the series, a modest sum by today’s standards.

During his time on the show, Baer Jr. made Jethro Bodine a beloved character for American audiences. He believed that making people laugh was the most important part of his job. “You have to perform well,” he said. “If I can make them laugh, then I believe that my performance was a successful one.”

Legacy and Later Career

Max Baer Jr. had to navigate life after The Beverly Hillbillies, where he was often typecast as Jethro. Despite his success on the show, he encountered difficulties in finding new roles.

In 1991, Baer Jr. took a significant step by purchasing the rights to The Beverly Hillbillies name from CBS. He had ambitious plans to use the show’s theme and characters for various entertainment ventures, including casinos, theme parks, restaurants, and cosmetics. The themed casino and theme park were intended for a 24-acre plot he owned in Carson Valley, Nevada. Unfortunately, these ambitious projects faced legal challenges and did not come to fruition.

Personal Life

Max Baer Jr. has been married once. In 1966, he married Joanne Kathleen Hill, but their marriage ended in divorce in 1971.

His personal life included a tragic incident. In January 2008, he dated Chere Rhodes, a 30-year-old model from California, until she tragically passed away from a gunshot wound. Baer Jr. claimed that her death was a suicide and that he was subjected to a paraffin test to ensure he was not involved.

Legacy and Remembrance

Despite the challenges he faced in Hollywood, Max Baer Jr. will always be remembered as a great actor who brought humor and laughter to countless viewers through his portrayal of Jethro Bodine. His ability to make people laugh made him a beloved figure, and he remains an enduring part of television history.

No matter what happened before or after The Beverly Hillbillies, Max Baer Jr. will always have a special place in the hearts of those who laughed with him during the show’s run.

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