Just like The Beverly Hillbillies, Max Baer Jr. went from rags to riches

Max Baer Jr. was the definition of a starving artist. Before The Beverly Hillbillies, he was eating beans out of a can.

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Before his time on The Beverly Hillbillies, Max Baer Jr. was a starving artist—quite literally. Baer Jr. is best known for his role as Jethro Bodine, but before then, he was broke, jobless and hungry.

He was living day-to-day and from unemployment check to unemployment check. In a 1963 interview with The Record, Baer Jr. said he only had one quart of milk to last him four days.

"I was two months behind on my rent and my weight had dropped from 210 to 188 pounds," Baer Jr. said. "My morale was low. Very low."

"I was out of money and had about had it," Baer Jr. said. "I had no car and I had no wardrobe. It was very rough... I had to sell some of my things to live. I really had to scrounge around."

His father, Max Baer, was a famous heavyweight boxing champion. Baer Jr. could have easily followed in his father's footsteps, as Baer Jr. was an amateur boxing champion at Santa Clara University.

Instead, Baer Jr. found a passion for acting when he performed in his first play in college, The Male Animal. He moved to Hollywood after graduating in order to pursue his dreams of acting. 

Pursuing the dream didn't always come easy. According to the interview, his diet mainly consisted of beans from a can before landing the role on The Beverly Hillbillies. Baer Jr. and his character Jethro both came from humble beginnings and in the end, they both ended up living in mansions.

"I'd had some raw deals in this town, and I don't forget the people who tried to take advantage of me, but you can bet your life I'll never be that poor again," Baer Jr. said.

Despite the rough start to his acting career, Baer Jr. went on to play his role as Jethro from 1962 to 1971. According to the article, dozens of actors had auditioned for the role of Jethro, but Baer Jr. was creator Paul Henning's pick.

He said he had to develop a Southern accent for the role. The giant-sized teenager was originally from California and said he learned his Southern accent by studying other established actors.

"I bought albums by Andy Griffith and Jonathan Winters, and listened to them by the hour," Baer Jr. said. "The accent I use isn't authentic by any means, but then it isn't supposed to represent any particular section of the country. It's just country Southern."

The Beverly Hillbillies was able to open many doors for Baer Jr., and it would change the trajectory of his life. He had become a big actor in one of TV's number-one rated series. 

It was important for Baer Jr. to get the role of Jethro; however, he quickly acknowledged that he wasn't the only struggling actor then. He was just lucky enough to get the part at the right time.

"I know kids who have had it so much harder than I have," Baer Jr. said. "Vince Edwards is an example. He waited around for six years before he got his opportunity in Ben Casey. But my year's wait was a long time."

"I was fortunate to get in a hit show," Baer Jr. said. "Otherwise, I might still be starving."

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11 Comments

Alfetta159 8 months ago
I always heard he was trying to create an amusement park based on The Beverly Hillbillies, but it never got off the ground.
e3rmfjah 11 months ago
Even though he was typecasted by playing Jethro, he did well directing and acting in independent films, such as Macon County Line, which was a very underrated film.
MadMat2102 11 months ago
I'm a big boxing fan and I knew Max Baer Jr. was the son of the former heavyweight champion. In fact, given, his height, build (you could see he was in great shape as Jethro) & pedigree. I wonder if he could've been successful as a professional boxer if he had followed in his dad's footsteps?
dmzabooo MadMat2102 9 months ago
I too love 🥊 boxing. As for your Jethro question..I'm sure he could of taken that career far if he were to do that. Usually it's a lineal thing with some of the greats. Boxing is a Great sport because it's a one on one, & the best man wins. No relying on other teammates if your having an off game like football & basketball. That to me makes it so special. Not taking anything away from those other athletes/sports at all.
forthekids 11 months ago
Mr.Baer was guest Celebrity Masquerader on the 1974..nationally syndicated version of"Masquerade Party"(A TV game show).
Poloponies54 11 months ago
Max Baer, jr was so natural as Jethro it is difficult separating the two…but I guess that is what makes a great actor. Beverly Hillbillies as an adult is even funnier than as a kid. I would be nice is MeTV every got there hands on bloopers from their lineup of shows I think they would be a big hit…how about more frequent broadcasting of Honeymooners, Batman and Ed Sullivan Show? Bring back Topper, Mr. Ed, Man from UNCLE, Combat, Rat Patrol, Rockford Files and Route 66…
Bapa1 Poloponies54 11 months ago
Combat and Rat Patrol are on Saturday nights on Heroes and Icons channel.
Bapa1 11 months ago
So his Dad was a famous boxer, who also went into acting. His uncle was also an actor. And yet, they let him 'Starve'. Hmmmmmmm, sounds like someone might be exaggerating a bit. Max Baer Jr. went to college with Jerry Brown, I think they lived in the same dorm.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Great story from rags to riches, MeTV! Thanks for sharing (-:
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