In the world of television comedy, The Beverly Hillbillies stands out as a show that has left a lasting impact. The Jed Clampett-led Clampett family story, which Buddy Ebsen portrayed, enthralled viewers and became legendary. Today, only one main cast member is still with us: Max Baer Jr., the actor who portrayed the lovable Jethro Bodine.
Max Baer Jr. has had a remarkable career, from his unexpected casting in Beverly Hillbillies to his successful turn as a professional golfer after his acting days. But one aspect of his personal life sets him apart – he never became a father. And there is a touching reason behind it.
Max Baer Jr.’s Journey
Max Baer Jr. was born on December 4, 1937, in Oakland, California, to boxing legend Max Baer and Mary Ellen Sullivan—his father’s passion for sports shaped his early life and career.
Although Baer didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a boxer, he found success as a professional golfer. In 1968, he even won the pro-am division in a golf tournament with professional golfer Charlie Sifford.
Despite his golfing success, Baer saw acting as more of a hobby. His career in the entertainment industry began with a stage production in England, then he played supporting roles in shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, and Hawaiian Eye. However, it was his role as Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies that indeed launched his career.
A Stroke of Luck
Baer’s audition for The Beverly Hillbillies was a stroke of luck. He caught the attention of an executive at Warner Bros. who saw a resemblance to James Garner.
With little acting experience, Baer signed a one-year contract and embarked on what would become his most iconic role. Though his early episodes earned him $1,000 and later episodes $500, Baer’s talent for making people laugh was priceless.
The success of The Beverly Hillbillies was undeniable, with the show quickly becoming a fan favorite and reaching the No. 1 spot in television history just three weeks after its debut.
Baer’s portrayal of the naive but lovable Jethro Bodine earned him a special place in the hearts of the American TV public, even though his salary never matched his popularity. With each episode, Baer’s main goal was to make people laugh, whether with or at him.
An Unforgettable Character
Jethro Bodine became an unforgettable character on the show with his quirky mannerisms and hilarious quotes. Baer’s dedication to the role paid off, and he became celebrated as an American comedy icon.
Despite the repetitiveness of playing the same character for 274 episodes, Baer never grew tired of his role and found it impossible to pick a favorite episode. For him, the fulfillment came from making people laugh and bringing joy to their lives.
After The Beverly Hillbillies ended, Baer faced challenges in the industry. Producers saw him solely as Jethro and struggled to envision him in other roles. However, he persevered and made guest appearances in various shows.
Eventually, Baer expanded his career beyond acting, venturing into producing and directing. His movies, such as Ode to Billie Joe and Macon County Line, enjoyed unexpected success and propelled him into the business world.
A Touching Reason
Baer’s personal life took a different path. He married Joanne Hill in 1966, but their union lasted until 1971. After their divorce, Baer never remarried or had children. He revealed that his father’s example as a father figure made him hesitant to become a parent. Max Baer Sr. had been a loving and devoted father, and Baer felt he couldn’t live up to that standard.
Through the years, Baer faced personal tragedies as well. His relationship with model Chere Rhodes ended in tragedy when she took her own life in 2008. Despite these challenges, Baer persevered and continued to share his talents with the world.
Looking back on his journey, Baer acknowledges that his family had ups and downs. The Baer legacy saw dreams and aspirations take unexpected turns. Max Baer Sr. wanted to be a prizefighter but became a butcher. Baer had hoped to become a lawyer but found success as an actor. The Beverly Hillbillies played a significant role in his career and exposed him to a broad audience, ensuring his work would always be appreciated.
Celebrating the Legacy
As the last surviving cast member of The Beverly Hillbillies, Max Baer Jr. cherishes the memories he shared with his co-stars, especially Buddy Ebsen. When news of Ebsen’s failing health reached Baer, he visited him in the hospital alongside their television cousin, Donna Douglas.
Baer recounts the bittersweet moment when he entered Ebsen’s hospital room and exchanged heartfelt with his dear friend. It was the last time Baer saw Ebsen alive, etching the memory into his heart as a testament to their cherished times on and off-screen. The bond they developed while working on The Beverly Hillbillies will always be a part of a show that everyone loves.
Max Baer Jr. has left an indelible mark on television history as Jethro Bodine, the lovable and simple-minded character from The Beverly Hillbillies. His talent for making people laugh and his commitment to his craft will always be remembered.
Like many others, if you enjoyed the show, please share this article with friends and family to celebrate the legacy of Max Baer Jr. and the unforgettable cast of The Beverly Hillbillies!