The Beverly Hillbillies'
Max Baer Jr, The Beverly Hillbillies
Jethro Bodine would fall somewhere between Barney Fife and Kramer on any list of great TV sidekicks. Part buffoon and part beautiful dreamer, Jethro was a childlike mind plopped into the body of a backwoods Hercules. These days, the man who played the slack-jawed Jethro, Max Baer Jr
, is pleased people still love the Hillbillies
and that TV Land is running an all-you-can-watch Jethro marathon on, appropriately, April Fools' Day. Baer, however, is not a foolish man — he made millions with his own brand of country-fried entertainment in the '70s (Macon County Line
and Ode to Billy Joe
), and is currently working on a dream project: a hotel and casino based on The Beverly Hillbillies
that he hopes to open in Nevada in 2010. We chatted with him about his famous character and the latest on his new venture.
TVGuide.com: I understand in the past you weren't thrilled talking about Jethro.
Max Baer Jr: I hated it. I wanted to distance myself from it. When the series went off the air in 1971, nobody wanted to cast me on TV because as soon as I came on the screen, people would say, "Hey, there's Jethro!" I was also going through a divorce at the same time, and I ended up with absolutely nothing. The only thing worse than being a has-been is being a has-been with no money. It wasn't until I produced and wrote Macon County Line that I made a lot of money.
TVGuide.com: I know you're putting a lot of money and time into a new Beverly Hillbillies Mansion & Casino. What can fans expect?
Baer: We're going to have The Beverly Hillbillies truck in the lobby, and there's going to be animatronics where Granny, Jed, Jethro, Elly and Duke the dog all interact and do scenes. We'll also have Granny's White Lightnin' Bar with fog, rain and lightning. We also have Granny's Shotgun Weddin' Chapel with Granny as almost a Don Rickles type, cracking jokes, and it'll all be videotaped for you to take home. Oh, and we have Elly May's Buns and Jethro's All-You-Can-Et Buffet. There will be a cement pond, and a Drysdale's Fancy Eatins restaurant, where you can eat on billiard tables just like we did on the show.
TVG.com: How long have you wanted to do this?
Baer: I got the idea in 1989 and got the rights from CBS in 1991. I've been working on this for that long a period of time, and I will not do it unless I can do it the way I want. I'm a stubborn jackass. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Do you like it when people call you Jethro?
Baer: It's a compliment if someone comes up to me and thinks I still look anything like I did 30 years ago. The thing I can't take is when someone comes up to me and says, "I thought you were dead!" That doesn't fly well with me.
TVGuide.com: The portrayal of your father, Max Baer Sr, in the movie Cinderella Man didn't fly well with you, either.
Baer: That's the hottest I've ever been about anything. Ronnie Howard had to make my dad the villain — he didn't have enough smarts to make that movie without crucifying Max Baer. Ronnie didn't want to talk to me, and I was absolutely shocked that he didn't call to ask if we could meet so he could get some background information. Every sportswriter from Bob Costas to Bert Sugar will tell you that my dad was a loudmouth like Muhammad Ali, but he was a good person and a likable guy.
TVGuide.com: I've heard that you were a wild guy during your Hillbillies days.
Baer: I was crazy in many ways, mostly because of drinking and drugs. I would blow my stack and turn over camera carts and break up sets. It was all the success, money, fame, youth and stupidity. Other than that I was fine! I don't even remember half of it. I'd pick up an airline stewardess at night and have some other girl meet me in my dressing room the next day. I was out of my mind.
TVGuide.com: Was it fun?
Baer: Are you crazy? Having two or three girls a day? That's not fun to you? [Laughs] I should have done more than I did — I just didn't have the time.
TVGuide.com: Of all the jobs Jethro had over the years, was there one that you really enjoyed?
Baer: I did so many of those jobs in real life that Jethro did on the show. I was a producer, a director and even a fry cook. I haven't been a brain surgeon, but I'm working on it.
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