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.
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."