Without a doubt, one of the funniest and heartwarming sitcoms of all time is The Beverly Hillbillies. We fell in love with this ragtag bunch of hillbillies who tried to fit in with their newfound wealth and their new environment. The actors and actresses who took on these rules truly embodied their characters.
Sadly, the main cast members of The Beverly Hillbillies have passed away. Only Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro is still alive and is now in his eighties. While not in the limelight as much today he’s still keeping himself busy.
But what is Max Baer Jr. doing today? And what was his life’s journey to get him to the role of Jethro?
Max Baer Jr. is the last Beverly Hillbillies cast member still alive. Join FactsVerse to learn about his life, career, and what he’s up to today…
MAX BAER JR.’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Maximillian Adelbert Baer Jr. was born on December 4, 1937, in Oakland, California. His father, Max Sr. was a boxing champion and his mother Mary was a homemaker. Growing up in California, one expects to automatically have an interest in becoming a Hollywood star. Max Baer Jr. came of age during the time of the Golden Age of Television and he must have decided from an early age that this was the life for him.
As a young teenager, he was very into sports and participated in 4 different sports while attending the Christian Brothers High School. He won the junior title twice at the Sacramento Open golf tournament. Upon graduating from high school, he attended Santa Clara University and majored in Business and had a minor in Philosophy.
Quite an eclectic set of interests and as one can see, Max Baer Jr. was quite an intelligent and hardworking young man. In a twist of irony, he’d became most famous for playing a foolish character in The Beverly Hillbillies – but we’ll come to that in a bit.
He began his acting career after graduating from university. He had 3 separate roles in 3 separate episodes in the Western TV series Maverick – with all 3 episodes released in 1960, when he was 23.
The following year he appeared in 2 episodes of the show Surfside 6 – again playing different roles in each episode. It seemed that would be his fate for the remainder of the 1960s. While his work was regular all he got were a few bit parts and small roles in popular TV shows. He was a working actor but he wasn’t a recognized actor. One wonders if anyone could watch him on a random TV show and state “hey, there’s Max Baer Jr. again!”
For the first decade of his acting career, it seemed that this was to be his fate. He’d continue to work a few times each year but he wouldn’t do any work that was meaningful. And then, out of nowhere, his fate would change in the year 1962.
You see, Max Baer Jr. came of age during the Golden Age of Television – which was the 1950s. But the 1960s is when TV was becoming more experimental and that’s when Max Baer Jr. – still a relatively unknown actor would win the role of a lifetime..
It was during this decade that Max Baer Jr. became Jethro Clampett…
JETHRO AND MAX’S OTHER WORK
Max Baer Jr. was cast as Jethro – the cousin of Jed Clampett, who would join the family as they moved to Beverly Hills – after earning more money than they knew what to do with.
Despite being an intelligent and well-rounded person, it was the bumbling fool Jethro that would make Max Baer Jr. into a star. He loved playing the role and he easily became one of the favorite characters on the show.
He played Jethro from 1962 to 1971 and appeared in almost 300 episodes of the show. He loved working on the show and this is what gave him further opportunities to act in television and film. He remained busy throughout the 1960s. He did a variety of roles – most notably appearing in Westerns and also had a prominent role in the 1967 Western film A Time For Killing.
All of a sudden, Jethro made Max Baer Jr. famous and he embodied the character so well that even some of his closest friends began referring to him as ‘Jethro’ rather than Max! He was grateful, of course, as this would bring him more work. Work was becoming more and more consistent.
But even with this constant work, there was still a section of the audience as well as key industry players who could only see Max as Jethro.
He was, in other words, being typecast and he did regret the role at times. He was a serious actor and wanted to continue to play a variety of roles but even after The Beverly Hillbillies ended, he feared whether this would be possible.
He enjoyed the comic role of Jethro but feared that Jethro’s stupidity would make him seem like a dumb person. He feared that more serious roles in serious TV shows and films would stop coming altogether.
In fact, roles washed up largely and he didn’t do much acting work after The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end. He did have 2 notable film roles in the films Macon County Line and The Wild McCullochs. He was also the producer and writer of Macon County Line and spent much of his later career behind the camera.
In the 1980s he appeared in two episodes of the show Max Houston and his final acting role was in his second episode of Murder She Wrote in 1991.
There have been die-hard fans who’ve wanted to see him act since 1991 but he has retired and he shows no signs of wanting to return to acting. Whether fans will want to see him as Jethro again or are eager to see what other acting roles he has is yet to be seen. He hasn’t written, directed, or produced a film or TV show either and focuses mostly on entrepreneurship these days – though he hasn’t forgotten his beginnings with The Beverly Hillbillies.
His acting career was therefore, short-lived. He only has 22 films and TV shows to his name and we haven’t seen him act since the early 1990s. But he created one of the most memorable characters in American sitcom history and for that, we’ll never forget him.
While he put his acting behind him, he learned to love the role of Jethro and he would eventually capitalize on it. He has no regrets and has had a wonderful life ever since.
MAX BAER JR.’S LIFE
Max Baer Jr. was married once to Joanne Kathleen Hill from 1966 to 1971. He had a long-term live-in relationship with Chere Rhodes. Then, one day, upon returning home he found her on the floor – dead. She had shot herself with a semi-automatic handgun and a handwritten suicide note was next to her.
This was obviously a traumatic incident for him and it once again thrust him in the spotlight – with the tabloid press unfortunately probing into his private life.
At the time they were apparently having relationship issues and it’s not clear whether they were going to end the relationship or not. Max Baer Jr. rarely discusses this event in public so we’ll leave it to rest.
He’s remained single since then but he still meets friends regularly and still makes the occasional public appearance. He was especially close friends with Buddy Ebsen who played his cousin, Jed Clampett, on The Beverly Hillbillies.
MAX BAER JR. TODAY
While Max Baer Jr. eventually called it quits with acting, he didn’t slow down in his career one bit. Owing to his university studies in Business, he decided to pursue entrepreneurship. He bought the licensing rights to The Beverly Hillbillies and decided to open a casino and other ventures based on the theme of the show. It only had a short-lived success but he was eager to keep trying entrepreneurship.
He mostly got fed up with the Jethro character. While he was glad for the role, he was ready to move on and he didn’t participate in a 1981 reunion show.
Nevertheless, he still tried to cash in on Jethro and The Beverly Hillbillies by trying to sell slot machines with motifs from the show to casinos. He even tried to open a Beverly Hills themed hotel!
In 2015, Donna Douglas, whom Max Baer Jr. had kept in touch with had died and this left Max as the last surviving member of the Beverly Hillbillies cast. While Jethro may have halted many of his acting ambitions and it made it much harder for him to get serious roles, he certainly didn’t give up in life.
Macon County Line which he wrote, produced and acted in was the highest grossing film in America of its time. He also had experience behind the camera for other film projects and focused his time on learning his craft. He still gives the occasional public appearance and appeared in a documentary about Buddy Ebsen following the latter’s death.
He’s now in his eighties and is enjoying every moment of his life. Something tells us that we’ve still got a lot of Max Baer Jr. to see!
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Max Baer Jr.? Did you know about his life and the journey it took to get cast as Jethro and what he’s up to today?
In fact, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that any of today’s actors or actresses get typecast?
Or do today’s audiences have an easier time divorcing certain characters from the actors or actresses who play them?